Night’s King, the Bear, and the Maiden Fair
Mormont’s interaction with Craster and his seeming tolerance, even apparent understanding for Craster’s practices, not only of incest, but also of sacrificing his sons to cold gods might be a clue to an unspoken ancient relationship. It may also be helpful in figuring out why Mormont joined the Night’s Watch and why he gave the family sword to Jon Snow.
Readers are surprised and perplexed on discovering Mormont’s and all rangers’ awareness of Craster’s deeds. Even if the NW does not remember its true purpose in defending the realm against the Others, shouldn’t Craster giving away sons to cold gods recall certain legends? Wouldn’t a Lord Commander of the Night Watch’s priority be to put a stop to it? We learn Craster is considered a friend to the Watch. A friend. Mormont is grateful to Craster for allowing brothers of the Watch to seek shelter at his rancid keep, also for any reports the man might have concerning the Freefolk. Wildlings live by their own laws and Mormont respects that, so perhaps interfering cannot be justified by the Watch. This state of affairs needs looking into.
One could name Craster a traitor to his own folk because he feeds the Watch information on their movements, but then again, Ygritte informs us that Craster is more of “Jon’s kind,” more like a southerner, in her view. So, what exactly connects Mormont to Craster? Does him being fathered by a black brother play a role? Are the sacrifices an ancient but common element, so much so they are tolerated by the Watch? If the Black Gate at the Nightfort once served as an outlet for baby sacrifices to the Others as readers suspect, this would explain a lot. Craster being the child of a Nights-Watchmann as well as bearing the burden of keeping sacrifices going in place of the Watch might be good enough reason to consider him a “friend” and to tolerate his practices.
How does Mormont fit into this? The ranging company are greeted by the severed heads of a bear and ram impaled on the posts of Craster’s gate. While not as spectacular as the discovery of the dead mother direwolf, her pups and the stag that killed her, the bear and ram heads are as pregnant in meaning. One senses that this is a sign, with the bear representing the Old Bear and the ram symbolic of Craster. Craster, his daughter-wives and sons can collectively be viewed as sacrificed sheep, with Craster as head of the so burdened, yes, even cursed family – a father, husband, and symbolic ram. The dead direwolf and stag foreshadow the disasters to befall the houses Baratheon and Stark. The two animals represent Robert and Ned, as well as the tragic outcome of that association. Might not the same apply to Craster and the Old Bear? Are Craster and Mormont symbolic “brothers” and “friends” mirroring Ned and Robert to a degree, both couples dying in treacherous circumstances?
There is always a bear!
My hypothesis is that the Mormonts once belonged to a group of families that sacrificed their sons to the cold gods. I also think the Mormonts, and perhaps other families or characters associated with bears managed to extricate themselves from this yolk, becoming independent of the “heavy curse” that Craster still bears. Instead, the Mormonts now belong to the faction devoted to fighting the threat of the Others. Central to this is that House Mormont is symbolized by the black bear that adorns their coat of arms.
Is there any evidence for the Mormont family having been involved in child-sacrifices to the Others?
Not directly, but to figure this out, we can draw on certain tales suggesting a connection between bears and Night’s King, all of which harbour a subtext made visible on closer examination. All stories, including that of Night’s King feature “bear men” who are inexplicably drawn to fair women. Our three main stories are:
- The song titled The Bear and the Maiden Fair
- The fateful romance of Jorah and Lynesse
- Tormund’s Husband to Bears story.
Let’s first have a look at the tale of the Night’s King and compare that with the three accounts listed above.
The gathering gloom put Bran in mind of another of Old Nan’s stories, the tale of Night’s King. He had been the thirteenth man to lead the Night’s Watch, she said; a warrior who knew no fear. “And that was the fault in him,” she would add, “for all men must know fear.”
A woman was his downfall; a woman glimpsed from atop the Wall, with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars. Fearing nothing, he chased her and caught her and loved her, though her skin was cold as ice, and when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well. He brought her back to the Nightfort and proclaimed her a queen and himself her king, and with strange sorceries he bound his Sworn Brothers to his will. For thirteen years they had ruled, Night’s King and his corpse queen, till finally the Stark of Winterfell and Joramun of the wildlings had joined to free the Watch from bondage.
