Long Nights and Long Winters? How about the reality of Long Summers and their devastating effects on the planet? Are magically induced extremes of Summer the underlying cause of seasonal irregularity in George Martin’s fantasy world? Have there been at least two instances of the Long Night in the past, both occurring in response to previous very hot long summers? After sifting through evidence provided in the text, I’m convinced that both seasonal extremes have existed since the Dawn Age and that there has been more than one Long Night. Was the death of the Amethyst Empress necessary? Necessary to end a long summer that had ceased to be beneficial to the people, causing drought, famine, wars for resources and the migration of millions to fertile lands with a more benevolent climate? Could the Bloodstone Emperor have tried to rectify the environmental disaster afflicting the people of the Far East? Let us have a look at what the text has to offer on this hypothesis.
The author wastes no time introducing us to seasons at odds with what we would expect. In the first POV chapter of Game, Bran I, in fact, in the very first paragraph, we learn: “It was the ninth year of summer, and the seventh of Bran’s life“. The first sentence of that paragraph reads, “The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer.” A chapter on, we read the Stark words for the first time:
The Stark words. Every noble house had its words. Family mottoes, touchstones, prayers of sorts, they boasted of honor and glory, promised loyalty and truth, swore faith and courage. All but the Starks. Winter is coming, said the Stark words. Not for the first time, she reflected on what a strange people these northerners were.
AGOT, Catelyn I
Additionally, the most important event in recent Westerosi history, Robert’s Rebellion, which brought almost three hundred years of Targaryen rule to a close, was initiated during the Tourney of Harrenhal which took place in the Year of the False Spring.
That climate is important is highlighted by the Others who are introduced in the prologue. We eventually learn these icy humanoids are creatures of winter connected to a Long Night of darkness. Their sole purpose seems to be the destruction of humankind. Our questions regarding this issue have not been answered so far however. George Martin himself says the reason behind the asynchronous seasons is magical in nature. He’s also stated that his make-believe planet is comparable to our Earth. Well-defined seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter – do occur in Westeros but they last years rather than months. What’s more, they vary in length and show no predictable regularity. Maesters of the Citadel observe the heavens to calculate and announce a season’s end but cannot predict a season’s length in advance. As the Year of the False Spring indicates, errors in calculation appear to occur as well.
So, what is the cause of this seasonal irregularity?
The possibility of a shift in the tilt of the planet’s axis is touched on in the World Book, where Maester Nicol argues the following:
Based upon his work on the movement of stars in the firmament, Nicol argues unconvincingly that the seasons might once have been of a regular length, determined solely by the way in which the globe faces the sun [axial tilt] in its heavenly course. The notion behind it seems true enough— that the lengthening and shortening of days, if more regular, would have led to more regular seasons— but he could find no evidence that such was ever the case, beyond the most ancient of tales. The World of Ice and Fire
Maester Nicol is right about that. The tilt of a planet’s axis does influence the seasons. Here we have a scientific explanation from Wikipedia:
Earth’s axis remains tilted in the same direction with reference to the background stars throughout a year (regardless of where it is in its orbit). This means that one pole (and the associated hemisphere of Earth) will be directed away from the Sun at one side of the orbit, and half an orbit later (half a year later) this pole will be directed towards the Sun. This is the cause of Earth’s seasons. Summer occurs in the Northern hemisphere when the north pole is directed toward the Sun. Variations in Earth’s axial tilt can influence the seasons and is likely a factor in long-term climate change.
We could latch onto this fact and expand on it to include Milankovitch cycles, elongated orbits, ocean currents and so on. In fact, you’ll find an interesting synopsis of these possibilities here.
However, Septon Barth, who is one of the more reliable sources of information, aired his opinion on the matter, as documented in the World Book:
Though the Citadel has long sought to learn the manner by which it may predict the length and change of seasons, all efforts have been confounded. Septon Barth appeared to argue, in a fragmentary treatise, that the inconstancy of the seasons was a matter of magical art rather than trustworthy knowledge.
The World of Ice and Fire
Like George Martin himself, Barth cites magic as the leading reason. Perhaps it’s a combination of both – a mixture of magic and science or of magic influencing the natural world, indeed, the cosmos. Talking about magic – somewhere in Essos, in the Dothraki Sea, Daenerys Targaryen magically “gives birth” to three dragons, hatched from fossilized eggs. They are the first of these wondrous beasts to see the light of day in a hundred and fifty years. As if their waking from stone was not miraculous enough, we learn elsewhere that live dragons could be related to the presence of magic in the world:
Tyrion was growing impatient. Ser Jacelyn Bywater was likely here by now, and Ironhand misliked waiting. “Yes, you have secret spells, how splendid, what of them?”
“They, hmmm, seem to be working better than they were.” Hallyne smiled weakly. “You don’t suppose there are any dragons about, do you?”
“Not unless you found one under the Dragonpit. Why?”
“Oh, pardon, I was just remembering something old Wisdom Pollitor told me once, when I was an acolyte. I’d asked him why so many of our spells seemed, well, not as effectual as the scrolls would have us believe, and he said it was because magic had begun to go out of the world the day the last dragon died.” ACOK Tyrion XI
The Alchemist’s Guild is said to be an ancient order whose influence and importance was gradually replaced by the maesters of the Citadel. This suggests they might have played a much more prominent role in Westerosi life prior to the creation of the Citadel as we know it. We have next to no information on their history, but we do know they are pyromancers who specialize in making deadly wildfire. Could fire-magic have been practiced by the First Men of the Dawn Age? Magic introduced by the pyromancers? Perhaps old Wisdom Pollitor knew what he was talking about when he related the efficacy of secret spells to the presence of dragons in the world.
The destructive nature of fire-magic is demonstrated by wildfire. As such, that the substance is stored in clay jars shaped like fruit has a certain significance, fruit being a produce of the summer season. In fact, these fiery fruit, are as deadly a weapon as fiery dragons are.
There is a vault below this one where we store the older pots. Those from King Aerys’s day. It was his fancy to have the jars made in the shapes of fruits. Very perilous fruits indeed, my lord Hand, and, hmmm, riper now than ever, if you take my meaning. ACOK, Tyrion IV
Like real fruit that remain unpicked on their parent plant, these older fruit jars are riper now than ever and like Doran Martell’s blood oranges, will explode if they fall, indeed if they are not handled very carefully indeed. Could there be a connection between the hot arid climate of Dorne, Doran’s blood oranges, the red sands of Dorne and the sand traps that are used to quell wildfire in case any of Aerys’ fickle fruits should crack? I think so. I believe the weaponizing of fruit relates not only to dragons (which are fiery weapons), but to the reality of devastating long summers that plagued the planet in ancient times. Overripe fruit serve as a metaphor for corrupt fertility magic.
Readers and fans concentrate almost exclusively on the dreaded Long Night and of course the corresponding Stark words – Winter is Coming. We theorize on the origin and motives of the White Walkers, imagining our favourite heroes will prevail to defeat them and restore balance to the planet in a “bittersweet ending.” Though Daenerys is a leading character, we’ve not paid enough attention to the climate extreme she and her dragons represent – the long summer. In short, George Martin’s world encompasses two extremes of climate, long summers and long winters; this of course relates directly to Fire and Ice, hence a song of ice and fire.
The Endless Great Summer
Tyrion journeys to the Wall after King Robert’s visit to Winterfell. His earliest memories are of spring, the winters he experienced all short. But the summer at the start of our tale had lasted almost ten years and Lord Commander Mormont clearly worries about the extent of coming winter. Tyrion then mentions the possibility of an endless Great Summer, a notion that also floats around in the heads of ordinary folk:
“When I was a boy,” Tyrion replied, “my wet nurse told me that one day, if men were good, the gods would give the world a summer without ending. Perhaps we’ve been better than we thought, and the Great Summer is finally at hand.” He grinned.
The Lord Commander did not seem amused. “You are not fool enough to believe that, my lord. Already the days grow shorter. There can be no mistake, Aemon has had letters from the Citadel, findings in accord with his own. The end of summer stares us in the face.” Mormont reached out and clutched Tyrion tightly by the hand. “You must make them understand. I tell you, my lord, the darkness is coming. AGOT, Tyrion III
How interesting! A “Great Summer,” a summer without end, one that is awarded to mankind on the condition that men and women have been virtuous. That this summer is possibly “finally at hand,” is also an indication that the people are familiar with such notions and seem to look forward to it. “Great Summer” comes across like a title comparable to the endless icy darkness known as the “Long Night”.
Meanwhile, Ned arrives in King’s Landing to take up the post of the Hand of the King. He meets with Grandmaester Pycelle as part of his investigation into Jon Arryn’s death. They begin with rather revealing small talk about the weather:
“To be sure, King Maekar’s summer was hotter than this one, and near as long.
There were fools, even in the Citadel, who took that to mean that the Great Summer had come at last, the summer that never ends, but in the seventh year it broke suddenly, and we had a short autumn and a terrible long winter.
Still, the heat was fierce while it lasted. Oldtown steamed and sweltered by day and came alive only by night. We would walk in the gardens by the river and argue about the gods. I remember the smells of those nights, my lord—perfume and sweat, melons ripe to bursting, peaches and pomegranates, nightshade and moonbloom. AGOT, Eddard V
There it is again, the Great Summer come at last, the summer that never ends! Remarkable is that even the Citadel is aware of the idea of a summer that never ends. What we are dealing with here is no mere fancy of the smallfolk, but something that a few maesters of the Citadel consider a possibility. A future endless summer appears to be an expectation shared by learned and laymen alike. Note Pycelle’s reference to the intense heat of King Maekar’s time. Variations in seasonal temperature from one year to another are nothing out of the ordinary, but remember we are not dealing with normal three-month long seasons here! We really must ask what happens when intense heat continues for years on end!
Maester Cressen also refers to a great summer when he explains the role of the white raven to Shireen:
They are larger than other ravens, and more clever, bred to carry only the most important messages. This one came to tell us that the Conclave has met, considered the reports and measurements made by maesters all over the realm, and declared this great summer done at last. Ten years, two turns, and sixteen days it lasted, the longest summer in living memory.”
He confirms that the folk of Westeros have experienced the longest summer in living memory. Ten years, two turns of the moon and sixteen days to be exact. Cressen also opts not to scare Shireen, a summer child with no experience of winter. He desists from tales of harsh winters that follow such long summers, but people are well aware of the nature of winters that follow long hot summers. Tyrion echoes Pycelle who stated that Maekar’s long hot summer was followed by a terrible long winter.
“When I was a boy, it was said that a long summer always meant a long winter to come. This summer has lasted nine years, Tyrion, and a tenth will soon be upon us. Think on that.”
AGOT, Tyrion III
It’s Always Summer Under the Sea
Patchface’s cryptic riddles are set in a world he sees as existing “under the sea,” but in reality, the place he is talking about is a Land of Always Summer. He says so himself:
It’s always summer under the sea. The merwives wear nennymoans in their hair and weave gowns of silver seaweed.
The witty clever child whose freedom Steffon Baratheon bought hailed from Essos, from Volantis, once a daughter of the Valyrian Freehold. Would his “visions” not be related to that region? Not all his “prophecies” begin with “under the sea,” but those that do can be assigned to Essos. He serves us a history lesson, which when unraveled correctly, will reveal why the seasons are out of sync and more.
According to the fool, birds have scales for feathers here, it snows up in this land and the rain is dry as bone. Birds with scales are a certain reference to dragons while “it snows up” could refer to volcanic activity with lots of ash being hurled into the atmosphere. It could also refer to heat induced erosion and ensuing dust storms where winds mercilessly whirl loose sand into the air. Rain that is dry as bone can be interpreted as a complete lack of precipitation. None of this is life-promoting. Eastern Essos beyond the Bones mountains and Dorne in southern Westeros affirm the folly of looking forward to a Great Summer. An endless hot summer is every bit as undesirable as a generation-long freezing winter accompanied by a long night.
The Land of Always Summer
Official maps show an area above Old Valyria, underneath the Painted Mountains, labeled “The Land of the Long Summer.” An association with the season of summer seems fitting for the former land of dragons and dragonlords. Additionally, the land of the long summer was once the most fertile in the world and I doubt this was due to the natural composition of the land alone.
The proudest city in all the world was gone in an instant, the fabled empire vanished in a day. The Lands of the Long Summer— once the most fertile in all the world— were scorched and drowned and blighted, and the toll in blood would not be fully realized for a century to come. TWOIAF, The Doom of Valyria
This land of always summer is not restricted to Old Valyria. Summer reigns permanently in the region behind the Bones mountains; there is hardly a rainy season to speak of and it does appear that this vast area has succumbed to desertification over the centuries. We shall first have a look at these arid regions and then consider the circumstances that might have led to a change in the climate of that continent.
Evidence for climate change
1. The Silver Sea
Oral history suggests that the region currently occupied by the Dothraki Sea was once covered by a vast lake known as the Silver Sea which formed part of the kingdom of the Fisher Queens. The Silver Sea no longer exists. It has dwindled and dried up, leaving three lakes, one of which is the Womb of the World, the waters in which Daenerys cleansed herself after the horse-heart eating ceremony. Note that the maesters believe this lake vanished because of diminishing rainfall over the centuries:
Sufficient tales survive to convince most maesters of the past existence of the Silver Sea, though because of diminishing rainfall over the centuries, it has shrunk so severely that today only three great lakes remain where once its waters glistened in the sun.
TWOIAF, The Grasslands
2. The City of Qarth in the Red Waste
The port city of Qarth located in southern Essos is surrounded by a desert called the Red Waste. Qarth has control of the Jade Gates, a strait that links the Summer Sea to the fabled Jade Sea. The Qarthi are an ancient people believed to have arisen in grasslands, the region now known as the Dothraki Sea. They were gradually forced further south after losing wars to the Sarnori, establishing city-states as they fled. Later most of these cities were wiped out by the Dothraki. Qarth is the sole city-state to have survived. It is here that we find another piece of evidence for changes in climate:
One such, Qarth, was founded on the coast of the Summer Sea. Yet the lands in the south of Essos proved more inhospitable than those the Qaathi had vacated, turning to desert even as they established their foothold there.
TWOIAF, The Grasslands
Note that the change in climate was quite rapid, the land turning to desert while the Qarthi were still in the processes of settling there. Both the Qarthi and Sanori civilizations are very ancient, though not as old as that of the Fisher Queens who preceded them. Nevertheless, this bit of information suggests the desertification of Essos commenced thousands of years ago, probably beginning during the Dawn Age.
3. The Great Sand Sea
Just east of the Bone Mountains lies an extensive desert valley and canyon, the Great Sand Sea, part of the Patrimony of Hyrkoon. In the World Book, the Great Sand Sea is described as
a vast wasteland of restless dunes, dry riverbeds, and ruined forts and towns baking beneath the sun. Water is said to boil away, it is so hot in the deep, southern portions of the sea.
This was not always so. As a matter of fact, Hyrkoon withered into dust, its lakes and rivers drying away, its once-fertile fields turning to desert. The people of the Patrimony have named this period of drought “The Dry Times” and list it as the cause for the fall of their once mighty realm. A pretty significant clue, I would say, and we wonder just what could have caused this drastic change in climate that even spawned its own name, the Dry Times.
