Welcome to part II of the true significance of the three-headed dragon. In this follow-up, I share my insights on how slavery and the exploitation of the elder races facilitated the harvesting of desirable traits, discuss the pros and cons of recombining the genes of different species and look at how all this is relevant to the theme of cripples, bastards and broken things in the narrative.
This isn’t really a stand-alone essay. It builds heavily on part one, which deals with evidence for genetic manipulation and goes on to detail the desirable traits each elder race contributes to the three heads of the dragon. I recommend reading that before you dive into part 2.
QUICK SUMMARY OF PART 1:
I propose that the three heads of the dragon represent three different ancient ancestors within Targaryen lineage, specifically, the ancestral mothers of three Elder Races and that Daenerys herself is a descendant child of these three ancestral heads.
I feel there is evidence suggesting that ancient cultures such as the Great Empire of the Dawn, the Old Ghiscari and the Old Valyrians exploited the Elder Races for their inherent superior physical, mental and supernatural abilities. The purpose of this endeavor was to achieve supremacy, or in other words, to create a powerful master race.
Also highlighted is the very important role of geographically isolated populations (islands, peninsulas etc.) as breeding grounds and enclaves for the propagation of desirable traits within the resident populace.
The three Elder Races in question are the children of the forest, the giants and the merlings (alternatively a race heavily associated with water/the sea, if you prefer). Important traits incorporated into the human genome include:
- physical strength and the ability to bond with familiar animals (singing) from the giants
- telepathy and instinctive navigational ability from the children of the forest
- a superior intellect and associated knowledge, prophetic ability and illusionary magic (including glamouring and skinchanging) from the merlings.
While we know that the ancients established trading posts such as that at the Whispering Sound along the coast, the World Book also speculates on whether the giants and the children were sought after as slaves, or for their inherent powers:
If indeed this first fortress is Valyrian, it suggests that the dragonlords came to Westeros thousands of years before they carved out their outpost on Dragonstone, long before the coming of the Andals, or even the First Men. If so, did they come seeking trade?
Were they slavers, mayhaps seeking after giants? Did they seek to learn the magic of the children of the forest, with their greenseers and their weirwoods? Or was there some darker purpose?
TWOIAF, The Seven Kingdoms, The Reach
That the children of the forest had some mystical qualities may have been apparent to the ancients. Why do historians speculate on slavers seeking after giants? I suspect that giants in particular were targeted for their inherent strength and will expand on that later on in the essay.
Indeed, the area around Oldtown appeared to be a hive of activity during the Dawn Age. The huge fortress with labyrinthine interiors constructed of fused black stone located on Battle Isle serves as the foundation for Hightower and dominates the entire island. Its origins are unclear: while the fused black stone suggests a Valyrian origin, the style of architecture does not. There is speculation on whether it was erected by the same mazemakers who created the labyrinths on Lorath as well as Maester Theron’s thesis on the origin of the structure:
Theron’s rather inchoate manuscript Strange Stone postulates that both fortress and seat might be the work of a queer, misshapen race of half men sired by creatures of the salt seas upon human women. These Deep Ones, as he names them, are the seed from which our legends of merlings have grown, he argues, whilst their terrible fathers are the truth behind the Drowned God of the ironborn.
TWOIAF, The Seven Kingdoms, The Reach
There is probably a grain of truth in these diverse opinions given to us and I for one would not dismiss Maester Theron’s notions on the matter.
Further down the timeline, we read of Westerosi citizens sold off into slavery. Here an example, again at Oldtown:
Thrice in the space of a single century the city was taken and sacked, once by the Dornish king Samwell Dayne (the Starfire), once by Qhored the Cruel and his ironmen, and once by Gyles I Gardener (the Woe), who reportedly sold three-quarters of the city’s inhabitants into slavery , but was unable to breach the defenses of the Hightower on Battle Isle.
TWOIAF, The Seven Kingdoms, The Reach
The region around White Harbour in the North was frequently targeted, prompting King Jon Stark to build the Wolf’s Den to defend the population against slavers:
Even before the coming of the Andals, the Wolf’s Den had been raised by King Jon Stark, built to defend the mouth of the White Knife against raiders and slavers from across the narrow sea (some scholars suggest these were early Andal incursions, whilst others argue they were the forebears of the men of Ib, or even slavers out of Valyria and Volantis).
TWOIAF, The Seven Kingdoms, The North
From one of Davo’s chapters we learn slavers succeeded in taking the Wolf’s Den, holding captured slaves there until these were freed in a bloody battle.
More recently, after selling off poachers into slavery, Ser Jorah Mormont incurs the wrath of Lord Eddard Stark, fleeing to Essos to escape justice. Further, wildling refugees, women and children, are lured onto ships at Hardhome with the promise of a safe haven, only to be tied up below deck to be sold into slavery on Essos.
The Ironborn have been capturing women as thralls, so-called salt-wives, for thousands of years. Though not quite as harsh as slavery, we can be certain that few women would willingly agree to this kind of servitude. Worse, after becoming king, Euron Greyjoy has ordained true slavery as part of his new reaving policy.
We only have a few concrete examples of people sold into slavery on Westeros but with our knowledge of the extensive slaving activities of both the ancient Valyrians and the Kingdom of Old Ghis, it is plausible that the Elder Races on Westeros were targeted for this purpose.
The children of the forest themselves could have left Westeros, travelling via the Arm of Dorne to Essos. Many may have even fled the onslaught of the First Men and ended up remaining in Essos after the Breaking. Some may have settled in the forests of northern Essos to become the mysterious Ifequevron, also called woods walkers by the Dothraki. Though not explicitly stated, this small, shy, gentle race is reminiscent of the children of the forest. That they are called walkers suggests they were a wandering people and this is exactly what I think the children were in ancient times – hunter-gatherers with a nomadic life-style, travelling to new locations to allow the region they occupied to recover and at the same time mapping the terrain they traversed in song.
In the first installment of this series, I discussed the significance of populations living in geographic isolation and offered some examples of distinctive genetic features propagated within these secluded populaces. I postulate that islands and peninsulas were the main sites of breeding activities in the past. The mysterious mazes and labyrinths mentioned in the narrative could also qualify as isolated locations where cross-breeding took place. Consider the mazes of Lorath, for instance:
“Sprawling constructs of bewildering complexity, made from blocks of hewn stone, the mazemakers’ constructions are scattered across the isles— and one, badly overgrown and sunk deep into the earth, has been found on Essos proper, on the peninsula south of Lorath.
Lorassyon, the second largest of the Lorath isles, is home to a vast maze that fills more than three-quarters of the surface area of the island and includes four levels beneath the ground, with some passages descending five hundred feet. Scholars still debate the purpose of these mazes.”