After his fall, when it was found he had been sacrificing to the Others, all records of Night’s King had been destroyed, his very name forbidden. “Some say he was a Bolton,” Old Nan would always end. “Some say a Magnar out of Skagos, some say Umber, Flint, or Norrey. Some would have you think he was a Woodfoot, from them who ruled Bear Island before the ironmen came. He never was. He was a Stark, the brother of the man who brought him down.”
aSoS, Bran IV
The suggestion here is that Night’s King saw a woman and was irresistibly drawn to her. His desire to possess her was so great he feared nothing. From the way Old Nan points out that Night’s King knew no fear, it appears this woman should have inspired hesitation, at the very least. Her description is in line with that of the Others. She was allegedly dead, a corpse bride. She took his soul as well as his seed. She certainly sounds dangerous, out of the ordinary, even if the above is only the stuff of legend. Whatever the case, the implication is of a woman out of bounds to ordinary men. Was she the daughter of an important wildling chief or perhaps the daughter or wife of the king-beyond-the-Wall? The latter would explain why Joranum, king-beyond-the-Wall, assisted the Stark in Winterfell to bring Night’s King down.
Though Old Nan insists on Night’s King being a Stark, we note that a Woodfoot is mentioned, from those who ruled Bear Island before the ironmen came. This is significant, especially since the Woodfoot’s origins are mentioned – from Bear Island.
The Night’s King tale paints a picture of an extremely alluring woman to whom a man is irresistibly drawn. This motif repeats in the three “bear stories” we shall examine below.
The Bear and the Maiden Fair
The song, the Bear and the Maiden Fair, features a black and brown hairy bear who goes to a fair. Here he happens upon a maiden fair with “honey” in her hair. The scent is so tempting that he approaches her, despite being a hairy bear who has no business going after a maiden fair. He sniffs and roars and simply cannot help himself:
He smelled the scent on the summer air!
He sniffed and roared and smelled it there!
Honey on the summer air!
That she initially reacts with hesitation to his advances is understandable. Would a fair maiden be attracted to a hairy bear?
I called for a knight, but you’re a bear!
A bear, a bear!
All black and brown and covered with hair
She kicked and wailed, the maid so fair,
But he licked the honey from her hair.
Her hair! Her hair!
He licked the honey from her hair!
Then she succumbs to him and in the end finds him quite delightful.
Then she sighed and squealed and kicked the air!
My bear! She sang. My bear so fair!
And off they went, from here to there,
The bear, the bear, and the maiden fair.
aSoS, Sansa I
The sexual allusions are unmistakable, as is the strong attraction the bear feels for the maiden fair’s “honey.” Clearly, she is so captivating that the bear forgets himself and his station. Not quite so comprehensible is that the maiden surrenders to the advances of the hairy bear. in this particular story.
The next bear story starts off along similar lines as the song but concludes as we expect the tale of a hairy bear’s attraction for a fair maiden to end.
Jorah Mormont and Lynesse Hightower
Jorah is absolutely enthralled by Lynesse, her favour inspiring him to great heights to win the tourney, a feat he will never again replicate. He did not even consider himself a tourney knight. He compares his mental state to a fit of madness. Lynesse ‘s status was much higher up the social ladder than Jorah Mormont’s. She was unattainable to him as a wife under normal circumstances.
… Lynese , a maid half my age. She had come up from Oldtown with her father to see her brothers joust. I could not take my eyes off her. In a fit of madness, I begged her favor to wear in the tourney, never dreaming she would grant my request, yet she did. “I fight as well as any man, Khaleesi, but I have never been a tourney knight. Yet with Lynese ‘s favor knotted round my arm, I was a different man. I won joust after joust.
aCoK, Daenerys I
Like Night’s King and the hairy bear, Jorah can hardly contain himself. He has no misgivings about pursuing Lynesse. Despite his status, he finds the courage to ask her father for her hand in marriage. Inexplicably, to Jorah’s and everyone else’s surprise, her father grants him permission to marry her. So, as in the song, an unlikely match is made, with the woman consenting to become the bear’s mate. The song does not tell us what became of the bear and the maiden fair but in the cases of Night’s King and Ser Jorah, the relationship ends in disaster.