4. The Shrinking Sea
North of Yi Ti and east of the Great Sand Sea lie the dry windswept plains of the nomadic Jogos Nhai. Here too we find the remains of what was once a massive lake, now known as the Shrinking Sea. The Jogos Nhai have adapted to their harsh environment. They ride hardy hybrid zorses which survive on the meagre sustenance offered by the plains, going for weeks without water and fodder and existing only on weeds and devil-grass for many turns of the moon.
Led by their jhats (war leaders) and moonsingers, the Jogos Nhai have warred against the Golden Empire of Yi Ti and the Patrimony of Hyrkoon for millennia. The Jogos Nhai obviously long for a return to a more sustainable life-style: their moonsingers sing of a time in the future when the Jogos Nhai will finally conquer Hyrkoon and spill over the mountains to claim the fertile lands beyond.
In the far southeast of Essos lie the Shadowlands, a peninsula bordered eastwards by the Mountains of the Morn. The forbidding ancient port city of Asshai covers vast territories on both sides of the River Ash but is only thinly populated. The greasy black stone from which the city is built appears to drink all sunlight so that the city remains in permanent gloom even in daylight.
Asshai-by-the-Shadow is an extremely infertile region. Considering the inability of sunlight to penetrate, it’s not surprising that nothing palatable growing there. Not even the blind fish dwelling in the waters of the Ash are fit to eat. No animals survive in Asshai and there are no children in the city either. Since agriculture is impossible, the Asshai’i import all food and fresh water for survival. Gold, gems, amber and dragonglass are major exports, making Asshai an attractive port of call for merchants and traders nevertheless. Known for its expertise in the occult, the city is a magnet for all practitioners of the higher mysteries. It also attracts worshippers of dark gods such as the Lion of Night, the Black Goat and Bakkalon. It is also the place where texts claim dragons first appeared from and is the origin of the legend of Azor Ahai.
Asshai has been in shadow for millennia but judging by the size of the city and the presence of the Ash River, the peninsula must have once been as fertile as Yi Ti to its west. In fact, judging by the forests and jungles of both Yi Ti and the Isle of Leng, Asshai was once probably covered by lush vegetation. Indeed, the ancient founders of Asshai may have deforested the entire area occupied by the Shadow to build their city.
6. The Grey Waste and the Dry Deep
Even farther east of Asshai, cut off from the rest of the continent by the Mountains of the Morn, the Five Forts and the Bleeding Sea, lies a freezing wasteland called the Grey Waste. Legendary strange and demonic creatures are said to inhabit this region, a place where no man treads. Here too we find what appears to be a dried-up lake, now a deep valley known as the Dry Deep. Notice that the icy Grey Waste borders upon the hottest and most infertile region of the known world. These two locations actually lie right next to each other.
Finally, there is the southernmost part of Westeros, Dorne. Bordered in the north by the Red Mountains, three-quarters of Dorne is an arid wasteland characterized by a sweltering climate and frequent sandstorms. Dorne’s rivers do provide some fertile land but the region is mostly hot, arid and barren, with little rainfall. Western Dorne comprises a desert of red and white sands, the only desert on Westeros. Water is a precious resource and wells are zealously guarded by their owners. Here too we find mounts adapted to the hot climate. The famous sand steeds bred by the Dornish are said to require very little water and can travel for two days and a night before tiring.
Dorne’s climate may not have changed markedly since the Dawn Age, for the Children of the Forest once called it “The Empty Land.”
The children of the forest called Dorne the Empty Land, and for good reason. The eastern half of Dorne is largely barren scrub, its dry, stony soil yielding little, even when irrigated. And once beyond Vaith, western Dorne is naught but a vast sea of restless dunes where the sun beats down relentlessly, giving rise from time to time to savage sandstorms that can strip the flesh from a man’s bones within minutes. Even Garth Greenhand could not make flowers bloom in an environment so harsh and unforgiving if the tales told in the Reach can be believed.
The World of Ice and Fire, The Seven Kingdoms, Dorne
If the children called it the Empty Land and Garth the Green was unable to make flowers bloom there, Dorne may have experienced changes to its geography even before the breaking of the Arm of Dorne, via which the First Men originally crossed to the continent. However, there is evidence that Dorne once boasted an inland freshwater sea:
There is also much to suggest that the Sea of Dorne was once an inland freshwater sea, fed by mountain streams and much smaller than it is today, until the narrow sea burst its bounds and drowned the salt marshes that lay between.
The World of Ice and Fire, The Seven Kingdoms, Dorne
If this is so, then the arid western portion of Dorne must have been more fertile than it is today. It also suggests a significant rise in sea level in ancient times, before the memories of even the children of the forest. Could the planet have experienced global warming?
Global Warming and Rising Sea Levels
Scientists see global warming as the primary cause of current sea level rise and if my hypothesis regarding the existence of past long hot summers on Essos has merit, then some geographic features on Martin’s fantasy planet can be explained by a rise in average global temperature. Let’s take a quick look at global warming.
Global warming is the current increase in the temperature of the Earth’s surface. This includes temperatures on land, in the oceans and the atmosphere. Heating up of the Earth’s atmosphere is attributed to the greenhouse effect, which is caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, CFCs, other aerosols and pollutants.
Human activities are thought to have contributed considerably to this phenomenon with the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation cited as leading causes. Both activities overload the atmosphere with CO2 and other heat-trapping emissions.
Because plant respiration relies on carbon-dioxide, vast forests are the most important “carbon-sinks” of the planet. By utilizing carbon-dioxide and giving off oxygen as a waste product, forests help to maintain the delicate balance of these gases in the atmosphere. Human deforestation has thus greatly reduced the capacity available for absorbing CO2 and is a contributory factor to global warming. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity, power our factories, cars and other means of transportation produces even more heat-trapping emissions which act like a blanket that holds solar heat in the atmosphere.
Overloading the atmosphere with carbon has many consequences:
- extreme weather phenomena (storms, hurricanes)
- deadly heat waves and severe droughts
- increased potential for wildfires
- glacial melt at the poles adds water to the oceans, causing rising sea levels
Side effects include:
- a lengthening of the growing season in middle and high latitudes
- earlier flowering of trees and plants
- earlier emergence of insects and earlier egg-laying in birds
- extinction of some plant and animal species
- a poleward shift of plant and animal territories as these colonize areas previously too cold for habitation
Points 1 to 7 above show that Essos and Dorne have been subject to heat waves and periods of severe drought that have had a lasting effect on the topography of individual affected regions. Old Valyria, the Land of the Long Summer and one time most fertile region in the world, is an example the extension of the growing season. Both wildfire and dragons are representative of intense heat and I believe both are used as a literary device to demonstrate the effects of global warming on the planet. The connection becomes clearer when we consider the account of Aegon the Unworthy’s attempt to conquer Dorne with “wooden dragons.”
This was far from the greatest folly of Aegon IV’s stillborn invasion of Dorne, however, for His Grace had also turned to the dubious pyromancers of the ancient Guild of Alchemists, commanding them to “build me dragons.” These wood-and-iron monstrosities, fitted with pumps that shot jets of wildfire, might perhaps have been of some use in a siege. But Aegon proposed to drag these devices up and through the Boneway, where there are places so steep that the Dornishmen have carved steps.
They did not come even that far, however, for the first of the dragons went up in flames in the kingswood, far from the Boneway. Soon all seven were burning. Hundreds of men burned in those fires, along with almost a quarter of the kingswood. After that, the king gave up his ambitions and never spoke of Dorne again.
The World of Ice and Fire, The Targaryen Kings, Aegon IV
What we have here are wooden dragon constructs, fitted with deadly wildfire. The point here is that these constructions end up burning a quarter of the Kingswood, a quarter of a great primeval forest that during the Dawn Age also included the Rainwood. Aegon IV’s dragons and wildfire essentially wiped out a vast portion of the lungs and carbon-sinks of the continent. A look at the map of Essos reveals only a few patches of forest remaining on the continent, one important example being the great primeval forest of Qohor. With Essos being the “cradle” of many civilizations, it’s no stretch to assume that much of its forests succumbed to the activities of man. Dragging these wooden dragon weapons through the Boneway also alludes to the Bone Mountains separating eastern Essos from the West, and as we’ve seen above, most of the land beyond the Bones has suffered significantly from climate change.
The First Men and the Andals were also guilty of burning and cutting down trees and though the author highlights the weirwoods, we can be sure that Westeros experienced widespread deforestation at the hands of the people who migrated there.
In the south, the last weirwoods had been cut down or burned out a thousand years ago, except on the Isle of Faces where the green men kept their silent watch. AGoT, Catelyn I
In terms of environmental conservation, we can regard the weirwood as an umbrella species.
Umbrella species are species selected for making conservation-related decisions, typically because protecting these species indirectly protects the many other species that make up the ecological community of its habitat.
Source: Wikipedia, Umbrella species
The children of the forest who revered the weirwoods and sought to protect them can be viewed as conservationists. By defending their special trees, they also protected the biodiversity of the primeval forest ecosystem and indeed, this is obvious by their agreement with the First Men: they did not strike a raw deal when they kept the deep forests while leaving the rest of the land to the First Men. Protecting the forests was a priority. They knew what they were doing.
The names of famous battles such as the Field of Fire also allude to the destruction of vegetation. During this battle, Aegon the Conqueror and his two sister-wives vanquish Gardener and Lannister armies by setting a dry field aflame with dragonfire. It would not surprise me if the Targaryen invasion of Dorne is symbolic of the circumstances that turned that region of Westeros into a desert:
Dorne was a blighted, burning ruin by this time, and still the Dornish hid and fought from the shadows, refusing to surrender. Even the smallfolk refused to yield, and the toll in lives was uncountable. The World of Ice and Fire, The Seven Kingdoms, Dorne
The wildfire that engulfs Stannis’s ships during the Battle of the Blackwater is described in terms of a a green demon; ships of course are constructed from wood and in this context, should also remind us of the destruction of trees:
Fifty feet high, a swirling demon of green flame danced upon the river. It had a dozen hands, in each a whip, and whatever they touched burst into fire. ACOK, Davos III
It’s almost as though the green demon alludes to the trees striking back. The organic nature of this apocalyptic fiery destruction is highlighted again by its comparison to overripe fruit:
With a grinding, splintering, tearing crash, Swordfish split the rotted hulk asunder. She burst like an overripe fruit, but no fruit had ever screamed that shattering wooden scream. From inside her, Davos saw green gushing from a thousand broken jars, poison from the entrails of a dying beast, glistening, shining, spreading across the surface of the river …
ACOK, Davos III
I’m pretty convinced that the organic character of this fiery demonic jade kraken is a signpost to the origin of the long hot summers that have plagued the planet and induced climate change in antiquity. It is directly related to Patchface’s “under the sea” visions which take place in the land of always summer.
The Thousand Islands and other submerged areas
“Under the sea” brings us to the Thousand Islands, an extensive archipelago in the eastern Shivering Sea off the northern coast of Essos. The islands are believed to be the remains of a drowned kingdom whose towns and towers were submerged beneath the rising seas many thousands of years ago. The strange greenish-tinged folk of the isles fear the sea and worship fish-headed statues that emerge only at low tide. Their submerged fish gods recall the Drowned God of the Ironborn, a deity who also dwells in watery halls beneath the sea.
The Iron Islands may have once been part of the mainland. As stated in the World Book, Pyke certainly was:
Once, centuries ago, Pyke was as other castles: built upon solid stone on a cliff overlooking the sea, with a wall and keeps and towers. But the cliffs it rested upon were not as solid as they seemed, and beneath the endless pounding of the waves, they began to crumble. Walls fell, the ground gave way, outer buildings were lost. What remains of Pyke today is a complex of towers and keeps scattered across half a dozen islets and sea stacks above the booming waves.
The World of Ice and Fire, The Seven Kingdoms, Pyke
Aeron Damphair thinks of the comet as a burning brand brought by the Drowned God, a sign proclaiming a rising tide, calling on the Ironborn to set sail and reave. It’s interesting that a burning brand, which we can perhaps compare to a heat wave, proclaims a rising tide, or indeed, a rise in sea level. It’s no surprise then, that Pyke was affected by the pounding of the rising waters. The Damphair treats us to further interesting associations when he looks to the Drowned God for guidance in the matter of succession to the Seastone Chair.
My god, he prayed, speak to me in the rumble of the waves, and tell me what to do. The captains and the kings await your word. Who shall be our king in Balon’s place? Sing to me in the language of leviathan, that I may know his name.
AFFC, The Prophet
He asks his god to speak to him in the rumble of the waves, to sing to him in the language of the leviathan; in other words, he asks to be spoken to in the song of the sea and we find this “Song of the Sea” elsewhere as well, in connection with the rising oceans.
Archmaester Cassander suggests elsewise in his Song of the Sea: How the Lands Were Severed, arguing that it was not the singing of greenseers that parted Westeros from Essos but rather what he calls the Song of the Sea— a slow rising of the waters that took place over centuries, not in a single day, and was caused by a series of long, hot summers and short, warm winters that melted the ice in the frozen lands beyond the Shivering Sea, causing the oceans to rise.
TWOIAF, The Seven Kingdoms, Dorne, The Breaking
So, Archmaester Cassander suggests the Breaking of the Arm of Drone was the result of global warming (long hot summers and short warm winters) and resulting ice melt in frozen lands, causing the oceans to rise. I tend to agree with Cassander’s assessment, which also reflects the other title given to the Breaking – the Hammer of the Waters. I believe the effect was sudden, rather than gradual though, this suggested by the Hammer, but that is fodder for another analysis.
The Drowned Town of Braavos also joins the ranks of coastlines submerged by a rise in sea level. Since Braavos cannot be regarded as particularly ancient, this represents a recent example of the phenomenon and suggests that the waters have been continuously rising over the centuries, a good example of Archmaester Cassander’s “Song of the Sea.”
The Neck that divides the North of Westeros from the south is another area that has experienced flooding in the past, though I doubt the sea was responsible in this case. Flooding in this inland region is more likely to have been caused by the thawing of permafrost, brought on by an increase in average temperature further north. The topography of the Neck coupled with inadequate routes for drainage probably led to a stagnation of the waters and the eventual formation of a swamp.
There is one more thing worth mentioning: the storm. Widespread increase in storm activity is characteristic of global warming, this recalling the windswept and stormy region of the Stormlands in Westeros and of course the legend of Durran Godsgrief and Elenei. The battering of Durran’s castle by angry gods lends itself to several different interpretations which are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It can be seen in terms of
- devastating storms that accompany global warming, causing damage that includes flooding
- a fertility rite, a sacred marriage designed to bring rain for cultivation or to alleviate drought
- shutting out the soul of winter (see the sacred marriage for more on that)
- a temporary cooling down of the region affected by the storm
Durran became the first of a line of Storm Kings. Through the marriage of the last Storm King’s daughter to Orys Baratheon, Durran and Elenei’s heritage lived on in the follow-up Baratheons who were awarded the castle and the title of Storm Lord in return for supporting Aegon during his conquest of Westeros. Together with his famous war hammer and prowess in battle, Robert Baratheon can be compared to a metaphorical storm, one that almost ends the Targaryen bloodline, the latter being descendants of those associated with the long summer. Rhaegar dies on the Trident and his rubies drown in the waters of the Red Fork, to reappear on the Quiet Isle years later. Born during the fiery disaster at Summerhall, he was named the Last Dragon. Could this allude to Robert having vanquished and put to rest the last representative of the long summer?