TWOIAF, The Free Cities, Lorath
In view of the advantages a peninsula offers in respect of keeping genes within a population, the location of a maze on a peninsula is interesting. Even more so is the Isle of Lorassyon, which boasts a maze that covers most of the island. Why would anyone build mazes in stony, inhospitable territory? The mazes could have been devoted to mining of course, but the World Book proposes something much more intriguing:
“Were they fortifications, temples, towns? Or did they serve some other, stranger purpose? The mazemakers left no written records, so we shall never know. Their bones tell us that they were massively built and larger than men, though not so large as giants. Some have suggested that mayhaps the mazemakers were born of interbreeding between human men and giant women.”
TWOIAF, The Free Cities, Lorath
What a coincidence! Is this an example of a cross-breeding colony? Notice the theme of interbreeding between human men and giant women relates to Maester Theron’s theory on the labyrinthine fortress on Battle Isle which postulates the involvement of a queer, misshapen race of half men sired by creatures of the salt seas upon human women. Seriously, given what we know about giants – their size and body odor in particular – which human man would consider taking a female giant to wife? All we have to do is consider Brienne’s arc for the answer to that question. What’s more, these presumable giant hybrids on Lorath were eradicated by aggressors from the sea, again reminding us of Maester Theron’s theory.
There also appear to have been giants on Essos:
- on Norvos – bones of giants found in cave systems featuring cave paintings.
- on Ib – giants once dwelt on Ib. None remain, though mammoths are still present.
- The Bones and beyond – remains of giants bones along with remains of man and beast.
For some unknown reason, the stone giants of Essos, the Jhogwin, were exterminated by the Jogos Nhai:
Legend claims that it was the Jogos Nhai, led by the jhattar—the jhat of jhats and war leader of the whole people— Gharak Squint-Eye, who slew the last of the stone giants of Jhogwin at the Battle of the Howling Hills.
TWOIAF, Beyond the Free Cities
In Westeros, Duran the Dour slew Lun the Last, King of the Giants, at the battle of Crookwater.
Recall that Brandon of the Bloody Blade slaughtered both giants and the children of the forest. Another Stark King of Winter drove the giants away from the North. Why were giants hunted down to this extent? It seems to me that the giants have good reason to lament. The song, the Last of the Giants, which I shall come to shortly, expresses this most poignantly.
In the context of the suffering and extermination of the giants, I will go one step further and bring Tormund Giantsbane’s improbable story into play:
So I found me a sleeping giant, cut open her belly, and crawled up right inside her. Kept me warm enough, she did, but the stink near did for me. The worst thing was, she woke up when the spring come and took me for her babe. Suckled me for three whole moons before I could get away. Har! There’s times I miss the taste o’ giant’s milk, though.”
“If she nursed you, you couldn’t have killed her.”
“I never did, but see you don’t go spreading that about. Tormund Giantsbane has a better ring to it than Tormund Giantsbabe, and that’s the honest truth o’ it.” ASOS, Jon II
Cutting open a giantess to curl up like a foetus in her belly evokes a baby delivered by cesarean section. In view of the apparent persecution suffered by the giants, Tormund’s tale suggests the inhuman treatment of female giants, who could probably carry a baby to term but were so protective of their child that it couldn’t have been taken from them. Hence the need to cut a giantess open and remove the child via primitive cesarean section. That the giantesses died in this process is suggested by Tormund’s name – he is at once a Giantsbabe and a Giantsbane.
The song, the Last of the Giants, is a lament recalling the persecution of the giants by man.
Ooooooh, I am the last of the giants,
my people are gone from the earth.
The last of the great mountain giants,
who ruled all the world at my birth.
Oh the smallfolk have stolen my forests,
they’ve stolen my rivers and hills.
And the’ve built a great wall through my valleys,
and fished all the fish from my rills.
In stone halls they burn their great fires,
in stone halls they forge their sharp spears.
Whilst I walk alone in the mountains,
with no true companion but tears.
They hunt me with dogs in the daylight,
they hunt me with torches by night.
For these men who are small can never stand tall,
whilst giants still walk in the light.
Oooooooh, I am the LAST of the giants,
so learn well the words of my song.
For when I am gone the singing will fade,
and the silence shall last long and long
It’s a harrowing song about a proud race that was brought down and almost driven to extinction by humans. Not only did they lose their means of sustenance to the smallfolk (and remember giants are huge with huge appetites – just recall the quantity of veggies Wun Wun consumes in one single meal), they were obviously also mercilessly hunted down. In the real world, archaeologists and paleontologists have found fossil evidence suggesting humans were responsible for the extinction of most of the great mammals that roamed the earth. This occurred in almost every location occupied by man. The reasons are quite clear: large animals generally have long gestation periods, with pregnancies lasting up to two years in elephants, for example. Species subject to intense hunting have no time to recuperate their losses. With additional pressure due to loss of habitat and food sources, extinction is inevitable. Leaf explains this sad scenario to Bran:
Before the First Men came all this land that you call Westeros was home to us, yet even in those days we were few. The gods gave us long lives but not great numbers, lest we overrun the world as deer will overrun a wood where there are no wolves to hunt them. That was in the dawn of days, when our sun was rising. Now it sinks, and this is our long dwindling. The giants are almost gone as well, they who were our bane and our brothers. The great lions of the western hills have been slain, the unicorns are all but gone, the mammoths down to a few hundred. The direwolves will outlast us all, but their time will come as well. In the world that men have made, there is no room for them, or us.” ADWD, III
After hearing “The Last of the Giants”, Jon protests, pointing out that there are still giants around. Ygritte expresses her exasperation at Jon’s ignorance – “you know nothing, Jon Snow.” Jon is not aware of the role his forebears played in the demise of the giants, but the wildlings probably know. I’m sold on the idea that the giants were exploited for the supernatural trait of bonding (see part one!), expressed in the last lines of the song:
For when I am gone the singing will fade,
and the silence shall last long and long
References to giants being hunted and losing their habitat, to human men interbreeding with female giants as well as Tormund’s not so tall tale, inform us of the tribulations faced by the race, their women slaughtered to obtain valuable giant hybrid babies. Male giants probably rose in defense, only to be crushed by man. Remember, giants are fearsome and strong but not that smart; that they were outwitted by man is very plausible.
Further, the arms of House Umber suggest giants were subject to some kind of bondage in the past: their sigil depicts a roaring giant, brown haired and wearing a skin, with broken silver chains, on a field of flame red. That the Umber giant wears a skin is significant, especially since real giants are covered with a thick pelt and do not require clothes. Here we have allusions to skinchanging as well as to bondage (silver chains), both observations in line with my hypothesis on the contribution made by giants to the three heads of the dragon.