Husband to Bears
Tormund’s “Husband to Bears” story has similar undertones. He felt strongly compelled to seek out a particular woman, in a raging winter storm, no less, so ardent was his desire and his need to be with her.
Well, here’s a tale for you. It were another winter, colder even than the one I spent inside that giant, and snowing day and night, snowflakes as big as your head, not these little things. It snowed so hard the whole village was half buried. I was in me Ruddy Hall, with only a cask o’ mead to keep me company and nothing to do but drink it. The more I drank the more I got to thinking about this woman lived close by, a fine strong woman with the biggest pair of teats you ever saw. She had a temper on her, that one, but oh, she could be warm too, and in the deep of winter a man needs his warmth.
“The more I drank the more I thought about her, and the more I thought the harder me member got, till I couldn’t suffer it no more…..
The snow was coming down so hard I got turned around once or twice, and the wind blew right through me and froze me bones, but finally I come on her, all bundled up like I was.
Tormund obviously cannot repress his need to find and make love to this woman. Also notice the honey reference – the cask of mead he is drinking – mead is made from honey.
The woman had a terrible temper, and she put up quite the fight when I laid hands on her. It was all I could do to carry her home and get her out o’ them furs, but when I did, oh, she was hotter even than I remembered, and we had a fine old time, and then I went to sleep. Next morning when I woke the snow had stopped and the sun was shining, but I was in no fit state to enjoy it. All ripped and torn I was, and half me member bit right off, and there on me floor was a she-bear’s pelt.
aSoS, Jon II
These narratives have one thing in common: the bear’s urge to go after the fair maiden, Jorah’s passionate desire for Lynesse and Tormund’s attraction to the woman he braves a winter storm to spend the night with. All mirror Night’s King compulsion to go after the woman glimpsed from the Wall and in each case, the women are “carried off” or join the man in his home.
In general, these women are dangerous, each in their own right, worthy of being feared. They inspire as well as doom men who fall victim to their allure. Night’s King is so reviled that his name was obliterated from history. Jorah ended up heart-broken and destitute, Tormund all ripped and torn with “half his member bitten off.”
These ladies harm the men who desire and love them. They reflect an archetype in mythology, the leannán sídhe.
The leannán sídhe in Scottish / Irish Folklore
The sídhe are very relevant to aSoiaF because George Martin himself states that the Others are somewhat like the sidhe:
Others “are strange, beautiful… think, oh… the Sidhe made of ice, something like that… a different sort of life… inhuman, elegant, dangerous. SSM
The term “sídhe” actually means burial mounds or hills but the term also refers to the faerie people associated with these mounds. Leannán sídhe literally means “fairy lover” in Scottish Gaelic. Though a few instances of male leannán sídhes are known, she is usually female, a beautiful woman of the Aos sí / aes sídhe, the people of the barrows, or of the mounds, fairys who live a parallel existence in an Otherworld beside the human realm.
The corpse bride of Night’s King who is described in terms of an Other is an example of the sidhe referred to by the author. Additionally, in his book, Watchers on the Wall, Archmaester Harmune suggests the mysterious woman may have hailed from the Barrowlands, a daughter of the Barrow King, linking her to the literal meaning of sídhe:
Some suggest that perhaps the corpse queen was a woman of the Barrowlands, a daughter of the Barrow King who was then a power in his own right, and oft associated with graves.
tWoIaF, The Wall and Beyond, the Night’s Watch
Note here that as in Jorah’s example, the daughter of a King would be inaccessible to a man of the Night’s Watch. Barrows, graves, burial mounds: this is in line with the lore surrounding the leannán sídhe. She is said to take a human lover, becoming his muse. W.B. Yeats imagined the leannán sídhe as inspiring a man to great heights in exchange for his love and devotion. There is a downside to this though because the fairy lives on her lover’s life and the supernatural affair eventually leads to madness or even the death of the human lover. Yeats even saw her has having vampiric tendencies. To quote Yeats:
The Leanhaun Shee (fairy mistress) seeks the love of mortals. If they refuse, she must be their slave; if they consent, they are hers, and can only escape by finding another to take their place. The fairy lives on their life, and they waste away. Death is no escape from her. She is the Gaelic muse, for she gives inspiration to those she persecutes. The Gaelic poets die young, for she is restless, and will not let them remain long on earth—this malignant phantom.