Finally, the author provides some evidence for global warming by highlighting some of its side-effects, particularly the length of the growing season which is hinted at in Old Valyria’s status as the Land of the Long Summer and its reputation as the most fertile place on the planet. There is more, however. That lemurs which normally inhabit the tropical jungles of Sothoryos and the Summer Isles are found as far north as Qohor is an oddity:
Like many northerly forests, it contains elk and deer in great numbers, along with wolves, tree cats, boars of truly monstrous size, spotted bears, and even a species of lemur— a creature known from the Summer Isles and Sothoryos, but otherwise rarely seen farther north. These lemurs are said to have silver-white fur and purple eyes, and are sometimes called Little Valyrians. TWOIAF, Beyond the Sunset Kingdoms, the Free Cities, Qohor
Recall that global warming is also characterized by a poleward shift of plant and animal species to territories previously too cold for habitation. The lemur seems to have taken advantage of the rising temperature trend. Notice also, that by its association with the Valyrians, it is linked to the idea of a long summer as well. The author has given us another hint as well, this time the sighting of a bird that normally only inhabits the wintery north. Catelyn observes this bird in the Riverlands:
A bird called faintly in the distance, a high sharp trill that felt like an icy hand on Catelyn’s neck. Another bird answered; a third, a fourth. She knew their call well enough, from her years at Winterfell. Snow shrikes. Sometimes you saw them in the deep of winter, when the godswood was white and still. They were northern birds. AGoT, Catelyn IX
The Glass Gardens of Winterfell
You’ve probably guessed it. The Glass Gardens of Winterfell are a perfect allegory for the greenhouse effect and global warming. Heated by the hot springs, the glass gardens are always like the hottest day of summer. And born of this hot environment grow blue winter roses. Fire and ice, summer and winter all wrapped up in a neat little package. I’m convinced that dreadful winters only come about through long extended summers. Who would have thought blue winter roses could have so many layers of meaning? Brilliant, George, just brilliant!
Gods of the Dawn
Upon comparing the landscape of ancient Essos with the current era, one cannot fail to observe that climate change began thousands of years ago, affecting extended regions of the continent. The disappearance of many great lakes and widespread withering of the land is testimony to this.
The Dothraki belief that the luminous ghost grass spreading out from Asshai will one day cover the whole of the Dothraki Sea, reinforces the idea of a dying continent. Since Asshai-by-the-Shadow may have once been part of the Great Empire of the Dawn, let us consider the legend of the Great Empire again:
In the beginning, the priestly scribes of Yin declare, all the land between the Bones and the freezing desert called the Grey Waste, from the Shivering Sea to the Jade Sea (including even the great and holy isle of Leng), formed a single realm ruled by the God-on-Earth, the only begotten son of the Lion of Night and Maiden-Made of Light, who travelled about his domains in a palanquin carved from a single pearl and carried by a hundred queens, his wives. For ten thousand years the Great Empire of the Dawn flourished in peace and plenty under the God on earth, until at last he ascended to the stars to join his forbearers. The World of Ice and Fire
The Maiden-made-of-Light and the Lion-of-Night can be thought of as sky gods who sent their son, the God-on-Earth, to rule what became the Great Empire of the Dawn. On reading the word Dawn, we as readers tend to think of the Dawn Age as spoken of in the histories. True, but I think Dawn also relates to the day and to sunlight. This is also suggested by the follow-up still existing Golden Empire of Yi Ti where gold can refer to the metal or to sunlight. Indeed, where Yi Ti is Golden, Asshai is in Shadow. Legend goes on to recall that the Bloodstone Emperor’s wicked ways ushered in the Long Night, expressed in terms of the Maiden-made-of-Light turning her back on the world, paving the way for the reign of the Lion-of-Night:
In the annals of the further east, it was the Blood Betrayal, as his usurpation is named, that ushered in the age of darkness called the Long Night. Despairing of the evil that had been unleashed on earth, the Maiden-Made-of-Light turned her back upon the world, and the Lion of Night came forth in all his wroth to punish the wickedness of men. TWOIAF
The two sky gods in question represent the sun and the moon, with the Maiden-made-of-Light symbolizing the sun, while the Lion-of-Night is a stand in for the moon. In mythology, sun-deities are usually male while lunar deities are most often associated with everything feminine but the people of the Empire, like some ancient cultures on earth, saw this differently. The legend reminds me of Japan – the Land of the Rising Sun (think Empire of the Dawn). The Japanese refer to their country as “Nippon” or “Nihon,” meaning “origin of the sun.” Japanese Shinto religion recalls the legend of Tsukiyomi (meaning the great, the exalted), who was the moon god and his sister Amaterasu (meaning shining in heaven), a goddess of the sun and heavens, who later became his wife. As in our legend, the Emperors of Japan are considered divine descendants of this heavenly couple. Amaterasu shared the sky with Tsukuyomi until, out of disgust, he killed Uke Mochi, the goddess of food, because she pulled “food from her rectum, nose, and mouth.” Amaterasu was so upset that she named Tsukuyomi an evil god and split away from him; separating night from day.
In another myth, Amaterasu gets into conflict with her other brother Susanoo (also a moon god) over his bad behavior. In fury and grief, she hid in a cave, thus hiding the sun for a long time. She only left her cave when Susanoo was banished from heaven. Amongst other deeds, Susanoo killed an eight-headed serpent and found the fabled Kusanagi sword in one of its tails. Amaterasu and Susanoo later resolved their conflict when Susanoo gave her the Kusanagi sword as a reconciliation gift. After this, the moon became visible again. You’ll find the detailed myth here.
Needless to say, this sounds very much like the legend of the Great Empire and that of Azor Ahai rolled into one. Note that Amaterasu isn’t the only deity that leaves the sky. Susanoo’s (the moon) banishment from the heavens means an endless day – or – a long summer and this is precisely what I believe took place during the Dawn Age in Essos. Lasting ten thousand years, the first God-Emperor’s rule was one whopping Great Summer. Perhaps it was even one of endless daylight, a land of permanent Dawn where the sun never set. Indeed, perhaps Westeros earned the name “the Sunset Lands” because it was one of the few places where the sun really set in the expected manner.
The first God-Emperor’s reign probably marked the beginning of the quirky seasons and subsequent desertification of extensive areas of the planet.
A Land of Peace and Plenty
For ten thousand years the Great Empire of the Dawn flourished in peace and plenty under the God on earth, until at last he ascended to the stars to join his forbearers.
The first God on Earth may or may not have reigned for 10,000 years but we can assume he ruled for a very long time. Notice that his era was characterized by peace and plenty. This can mean one thing only: those people of the Dawn had discovered the secrets of agriculture, enabling them to cultivate enough food to keep all subjects of the empire fed, happy and at peace. If the entire expanse of his kingdom was as fertile as ancient topography suggests, there would have been plenty of resources for all citizens and little cause to wage wars for arable land (recall here that the Jogos Nhai wage war on Hyrkoon also to gain access to the fertile lands beyond the Bones).
We can think of this Emperor as the Sun’s son who had access to magic that not only prolonged his life but increased the length of summer and enhanced the fertility of the land.
A curious tit-bit within the legend gives us a further clue to the characteristics of the first God- Emperor’s reign.
… who traveled about his domains in a palanquin carved from a single pearl and carried by a hundred queens, his wives.
As I established in the Pearl Inheritance, the pearl is intimately associated with fertility in the narrative. It is also associated with peace and I further found it to be a marker suggesting the mistreatment or sacrifice of “pearl maidens.” The most sought after natural pearls are harvested from sea-oysters and the pearl is of course linked to the moon. An Emperor sitting in a large pearl thus conveys the imagery of sitting on a moon, holding it in place or having some kind of control over it. Since the moon influences water bodies and pearls come from the sea, this could mean control over tides, rivers, lakes and even rain. It also suggests control over the night (if indeed that period was one endless Great Summer of daylight). The god-emperor’s pearl thus evokes water magic as practiced by the Rhoynar of old.
The Emperor’s pearl palanquin is upheld by his one hundred wives, his queens. In fact, he is carried about by them. There are several routes of interpretation here. For one, having one hundred wives suggests fertility yet again. Perhaps travelling in a pearl moon palanquin is a metaphor for introducing fertility and agriculture to different regions of the east.
Consider also Patchface’s riddle: …. the merwives wear nennymoans in their hair and weave gowns of silver seaweed.
Pearl producing sea-oysters are believed to be an aphrodisiac, the oyster itself symbolic of sexuality and fertility. It’s thus interesting that Patchface speaks of merwives, mythical creatures of the sea, and I have theories on this that I’ve expanded on elsewhere. I’m fairly convinced that the first god-emperor’s wives played a pivotal role in upholding the endless summer, engaging in fertility magic to ensure the prosperity of the realm.
The pearl also stands for peace as in “peace is the pearl beyond price,” mentioned in the Bible and by the Green Grace of Meereen. This relates directly to the peaceful, plentiful times mentioned in the legend.
The peace and plenty of the first God Emperor’s reign recall the Golden Age of Man, presided over by the titan Cronus of Greek mythology and by Astraea, a goddess whose themes encompass chastity, honour, integrity and justice.
The Golden Age is a mythological concept, imagined as an era of peace without bloodshed, where humans thrived in fertile lands, living long happy lives. In relation to Hesoid’s Five Ages of Man, Cronus and Astraea find their equivalents in the Lion-of-Night and the Maiden-made-of-Light respectively. Each of these Ages of Man experience a progressive decline in morality and justice, culminating in an escalation of vices, finally causing the departure of the goddess Astraea, who leaves the earth in despair of the brutality and wickedness of men. This is exactly what happens during the Dawn Age.
The era of Queen Elizabeth I of England (the Virgin Queen) was termed the Pearl Age, synonymous with her love for this gem and the age of progress she presided over. Since antiquity, the pearl itself has been a highly valued gem. Many societies believed pearls were invested with magical powers. They are of spiritual significance, associated with the immortal part, the soul, of a person. Pearls are also associated with dragons, with wisdom, and with everything feminine. Considering its meaning, the pearl palanquin is a suitable metaphor for the Great Empire’s initial prosperity and I believe the god-emperor’s one hundred queens were largely responsible for this bounty.
Located in southern Essos on the northern shore of the Jade Sea, the Golden Empire of Yi Ti now presides over the only truly fertile lands east of the Bones. Its topography includes rolling hills, jungles and rain-forests as well as rushing rivers and deep lakes. It remains a rich fertile kingdom in an otherwise desolate land. Though its reputation is now diminished, history states that the god-emperors of Yi Ti were as powerful as any ruler on earth, with wealth that exceeded even that of Valyria at its height and armies of almost unimaginable size. Armies large enough to accommodate the immense Five Forts and food enough to feed all the fighting men within?
This still flourishing realm stands in stark contrast to Asshai-by-the-Shadow, which is situated just east of Yi Ti. Yi Ti, the golden, fertile, sunlit realm right opposite the dead shadowy lands of Asshai.
Also of interest is the raiment of the god-emperors of Yi Ti:
… but there are three god-emperors, each claiming the right to don the gowns of cloth-of-gold, green pearls, and jade that tradition allows to the emperor alone. TWOIAF
Besides the link between pearls and fertility the author has established, Yi Ti is indeed a “green pearl” of vegetation in the far east and unlike the white feminine pearl, my feeling is the green pearl is masculine in character, supported also by Garth the Green whose green hands made plants bloom in Westeros. Jade comes in many colours. We think of jade as green, but the author also mentions the blue variety – the blue jade falcon paired with the moon in the sigil of House Arryn. The falcon is a sun symbol, the imagery suggesting a pairing of the sun and moon, reminiscent of the Maiden and the Lion of the Dawn. Blue Jade is considered a stone of wisdom and is particularly powerful for calming angry situations and for resolving disputes. Incidentally, the Vale belongs in the category of fertile regions in Westeros.
Jade was also revered as the ultimate “Dream Stone” in many ancient cultures. It was thought to grant access to spiritual knowledge and to the spiritual world, was used as a protective talisman and thought to promote longevity. It’s thus interesting that Xaro Xhoan Daxos of the Thirteen suggests the following to Daenerys:
Let this be your kingdom, most exquisite of queens, and let me be your king. I will give you a throne of gold, if you like. When Qarth begins to pall, we can journey round Yi Ti and search for the dreaming city of the poets, to sip the wine of wisdom from a dead man’s skull.
ACOK, Daenerys III
He mentions a dreaming city of poets, a place where one can sip wine of wisdom. This mysterious place must be somewhere within the bounds of the Jade Sea and recalls the properties attributed to jade – dreaming and wisdom. It is also reminiscent of greenseeing, of the consciousness of the dead (dead men’s skulls), and the “dreaming” singers (poets) who access this knowledge from the weirwoods.
One more thing of note is the first Emperor’s absence of a gemstone name. Successive Emperors are all named after jewels. Eye-colour is often associated with gemstones. Cersei has emerald-green eyes, Euron compares Dany’s eyes to amethysts, wights and the Others have blue sapphire eyes, Khal Drogo has onyx eyes and so on. The ancient kings urging Daenerys on in her wake the dragon dream have gemstone eyes. Does the absence of a gemstone name therefore indicate that the first god-emperor was blind? And if so, what does this imply? Well, being truly blind is akin to living in darkness and darkness is an aide to developing and maintaining psychic ability. Bran’s journey to greenseeing clearly illustrates this. His third eye opens while the children hide in the dark crypts of Winterfell, enabling his soul to leave his body to mingle with Summer’s at will. Later he continues his education in the darkness of the children’s cave beyond the wall. As Bloodraven informs him:
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.” ADWD, Bran
The ancient priests of the Blind God Boash on the isle of Lorath held a similar view:
Their eunuch priests wore eyeless hoods in honor of their god; only in darkness, they believed, would their third eye open, allowing them to see the “higher truths” of creation that lay concealed behind the world’s illusions.
Arya hones her senses as Blind Beth in the House of Black and White and it is in this state that her third eye opens, allowing her to see through eyes of a cat.
The first God Emperor could have had supernatural ability related to his blindness. Did he see higher truths and engage in “higher mysteries” that together with his magical wives, enabled him to influence the seasons of his kingdom and beyond? Seeing as agriculture flourished during his very long reign, I do believe this first God-Emperor discovered secrets enabling him to exert considerable control over the weather. In fact, the first peaceful ten thousand years of the legendary Empire ring a distinct bell:
“When I was a boy,” Tyrion replied, “my wet nurse told me that one day, if men were good, the gods would give the world a summer without ending. Perhaps we’ve been better than we thought, and the Great Summer is finally at hand.” He grinned.