Gregor Clegane, the giant we most love to hate, wears a fist atop his helm during the trial by combat against Oberyn Martell. I always found that strange until I made the connection: the fist is a universal symbol of solidarity, defiance and an expression of anger against injustice suffered by the group using the symbol. Gregor’s raised fist is not merely a symbol of his vast strength, it’s also symbolic of the rage his ancestors must have felt at the treatment meted out to them by man, those smallfolk who stole his forests, hunted him down and violated his women. Perhaps Gregor’s violence towards women, the rapes and killings, are borne out of a subconscious memory of eons past. Vengeance against those who violated the race – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. It’s significant that the killing of Elia of Dorne and her baby are highlighted to the extent they are. The wife and child of a Targaryen dragon, retribution for a disenfranchised race exploited for its genetic heritage to feed the blood of the dragon? It’s all in the singing, the singing that initiates bonding between dragons and humans.
THE LORD PROTECTOR OF THE VALE
With this in mind, let’s look to how Lysa Tully and her son Sweetrobin relate to Tormund’s tale and the idea of a giant’s vengeance.
Born a Tully of Riverrun, Lysa belongs in the merling category of the elder races. She is wed to Jon Arryn, Lord of the Vale. After his death, she becomes Lady Regent of the Eyrie, that beautiful castle high up on a mountain peak called the Giant’s Lance.
“… the jagged peak called the Giant’s Lance, a mountain that even mountains looked up to, its head lost in icy mists three and a half miles above the valley floor. Over its massive western shoulder flowed the ghost torrent of Alyssa’s Tears. Even from this distance, Catelyn could make out the shining silver thread, bright against the dark stone.”
AGOT, Catelyn V
This peak is the highest mountain in the Vale of Arryn. Additionally, descriptions of the Eyrie are often quite martial in nature – the peak itself is jagged and the Eyrie is well armed:
The Eyrie was a small castle by the standards of the great houses;
seven slender white towers bunched as tightly as arrows in a quiver on a shoulder of the great mountain.
Seven towers, Ned had told her, like white daggers thrust into the belly of the sky…
The impression is that of a giant, heavily armed with lance, dagger and bow and arrows, standing guard and defending the Vale. ”A mountain that even mountains looked up to‘ sounds rather majestic and reminds us of lines in the Last of the Giants:
The last of the great mountain giants,
who ruled all the world at my birth…
On its western shoulder flows the waterfall known as Alyssa’s tears, whose waters never reach the ground. According to ancient legend, Alyssa Arryn saw her family butchered without ever shedding a tear so the gods decreed that she would know no rest until her weeping watered the black earth of the Vale. Alyssa’s tears add an element of sorrow to the imagery comparable with the lyrics of the Last of the Giants, where the giant has tears as a companion:
Whilst I walk alone in the mountains,
with no true companion but tears.
Notice that the imagery of an armed giant presiding over the Vale alludes to the title of the Lord of the Eyrie – the Lord Protector of the Vale – and is in line with the conviction that the Eyrie is impregnable – any aggressor first having to overcome this giant and all his defenses.
Jon Arryn was Lord of the Eyrie and is the symbolic giant in the analogy. His wife Lysa personifies the weeping Alyssa and becomes the giantess forced into a marriage and relationship she never wanted. After many stillbirths and miscarriages, she finally births the sickly Sweetrobin and she loves her child to an extent that others find her indulgence in the child inappropriate and even sickening. Look closely and you will see that Lysa also mirrors the giantess in Tormund’s tale.
Don’t be afraid, my sweet baby,” Lysa whispered. “Mother’s here, nothing will hurt you.” She opened her robe and drew out a pale, heavy breast, tipped with red. The boy grabbed for it eagerly, buried his face against her chest, and began to suck. Lysa stroked his hair. Catelyn was at a loss for words. Jon Arryn’s son, she thought incredulously.
AGOT, Catelyn V
Way past weaning age, six year old Robert is still being breastfed by his mother. He even reaches for his mother’s breast in public, when it’s quite inappropriate. Compare this to Tormund and his giantess mother:
Suckled me for three whole moons before I could get away. Har! There’s times I miss the taste o’ giant’s milk, though.”
Here we have a grown man being suckled by a giantess and like Sweetrobin, Tormund did enjoy the milk. I’m tempted to draw parallels between the milk of the poppy, the narcotic that dulls pain and induces sleep, Lysa’s breast-feeding and the possible sedation of ancient giantesses. Breastfeeding keeps Sweetrobin calm and helps alleviate his shaking sickness. Lysa’s red-tipped breast alludes to the red poppy from which the milk is made. I imagine that a giantess heavy with child or even one that had already delivered a child would have had to be sedated in order to acquire her baby, either to take it from her or to cut it out of her. Milk of the poppy would have done the trick. Further, the medicinal use of the poppy dates back to the Sumerians of Mesopotamia – as such, it is an ancient drug that fits well into the narrative historically.
Like the giantess in Tormund’s tale, Lysa is also extremely protective of her child. She fled King’s Landing to avoid having to give up her son to be fostered with Lord Stannis Baratheon (as one account has it) or with Lord Tywin as a ward of Casterly Rock (as another account reveals). In fact, Lysa is so protective of her son that she even threatens her own sister with execution when Catelyn suggests taking on the boy as a ward:
She had offered to take Lord Robert with her, to foster him at Winterfell for a few years. The company of other boys would do him good, she had dared to suggest. Lysa’s rage had been frightening to behold. “Sister or no,” she had replied, “if you try to steal my son, you will leave by the Moon Door.”
AGOT, Catelyn VIII
Imagine the wrath of a giantess threatened with the loss of her baby! Tormund’s tale demonstrates that the giantess is equally protective of her grown up “son,” so much so that it takes Tormund, whom we know as quite fearsome, three whole moons to escape:
Suckled me for three whole moons before I could get away.
On his deathbed, Jon Arryn kept mumbling the words “the seed is strong.” Ned Stark eventually discovered the secret behind those words but trust me, George Martin is a master of multiple symbolism and that sentence applies as much to Robert Baratheon’s bastard children as it does to the sickly Robert Arryn of the Vale. The seed in question here is the seed of the giants, Sweetrobin’s giant inheritance as Lord Protector of the Vale and the Giant’s Lance.
Further minor parallels include Tormund’s comment about the stink of the female giant which is mirrored by Lysa’s use of powder and perfume to cover up the scent of sour milk clinging to her person.
Of course, we have more links to giants in Sweetrobin’s arc. There’s his ragdoll, which he identifies as a giant in the struggle over Sansa’s snowy model of Winterfell castle.
“Winterfell is the seat of House Stark,” Sansa told her husband-to-be. “The great castle of the north.”
“It’s not so great.” The boy knelt before the gatehouse. “Look, here comes a giant to knock it down.” He stood his doll in the snow and moved it jerkily. “Tromp tromp I’m a giant, I’m a giant,” he chanted. “Ho ho ho, open your gates or I’ll mash them and smash them.”