Related in motif to the leannán sídhe is the succubus, a female demon that appears in dreams to seduce men into sleeping with her. It is thought the succubus binds a man to her through repeated sexual activity and that she needs semen to survive. The incubus on the other hand, is the male counterpart to the succubus. Sexual union with an incubus results in the birth of demons, witches and deformed offspring, or half-human changelings, also known as cambions. Further, relations with an incubus or succubus can lead to diminished intelligence, a decline in health or in death.
It’s evident that the leannán sídhe archetype is reflected by the women in the three bear tales above and each of these accounts contribute to Night King’s true story. He went after a woman who woke his most passionate desire, a longing he could not contain. She inspired him to name himself king and rule over the Night’s Watch as if it were his kingdom. He was her thrall in more ways than one. Because she takes his seed and soul as well, the corpse bride can also be seen as a succubus.
Night King’s tale as well as Tormund’s story incorporate magic and the supernatural. The corpse bride takes Night’s King’s soul. In Tormund’s tale, his lover turns out to be a bear in the guise of a woman and the queer sons resulting from their union are “changelings.”
Taking the soul during sexual intercourse is an aspect of Melisandre, who procures a part of Stannis’ soul to birth a shadow. Mel fits the definition of a succubus. She is a shadowbinder, demonstrating this as part of her glamouring magic which not only disguises Mance Rayder as Rattleshirt, but also binds the king-beyond-the-Wall to her, blood and soul. Note that Mance is also a “bear character,” symbolized by his tent which is covered in bear skins.
In accordance with the lore, the union with Mel is depleting in nature for Stannis. His health is affected, he grows gaunt, hollow-cheeked and shadow-like after Mel takes his soul. In many respects, Melisandre is also a leannán sídhe, largely succeeding in convincing the stern and harsh Stannis of her mission and binding him to her purpose.
The allusion to binding a man is also hidden within Tormund’s Husband to Bears tale. By purposely leaving her bear-pelt behind, the bear woman binds him to herself in “marriage.” This we can figure out by taking the folklore of selkies and swan maidens into account. According to the lore, selkies (or seal-folk) are shape-shifters capable of changing their appearance from seal to human form by shedding their skin. In the tales, it is usually the human man who hides the skin of the shape-shifting creature, thus binding her to him. But in Tormund’s case, it’s the other way round. The shape-shifting bear woman purposely leaves her skin behind to bind him. Indeed, Tormund cannot quite get over his encounter with the bear-woman and we learn she even birthed him two strong sons, though they were queer looking:
And soon enough the free folk were telling tales o’ this bald bear seen in the woods, with the queerest pair o’ cubs behind her. Har!” He slapped a meaty thigh.
“Would that I could find her again. She was fine to lay with, that bear. Never was a woman gave me such a fight, nor such strong sons neither.”
aSoS, Jon II
This detail of leaving behind her skin lends weight to the idea that the “corpse bride” who reminds the reader so much of an Other may have been a shape-shifter herself, or that she may have been glamoured to look the way she did. Was she a sorceress and shadow-binder with powers comparable to Melisandre’s? What about magical knowledge in House Mormont? Joer Mormont’s sister is named Maege. Is this hinting at a line of Maegi or witches in the family?
We can also infer that despite the cold imagery, the so-called corpse bride may have been fiery, a woman associated with warmth and heat, much like Tormund’s bear woman, Melisandre, or Lynesse who gave Jorah such a hard time and shunned the cold climate of Bear Island in favour of the warm Free Cities. Was the “corpse bride” a fire sorceress and shadow-binder like Melisandre, a woman capable of glamouring herself, of shape-shifting from one form to another, like Tormund’s bear-woman?
Honey and the Hive Mind
In this comparison to Melisandre, we again have a reference to honey, Melissa being the Greek goddess of bees. In Latin “mel” means honey. The association with honey and bees allows another level of interpretation – that of the hive mind social organization of bees, which is how wights under the spell of the Others behave – like the members of a hive controlled by a single mind, or perhaps by the mind of a single great queen bee, the Great Mother and possible former “corpse queen.”