AGOT, Tyrion III
A Great Summer prevails if men are good, if there is peace, no war and no strife. Perhaps the first God-Emperor and his people were virtuous. Perhaps they did enjoy the fruits of an abnormally long summer brought about by unnatural means, or by interference with the forces of nature, by magic. But sorcery is unpredictable and for every action, there is an opposing reaction, and whatever the case, this long summer must have finally ended. Perhaps his one hundred wives tired of carrying him around, tired of weaving silver seaweed, tired of working magic to keep the long summer going. Perhaps they turned on him and metaphorically bit off his member, putting an end to that long fertile summer. Long summers are followed by long winters, we know, and the next Emperor would have to grapple with the consequences brought on by the actions of his predecessor.
The Gemstone Emperors and the Seasons
I propose that the gemstone emperors ruled over long seasons of hot and cold weather spells respectively and that the harder they tried to uphold their weather and fertility magic, the worse the conditions during their reigns became. In Daenerys’ waking the dragon dream, she is urged on by her ancestors who carry pale swords of fire and have gemstone eyes:
Ghosts lined the hallway, dressed in the faded raiment of kings. In their hands were swords of pale fire. They had hair of silver and hair of gold and hair of platinum white, and their eyes were opal and amethyst, tourmaline and jade. “Faster,” they cried, “faster, faster.”
AGOT, Daenerys VI
Durran Durrandon links the gemstone eyes of the ghostly kings to the ancient Emperors of the Dawn and postulates that they represent Dany’s ancestors. I do believe his theory is correct. In my view, those gemstone names and eyes also give us a clue to the nature of the seasons prevailing during each specific emperor’s reign. We can follow this all the way down to the Amethyst Empress and her so-called evil brother, the Bloodstone Emperor.
Dominion over mankind then passed to his eldest son, who was known as the pearl Emperor and ruled for a thousand years. The Jade Emperor, the Tourmaline Emperor, the Onyx Emperor, the Topaz Emperor, and the Opal Emperor followed in turn, each reigning for centuries… Yet every reign was shorter and more troubled than the one preceding it, for wild man and baleful beasts pressed at the borders of the Great Empire, lesser kings grew prideful and rebellious, and the common people gave themselves over to avarice, envy, lust, murder, incest, gluttony, and sloth. TWOIAF
We have a list of Emperors in the following order:
First God-Emperor > Pearl > Jade > Tourmaline > Onyx > Topaz > Opal > Amethyst > Bloodstone
I have decided to opt for Era instead of Emperor.
The Pearl Era
Despite the peace and plenty established during his father’s reign, the Pearl Emperor and his successors faced numerous challenges, both from within the realm and from external sources. According to the World Book,
… the Five Forts are very old, older than the Golden Empire itself; some claim they were raised by the Pearl Emperor during the morning of the Great Empire to keep the Lion of Night and his demons from the realms of men. TWOIAF
Peaceful conditions of the previous golden era have given way to strife. The quote further suggests that the “Lion of Night,” whom we associate with the Long Night, may have been active long before the Bloodstone Emperor’s reign thousands of years later. What could this mean? Since the pearl is intimately associated with the moon and the Lion of Night was probably a moon
god, is it possible that the summer of the First God-Emperor’s reign finally ended, to be replaced by a Long Night?
In this case, I think not. That the Pearl Emperor strove to keep the Lion of Night out suggests his realm did not experience a long night but was close to a region of darkness that threatened to engulf his realm. I suspect there was indeed a long night of darkness beyond the Empire’s bounds. It must have prevailed in that part of Essos known as the Grey Waste. The immediate proximity of this darkness must have necessitated the construction of the Five Forts in defense. This circumstance mirrors the building of the Wall in northern Westeros, which was done to protect the rest of the continent from the Others and their army of wights. The Lion of Night and his demons may have been quite different from the Others, but whatever they were, they were threatening enough to warrant investing in a massive defense project. The freezing Grey Waste also parallels the icy lands of winter beyond the Wall.
Axial tilt allows for six-month long days and nights at our poles so the idea that the Grey Waste may have been steeped in darkness for a very long time is plausible. Any region deprived of sunlight for a thousand years would become a cold, infertile, inhospitable land. It’s possible that the endless great summer of the first emperor’s reign had its opposite “reaction” in that region further east. This scenario also mirrors present day fertile Golden Yi Ti which contrasts and lies not far from the dead shadowlands of Asshai. Consider also the Mountains of the Morn that separate the Grey Waste from Asshai by the Shadow. They may have been the boundary between day and night, with lands west of this region still experiencing some daylight beyond the total darkness of the Grey Waste. Residing now in the borderlands between sunlight and darkness, the Great Empire would have been affected by gloom and cold nonetheless. Without sufficient sunlight, a marked reduction in agriculture would have been inevitable, leading to dissatisfaction, hunger, strife and wars for resources amongst the peoples.
With its association to winter, the pearl direwolf of Winterfell hints at the conditions prevailing during the Pearl Era:
Lord Mace Tyrell came forward to present his gift: a golden chalice three feet tall, with two ornate curved handles and seven faces glittering with gemstones. “Seven faces for Your Grace’s seven kingdoms,” the bride’s father explained. He showed them how each face bore the sigil of one of the great houses: ruby lion, emerald rose, onyx stag, silver trout, blue jade falcon, opal sun, and pearl direwolf. ASOS, Sansa V
With magical control of the seasons lost, efforts must have concentrated on acquiring knowledge to end the darkness and reinstate sunlight. It is at this point that sorcery or what we term as dark magic probably began to proliferate. I also believe that the “pearl maidens” who contributed to upholding sunlight became victims of dark practices at this time (and beyond). Attempts to breed a master magical race via sorcery and primitive genetic engineering probably began during this era, the purpose being supernatural climate control. More on this in my “Three Heads has the Dragon” series.
The Pearl Era was a long wintery one for the populace of the region, not a long night, but a period of little sunlight, overcast skies, cold and gloom and it occurred in reaction to the long summer of the first god-emperor’s reign.
The Jade Era
Following the winter of the Pearl Emperor’s rule came the green spring, symbolized by jade. Because of its green color, this stone is often simply called greenstone. It was particularly appreciated in ancient Mesoamerica where it was associated with water and vegetation, especially with young maturing corn. Chinese and Maori culture also hold the mineral in high esteem, valuing it more than gold or diamonds. The symbolism of jade encompasses fertility, regeneration, longevity and immortality.
Blue and green jades both fit the interpretation, signifying the return of the sun (blue jade falcon) and a regeneration in vegetation. As that part of the world recovered from the long cold spell of the Pearl Era, fertility was restored, cultivation resumed, and humans thrived.
Renly Baratheon, who formed an alliance with Highgarden and married Margery Tyrell to seal the deal, incorporated the green and gold colors of his wife’s house into his raiment and crown:
The slender circlet around his brows seemed to suit him well. It was soft gold, a ring of roses exquisitely wrought; at the front lifted a stag’s head of dark green jade, adorned with golden eyes and golden antlers.
Note that he departs from the black onyx stag of the Baratheons, opting for a stag’s head of dark green jade instead. Indeed, Renly was very partial to the color green, favouring green velvet tunics as well as a suit of splendid armor made of forest-green plate. As a horned lord archetype, Renly and his green jade stag are linked to the fertility and prosperity of the land.
Jade and Wildfire
We have viewed jade in a positive light so far, but as we saw above, the jade association has its down side too. It is heavily linked to wildfire and as such to the destructive properties of fire.
Green wildfire is also termed pyromancer’s piss or the jade demon. We recall Aerys the Mad King’s morbid fascination with the substance and how he consigned all who displeased him to its flames. Tyrion’s decision to defend King’s Landing with wildfire during the Battle of the Blackwater held off Stannis’ troops prior to the arrival of the Tyrell army headed by a Renly apparently risen from the dead. In reality, Renly’s Ghost was none other than Garlan Tyrell dressed up in Renly’s armor but take note – bearing in mind Renly wore a jade green stag as part of his crown, Renly’s Ghost can also be seen as a green jade demon!
Wildfire is further associated with fruit because of the clay pots shaped like fruit in which it is stored:
He saw another of the hulks he’d stuffed full of King Aerys’s fickle fruits engulfed by the hungry flames. A fountain of burning jade rose from the river, the blast so bright he had to shield his eyes.
Fruit become overripe when exposed to sunlight for too long and like Aerys’ fickle fruit, they explode, releasing their juices, when they hit the ground. We can relate this to a spring or summer that lasts far too long, extending to a point when the heat gets so intense, it’s no longer beneficial. The heat associated with a long summer then destroys life rather than sustains it. We are reminded also of the blood oranges at the Water Gardens of Dorne, fruit that are so ripe they drop from the trees and burst, releasing juices that resemble blood onto the ground. It’s significant that the author chooses Dorne, the hottest region in Westeros, for this juicy scenario. Note also that Dorne is homophone with Dawn.
Combined with the knowledge of Aerys’ fickle fiery fruit, the blood oranges also foreshadow Prince Quentin’s fate. In terms of my theory, Quentin is a man hailing from a hot climate who attempts to capture even more “heat,” in the form of dragons, for Dorne; a fatal mistake in respect of the weather. Like an overripe fickle fruit, he is accordingly engulfed in flame, dragonflame. This symbolism of implosion as a result of “fruit being too ripe or too much heat,” is also evident in Old Valyria, which essentially destroyed itself because of excessive dabbling in fire sorcery.
Finally, I’d like to point out another reference related to jade and gold found in Euron’s arc.
All eyes turned toward the sound. It was one of Euron’s mongrels winding the call, a monstrous man with a shaved head. Rings of gold and jade and jet glistened on his arms, and on his broad chest was tattooed some bird of prey, talons dripping blood.
AFFC, The Drowned Man
The sounding of this gruesome dragon-binding horn has Aeron Damphair wishing the Drowned God would raise a mighty wave and smash the horn to silence. Are we not reminded of the Hammer of the Waters and of Rhaegar’s rubies that end up on the Quiet Isle? Would that he were capable of some Rhoynic water magic!
I strongly suspect that Garth the Green, a man connected to fertility and agriculture, began his journey to Westeros during this Era. Perhaps he was aware of efforts to keep spring going for as long as possible and perhaps he knew that this would extend into an equally long and devastating summer. In view of the wildfire link to jade and to the idea of a long summer, he may have witnessed fertility and weather magic getting out of control and decided to gather his people off to an unspoiled land to embark upon a new beginning. He may have initially undertaken the journey alone, discovered the continent and treated with the children of the forest as suggested in the World Book. Finding the Reach an excellent place to establish a new homeland for his people, he returned to Essos to lead the First Men into this new land. According to the singers, Garth made the corn ripen, the trees bear fruit and the flowers bloom. Today, the Reach is the most populous, fertile and powerful region in the Seven Kingdoms. Here lies Highgarden, said to be the most beautiful castle in the realm. Highgarden was founded by Garth’s first-born son and it was from here that the Gardener Kings ruled the Reach as undisputed High Kings for centuries. The seat may have passed to the Tyrells who were stewards to the Gardeners prior to Aegon the Conqueror, but Highgarden is still the breadbasket of Westeros.
Garth the Green probably knew what was coming prior to leaving for Westeros. If so, he was right because the Tourmaline Era that followed the Jade was probably the hottest summer experienced by the world at that time.
The Tourmaline Era
Tourmalines come in all colours of the rainbow, as well as in black and brown. All colours of the rainbow combine to form white light, sunlight. That’s the tourmaline’s first link to summer. The Tourmaline Era proves to be one of the most interesting in terms of interpretation.
In the main book series, the gem is mentioned for the first time in Dany’s wake the dragon dream:
…. they had hair of silver and hair of gold and hair of platinum white, and their eyes were opal and amethyst, tourmaline and jade.
Notice the absence of pearl and onyx, in particular. The jeweled eyes listed in her dream belong to Dany’s ancestors and they represent long summers. The ghosts urge her on to overcome the icy cold behind, to wake the heat, the dragon within her.
The red door was so far ahead of her, and she could feel the icy breath behind, sweeping up on her. If it caught her she would die a death that was more than death, howling forever alone in the darkness. She began to run. AGOT, Daenerys VI
The dragon is a symbol of intense heat, of fire, which the dragon generates from within itself, like the sun. The dragon is the ultimate expression of extreme heat, of the Great Summer. Fire made flesh.
Faster and faster, Daenerys runs in her dream. The passage continues thus:
Faster,” they cried, “faster, faster.” She raced, her feet melting the stone wherever they touched. “Faster!” the ghosts cried as one; and she screamed and threw herself forward. A great knife of pain ripped down her back, and she felt her skin tear open and smelled the stench of burning blood and saw the shadow of wings. And Daenerys Targaryen flew.
“… wake the dragon …”
AGOT, Daenerys VI
Wake the heat she does. First, the heat emanating from her melts the stone and a moment later she metamorphoses into a dragon – and flies.
The Tourmaline Brotherhood
The next time we read of the tourmaline is in Clash, this time in the form of the Tourmaline Brotherhood, a merchant guild from Qarth. As a merchant guild, they are tied to wealth, to gold and thus symbolically to prosperity, the sun and to summer. They vie with the Ancient Guild of Spicers, the Thirteen and the Pureborn, for prominence in the city. Xaro of the Thirteen claims the Brotherhood is full of pirates. So, what’s so special about them? For one, Xaro makes them sound a bit like a bunch of outlaws. Perhaps we can connect them to the Brotherhood
without Banners. If the tourmaline is linked to an ancient long summer, then the aspect of heat should be a common feature and it is. The Brotherhood without Banners follow the fiery Lord of Light. The leaders, Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion, carry swords of fire. Not intrinsic fire, as the pale swords of the gemstone ancestors appear to be, but both men can set their swords on fire at will. I think it’s significant that Thoros uses wildfire, the jade demon, to set his sword on fire, while Beric slices his hand and uses his own blood to invoke the flame. Beric’s method reminds me of Dany’s dream in which her back is ripped by a knife and she smells the stench of burning blood. The blood appears to be a kind of sacrifice that empowers the sword to burn, this also implied by the legend of Azor Ahai in which Nissa Nissa’s blood and soul empower Lightbringer, turning it into a sword of heroes.
The tourmaline is also connected to fire itself. This mineral is pyroelectric. When heated, it acquires an electric charge that attracts dust and other lightweight particles, a property the ancients attributed to magic. Note that the Ancient Guild of Spicers can also be associated with heat – spicy food is warming, and like pepper-laden Dornish food, it can sear the tongue as well. The Pureborn relate to that other ingredient of fertility – to water. According to Xaro, and many other interesting findings, they have “water in their veins.”
By far the most revealing thing about the Tourmaline Brotherhood is their gift to Daenerys:
And the Tourmaline Brotherhood pressed on her a crown wrought in the shape of a three-headed dragon; the coils were yellow gold, the wings silver, the heads carved from jade, ivory, and onyx. The crown was the only offering she’d kept. ACOK, Daenerys III
The crown is very important to her because Viserys had to sell their mother’s crown to survive during their flight through Essos. That their mother’s crown was sold could indicate that it held no importance in terms of Daenerys genetic heritage. I personally believe she is the daughter of Ashara Dayne. Being a daughter of Ashara also links her to Sand in as much as Jon is linked to Snow – sand and snow being symbolic of the visible negative effects of hot summers and long winters.