ASOS, Sansa VII
Robert is playing the role of a giant (his seed is strong) via his ragdoll here. The bold sentences also highlight the sexual symbolism accompanying this paragraph – we only have to visualize Gregor Clegane, taking his revenge by kneeling before a virginal ‘gatehouse’ to smash in a virgin’s maidenhead. Sweetrobin plays a double role. He is at once the Protector of the Vale and a vicious giant who attempts to rape a maiden and destroy a castle. But Sansa defends the gates by taking on the giant. The doll rips apart, Sansa ending up with the head and Sweetrobin with the body.
“Robert, stop that.” Instead he swung the doll again, and a foot of wall exploded. She grabbed for his hand but she caught the doll instead. There was a loud ripping sound as the thin cloth tore.
Suddenly she had the doll’s head, Robert had the legs and body, and the rag-and-sawdust stuffing was spilling in the snow.
Lord Robert’s mouth trembled. “You killlllllllled him,” he wailed.
ASOS, Sansa VII
In terms of inheritance, can we infer that Sansa ends up with the most valuable part of the giant, the head and the seat of the giant’s supernatural power – the trait of singing. Sansa is a singer after all (see part one).
It all fits – the head of the Giant’s Lance, described thus as cited above:
“the jagged peak called the Giant’s Lance, a mountain that even mountains looked up to, its head lost in icy mists”
What does Winterfell represent if not the Castle of the head of the icy North, of the icy Kings of Winter now resting in their graves? The Giant loses its head to Winterfell and just to emphasize the point, Sansa rams the ragdoll’s head onto a makeshift spike, eliciting the following response from Littlefinger:
“If the tales be true, that’s not the first giant to end up with his head on Winterfell’s walls.”
Sweerobin ends up with the ragdoll’s legs and body, representing the strength of the giant – but this has dissipated, symbolized by the stuffing which spills in the snow: indeed, Sweetrobin is a sickly child, we know. This brings us directly to Bran, Winterfell’s very own little Giant and a great parallel to the Giant’s Lance, the Eyrie, Sweetrobin and the torn ragdoll,:
Before his fall, Bran climbs the walls of Winterfell and up the broken watchtower, right up to the eyrie, where he feeds the crows.
His favorite haunt was the broken tower. Once it had been a watchtower, the tallest in Winterfell (…)
But no one ever got up to the jagged top of the structure now except for Bran and the crows. (…)
(…)The last part was the scramble up the blackened stones to the eyrie, no more than ten feet, and then the crows would come round to see if you’d brought any corn. AGOT, Bran II
Winterfell’s jagged and broken watchtower mirrors the Giant’s Lance with it’s heavily armed Eyrie, that stand’s like a guard over the Vale. Alyssa’s tears that never reach the ground parallel the tears that freeze on Bran’s cheeks. Alyssa mirrors both Lysa as well as Catelyn in the form of Lady Stoneheart. Catelyn who believes most of her family butchered, transforms into a vengeful undead woman. She sheds no tears but feeds the crows with those she believes played a part in the butchering. Bran’s feeding the crows in the eyrie of the broken tower thus links back to his undead mother taking vengeance.
Sweetrobin’s ragdoll is akin to the clay model Maester Luwin fashions to demonstrate the dangers of climbing to Bran. Bran does fall and like the ragdoll, loses the ‘strength’ in his legs, but he keeps his head, the seat of his third eye and talent for skinchanging and greenseeing. Perfect.
Completing the picture of the violated giantess who is eventually robbed of her hybrid child is the murder of Lysa by Littlefinger. By this means does he succeed in stealing her child, naming himself Lord Protector of the Vale and becoming the child’s father in all but name.
Old Nan’s tales of outsized men, including the Titan of Braavos, recall those ferocious giants who had a thing for maidens:
The Titan of Braavos. Old Nan had told them stories of the Titan back in Winterfell. He was a giant as tall as a mountain, and whenever Braavos stood in danger he would wake with fire in his eyes, his rocky limbs grinding and groaning as he waded out into the sea to smash the enemies. “The Braavosi feed him on the juicy pink flesh of little highborn girls,” Nan would end, and Sansa would give a stupid squeak.
AFFC, Arya I
Note that the Titan of Braavos’ role and image mirrors that of the Giant’s Lance. Analogous to Sweetrobin smashing in the maiden of Winterfell’s gatehouse, the Titan is fed the flesh of highborn maidens, presumably to keep him happy. There is a hell of a lot going on here, too much to deal with in this analysis. There are many interesting points I have left out and shall return to, in part here and perhaps in later essays if time permits.
The main points here revolve around the idea of a giant inheritance within the house of Arryn, and the fierce protective instincts and subsequent killing of ancient giantesses who brought forth hybrid babies. It also demonstrates the notion of revenge, which I believe was a feature of giant/human hybrids in particular. The giant’s head going to Winterfell is in line with my hypothesis on the three-headed dragon: their innate magical power of singing is that which initiates bonding between a human and his familiar animal or as we see with Bran, bonding and subsequent skinchanging between a human and a giant. The above analysis also demonstrates that the Starks do have a giant inheritance in their bloodline.
To conclude this section of the significance of giants to the three heads of the dragon, I shall indulge in some speculation on the tall beautiful folk of the Isle of Leng. Please note that it’s not easy putting all this in a coherent form. The heritage of major characters is manifold – most carry the inheritance of more than just one of the Elder Races within their genes. Sweetrobin is also possessed of a merling inheritance via his mother Lysa for instance and this of course influences his giant heritage. I’m doing my best to compartmentalize the symbolism and stick to one thing at a time, tough as it is.
THE ISLE OF LENG
Still on the subject of giants or tall people, the Island of Leng, home to ten thousand tigers, giant apes and the beautiful seven foot tall Lengii with golden eyes is another location featuring mysterious labyrinths. The height of the Lengii evoke giants once again and recall we’ve already had giant hybrids associated with mazes above. Leng belonged to the Golden Empire for centuries and is my tip for the origin of the Bloodstone Emperor’s tiger-woman. This island may have been another breeding ground for humans with highly desirable traits. Let’s have a look at a few citations from the World Book:
The native Lengii are perhaps the tallest of all the known races of mankind, with many men amongst them reaching seven feet in height, and some as tall as eight. Long-legged and slender, with flesh the color of oiled teak, they have large golden eyes and can supposedly see farther and better than other men, especially at night. Though formidably tall, the women of the Lengii are famously lithe and lovely, of surpassing beauty. TWOIAF, The Bones and Beyond
“Southeast of Yin, surrounded by the warm green waters of the Jade Sea, the verdant isle of Leng is home to “ten thousand tigers and ten million monkeys,” or so Lomas Longstrider once claimed. The great apes of Leng are also far-famed; amongst them are spotted humpback apes said to be almost as clever as men, and hooded apes as large as giants, so strong that they can pull the arms and legs off a man as easily as a boy might pull the wings off a fly.” TWOIAF, The Bones and Beyond
That last part of the paragraph brings Wun Wun to mind, pulling off the arms of Ser Patrek of King’s Mountain.