Tormund’s children then, those queer bear cubs seen with their bald bear mother, would be equivalent to children sacrificed to the Others, the sons, the “seed” that the corpse bride / Night’s Queen takes, and to Craster’s sons offered to the Others. I would even interpret Tormund’s “meaty thigh” as a veiled reference to himself and his strong sons being “food” for the Others.
Tormund’s symbolic role as husband to a Night’s Queen and father to sons sacrificed to the Others becomes evident when you consider his various titles. He is Husband to Bears, already discussed, Tormund Thunderfist which evokes bringing the Storm as the Others do, Horn-Blower and Breaker of Ice – suggesting one who can bring down the Wall, Father of Hosts and Speaker to Gods – father of the Others who lead hosts of the slain and speaker to the cold gods; Mead King of Ruddy Hall – this last one is very important – he is the symbolic “honey bringer” who supplies the “hive” of the “Queen Bee,” “Night’s Queen,” “corpse bride” with sustainance.
To round off the symbolism of the leannán sídhe, we must also consider Lyanna Stark. Rhaegar inexplicably choose her as Queen of Love and Beauty instead of his wife Elia. His unbeaten prowess at jousting to win the tournament and the tales claiming he later kidnapped her all point to Lyanna’s strong link to the leannán sídhe archetype. Of note are the similarities between this account and Ser Jorah’s compulsion to possess Lynese. Lyanna is a symbolic she-wolf, however and not a “bear character.” She illuminates another aspect of the story.
To summarize, these bear characters with their bear stories provide some insights into the background of Night’s King and his otherworldly bride, with the Mormonts and other bear associated personalities taking center stage as Night’s King parallels. Upon unravelling, the tales suggest that Night’s King and his queen as well as the Mormonts (and the Woodfoots who ruled Bear Island before them), and Tormund’s family were once all part of this “bear conspiracy” to feed the Others new blood. That the Starks too have occasional “bear” names, such as “Beron” and “Artos” (the name derived from Arktos, the Greek name for “bear,” as well as the root of “Arctic”), suggests they also belong in this group. “Artos” and its Arctic root recall white snow bears, especially white she-snow bears, which I think must be considered separately. This is a good stage at which to have a closer look at she-bears in general though, and we will do that by examining the family set-up of House Mormont.
Bears sacrificing to the Others
Ser Jorah’s infatuation with Lynesse and his selling of poachers into slavery reflect the lengths to which he was prepared to go to satisfy the desires of his leannán sídhe. His connection to her thus hints at his family’s participation in sacrificial offerings to the Others in the past. One could also interpret Jorah’s selling of poachers into slavery in terms of supporting the Others who turn the dead into their mindless thralls. Jorah’s original purpose as a spy in Daenerys’ camp is another clue and we see Jorah develop a similar attraction for Daenerys but is rebuffed by her. His love for her does not wane however but he has to content himself with serving her in other ways as best he can. He intends to show his devotion to her by offering her the captured Tyrion. That’s another nod at Night’s King and Craster: Jorah the bear bringing his Queen a sacrifice to make good on his failures. Jorah is still in the business of offering sacrifices, but Mormont women have abandoned the practice and I feel sure they were instrumental in bringing about change.
How does House Mormont compare with Craster’s family?
What does this tell us about the Mormont’s switch from sacrificing babies to fighting the Others?
First of, both families live in a region of very cold weather, in isolation, the Mormonts on their Bear Island, Craster at his Keep. Craster lives beyond the Wall, within range of the Others, while the Mormonts live on an island in the North, close to the lands beyond the Wall. Roose Bolton once said that only heart trees know what goes on in Skagos. This applies to Bear Island and the lands beyond the Wall too.
Strikingly similar is the predominance of women in relation to men in both families. We meet and learn of the Mormont women, of which there are quite a few. In contrast, the only male Mormonts we know of are a baby boy recently born, Jorah and the Old Bear himself. Of these three, only the baby boy remains on Bear Island.