Not having any royal insignia, she insists on keeping the crown given to her by the Tourmaline Brotherhood, and rightfully so because it denotes her authority and position as queen. Daenerys is the champion of the long summer, the Maiden-made-of-Light reincarnate, but this time round, she must learn that a Great Summer can be just as disastrous to life as a Long Winter or Long Night.
Too many dragons
Dragons are fire made flesh; they are intimately associated with the Land of the Long Summer, with the fourteen flames and the smoking volcano on Dragonstone. Some, like the alchemist pyromancers and the mysterious Quaith believe dragons a source of magic in the world. Note the resurgence of magic that accompanies their return: the huge fiery ladder conjured up by the fire mage in Qarth or the production of wildfire that suddenly becomes more efficient that before. If one mother of dragons and her three “children” have such a profound effect on magic in the world, what would happen if their number increased a hundredfold? Consider this passage:
King Daeron had sired four sons, and three had sons of their own. Too many dragons are as dangerous as too few, I heard His Grace tell my lord father, the day they sent me off. AFFC. Samwell
When maester Aemon states that too many dragons are as dangerous as too few, he is referring to the problem of too many heirs to the Targaryen throne, a circumstance that breeds strife and war. Certainly, too many real dragons under human control are likewise a threat to the mankind. As the Old Valyrians demonstrated, they are a means to conquer, subjugate and enslave.
But we can apply Aemon’s statement to climate as well. Symbolic of extreme heat, “too many magical dragons” will scorch the earth, dry up sources of fresh water, boil away lakes and change patterns of rainfall to leave behind a parched earth. It’s all a matter of balance. Too many dragons are as dangerous as too few.
The legend of Qarth
Remember we’re still within the Tourmaline Emperor’s reign. It just so happens that Qarth, bordered on three sides by the desert known as the Red Waste, is also the source of a legend on how dragons came into existence. This is no coincidence:
A trader from Qarth once told me that dragons came from the moon,” blond Doreah said as she warmed a towel over the fire (…) Silvery-wet hair tumbled across her eyes as Dany turned her head, curious. “The moon?”
“He told me the moon was an egg, Khaleesi,” the Lysene girl said. “Once there were two moons in the sky, but one wandered too close to the sun and cracked from the heat. A thousand thousand dragons poured forth, and drank the fire of the sun. That is why dragons breathe flame. One day the other moon will kiss the sun too, and then it will crack and the dragons will return.”
The two Dothraki girls giggled and laughed. “You are foolish strawhead slave,” Irri said. “Moon is no egg. Moon is god, woman wife of sun. It is known.”
AGOT, Daenerys III
Let us examine this legend with the seasons and climate in mind. Thousands of dragons drinking the fire of the sun and descending to earth are analogous to a period of intense heat. I really think it’s as simple as that. Too many dragons unleashed upon the land, too much sunlight, excessive heat, a season gone out of control. This is just as dangerous as too “few dragons” – too little sunlight and insufficient warmth for growth. Human psychological attributes reflect this seasonal analogy as well. We describe people with a volatile temperament as “fiery.” Anger, strife, aggression and lust are also associated with heat. By meddling with and extending the seasonal summer, the scholars and magicians of the Great Empire inadvertently caused an increase in fiery human attributes. No wonder the legend recalls a surge in vices within the population! Driven by the heat and hunger that accompany a parched earth, is it any wonder that men fell upon each other? The population of King’s Landing is no less “heated” during the intense temperatures of summer:
This cursed heat had half the city in a fever to start, and now with all these visitors … last night we had a drowning, a tavern riot, three knife fights, a rape, two fires, robberies beyond count, and a drunken horse race down the Street of the Sisters. The night before a woman’s head was found in the Great Sept, floating in the rainbow pool. No one seems to know how it got there or who it belongs to.”
The Qarthi legend claims dragons were birthed by the moon but as Irri points out, this is symbolic. The moon is a goddess, wife of the sun. How do we interpret this statement? Well, consider it from the perspective of a sexual union between the sun and the moon (as implied by the kiss). When the sun god mates with the moon goddess, he gives part of his fiery soul
(his breath) to her and this breath she imparts to her children, who become fire breathing dragons. These “dragons” are analogous to hot weather or to a heat wave. Indeed, gods who mate to produce weather phenomena are not alien to the narrative. As Lord Godric of the Three Sister Islands informs us, when their former gods, the Lord of the Skies and the Lady of the Waves, mated, they produced storms.
“Storms.” Lord Godric said the word as fondly as another man might say his lover’s name. “Storms were sacred on the Sisters before the Andals came. Our gods of old were the Lady of the Waves and the Lord of the Skies. They made storms every time they mated.” ADWD, Davos I
If those gods caused weather phenomena whenever they mated, why not the sun god and the moon goddess? Essentially, this mating occurs before our very eyes when Daenerys, the moon of Drogo’s life mates with her sun-and-stars. The idea of a man giving a woman his soul, his life-fires, during a sexual union is also an analogy to the sun god that gives his fiery breath to the moon goddess. Stannis gave his soul to Melisandre, and when Night’s King loved his starry-blue-eyed woman, he gave her his soul along with this seed. In Night King’s case, do we have a moon-god uniting with a star to bring forth ice-dragons, otherwise known as the white walkers? Do recall:
The clouds hid most of the Ice Dragon, all but the bright blue eye [the star] that marked due north. ASOS, Davos V
So, following the motif, my hypothesis is this:
The first “blood of the dragon,” a “mother of dragons” appeared at this time in the history of the planet, symbolized also by the crown given to Daenerys by the Tourmaline Brotherhood. Whatever magic the ancients invested in human-dragon-bonding now yielded tangible fruits. Fruits that became so ripe that they would burst in due course. Having “mothers of dragons,” essentially meant women capable of hatching dragons that bond naturally with human counterparts. Thanks to Preston Jacobs for his in-depth research on The Genetics of Dragons and War. He shows that dragon hatching is intrinsic to women with a distinct genetic inheritance.
From the histories of Old Valyria, we know the dragonlords controlled their dragons with binding spells and sorcerous dragon horns. This is quite different from control through natural bonding as demonstrated by Daenerys and her Targaryen ancestors. The blood of the dragon is a rare trait and it ensures the absolute loyalty of a dragon to its owner. The beast will accept no other rider for as long as its current bound rider lives.
As demonstrated by Daenerys herself, a woman with this special hatching potential would be able to hatch more than just one egg at a time. Just think of all those random existing dragon eggs that could be induced to hatch by a single “dragon-mother!” There would be no more waiting for the natural process of hatching if genetically suitable human mothers were capable of inducing hatching! No more having to risk taming wild dragons by feeding them sheep like Nettles demonstrates. What a boom for the dragon industry! That must have been a milestone in the cross-breeding efforts I postulate the ancients engaged in.
You’re probably doubtful of this scenario, but the histories do state that dragons existed the world over in ancient times. According to the World Book:
But there were dragons in Westeros, once, long before the Targaryens came, as our own legends and histories tell us. If dragons did first spring from the Fourteen Flames, they must have been spread across much of the known world before they were tamed. And, in fact, there is evidence for this, as dragon bones have been found as far north as Ib, and even in the jungles of Sothoryos.
The World of Ice and Fire
There are of course legends of dragons originating in Asshai and Asshai’i chroniclers also state that a very ancient people tamed dragons in the Shadow, teaching the Valyrians their arts before disappearing from the annals of history. These ancient people may have originated from the Dawn Empire, the last of their kind perhaps. I believe the Old Valyrians not only learned to tame dragons from these ancient people, they also found out about the lost “blood of the dragon,” and did their best to recover this rare special breed of humans that had been lost after the fall of the Empire. I also believe that this is the reason why they opted for slavery after wiping out the Kingdom of Old Ghis. Slavery meant an inexhaustible pool of humans on whom breeding experiments could be carried out. See my Three heads of the Dragon series for more on this idea.
Targaryens kept dragon eggs in hope of hatching them one day (Summerhall) and there are rumours of a hoard of dragon eggs hidden at Dragonstone (and even in the Winterfell crypts). Dragons are reptiles and if they behave in the expected manner, they care for neither eggs nor young. Clutches of eggs can be collected by those with the courage to do so. Now, imagine gaining access to large numbers of eggs, then circumventing the natural hatching process through the employment of “human dragon mothers”, giving life to numerous dragons, all of which can be controlled effortlessly by humans with the right bloodline. Tales also recall wise old dragons that lived for a thousand years. Dragons have long natural life-spans, their use in war being a major cause of early death. If dragons also enhance magic in the world, fire magic specifically, can we not relate all these hints to the length of a summer season? Too many long-lived dragons in the world influence the extent of a summer season to the point where the weather cycle and the life cycle become unreliable. This is what I think the Qarthi legend actually means. The moon did not birth dragons, neither did it break, nor mark the advent of the first dragon in the world.
Based on the above, we arrive at the following conclusion:
the first “blood of the dragon” was a “moon-maiden” descended from the original “pearl-maidens” of the first god-emperor. As stated above, I believe it is they who had the magical ability to control the weather and they are synonymous with Patchface’s weaving merwives, a theme I expand on here. By uniting with the tourmaline sun (the tourmaline of all colours representing white light), the pearl-moon-maiden gave birth to the first blood of the dragon and mother of dragons, initiating a bloodline that held the key to both heritable dragon-bonding and to influencing the very climate of the planet more radically than ever before. If the subsequent appearance of a large number of dragons happened to coincide with a meteor shower of a type such as the famous November Leonids, then we can understand how the legend originated.
The Valyrian Tapestry
An elegant man, Xaro has a great beak of a nose crusted with rubies, opals, and flakes of jade, giving him the aspect of some strange glittery bird, reminding us of gemstone emperors and of Dany’s dragons:
… and resting on top, nestled in the soft cloth, three huge eggs. Dany gasped. They were the most beautiful things she had ever seen, each different than the others, patterned in such rich colors that at first she thought they were crusted with jewels, and so large it took both of her hands to hold one.
AGOT, Daenerys II
Immensely rich, Xaro pampers the mother of dragons and would like to marry her. She hopes to acquire ships from him but Xaro is unwilling to contribute his own ships to her endeavor. After leaving Qarth, Daenerys conquers the slave cities of Slaver’s Bay, ending slavery in the process. In Meereen, she is visited by Xaro who now offers her 13 ships on the condition that she finally leave the region for Westeros. He also gifts her an ancient tapestry depicting Essos, showing Old Valyria before the Doom. Now, I’ve pondered on what this tapestry could signify and why Xaro would give up all efforts to woo her (and own a dragon) in favour of enmity. I think the answer is quite simple – put aside all thoughts of wealth and profit for a moment and focus on the tapestry and what it represents instead, namely an intact continent.
The sailors unrolled the tapestry across the floor. It was old, dusty, faded … and huge. Dany had to move to Xaro’s side before the patterns became plain. “A map? It is beautiful.” It covered half the floor. The seas were blue, the lands were green, the mountains black and brown. Cities were shown as stars in gold or silver thread. There is no Smoking Sea, she realized. Valyria is not yet an island.
ADWD, Daenerys III
Prior to the Doom, the Valyrians conquered every major kingdom west of the Bones. As the World Book states:
With the destruction of the Rhoynar, Valyria soon achieved complete domination of the western half of Essos, from the narrow sea to Slaver’s Bay, and from the Summer Sea to the Shivering Sea.
Tyrion witnesses the sad remains of Rhoynish cities during his journey down the Rhoyne:
The city was no more impressive. Ghoyan Drohe had never been large, Tyrion recalled from his histories, but it had been a fair place, green and flowering, a city of canals and fountains. Until the war. Until the dragons came. A thousand years later, the canals were choked with reeds and mud, and pools of stagnant water gave birth to swarms of flies. The broken stones of temples and palaces were sinking back into the earth, and gnarled old willows grew thick along the riverbanks.
ADWD, Tyrion III
The ruin was sad enough [Chroyane], but knowing what it had been made it even sadder. There was laughter here once, Tyrion thought. There were gardens bright with flowers and fountains sparkling golden in the sun. These steps once rang to the sound of lovers’ footsteps, and beneath that broken dome marriages beyond count were sealed with a kiss.
ADWD, Tyrion V
After leaving Qarth, Dany’s rampage through Slaver’s Bay brings chaos to the prosperity and social order of the region. Though her ideals are noble, her conquering efforts do not represent a positive change for people, slaves and or masters. She conquers cities and liberates slaves with no plan to secure the safety or livelihood of the freedmen. Chaos ensues. In response to her advance, the Meereenese destroy their fields and orchards, affecting food supplies for decades to come. Hunger is a reality in the Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen. What was life like for survivors who opted to remain after the destruction of the Rhoynar by the Valyrians? Daenery’s dragons were not even ready to play as decisive a role in the conquering of Slaver’s Bay as the 300 dragons purported to have participated in the downfall of the Rhoynar were.
Further, the Doom of Valyria itself brought chaos to the entire region for over a century:
The proudest city in all the world was gone in an instant, the fabled empire vanished in a day. The Lands of the Long Summer— once the most fertile in all the world— were scorched and drowned and blighted, and the toll in blood would not be fully realized for a century to come. What followed in the sudden vacuum was chaos. TWOIAF, The Doom of Valyria
Though the cause of the cataclysm is unclear, many believe that by excessive dabbling in magic, the Old Valyrians brought the Doom upon themselves:
A handful of maesters, influenced by fragments of the work of Septon Barth, hold that Valyria had used spells to tame the Fourteen Flames for thousands of years, that their ceaseless hunger for slaves and wealth was as much to sustain these spells as to expand their power, and that when at last those spells faltered, the cataclysm became inevitable.
TWOIAF, The Doom of Valyria
The tapestry depicting an intact Essos is a reminder to Dany, a reminder to her of what Essos was like prior to the arrival of the Valyrians, prior to the wholesale destruction of kingdoms and cultures, prior to the diabolical and unreasonable employment of fire magic, and the disintegration of that magic upon itself. Clearly, neither the Qartheen nor the nobility of Slaver’ Bay want a repetition of this section of history. Daenerys with her dragons aspired to change their way of life for the better but from their point of view, she had nothing to offer but more of what history had taught them. Perhaps the Qartheen understand the significance of their legend, even if others do not. Their ancestors experienced climate-change first hand, fleeing ever farther south even as the grasslands turned to dust behind them. Maybe the customary automatic weeping peculiar to the people of Qarth has its roots in the need for water, for rain, to restore and renew the parched earth. The dragon does not weep. Dragons plant no trees. It is known.
The tapestry has another layer of meaning however. It is woven of fine threads, the weaving representing the working of magic that once turned the land green and made Old Valyria the most fertile place in the world. It’s a callback to the merwives who wove gowns of silver seaweed, to Melisandre’s magical weaving of light an shadow and to all that went wrong when humans tried to change the course of nature.