The screaming had stopped by the time they came to Hardin’s Tower, but Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun was still roaring. The giant was dangling a bloody corpse by one leg, the same way Arya used to dangle her doll when she was small, swinging it like a morningstar when menaced by vegetables. Arya never tore her dolls to pieces, though. The dead man’s sword arm was yards away, the snow beneath it turning red. ADWD, Jon
Giant apes that mirror Wun Wun, the tallest race of mankind, women of great beauty, golden eyes with night vision. Sounds like a genetic mix of humans, giants and the children of the forest. The native Lengii were literally very insular for centuries. They neither left their island nor did they welcome visitors. All the ingredients that ensure the localization of a specific genetic heritage within a relatively small population are given. Later, visitors to the island were periodically put to death on command by the Empress. I would say in this respect, the case of the Lengii is similar to that of Gregor Clegane; revenge for past atrocities committed against the natives of that island. If the Great Empire of the Dawn kept Leng as a breeding colony, then the Bloodstone Emperor may have harvested a promising ‘tiger-woman’ with supernatural powers for future generations. In response to atrocities suffered by various subjugated races on that island, the Empress of Leng would neither tolerate regular visitors nor let those who did come live.
The last pieces of evidence connecting slavery with the cultivation of important inherited traits within an isolated population that I would like to discuss involves the Faith of R’hllor. Here, I postulate that the clergy of this religion have been trying to ‘breed’ their promised savior Azor Ahai for millennia. So, let’s have a look at that.
Note that when I talk about slavery, I also count other forms of subjugation such as thraldom and prostitution as part of the equation. The faith of R’hllor is particularly guilty in this regard: R’hllorists are bought as slaves and trained to the order. Whereas most religions reject sexual relations within the order, demanding instead vows of chastity from their clergy, prostitution is central to the faith of R’hllor.
Their belief in the return of Azor Ahai, the hero with the magical sword, may stem from an ancient prophecy but R’hllorists are aware that only persons with a specific genetic and spiritual inheritance will be suited to the task. After all, the prophecy states that Azor Ahai is to be “reborn.” His Nissa Nissa was no ordinary woman either, but one whose spiritual/genetic attributes rendered her a prime candidate for imbibing Lightbringer, the red sword of heroes, with special magical qualities. By actively encouraging prostitution, followers of the Red God increase the chances of swelling the ranks of the supernaturally talented among their number.
I would say that right from its genesis, the religion of the fiery red god’s sole purpose has been to breed and educate men and women with a view to generating this saviour, hence the institutionalized prostitution.
They have taken no chances in the process, recognizing that despite their best efforts, the saviour may be born outside of their ranks. To this effect, they have sent representatives out into the world to reconnoitre, to act as missionaries and identifiers of likely Azor Ahai candidates. It is no accident that Thoros of Myr, with his fake flaming sword (recalling Azor Ahai) appeared at the Targaryen court of Aerys II with orders to convert the king and members of the royal court to the faith. He does not consider himself a good priest but had a gift for tongues and saw things in the flames occasionally:
I had a gift for tongues, though. And when I gazed into the flames, well, from time to time I saw things. Even so, I was more bother than I was worth, so they sent me finally to King’s Landing to bring the Lord’s light to seven-besotted Westeros. King Aerys so loved fire it was thought he might make a convert.
ASOS, Arya VIII
How about Melisandre, formerly a slave acolyte of R’hllor, suddenly shows up in Westeros, attaching herself to Stannis Baratheon, declaring him as Azor Ahai? She is prepared for her mission, demonstrating apparent proficiency in prophetic vision, illusionary magic and death curses. She uses her skills to seduce Stannis with the purpose of birthing of shadow babies to aid her chosen one. Most significantly, she believes in the power of kingsblood, a purely genetic trait exclusive to those who have been born from the loins of kings. Melisandre studied deeper magic in the shadows of Asshai, she had to – intrinsic talents go to waste or may be diverted into areas irrelevant or even harmful to a cause if not channeled in the right direction. We see that due to his training as a red priest, Thoros of Myr eventually ends up resurrecting Lord Beric Donndarion no less than six times, much to his own surprise. Both Thoros and Lord Beric himself are Azor Ahai archetypes, wielding fiery swords, in Beric’s case, lit by his own blood.
Moqorro the Blackflame was chosen by the High Priest Benerro to bring the faith to Daenerys. He may have conjured up the storm that brings him aboard Victarion’s ship where he arrives just in time to magically cure the Ironborn captain’s septic arm. Though he does not carry a sword, he can magically cause his staff to spout flame. He is a fountain of knowledge as well, both prophetic and mundane. He appears well versed in the histories of Old Valyria and is acquainted with dragonlore. The above examples demonstrate how seriously R’hllorists take the matter of Azor Ahai. Note that both Mel and Thoros serve the stag, storm lords, horned lords; Thoros as a member of the Brotherhood without Banners led by Lord Beric, whose allegiance is to Storm’s End and who carries out his mission in dead King Robert’s name. Beric himself is associated with storms through his sigil and title – the Lightning Lord. The link between R’hllorists, Azor Ahai and storms extends to Daenerys – remember Daenerys is said to have entered this world during a great storm and is herself named Stormborn.
Consider also the harpies of Slaver’s Bay. They also symbolize a genetic mix reminiscent of a sphinx – the head of a woman, wings of a bat and so on. The original Harpy of Old Ghis carries a thunderbolt while the harpies of Astapor and Yunkai feature instruments of slavery such as manacles and chains, again linking storms to slavery. Euron Greyjoy, now king of the Iron Islands, declares, “I am the storm, my lord. The first storm, and the last.” Much to Victarion’s consternation, Euron has also reinstated slavery, raiding the Reach with the intention of selling captives into slavery in Essos. Exploring the connection between storms and slavery would be interesting but right now, for the purpose of this analysis, I just wanted to point out the role of slavery in the R’hllorist’s quest to either produce or identify the promised saviour.
Getting back on track, I will now introduce you to the idea that the contribution of the disenfranchised in the forging of the three-headed-dragon also clarifies the significance of bastards, cripples and broken things in the narrative. This unfortunate group of persons represent the visible results of interbreeding. They were the vehicles via which confirmed preferred traits of the elder races passed into human bloodlines and most importantly, eventually into trueborn human bloodlines.