There is a significant difference between the two families, however. While Craster functions as father and husband to his daughter wives, we have not met a single husband to any of the Mormont women. Husbands are never mentioned, nor do they seem to exist. I doubt Jeor practiced incest with his sister or daughters. The age structure of the women coupled with Jeor’s and Jorah’s long-term absence do not even allow for this. But it seems very likely that most of the current Mormonts are bastards by Westerosi standards. Perhaps Craster’s shot at Jon Snow was also aimed at the Old Bear:
“A bastard, is it?” Craster looked Jon up and down. “Man wants to bed a woman, seems like he ought to take her to wife. That’s what I do.”
aCoK, Jon III
@sweetsunray has shown how the women of House Mormont use claims of a bear husband as a cover for their children born out of wedlock. Additionally, in the absence of male Mormont heirs, this claim prevents their House from falling into the hands of men looking to gain lands and titles by marrying into their family. In short, when male heirs are not available, Mormont women use “bear ancestry” to prevent the usurpation of their House. By claiming “bear husbands”, they ensure the survival of their house.
So, in contrast to Craster’s true-born-of-incest children, the Mormonts have a high number of bastards in the family and what’s more, the regular influx of this foreign “bear blood” means the Mormonts are a genetically diverse family as opposed to one with traits concentrated down the line through inbreeding. From this point of view, Mormont gifting the family bastard-sword to Jon Snow makes perfect sense. In the event of a lack of male heirs, a man who proves himself worthy of owning the sword is entitled to receive it. He is also entitled to continue the Mormont line and carry forth the family legacy. Jon is the symbolic bear child of Jeor Mormont, the new custodian of the Mormont sword Longclaw. He could have become a symbolic “husband to bears” through marriage to Val as offered by Stannis. Val is intimately associated with bears through her white bear outfit and the fact that she shared Mance’s and Dalla’s home, their tent that was so prominently covered in white bearskins. Like the Maiden Fair, Val also has honey-coloured hair and since Jorah says Lynesse looks like Daenerys, her hair may be blond as well. Mel is red-haired but has “honey” in her name so honey is a recurring motif as well.
As a Husband to Bears, Tormund is also symbolic father to bears. Indeed, much of the fandom suspects Tormund of having fathered some Mormont children. GRRM’s symbolism is often multilayered and no doubt the idea of Tormund as a bear husband is supposed to suggest as much. His tale also illustrates the wildling practice of having to steal and overcome a woman to take her to wife. Note that this also contrasts Craster’s practice of wedding his daughters. Craster neither needs to fight the women he wants to marry, nor must he fight or deal with their family. All he must do is wait until a daughter is of child-bearing age and wed her.
The real bit of evidence for the Mormonts opting out of being part of the sacrificial machine is how Mormont women deal with men who attempt to brutalize them or force them into marriage or thralldom. In this, they differ markedly from Craster’s daughter-wives. The following passages clarify the point. As Jeor Mormont informs Jon:
“The wide world is full of people wanting help, Jon. Would that some could find the courage to help themselves. Craster sprawls in his loft even now, stinking of wine and lost to sense. On his board below lies a sharp new axe. Were it me, I’d name it Answered Prayer and make an end.” Yes. Jon thought of Gilly. She and her sisters. They were nineteen, and Craster was one, but …
aCoK, Jon III
Craster’s daughter-wives occasionally receive an opportunity to rid themselves of their oppressive father and husband and in turn, end the heart-wrenching practice of sacrificing their sons to the Others. But they do not. They accept their fate. Not so the women of House Mormont:
Catelyn smiled despite herself. “You are braver than I am, I fear. Are all your Bear Island women such warriors?” “She-bears, aye,” said Lady Maege. “We have needed to be. In olden days the ironmen would come raiding in their longboats, or wildlings from the Frozen Shore. The men would be off fishing, like as not. The wives they left behind had to defend themselves and their children, or else be carried off.”