I conclude that both the Jade and Tourmaline Eras were scorchers and suggest that this fuelled global warming in earnest, followed by a continent-wide change in climate, one that affected even Dorne in the south of Westeros. Further, a rise in average temperatures would have accelerated ice melt at the poles, causing a rise in sea-level and the drowning of land masses, especially along coastlines. If global warming wasn’t much of an issue before, it did become an environmental problem after this.
Lastly, I must point out that the name Qarth is quite reminiscent of Garth, requiring only substitution of G with letter Q. I feel this is our strongest hint as to the origin of Garth the Green and the First Men who followed him to Westeros. They most likely hailed from the grasslands now known as the Dothraki Sea, or rather, from the lands south of the Silver Sea, if not from the people of the Silver Sea itself. The Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea relate to my beloved pearl-moon-maidens whom I believe were mistresses of weather magic and sought after not only for their counsel, but like Garth, for their ability to make things grow.
The Onyx Era
Onyx is a black mineral, often with white banding, usually in straight lines. In ancient magic lore, the onyx was believed to be a manifestation of a demon imprisoned within the stone. At night, the demon awoke to spread terror and nightmares to people within its range of influence. This symbolism fits in well with my theory, because after the Jade spring and the intense heat of the Tourmaline summer, a long cold winter and night of darkness was due. Onyx is black as the night and I believe the Onyx Era was a Long Night.
You’re probably shaking your head in disbelief at the thought of several long nights in the history of George Martin’s world, after all, we’ve been given specific information on one Long Night only (apparently).
To start off, consider this: the legends of Essos recall several heroic persons who supposedly ended the Long Night. Each culture appears to have its own tale. Mostly the heroes are male, but the stories also recall a heroine, and there is that curious Rhoynish tale about a crab king and turtle god uniting to sing a song that brought back the day. Could it be that not all of these tales refer to heroes who brought back the day? That in fact, some of these legends refer to champions who ended devastating Long Summers instead of the Long Night? Was the Bloodstone Emperor the only one to usher in a long night? Has the Day been brought back more than once?
Let’s have a look at the champions and legends in question:
How long the darkness endured no man can say, but all agree that it was only when a great warrior— known variously as Hyrkoon the Hero, Azor Ahai, Yin Tar, Neferion, and Eldric Shadowchaser— arose to give courage to the race of men and lead the virtuous into battle with his blazing sword Lightbringer that the darkness was put to rout, and light and love returned once more to the world.
According to these tales, the return of the sun came only when a hero convinced Mother Rhoyne’s many children— lesser gods such as the Crab King and the Old Man of the River— to put aside their bickering and join together to sing a secret song that brought back the day.
It is also written that there are annals in Asshai of such a darkness, and of a hero who fought against it with a red sword. His deeds are said to have been performed before the rise of Valyria, in the earliest age when Old Ghis was first forming its empire. This legend has spread west from Asshai, and the followers of R’hllor claim that this hero was named Azor Ahai, and prophesy his return.
In the Jade Compendium, Colloquo Votar recounts a curious legend from Yi Ti, which states that the sun hid its face from the earth for a lifetime, ashamed at something none could discover, and that disaster was averted only by the deeds of a woman with a monkey’s tail.
Azor Ahai, who perhaps hailed from Asshai is the only hero we have a little information on. Now, Asshai is not that far from present day Yi Ti. Why then is the legend of Yi Ti, which features a woman with a monkey’s tail so different from the Azor Ahai legend recorded in the annals of Asshai?
How about names like Yin Tar and Neferion? They ring more like persons who brought the night, rather than heroes of the day. Consider Nefer – possibly the origin of the hero Neferion. Check out its description:
Nefer, chief city of the kingdom of N’ghai, hemmed in by towering chalk cliffs and perpetually shrouded in fog. When seen from the harbor, Nefer appears to be no more than a small town, but it is said that nine-tenths of the city is beneath the ground. For that reason, travelers call Nefer the Secret City. By any name, the city enjoys a sinister reputation as a haunt of necromancers and torturers.
Beyond N’ghai are the forests of Mossovy, a cold dark land of shapechangers and demon hunters. TWOIAF
Shrouded in fog, nine-tenths of the city underground, a sinister reputation. A place shrouded in foggy gloom. Sounds like Asshai, possible home to the Bloodstone Emperor. And he ushered in the Night, not the Day. I think Neferion was no hero of the day. By way of the parallels to Asshai, he probably ended a long summer by ushering in the night.
How about Yin Tar? Yin could be a direct reference to the Chinese Yin-Yang symbol. Yin is the passive female force, denoted by the black side, while yang is the active male principle denoted by the white portion of the symbol. Together, they create a mutual whole, a balance. Yin literally means dark and is associated with the moon, while yang means light/bright; the second part of the name, Tar, reminds us of, well, tar. Tar is a viscous liquid and can refer to bitumen, resin, gum and the pitch of certain kinds of tree. Could Tar allude to the oil covering the mysterious black stone? Tar is black. Yin Tar can thus be interpreted as “black black.” Another perpetrator of a Long Night?
What of the Daynes who may have originally hailed from the Great Empire in the Dawn of days? They possess the greatsword Dawn. They confer the title of Sword of the Morning on a member of their house deserving of sword and title. But they do use the title Sword of the Evening as well. The only person to wield this sword mentioned in the text was sent to the Wall by Nymeria. If the Sword of the Morning is akin to Lightbringer, which brought back the Dawn, could the Sword of the Evening have brought nightfall? There is a Valyrian Steel sword named Nightfall, currently wielded by Harras Harlaw of the Ironborn. Just thought I’d mention that as well.
Yes, the truth becomes distorted and legends take on a life of their own, but this is rather odd. We have the Rhoynish version too, which differs totally from the rest. Several men, one woman and a song, names that can be interpreted in terms of day or night…. That should set us thinking about the possibility of at least two long nights that ended diabolically extended summers. Your guess is as good as mine.
Three characters within the story are said to have eyes of onyx: Khal Drogo, Ser Alliser Thorne and Alleras, acolyte of the Citadel.
Dany looked at Khal Drogo. His face was hard and cruel, his eyes as cold and dark as onyx. Her brother hurt her sometimes, when she woke the dragon, but he did not frighten her the way this man frightened her. AGOT, Daenerys I
Thorne strode toward him, crisp black leathers whispering faintly as he moved. He was a compact man of fifty years, spare and hard, with grey in his black hair and eyes like chips of onyx.
It had been Lazy Leo who dubbed Alleras “the Sphinx.” A sphinx is a bit of this, a bit of that: a human face, the body of a lion, the wings of a hawk. Alleras was the same: his father was a Dornishman, his mother a black-skinned Summer Islander. His own skin was dark as teak. And like the green marble sphinxes that flanked the Citadel’s main gate, Alleras had eyes of onyx.
Are these characters associated with the Long Night?
Let’s begin with Ser Alliser Thorne, master-of-arms at the Night’s Watch. A harsh, bitter and humorless man, he does a capable job but treats his recruits with utter disdain. There is no love lost between him and Jon Snow, whom he goads at every opportunity. Thorne fought for the Targaryens during Robert’s Rebellion and chose the Wall over losing his head after the war. Thorne’s association with the Long Night is clear. He is sworn brother of the Night’s Watch and well aware of the threat of the Others:
Do you think I sailed all the way from Eastwatch-by-the-Sea to be mocked by the likes of you? This is no jape. I saw it with my own eyes. I tell you, the dead walk. AKOK, Tyrion VI
I cannot argue this conclusively, but my feeling is Alliser Thorne is associated with the Pearl Era which was characterized by fighting off the darkness and ghouls emanating from the icy Grey Waste. This one will have to wait until I have more conclusive evidence.
Khal Drogo and the Dothraki
Upon meeting him, Daenerys is very much afraid of Drogo, whose onyx eyes she perceives as cold and dark. Odd as this may seem, there are parallels between the Dothraki and the White Walkers with their army of the undead.
With their hordes of semi-disciplined warriors, the Khals of old wiped out whole cultures and kingdoms. Rising after the power vacuum left by the Doom of Valyria, the Dothraki swept in from the East, destroying the Kingdom of Sarnor, the Ibbenese town Ibbish, all Qarthii cities except Qarth, the Ghiscari cities of Ghardaq and Hazdahn Mo, amongst others. The only purpose to their rampage through Essos seems to have been the acquisition of slaves, most of whom are exchanged for gifts. They also had a thing for the gods of the peoples conquered, carrying them off to display along the main road into Vaes Dothrak. Since the Dothraki establish no cities and continue to uphold their primitive lifestyle, their motifs are as difficult to discern as those of the White Walkers who appear intent on wiping out the living. The army of horselords is as effective as the army of the dead though. Slavery is another common factor: The Others spiritually enslave the dead to fight on their behalf, while the Dothraki capture the living to be sold into slavery.
A subtler parallel is the Dothraki fear of the sea, or “poison water,” as they call it. For reasons unknown, they distrust any water their horses cannot drink. Until Khal Drogo’s decision to invade Westeros on behalf of Daenerys, no Dothraki ever considered crossing the ocean. This concept of impassible poison water is reminiscent of the magic wards in the Wall that prevent the Others from crossing south.
The belief in the Night Lands is another possible connection between the Dothraki and the Others.
When a horselord dies, his horse is slain with him, so he might ride proud into the night lands. The bodies are burned beneath the open sky, and the khal rises on his fiery steed to take his place among the stars. The more fiercely the man burned in life, the brighter his star will shine in the darkness. AGOT, Daenerys
The blue star eyes of the White Walkers and their wights certainly shine brightly in the darkness and they do prowl the land only at night. Burning the undead will break the spiritual bond between a wight and his controlling White Walker, while burning the deceased ensures they do not return undead. This mirrors the Dothraki belief in the sense that cremation is the key to releasing the soul from its bodily confines. Likewise, burning the undead essentially releases the soul and breaks the chains of their spiritual enslavement. Khal Drogo’s zombie-like state after returning from the brink of death also recalls the undead.
Another common factor is the exchange of goods or giving and receiving of gifts instead of money. Craster gifts his newborn sons, as well as sheep and dogs to the Others, presumably in exchange for being left in peace by them. The Dothraki do not trade with money either, accepting only gifts in return for the slaves they provide. In analogy to Craster who gifts his sons to the Others in exchange for being left in peace, cities not wanting to engage in war with the horselords offer them bribes in the form of gifts.
This does not mean that Dothraki = Others! Rather, the Dothraki may mirror the First Men who brought their strange gods, horses and bronze weapons to Westeros, slaughtering the children of the forest as they sought to establish themselves in the new land. The First Men’s fear of the weirwoods and magic of the children is reminiscent of the Dothraki’s fear and distrust of Mirri Maz Durr’s healing and magic, while the Lamb People’s plight mirrors the powerlessness of the children of the forest in the face of their aggressors. Both the children and the Lamb People practice a form of blood magic.
For more ideas on this (largely based on the TV-Series), check out my rendition of what the spiral motif means.
George’s symbolism is seldom straightforward and often multilayered. While Khal Drogo and the Dothraki show many parallels to the Others and their undead, I believe the Khal is really a “horned lord of the summer season.” In fact, via his marriage to Daenerys, he can be considered lord of an extreme summer season and so his connection to the night is not the night itself. Rather, as a representative of an extreme summer, he ushers in the night, much like the Bloodstone Emperor does. This phrasing is very important. The Bloodstone Emperor did not cause the Long Night. The legend states that he ushered it in. This relates to long winters following long summers – or to put it more clearly, a long summer will ultimately usher in, as in lead to, a long night. Similarly, Robert Baratheon of the black onyx stag presided over the longest summer in living memory. His death ushers in a period comparable with the Bloodstone Emperor’s reign – wars, strife, evil men on the rampage (the Mountain, Vargo Hoat, Ramsay, Rorge, Biter etc.), sorcery (Melisandre, Qyburn, resurrection of the dead as in Beric and Stoneheart, production of wildfire, the introduction of slavery by Euron), rise of the Faith Militant, murder of kings and so on. Winter has come and the Long Night is imminent. Like Khal Drogo, Robert can be said to have ushered in a Long Night.
Alleras and Dorne
Alleras, also known as the Sphinx, is Oberyn Martell’s daughter Sarella, posing as a young man to acquire knowledge at the Citadel. Alleras’ onyx eyes are like her father’s eyes, described by Areo Hotah as “black as night.”
Alleras is a clue leading us to Dorne and to Sunspear. Dorne’s people are temperamental and passionate, living by principles and laws that differ from the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. The hot climate is conducive to fruit production; oranges and lemons grow in Dorne (recall the fruity connection to wildfire here). The capital, Sunspear, is a city I suspect the author has modelled along the lines of what Asshai used to be before being enveloped in shadow. The first point of interest is the Martell sigil, after which the city was named. It combines the Rhoynish Sun and the Martell Spear. The spear penetrates the sun as if to harm it or kill it, fitting the imagery of an extinguished sun. Alternatively, the symbol can be thought of in terms of a particularly sharp and lethal sun. Like Asshai, Sunspear resides on a peninsula, a remnant of the Broken Arm of Dorne. Spreading westwards from the Sandship, the original stronghold of the Martells, is a labyrinth of windowless (windowless = no sunlight) hovels, pillow houses and winesinks known as the shadow city, the name again reminiscent of Asshai. True to the Martel words, Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken, the Dornish “fought from the shadows, refusing to surrender,” during the First Dornish War against Aegon the Conqueror. Despite the heat of Dorne, in literary terms, Sunspear bears hallmarks of a gloomy, shadowy place.
To the north lies the Greenblood, home to the Orphans of the Greenblood, a division of Nymeria’s Rhoynish fugitives who preferred to retain the old customs of the Rhoynar. The Rhoynar also had their Long Night legend of course, involving the Crab King and Old Man of the River who come together to sing a song that brings back the day. In fact, the circumstance that ended the First Dornish War reminds me of this legend. After the death of the aged but cunning Princess Meria in 13 AC, the throne passed to her son Prince Nymor. Old
and tired of war, he sent a peace delegation headed by his daughter, the Princess Deria, to King’s Landing. She bore the skull of Meraxes, Princess Rhaeny’s dragon, as a gift for the king. Deria’s peace terms, the peace of two kingdoms no longer at war, not the peace between a vassal and a lord, were not well received by the Aegon and his counselors, but then the following occurred:
King Aegon was determined to refuse the offer until Princess Deria placed in his hands a private letter from her father, Prince Nymor. Aegon read it upon the Iron Throne, and men say that when he rose, his hand was bleeding, so hard had he clenched it. He burned the letter and departed immediately on Balerion’s back for Dragonstone. When he returned the next morning, he agreed to the peace and signed a treaty to that effect. TWOIAF, The Seven Kingdoms, Dorne
The contents of that letter remain a mystery to this day and Dorne would remain independent for decades to come. Is there a parallel between the mysterious letter and the song that brought back the light of day? Both ended the “bickering” of two parties at war with each other. We know not what the letter contained, neither do we have any notion of the ancient “song.” The aging Prince Nymor, however, could stand in for the Old Man of the River, while Aegon Targaryen could represent the Crab King. Recall the Celtigars of Claw Isle for instance. They are historically sworn to Dragonstone and their sigil depicts red crabs strewn on white. The blood of Old Valyria flows through their veins as well. Dick Crabb (Nimble Dick) is from Crackclaw Point. The houses of this region were known for their loyalty to the Targaryens and were once sworn directly to the Targaryens of King’s Landing. The astrological sign Cancer, the crab, is a summer constellation and the ancient Babylonians particularly associated it with the heat of that season.