THE ANCIENT CROSS-BREEDING LABORATORY
In prehistoric times, our ancestors spent their time gathering plants and hunting game for sustenance, but all that changed about 10,000 years ago, when humans began manipulating some plant and animal species to enhance their food supplies. This is what we call domestication. By identifying species with desirable traits and crossing them with one another, our ancestors transformed ancient predecessors of the grains that form part of our staple diet today: hereditary characteristics such as fitness, resistance to pests, and bountiful return formed the basis for selection and further breeding. The agricultural revolution eventually transformed the hunter-gathering Homo Sapiens into settled farming communities that ultimately coalesced into complex societies. George Martin has incorporated this portion of our history in the story.
That the first God Emperor of the Dawn discovered the secrets of agriculture is evident in the legend recalled in the World Book. During his 10,000-year reign, the people of the Empire are said to have lived in “peace and plenty,” indicating that the people of the Dawn Empire enjoyed a bountiful food supply and must have engaged in agriculture. This should convince you of their having become proficient in rudimentary breeding techniques. Garth the Green is another prominent figure heavily associated with agriculture and fertility in general and I shall be discussing his role in another essay. That some ambitious individuals of past eras may have hit upon the idea of applying breeding techniques to the human population as well is not as far-fetched as it sounds.
We cannot readily figure out all the experimental work carried out prior to embarking on a quest to enhance man, but considering all the strange hybrid organisms presented to us in the both the World Book and the main book series, we can infer that efforts to produce hybrids go back a long way in time. My feeling is that originally, the ancients of the GeotD concentrated on prolonging their life spans on earth, focusing heavily on retaining youth despite their age. If the legends of emperors and others such as the Grey King who lived for 1000 years and more hold any truth, they were successful to some extent.
Whether the genetic inheritance of some animal species found their way into man is also up for debate. Some evidence for this includes torture methods on the Basilisk Isle of Tears where human slave women were forced to mate with beasts to bring forth “twisted half-human children” and other examples I’ve already presented in part one. We may further speculate on the origins of the lizard/dragon-like appearance of monstrosities born to some Targaryens. That Valyrians of old claimed to be kin to their dragons could indicate the incorporation of reptilian genes and perhaps the author has drawn upon Ernst Haeckel’s now defunct theory of recapitulation, also known as embryological parallelism, to illustrate this point in the development of the blood of the dragon.
This hypothesis postulates that animals undergo embryonic stages representing successive phases in their evolution and the scaled monsters that emerge from the wombs of some Targaryens may reflect this.
George Romanes’s 1892 copy of Ernst Haeckel’s controversial embryo drawings (this version of the figure is often attributed incorrectly to Haeckel)
I am however more concerned with the contribution the elder races made to the dragon with three heads.
Assuming the elder races were noted for certain desirable traits, the first step would have been to initiate interbreeding between giants, merlings and humans. With both races were present on Essos, we can postulate that giants and merlings were the original targets of the empire. The legend of the Bloodstone Emperor who took a tiger-woman to wife, and is said to have engaged in slavery and dark sorcery suggests that these abominable practices reached an initial peak during his reign. As implied by his tiger-wife, we can also infer that a measure of success was achieved: this woman may have been a skinchanger or a telepath, whatever the case, she must have had supernatural powers that the BSE coveted for future generations.
Unfortunately, an unnatural recombination of genes often gives rise to offspring that do not survive, are infertile, physically deformed or otherwise handicapped in some way. Hybrids may deviate from the norm for the different species involved not only in physical appearance, but in their intrinsic nature (or personality) and behaviour as well. The Africanized Honey Bee, also known as the killer bee, is a good example of a renegade hybrid strain originally developed to be better adapted to tropical conditions and to produce more honey.
THE KILLER BEE
First introduced to Brazil during the 1950’s, the killer bee was a cross between species of European and African honey bees. The full consequences of this hybridization effort were realized when a swarm escaped quarantine in 1957, spreading throughout South and North America in the process. To date, this very aggressive strain has killed livestock as well as more than a thousand people. They are fitter than the parent species and are known to pursue victims for up to a quarter of a mile. Due to geographic isolation, various strains of this hybrid have adapted to diverse climates. Unlike the parent species, there are hybrid strains adapted to reproduce in wintry climes as well as adaptations to long-distance foraging in desert areas.
In the section on the plight of giants above, I show how this elder race suffered through the advance of man. We have heard of the vicious outsized men of Old Nan’s tales and have ample examples of Gregor Clegane’s brutal nature. Like the hybrid killer bees, human/giant crosses may have resulted in a much more aggressive type of half-breed. Suggestive evidence includes Wun Wun, a pure giant and obvious vegetarian who is quite unlike the nasty blood-drinking, meat eating buggers of Old Nan’s stories. Gentle Hodor, whom we know to carry a giant/human heritage does love a piece of meat, suggesting that hybridization had an influence on the preferred diets of the cross-bred variant, with the omnivorous tendency coming through in the hybrid. Hodor is not at all aggressive however. This may be because he is simple minded. In season six of a game of thrones, we are introduced to the idea that Hodor may have had the potential to become a warrior – a young Lyanna suggests that Hodor act as a sparring partner but Old Nan turns up and declares that Hodor is a stable boy and should have nothing to do with fighting at arms. Bran himself thinks he can still be a knight with Hodor as his arms and legs. This also strengthens the idea that the vicious giant hybrids of old may have been wargs, bound to familiar animals such as the dog (Clegane) or the bull (Gendry via his bull helmet, Gerold Hightower – the White Bull).
Besides the evidence surrounding giant hybrids, we see further examples of the consequences of hybridization in the narrative, including difficult pregnancies, frequent miscarriages, stillbirths and mothers dying in childbirth. The list of problems also includes:
- frail and sickly children (not ‘robust’)
- physically or mentally handicapped children
- monstrous babies, babies with dragonlike features
- cruelty, madness and other personality disorders
- below average intelligence
INFERTILITY AND BIRTHING DIFFICULTY
One major obstacle to acquiring heritable traits via cross-breeding different species is fertility, or rather, the lack of it. Progeny with sought-after traits need to be fertile for traits to continue down any bloodline. In the real world, hybrid infertility is common in cross-species offspring. Equine hybrids such as the mule (cross between a female horse and a male donkey) and the hinny (cross between a stallion and a female donkey) can mate but are infertile. This is because chromosome numbers of donkeys and horses differ, the donkey having 62, while the horse has 64. Offspring end up with 63 chromosomes, an uneven number, resulting in an incomplete reproductive system. There are instances however where female mules have produced viable offspring with a donkey as the father so by experimenting with parentage, it is possible to succeed in breeding fertile hybrid specimens.
The World Book addresses this problem of fecundity by citing an example involving humans and the brindled folk of Sothoryos. They are described as big-boned and heavily muscled with snout-like noses and thick brindled skins and were a savage race who worshipped dark gods and performed obscene rites. When bred with men from Essos or Westeros, their women brought forth only hideously malformed stillbirths. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Though I hesitate to include the brindled men in the list of species that make up the three-headed dragon, the example serves to highlight complications involved in trying to unite genetically incompatible species. Coupling with a brindled race does however represent an early example of trying to buy into the heritage of another species.