“There’s a carving on our gate,” said Dacey. “A woman in a bearskin, with a child in one arm suckling at her breast. In the other hand she holds a battleaxe. She’s no proper lady, that one, but I always loved her.”
aSoS, Catelyn V
Mormont women may not be wed, but they have learned to defend themselves with the same weapon, the battleaxe that Craster’s wives dare not use. In doing so, the Ms. Mormonts have taken their lives back into their own hands. They have delivered themselves from the curse of handing over their sons to the cold gods. Unlike Lynesse, a parallel to the Night’s Queen and a very proper lady, and Craster’s wives who are “proper ladies” in the sense that they are legally married, Mormont women are no proper ladies at all. They are ladies with autonomy!
House Mormont appears to have dedicated itself to the support of major families involved in the fight against the Others. There is always a bear. Mormont bears personally protect Jon (Jeor), Robb (Dacey and Maege), Dany (Jorah, and previously Willam Darry, her dear Old Bear). Asha now has Alysanne Mormont as a friend, while Arya had Yoren for a while (she thinks of him as a black bear).
I have no doubt that the Mormont women were instrumental in the family’s abandonment of the old rite of sacrificing sons to the Others, later educating their sons to act in defense of the realm, rather than contribute to feeding the evil beyond the Wall.
We have no information on whether the Starks ever sacrificed their own blood to the Others. Perhaps they did, perhaps not. What appears clear though, is their role as defenders of the northern frontier of Westeros, as Wardens of the North. Winterfell’s location on grounds of active geothermal activity not only warms the godswood, it also keeps the castle toasty warm. The glass gardens supplement food supplies even in Winter and the opening of the Winter Town to the smallfolk is an aid to survival during years of freezing weather. No doubt the castle is magically warded as well, as both the gargoyles and Bran’s sighting of a dream dragon suggest. Winterfell is a source of life. All this indicates that the Starks are a fighting force against the trials of winter, including the coming of the Others.
The Starks therefore had good reasons for granting Bear Island to Mormonts who broke ties with the Others. Bear island is close to the lands beyond the Wall, a good vantage point from which to keep tabs on those lands, as well as a base for gathering or launching an attack. Longclaw was probably given to the Mormonts by the Starks. Gifting the family a Valyrian Steel Sword to empower them in the fight against the cold gods also makes sense in this regard. When Lord Commander Mormont gives Jon the ancestral sword Longclaw, he may not only be handing it over to a worthy man, but to a descendant of the family it originally came from.
The strength of their allegiance to House Stark is expressed by Lyanna Mormont when she rebuffs Stannis’s request for support:
Stannis read from the letter. “Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is STARK. aDwD, Jon I
Pledging to keep the realm safe from attack by the Others would also explain Jeor Mormont’s apparent choice to join the Night’s Watch, Maege Mormont’s delivering the sword to him after Jorah’s disgraceful behaviour and Jeor’s forgiveness of his son and dying wish that he returns to join the Watch.
We can think of Night’s King in terms of a “bear character,” one who fell under the spell of an alluring woman to whom he literally sold his soul in return for a kingship and the supernatural power to ensorcel his fellow brothers of the Night’s Watch. This is illustrated by parallels between the Night’s King tale and the song, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” Jorah Mormont’s relationship with his second wife Lynesse, and Tormund’s “Husband to Bears” story. The women involved display fairy lover (leannán sídhe) and succubus archetypes, mythological women who inspire men to great heights in return for their love and devotion, but ultimately cause their downfall. I posit that the Mormonts and other bear associated characters in the narrative at one time also sacrificed their sons to the Others but liberated themselves from this curse through resistance to the practice by the women of the families. The Starks awarded Bear Island and Longclaw to the Mormonts in recognition of their abandoning the network that supports the Others and to empower them as allies in the fight against the cold gods.
This is not the end of the investigation into bears in connection with Night’s King however. The author generally casts real bears in sad and unfortunate circumstances, outside of their normal habitat, suggesting there is more to the tale of Night’s King than meets the eye. I shall explore the real tragedy and probable true tale of the “bear” that was Night’s King in a future post.
Image Credit: Game of Thrones, HBO
Visit sweetsunray’s blog and check out her post on “Bear Ancestry” as well as
The ritual and custom within the song “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”
A Bear’s Kiss – Jorah and Dany
Also see this essay by Fattest Leech on Jon Snow – the Wolf and the Bear: https://fattestleechoficeandfire.com/jon-snow-wolf-bear/