Now, you may consider what I am about to suggest a complete case of tinfoil, but I personally believe the contents of that letter revealed who was really involved in Rhaeny’s death. It was this knowledge that caused Aegon the Conqueror to end his “bickering” with Dorne. What was the big secret? I think Visenya’s jealousy of her sister prompted her to conspire with the Ullers of Hellholt to cause Rhaeny’s death. The letter must have proved the truth of the matter, leaving Aegon no choice but to agree to Prince Nymor’s terms.
Rhaenys and Visenya were as different as the sun and moon and can even be viewed through the lens of these heavenly bodies. Visenya who wielded the sword “Dark Sister,” really was a dark sister compared to her light-hearted fun-loving sibling. I need not remind you of their respective attributes to convince you of this assessment. Rhaeny’s demise while flying her dragon and warring against heat blighted Dorne is an example of the extinguishing of a sun-symbol above a region whose climate is always summer.
But let’s get back to Alleras/Sarella. Is there any hint that she might be linked to the idea of ushering a long night? I think so. It’s all in the fruit. Alleras is the subject of the prologue to a Feast for Crows. She demonstrates her skills at bowmanship by shooting down two apples thrown up high by club-footed Mollander:
“The apple,” Alleras said. “Unless you mean to eat it.”
“Here.” Dragging his clubfoot, Mollander took a short hop, whirled, and whipped the apple sidearm into the mists that hung above the Honeywine. AFFC, Prologue
This first apple is withered, the second is wormy. Alleras hits both but misses the third apple, a fresh one, plucked straight from the tree by Mollander. What does this imply? As fruits of summer, all apples represent the summer season, and perhaps the ancient characters who propagated the season itself. The first two are flawed; they represent long summers that must come to an end and are duly shot down by Alleras. The characters talk about dragons during this scene, also about Daenerys, who is intimately tied to the Land of the Long Summer. The third apple possibly represents Daenerys, the new summer champion. This one isn’t withered or wormy but straight from the tree, plucked before it is overripe, and is symbolic of a normal summer. Meanwhile, Pate is thinking about his plan to acquire a gold dragon with which he intends to purchase the right to Rosey’s virginity. The lethal nature of the “gold dragon” is highlighted by Pate’s death when he bites into the poisoned coin to test its authenticity.
Alleras shooting summer apples out of the sky should remind us of Rhaeny’s death in Dorne, both scenarios alluding to ending a long summer. Alleras of the onyx eyes is thus symbolic of ushering in a long night.
This section on the Onyx Emperor’s era really deserves an essay all on its own. In a nutshell, Dorne mirrors the exhausting climate of the Far East and is a major key to the events leading up to ancient Long Night(s). My premise is that those who suffered summer extremes fought against it and took measures to end it, ultimately causing a Long Night. As symbolized by Doran Martell, the rulers of these blighted lands embodied the Fisher King archetype, presiding over a broken land that would not heal unless a quest was fulfilled, or, measures taken to counteract the cause. In relation to Dorne, this quest is represented by the desire to avenge Elia Martell’s death, a quest that is not brought to a satisfactory close because the Dornish avenger, Oberyn, also dies in the process. Dorne’s quest to “heal the land” is centered around bringing the downfall of the Lannisters, whom with their golden lion imagery, symbolize the current authority over the summer season. Notice also, that theirs is a usurpation of the summer season, for no current Lannister is legally entitled to the throne.
As the quest for vengeance thus continues, Myrcella Baratheon (Lannister) is now a pivotal instrument in its completion. The plan is to crown her as queen but as Magister Illiryo notes – to crown her is to kill her. In this scenario, Princess Myrcella represents the Amethyst Empress while Gerold Dayne, also known as Darkstar, stands in for the Bloodstone Emperor. Myrcella, with her golden curls and double Lannister heritage, love of hot Dornish food and expertise in cyvasse, where she uses her dragon to great effect, is the summer association. Gerold Dayne, or Darkstar, who says he is of the night, appears resentful of Arthur Dayne, Sword of the Morning:
My House goes back ten thousand years, unto the dawn of days,” he complained. “Why is it that my cousin is the only Dayne that anyone remembers?”
“He was a great knight,” Ser Arys Oakheart put in.
“He had a great sword,” Darkstar said.
AFFC, The Queenmaker
Though Arianne introduces him as Gerold Dayne of Starfall, he is actually a knight of High Hermitage, a cadet branch of House Dayne. He is probably a “Sword of the Evening,” an “anti-hero” who symbolically brings the winter, and, the night. Take note of his description, the hair like a silver glacier divided by a streak of midnight black, the dying sun, his dark and angry eyes:
He kept his face clean-shaven, but his thick hair fell to his collar like a silver glacier, divided by a streak of midnight black. He has a cruel mouth, though, and a crueler tongue. His eyes seemed black as he sat outlined against the dying sun, sharpening his steel, but she had looked at them from a closer vantage and she knew that they were purple. Dark purple. Dark and angry. AFFC, The Queenmaker
Darkstar mirrors the Bloodstone Emperor by attempting to kill sun-symbol Myrcella. The act reminds us once again of the Martell sigil, the speared sun. The event takes place on the Greenblood, another clue to the Emperor: the bloodstone is a semi-precious mineral of green stone with red inclusions – green
blood. Darkstar can be associated with the Sword of the Evening, a man who most likely ushers in the Night.
For reasons which I shall have to expand on in a later essay, I suspect the Onyx Long Night to have been ended by the legendary first Dayne who followed a fallen star to Dorne. In this scenario, Dawn is the sword that ended the first Long Night, while Lightbringer is the sword that ended the second Long Night.
The Topaz Era
Like the tourmaline, the topaz comes in different colors: blue, pink, white, light to medium brown and a deep golden yellow, also known as Imperial Topaz. The name derives from the Greek topazion, believed to have originated from tapas, the Sanskrit word for fire. For the ancient Egyptians, the topaz was the stone of the Sun God Ra. The brown and golden tones of this mineral were associated with planting seasons, the rich soil of the earth, with the harvest and with the sun.
This mineral is mentioned only once in the narrative, as part of Stannis Baratheon’ attire.
As he neared, she saw that Stannis wore a crown of red gold with points fashioned in the shape of flames. His belt was studded with garnets and yellow topaz, and a great square-cut ruby was set in the hilt of the sword he wore. ACOK, Catelyn
It is not part of the jewel-eyed kings of Dany’s wake the dragon dream. We note that the author does justice to the symbolism of the yellow variety of the stone: Imperial Topaz, for Stannis believes himself the rightful heir to the Iron Throne and by the laws of Westeros, he is indeed the only legitimate contender to the throne. As the sole king in Westeros to respond to the Night’s Watch call for help, Stannis is the only monarch who deserves the royal title, Lord Protector of the Seven Kingdoms. Stannis is urged on by Melisandre, whose appearance, magic and god are the embodiment of fire. She proclaims him as Azor Ahai reborn, the hero destined to fight the Battle for the Dawn.
Yet despite the imagery of fire surrounding Stannis, his arc is peppered with themes of starvation and infertility. He comes into all that fire only through Melisandre. During Robert’s Rebellion, Stannis and his garrison almost succumbed to starvation while the siege of Storm’s End held sway. Later, he suffers a similar plight crofter’s village in the North. Stannis’ and Selyse’s attempts to have more children after Shireen have also failed. Disfigured by greyscale during her childhood, Shireen herself makes a doubtful heir in respect of a continuation of the legitimate Baratheon line. It’s evident that Stannis represents neither the fertility of the land nor that of man. The king himself is just and above all dutiful, but he is also humorless, grim and gaunt, his fringe of black hair described as a “shadow of a crown.”
The motifs surrounding him can be linked to the dying part of the life-cycle, to winter. Since summer had already ended, securing the Iron Throne would have also made him a winter king, and yet, his association with Dragonstone, the red priestess and Azor Ahai appear to place him within the realm of fire. His banner differs from that of his brothers’ as well. He not only adopts a burning heart, which encloses the original Baratheon stag (symbolic of virility and fertility), Catelyn also notices that his banner is bright yellow, rather than a rich gold:
Stannis it must be, yet that is not the Baratheon banner. It was a bright yellow, not the rich gold of Renly’s standards, and the device it bore was red, though she could not make out its shape.
I have a theory for this conflicting summer/winter symbolism:
Stannis’ story reveals to us how a lawful “King of Winter,” one who represents the natural dying part of the life-cycle,
where a normal autumn is followed by a normal winter, was corrupted by the machinations of fire magic. The fiery heart enclosing the Stannis’ personal sigil alludes to its dominance over the virile, fertile stag. Through the red priestesses influence, his mission is to hold back the winter, rather than embrace it. But winter must occur in northern latitudes, for the land needs death for regeneration to take place in spring. In tropical climes, a cooler rainy season must refresh the earth for plant life to regenerate. Put aside the Long Night for a moment and consider this in terms of the normal seasonal cycle only.
Despite his just image and in respect of the seasons, Stannis represents a morally bankrupt “king of winter,” one who is unwilling to take up his post.
Why is Stannis morally corrupt?
Because we expect a truly morally upright and honorable man to never consider the sacrifice of a child, to never condone kinslaying, let alone provide the basis of a murderous shadow for that purpose. A morally principled man would not need Davos Seaworth as his conscience, would not need to be reminded that these deeds are vile and dishonourable. Would Ned Stark ever think of sacrificing his daughters for political reasons? The honorable Ned Stark sealed his fate when he chose to save
Cersei’s illegitimate children. A true king of winter should accept his office and accompany the season until the time comes to give way to spring. Notice also that Renly is killed by his brother’s shadow, but “rises from the dead” as the leader of an army that prevents Stannis from taking the Iron Throne and coming into a reign of fire (Melisandre).
Aegon the Dragonbane and Stannis
Stannis also reminds me of Aegon III, the Dragonbane, Rhaenyra’s son who ascended the Iron Throne after Aegon II’s short reign following the Dance of the Dragons. Note the similarities to Stannis in this brief summary: in the Princess and the Queen, he is described as a “small pale shadow” to his mother. He was pale, lean, and never smiled. After the war, he became increasingly cold, brooding and melancholy. He found pleasure in almost nothing and though he eventually produced five heirs, he disliked being touched, even by his wife. His dragon, Stormcloud, died and Aegon III never rode another (evokes Storm’s End that Stannis did not inherit). It is said he strove to give his people peace and plenty, but his coldness stood in the way of gaining favour with the nobility (Stannis had no luck with this either). Waking dragons is another theme he shares with Stannis; though he had a distaste for dragons, he brought nine mages from Essos to hatch dragon eggs, but this ended in failure.
Stannis, Melisandre and the Dragonbane perhaps shed some light on what conditions were like after the First Long Night of darkness. Presiding over a broken realm, the Topaz Emperor must been preoccupied with seeing to justice being given its due, as well as restoring cultivation to feed his subjects. Perhaps his ascension to the throne was not uncontended, meaning he would have had to deal with rivals as well. It’s plausible the religion of Red R’hllor gained a foothold during this era and that an accompanying upsurge in new type of fire magic followed. The Topaz Era was probably a short one, a period of transition with new alliances being formed on all sides after the Long Night.
The next era, the Opal Emperor’s reign, provides some clues to this proposition.
The Opal Era
Opals too come in different colours. The author mentions fire opals several times, so I shall concentrate on the symbolism of that variant. Like the name suggests, fire opals can be a flaming orange, red or cherry colour and display iridescence in bright light. They are found in volcanic rock formations, especially in Mexico and Australia. The stone is worn as a protection against danger, both physical and spiritual, and empowers the wearer to remove himself from situations of injustice or mistreatment.
Because it contains up to 20 percent water, the fire opal is also considered to be a water-stone. Through its vibrations, a wearer can connect with forces of water, including merfolk and water sprites. The relatively high liquid content of the stone has its down sides however. Because of this, the mineral suffers from exposure to changes in temperature, humidity and light. Fire opals are therefore prone to cracking, a phenomenon known as crazing. Fire opals also symbolize the joy of the heart, promote sexual energy and are believed to attract wealth to a wearer.
Some interesting facts about the fire opal suggest it is a precursor to the ruby in the narrative, the ruby also a fiery stone, worn and employed by Melisandre in her magical rituals. Fire opals held prominent meaning in the Middle Ages, especially during the time of the Black Death. Back then, people noticed that fire opals worn by the afflicted increased in brightness and that this subsided after the victim’s death. This change in luminosity is caused by heat. Since high fever (heat) is a symptom of the bubonic plague, it is not surprising that people observed this effect on the stone and came to associate it with ill fortune, indeed, with death. Melisandre’s ruby also changes in brightness and temperature, apparently in proportion to the intensity of the magic she works.
The fire opal was thought to prevent eye diseases and to sharpen and strengthen the sight, the latter reminding us of Mel’s use of flame as a mediator of prophetic visions. It was even said to grant invisibility to the wearer by covering its owner in a manner that dimmed other’s eyes so that they could not see the reality of what was before them. For this reason, it was also known as the “Thieves Stone” because it would allow the unscrupulous to go unseen and escape capture. Does this not sound very much like Melisandre’s glamouring magic in which she employs a ruby set in an iron bracelet to change a person’s appearance? She demonstrates this when she glamours Mance Rayder to take on the appearance of the Lord of Bones.
Significantly, we find a reference to a fire-opal set in an iron bracelet in Daenerys’ arc:
Aggo was back next. The southwest was barren and burned, he swore. He had found the ruins of two more cities, smaller than Vaes Tolorro but otherwise the same. One was warded by a ring of skulls mounted on rusted iron spears, so he dared not enter, but he had explored the second for as long as he could. He showed Dany an iron bracelet he had found, set with an uncut fire opal the size of her thumb. ACOK, Daenerys
Aggo finds this bracelet in a ruined city within the Red Waste. Note the fire opal’s link to the parched desert and to death. Could the fire opal have been the first mineral stone employed in glamouring and if so, what did the people who used it they seek to hide? Aggo also found the ruined city of Vaes Tolorro in the Red Waste, the place that became a haven for Dany and her meagre Khalasaar. Were the inhabitants of the City of Bones trying to shelter themselves from the extreme heat of the desert in which they lived? It appears they built the place specifically to reflect heat. Notice that the entire city is white, which reflects light (and heat), and is even windowless, as if the people preferred to live in gloom within their premises:
How long the city had been deserted she could not know, but the white walls, so beautiful from afar, were cracked and crumbling when seen up close. Inside was a maze of narrow crooked alleys. The buildings pressed close, their facades blank, chalky, windowless. Everything was white, as if the people who lived here had known nothing of color.