Of course, modern Targaryens or others humans with inherited mystical powers are not genetically incompatible per se but there could be numerically or structurally incompatible chromosomes originally stemming from elder races lurking in individual persons/bloodlines that cause aberrations or translate into monstrosities every so often. Infertility, stillbirths and monstrosities were not they only roadblock to achieving genetic goals – there is also the phenomenon of mothers dying in childbirth. Besides the many Targaryen wives who suffered this fate, one such is the child of the forest who was married to a Lord of the Vale. This hints at a mismatched pair – human/CotF. We may speculate on the reasons: considering the small delicate physique of a CotF, her hybrid baby may have been far too large to traverse the birth canal safely. Other causes could have been problematic positioning of the baby (breech birth – emerging feet or bottom first instead of head first) or conditions such as postpartum bleeding from the uterus, vagina or cervix caused by a particularly difficult birth. Bear in mind that there might be a genetic disposition to positioning with a tendency for the breech position to be dominant. Most hooved animals are born with forelegs and head leading the way, while whales and dolphins come tail first for instance. Comments about Tyrion’s large head and the imagery of him clawing his way out of his mother’s womb suggest both size and a breech birth caused complications that led to Joanna’s death in childbirth.
Postpartum fever was a common cause of death prior to the discovery of antibiotics in the 1930’s. A breech birth can cause injuries to the uterus, vaginal or urinary tracts. As infection accompanied by fever sets in after delivery, mothers often die in the aftermath of birthing a child. Through Ned’s memories, we know Lyanna was consumed by a fever and had lost a lot of blood, indicating multiple complications that could have included a breech birth with accompanying injuries during labour and delivery.
The Mad King’s sister-wife Rhaella brought forth a perfectly healthy Rhaegar only to suffer a series of miscarriages and stillbirths before delivering a small but healthy Viserys. She eventually died in childbirth.
In GRRM’s detailing of the circumstances surrounding births, we find this pattern of women delivering a perfectly healthy first-born, only to subsequently suffer a string of difficult pregnancies and stillbirths. This could be indicative of a trait like the Rhesus-Factor, an inherited condition that causes the mother’s immune system to attack her unborn baby. There is usually no problem with the first baby but once an Rh-negative mother is sensitized through her first Rh-positive child (Rh+ coming from the father), all following pregnancies involving Rh-positive babies are beset by problems. Nowadays measures are taken to rectify the condition but in the past, the danger of losing a baby was a reality. Some children do survive, only to succumb to severe anaemia shortly after birth. In others, severe anaemia can cause brain damage or neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy, whose symptoms are similar to epilepsy.
I believe we can identify some examples in the text including Rhaella, Elia Martell and her mother Mellario, Selyse Baratheon and Lysa Arryn with her son Sweetrobin who suffers from the “shaking sickness.” The relative occurrence of this phenomenon suggests a proliferation of genes comparable with the Rh-Factor in Targaryen lineage. Note that the fact that some mothers succeed in delivering a live child after a series of miscarriages indicates the prevalence not only of recessive homozygous Rh-negatives in mothers but also of heterozygous Rh-/Rh+ fathers. This means there is a chance that a father supplies a recessive Rh negative to the unborn child, resulting in the birth of a healthy child. This was probably the case with Viserys and with Sweetrobin for that matter. We can assume the trait originated in a common ancestor and was multiplied within the bloodline through the practice of inbreeding/consanguinity.
I have dwelt on this proposed Rh-Factor because we can relate its occurrence and frequency within a population to an ideal distribution of magical genes in bloodlines such as the Targaryens, that is so long as the desired traits are present in the family in the first place. As we know, the Dance of the Dragons killed off so many Targaryens that until the advent of Daenerys, traits contributing to the blood of the dragon were rare. Consequently, hatching dragons became a thing of the past. In my opinion, it required an external infusion of genes from Dyanna Dayne and Black Bertha Blackwood to really get the dragons back on track. The Rh-Factor was named after the Rhesus monkey and it’s possible that frequent references to Tyrion as a monkey-demon is intended as a hint to a similar condition within magical bloodlines.
Ghiscari descendants in Slaver’s Bay also recognise the problem of stillbirths and miscarriages: Daenerys’ wedding attire includes a gown fringed with baby pearls that is supposed to improve her chances of birthing healthy children. The more pearls she wears, the better the odds. Extremely fertile couples such as Jaehaerys and Alysanne, who bore 13 children, nine of whom survived, are rare. Aberrations in fecundity include contrasting examples such as Maegor the Cruel and Aegon the Unworthy. Despite his many marriages, Maegor failed to sire any living children. Notice in particular, that he also sired three stillborn monstrosities on three completely unrelated women. In contrast, Aegon the Unworthy proved himself a very fertile man, fathering two trueborn children and a multitude of bastards. These irregularities in fertility are in part* explainable by a combination of traits either hostile to, or favourable to procreation. We also find couples who produced only sons or only daughters, Ser Davos being an example of the former. I have only partially figured this out but do see the phenomenon as indicative of aberrations in fecundity due to an unnatural combination of genes.
- I’ve no doubt that some stillbirths/deaths of Targaryen children were instigated by maesters, however incompatible genetics serves as an additional explanation for some of these deaths.
TWO SIDES OF A COIN
The endeavour to acquire desirable genetic characteristics is nevertheless worthwhile because success increases the fitness, survival and as the symbolism of the three-headed-dragon further suggests, the power of the race over the rest of humanity: three heads are better than one, after all. As we see with the Old Valyrians, it bestows advantages that far outweigh the shortcomings of the race. Nevertheless, the whole affair is like throwing a dice; one and the same woman can issue forth magically talented children with one partner and produce genetic monstrosities with another. This is the case with Rhaenyra who births a set of boys bearing the blood of the dragon with her first husband (or alternatively with her suspected lover Harwin Strong), but has the misfortune to deliver a lizard-like monstrous baby with her uncle/husband Daemon Targaryen, the Rouge Prince. Traits thus combine in different ways to produce genetic constellations that may or may not be desirable in offspring. But this is the price Targaryens pay for their superior magical bloodline.