ACOK, Daenerys I
The Opal Era seems to have been exceedingly hot, perhaps the period known to the Patrimony of Hyrkoon as the Dry Times. Remember that the women of the Patrimony are warrior maids who wear iron rings in their nipples and rubies in their cheeks and that gender roles are reversed in their society. Here women represent the warrior class and nine out of ten men are eunuchs dedicated to a life of service, with only the strongest and most comely men permitted to breed. I believe this sharp curtailment of masculine power is rooted in a backlash against a previous culture of male dominance and aggression related to corrupt fertility magic, but that’s another story.
As mentioned in the previous section, I believe the Topaz and Opal Eras marked a turning point in the use of fire magic brought about by the rise of the religion of the Lord of Light. The disciples of this new discipline would no longer consider themselves alchemists but be priests and priestesses with an agenda differing from that of former practitioners of fire magic. Having experienced the dreadful long night, this new religion would pursue disciplines such as shadow-binding, flame-mediated prophecy, glamouring and above all the make use of the transformative, cleaning power of fire. They would buy those condemned to slavery and offer them a new perspective in life – as priests, warriors or temple prostitutes. In their new order, the Fiery Hand would replace the Green Hand (I’ve chosen the Green Hand to represent those who practiced dubious fertility and weather magic) that had caused so much trouble in the past.
The cleansing power of fire
Fire is a transformative force, at once destructive and regenerative. Fire consumes the phoenix, which rises from the ashes to greater glory (think Daenerys here too). Melisandre’s magic is a corrupting element, but at the same time her fire has the power to cleanse and renew. This is a theme I discuss in an article on fire magic. The author confuses us by focusing our attention on what we perceive as Melisandre’s destructive role, but her fire magic has cleansing and regenerating properties as well. We first see this during maester Cressen’s attempt on her life. The fire within her cleansed her off Maester Cressen’s poison, allowing her to live, while he drank the poisoned wine and died. Dragonfire scours Daenerys clean in her dream, leaving her feeling strong and refreshed. Fire cleanses Varamyr with a searing power that almost drives him mad. This occurs when Melisandre brings down his eagle, which the skinchanger was inhabiting at the time. Her fire burns its heart to a black cinder, driving Varamyr’s soul in the process. After this, he no longer has the power to control beasts other than his wolves. Indeed, skinchanging animals other than wolves is a power that he acquired through breaking one of the taboos of warging taught to him by Haggon. Check out this essay for a detailed explanation. Notice also that this suggests a true warg is not susceptible to fire, that is, his soul cannot be driven out of his host animal by fire.
With the above in mind, the black stag enveloped in a burning heart depicted on Stannis’ sigil probably represents the spiritual cleansing of the morally bankrupt king of winter who neglects his duty to the season he is supposed to rule over.
I however do not believe Stannis will be “cleansed” in the end. I think the author will transfer this cleansing to poor Shireen, who in the books may be burnt at the stake to banish winter, as she was in the show. Having once suffered greyscale, she is considered unclean by some. Val is very adamant about this. Shireen is a sad lonely summer
child with a disfigured grey face, which alludes to a broken or corrupted summer. She is accompanied by an equally sad fool who with is clanging antlered hat, embodies the “horned lord” archetype. But like Stannis who dances to Melisandre’s tune, Patchface is a broken horned lord, devoid of his wits, dancing to the tune of his clanging bells. Since the dying and resurrecting horned lord is explicitly associated with the changing of the seasons, Patchface’s portrayal is yet another piece in the puzzle surrounding the quirky seasons of Planetos.
Melisandre’s training took her to shadowy Asshai, a city steeped in the dark arts, where she studied occult subjects including the art of fire-mediated prophecy and shadowbinding. This opal/ruby connection, as well as Melisandre of Asshai’s use of dark magic, her fervent belief in the Lord of Light and determination to fight the impending darkness suggests that even before the advent of the Bloodstone Emperor, the Opal Era represented a period of extreme heat and magical activity. This is also supported by the opal sun depicted on the chalice given to Joffery by Mace Tyrell.
If Daenerys can be viewed as the Amethyst Empress reborn, then her father Aerys can be linked to the Opal Emperor. Recall that the fire opal is prone to cracking, a condition referred to as crazing, as explained above. Aerys II was the Mad King of course, Mad and Crazy being synonymous terms. Though we cannot be sure if he personally practiced magic, Aerys did dabble in it via the pyromancers who produced his wildfire, a substance he became increasingly obsessed with. This is significant because it supports the idea of a sovereign obsessed with fire magic during the Opal Era. The fire-opal’s tendency towards cracking could also indicate that the Empire had reached its breaking point, that the long summer and crippling drought literally had the population boiling with rage and dissatisfaction. Though there’s no conclusive evidence available, its plausible that several factions within the Empire began to war against each other – for dominance, for resources and to procure the throne itself. The Patrimony of Hyrkoon who recall the Dry Times, as well as the Jogos Nhai and Yi Ti may have declared themselves independent of the Empire of the Dawn and fought each other for supremacy. Amidst all chaos, the Opal Emperor breached tradition by naming his daughter, the Amethyst Princess, as his successor.
The Amethyst Empress and the Bloodstone Emperor
Until the Amethyst Empress, no women are mentioned as having sat the throne during the Empire’s duration. I see a parallel to the Dance of the Dragons, which was initiated through just such a circumstance – the rivalry between the chosen heir, Rhaenyra, and her half brother Aegon II Targaryen. George Martin’s symbolism is complex however, and I doubt the Dance of the Dragons is the only likely parallel we must study to figure out the events of the Dawn in Essos. Cersei’s entire arc strikes me as a massive source of information as well, as does the Dornish plot to crown Myrcella queen. Notice that both Cersei and Myrcella exude the golden sun imagery and that Rhaenyra was eaten by a dragon named Sunfyre. We can also add our sad summer child Shireen, sole heiress to Stannis Baratheon, as a representative of the broken summer to our list. Since discussing all this would break the bounds of this article, I shall restrict myself to proposing that the Amethyst Empress’s reign was a continuation of the hot summer of the Opal Era.
The symbolism of the Bloodstone suggests this emperor did indeed usher in the Long Night, but I believe his primary concern was to restore the rainy season and fertility to the scorched empire.
Check out the bloodstone and what do you find?
- It is a variety of green jasper (chalcedony), with red inclusions of hematite, resembling drops of blood, hence the name, bloodstone. Because of its coloring, we could also see it as representative of green blood, or greenblood.
- Its properties as a healing stone go back to ancient Mesopotamia. It was believed to detoxify the blood and organs, and act as a coagulant to inhibit blood-flow.
- Its magical properties include control of the weather by averting lightning, conjuring storms or summoning rain.
- It is a stone of courage and wisdom, noble sacrifice and altruistic character.
- Known as the heliotrope, or sun-turning stone, because of its reflective properties.
- According to Pliny the Elder, the sun could be viewed in a Bloodstone as in a mirror, and solar eclipses became visible within one.
The Bloodstone also evokes the Orphans of the Greenblood or the Greenblood River in Dorne. Its green waters may be murky, but it is the only river in Dorne along which agriculture thrives:
Though meager when compared to the Mander, the Trident, or the Blackwater Rush, the waters of the Greenblood are truly the lifeblood of Dorne. Most of the First Men who chose to remain in Dorne, instead of wandering north in search of sweeter lands, settled close to the banks of the Greenblood, digging canals and ditches to bring its life-giving waters to the trees and crops they planted. The World of Ice and Fire
Thus linked to agriculture, greenblood/bloodstone is probably also a reference to fertility and to all those green man motifs out there. Thus, judging by the symbolism, it seems likely the Bloodstone Emperor’s sorcery was geared toward freeing the empire of poisonous influences, summoning storms to bring badly needed rain to refresh the land, as well as devising means to reflect sunlight or indeed, absorb the heat blighting the region. Was he responsible for binding the Shadow to Asshai? Did his efforts require a deviation from the usual brand of weather magic to include very powerful blood magic, as suggested by his title? Is this why he was associated with evil sorcery forever after?
“Sun-turning” and the viewing of solar eclipses in polished bloodstones of course bring us close to the idea of the day turning to night, and of the Long Night itself. Perhaps the Bloodstone Emperor bit off a lot more than he could chew; maybe he ended up dabbling with powers he could no longer control. Dalla, wife of Mance Rayder sounds this warning in response to her husband’s desire to find the Horn of Winter and use it to bring down the Wall:
It was Dalla who answered him, Dalla great with child, lying on her pile of furs beside the brazier. “We free folk know things you kneelers have forgotten. Sometimes the short road is not the safest, Jon Snow. The Horned Lord once said that sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.“
Last but not least, the bloodstone is associated with courage, wisdom, noble sacrifice and with Jesus Christ. These attributes are largely ignored when the evil wicked emperor is discussed:
The most widely known legend of this stone comes from the Middle Ages and claims the “Blood Stone” was formed at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, when the blood of his wounds fell onto the dark green earth and turned to stone. Another version declares the blood of Christ, which flowed from the fatal spear-thrust, fell upon a Green Jasper lying at the foot of the Cross, and from this sprang the Bloodstone variety of Jasper. Today, as then, Bloodstone is regarded as a gem of noble sacrifice and can offer courage and solace to all who are called to give of themselves for the good of others. It elicits the highest, most altruistic character of those who wear or carry it. (Source)
The Bloodstone Emperor was no saint, but the virtues attributed to this stone should really set us thinking. It stands in stark contrast to the claims of the legend. Some readers may suspect inverted symbolism. Maybe, maybe not. The circumstances are probably a lot more complicated than we imagine. I propose that the Bloodstone Emperor’s motives were contrary to what his legend suggests. His primary goal was to influence the weather and end the dreadful Long Summers that had plagued the land repeatedly over the centuries. He was a sorcerer, oh yes, and as the so called first high priest of the Church of Starry Wisdom, he in fact studied the stars, in the capacity of an ancient astronomer. Perhaps he interpreted the black stone that fell from the sky as a portent to act for the good of the realm. If he indeed killed his sister, the Amethyst Empress (which I kind of doubt), perhaps her blood was the sacrifice he deemed necessary to bring the long summer to a close. But he overreached and would ever after be remembered as the diabolical sorcerer who caused a Long Night of darkness.
If my theory has merit, then we can compare him to Tyrion, the man who saved King’s Landing from Stannis wroth, but never reaped the praise, respect nor recognition he deserved.
“Don’t you see the jest, Lord Varys?” Tyrion waved a hand at the shuttered windows, at all the sleeping city. “Storm’s End is fallen and Stannis is coming with fire and steel and the gods alone know what dark powers, and the good folk don’t have Jaime to protect them, nor Robert nor Renly nor Rhaegar nor their precious Knight of Flowers. Only me, the one they hate.” He laughed again. “The dwarf, the evil counselor, the twisted little monkey demon. I’m all that stands between them and chaos.” ACOK, Tyrion IX
The health of a planet depends on the balance of many forces, including its weather patterns. The Bloodstone Emperor joins the ranks of the onyx-associated who usher in harsh long winters after presiding over seemingly endless long summers. He may have been one of the first to employ blood magic and in particular, make use of the power of trees, the latter heavily associated with blood sacrifice. I suspect the dragon was originally associated with fertility, rainfall and sunlight in the distant past and that this changed when the dragon royals of the empire overstepped their authority. Reverence for dragons was then replaced by tree worship, with the oak and weirwood as examples in Westeros. It’s unclear which species played this role on Essos but the black trees with inky leaves in the garden of the House of the Undying in Qarth are a definite clue to their existence.
I further speculate that having been spurned, his efforts not recognized by his people, the Bloodstone Emperor swore bloody vengeance, and has returned in the form of Euron Crow’s Eye, to ultimately take the Iron Throne and demonstrate what a reign of terror really means!
George Martin’s world encompasses two extremes of climate, long summers and long winters; this of course relates directly to Fire and Ice. Magically induced extremes of Summer
are the underlying cause of seasonal irregularity in the world. Dragons and wildfire symbolize great heat and I believe both are used as a literary device to demonstrate the effects of global warming on the planet. The Others are used to personify the winter extreme.
An examination of geographical features past and present suggests the planet has suffered climate change over the millennia. There has been one significant cool period (the Pearl Era) and there have been two instances of the Long Night (Onyx and Bloodstone) in the past, all cold spells occurring in response to previous long summers.
Global warming accounts for rises in sea-level, past and present, resulting in the erosion of coastlines, island-formation and side effects such as the poleward migration of tropical species.
The gemstone emperors of the Dawn provide clues to the seasons over which they presided. The first god-emperors reign was a long summer. Its great length caused a season of winter and darkness in the region known as the Grey Waste. The Pearl Emperor had to grapple with the effects of this winter so close to his domains. Besides having to deal with cold and gloom, he built the Five Forts to ward off “Lion of Night and his demons” that threatened to engulf his realm.
Spring returned with the Jade Era which was characterized by a surge in fire magic, symbolized by the virulent wildfire. Garth the Green may have left for Westeros during this period, leading the First Men to a pristine continent and taking his knowledge of fertility magic with him.
The Tourmaline Era represents a continuation of the Jade Spring. During this very hot summer, the first blood of the dragon, a mother of dragons was born. The advent of women with this rare heritage enabled dragon-egg-hatching on a grand scale. This greatly increased the number of dragons in the world and also served to fuel magic practiced by the wizards and sorcerers of that age. My hypothesis is based on an interpretation of the legend of Qarth.
The Onyx Era marked the First Long Night to affect major inhabited portions of the planet. I propose that this long night was brought to an end by the Daynes with their sword of the morning, Dawn.
Recovery from the first long night was difficult during the Topaz Era. With parallels to Stannis and Melisandre in evidence, the Topaz and Opal Eras represent long summers but also a period of change. The religion of R’hllor may have been founded during this time, along with new aspects of fire magic, including a switch from the destructive power of fire to its transformative cleaning properties.
The Bloodstone Emperor’s motives were contrary to what his legend suggests. His primary goal was to influence the weather and put an end to the dreadful Long Summers that had plagued the land repeatedly over the centuries. He employed diabolical sorceries to achieve this, and overreaching, caused the second Long Night. This second instance of the Long Night was ended with the help of the legendary sword Lightbringer.
We should heed the Darkstar’s words:
My House goes back ten thousand years, unto the dawn of days,” he complained. “Why is it that my cousin is the only Dayne that anyone remembers?“
Like most of fandom, characters in the books only pay attention to the heroes who supposedly ended the Long Night. That unnaturally long summers brought about by warped weather and fertility magic are the root cause of the quirky seasons on Planetos is an unfamiliar thought. Indeed, as we have seen, book characters seem to wish for an endless great summer. I can only agree with Lord Commander Mormont. What folly! The Darkstar has every reason to complain that the Sword of the Morning is the only one people remember. Ending the long night of winter was a glorious, momentous, heroic feat. But so was ending the unbearably long summer, and that hero also deserves due recognition!
Find out more about warped seasonal magic here: Quirky Seasons – Under the sea, men marry fishes
Featured photo via Good Free Photos (modified)