As Ser Barristan informs Daenerys:
But every child knows that the Targaryens have always danced too close to madness. Your father was not the first. King Jaehaerys once told me that madness and greatness are two sides of the same coin. Every time a new Targaryen is born, he said, the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.” ASOS, Daenerys
I believe the author symbolizes this idea of two sides of a coin via the currency of Volantis and Westeros in particular. In fact, I think we are meant to see each currency as one side of a coin. Volanteen Honors depict a crown on one side and a skull on the other: viewed as a whole, the imagery alludes to a crowned skull, which in turn suggests that death reigns. We can apply this to some characters in the narrative, notably to Viserys who is crowned and killed with molten gold. Viserys was not a pleasant man and from what we learned of him, would have been a miserable, morally bankrupt king. He was no dragon either, indeed, before Daenerys, Rhaegar was the Last Dragon. The crowned skull also echoes Aegor Bittersteel’s gilded skull which is carried forth into battle by the Golden Company he founded. Bittersteel also swore to return to place a son of Daemon Blackfrye on the throne. The preserved skull and notion of return allude to resurrection, together reminding me of Renly’s ghost returning to lead an army of the living. I’m pretty certain that the highborn of the Old Blood who live secluded behind the thick black walls of Volantis carry an inheritance much older than the blood of the dragon, older and more sinister, signified by the crown and skull on the coins.
Though the crown is an emblem of monarchy and traditionally represents power, authority, victory and honour, it is also a symbol of resurrection, which is especially interesting in light of the combination of crown and skull on Volanteen coins. As suggested by the example of Bittersteel, the crown and skull may be symbolic of waking the dead and/or of kingsblood, believed to hold the power to wake dragons from stone. We may also think of the Volanteen coin in terms of a ‘crowned beast’ as Aerys the Mad King was termed, a man who in his later years was responsible for the death of so many innocent citizens. Incidentally, Aerys also thought that burning in the fires of King’s Landing would transform him into a dragon. Joffrey also falls in this category. I was delighted to find this fantastic piece of artwork by HaNJiHye on deviantart.com. Titled “Long Live the King“, it expresses all the ideas that have been going through my mind perfectly.
Current Westerosi coins were established after the unification of the Seven Kingdoms by Aegon I Targaryen. Gold coinage bears the uncrowned head of the current king on one side and the three-headed dragon on the other. My theory of course postulates the three heads of the dragon as symbolic of the three elder races who contributed their genetic inheritance to man, the latter depicted on the other side of the coin. Compared with Volanteen coins, the contrasting uncrowned king seems significant and perhaps reflects the king’s title as Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm. Why is the king granted the titles of King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men but not King of the Seven Kingdoms? Does the author thereby signify the special duty of the King in respect of protecting the continent of Westeros and its original inhabitants, the children of the forest and the giants, perhaps also my proposed merlings? Whatever the case, Westerosi gold dragons highlight the blood of the dragon unified in man and I postulate that madness and greatness are represented by these two coins – Volanteen Honors denoting ‘madness’ and Westerosi dragons indicating ‘greatness’. So, that was a little discourse into my thoughts on the hidden significance of coins. Let’s continue with the last section on the pros and cons of recombining genes.
The effects of different genetic combinations are illustrated by the diverse personalities of kings who may reflect either one side of the coin or the other. Both realm and royal dynasty suffer due to the cruel nature and scandalous behaviour of kings such as Maegor the Cruel, Aegon the Unworthy or Aerys the Mad King. On the other hand, we have personalities such as Aegon the Conqueror or Aemon the Dragonknight who live to become great warriors, a king as wise as Jaehaerys the Conciliator, or a prophetic seer such as Daenys the Dreamer whose insights saved the Targaryens from annihilation in the Doom of Valyria. We can thus also expect illustrious attributes such as:
- great physical strength and associated military prowess
- above average intelligence/cunning
- artistic talents (e.g. for music)
- very good looks (great beauty, handsomeness)
- supernatural talents such as prophetic ability, telepathy, greenseeing and bonding with familiar animals.
Supernatural powers can occur in both groups of course.
THREE HEADS ON ONE BODY
With the most desirable genes of the Elder Races united in the ‘blood of the dragon’, I propose that the male component (ancestral father) is symbolized by the body of the dragon, encompassing traditional (stereo)typical male attributes such as physical strength, power and authority, while the three female heads supply psychological, intellectual and above all, supernatural properties. Three good heads are better than one and I suspect we also have cases of ‘too many cooks spoiling the broth.’
How does the theme of bastards relate to the three-headed dragon? Let me explain.
A child born of, for instance, a merling/human mating displaying anticipated traits would invariably be the son or daughter of a slave, thrall or otherwise subjugated person. Any child of a slave would thus legally be a bastard. Now, bastard children are not normally recognized by their fathers nor regarded as potential heirs or even as important in any way. However, in the ancient breeding scenario (and current parallel to that) bastard children showing signs of a coveted trait could be legitimized and assimilated into trueborn bloodlines. In the case of the Ironborn, the sons of saltwife thralls are even considered legitimate and may be absorbed into the bloodline if no trueborn sons are available. It is easy to see how desirable traits would then pass on from the enslaved to future trueborn generations. Note that in this scenario, daughters of slaves or thralls were valuable because they could receive the status of a concubine and continue to function as ‘breeding machines’. In contrast, slave sons with desirable traits could not readily be married off to highborn women but they could be legitimized. Those that were not could be further employed as ‘prime bulls’ to further service female subjugates in the continuing quest for desirable traits.
I believe George has provided numerous examples of the scenario I suggest in the backgrounds of several characters:
AEGON THE UNWORTHY AND HIS GREAT BASTARDS
By having children with so many different women carrying special traits, Aegon the Unworthy fathered several illegitimate children, many, such as the Blackwood or Bracken women, with a distinct and special genetic inheritance reaching back to the First Men. He also legitimized his bastard sons, going as far as placing them behind his trueborn son in line for the throne. Aegon IV even conferred the Targaryen family heirloom, the Valyrian sword Blackfyre, on his bastard son Daemon (Waters) Blackfyre. Of significance is that Daemon was a great warrior whom many believed better suited to the throne than the trueborn heir. Daemon exhibited very desirable traits, recognized by all.
Perhaps Aegon the Unworthy’s crown can shed some light on his genetic heritage: he wore a huge heavy red-gold crown tipped with dragon heads bearing gemstone eyes. While this extravagant crown reflects Aegon IV’s greedy narcissistic nature, it also hints at dragon-blood (dragon head tips) and a heritage from the Great Empire of the Dawn (gemstone eyes). Red gold is an alloy of copper and gold with the reddish hue intensifying as copper content increases. In ancient times, gold often turned red due to impurities mixing with the metal during the smelting process. Can we then infer that Aegon IV carried a tainted dragonblood heritage? That his was not the ‘golden blood of Old Valyria’ but an impure version of the original? Note that Daenerys is given a three headed dragon crown of yellow gold, the pure form of gold. Instead of gemstone eyes, the dragon heads that grace the crown are carved entirely from gemstones – jade, ivory and onyx, suggesting they are the real thing. Notice that Aerys the Mad King wore Aegon the Unworthy’s heavy red-gold crown and he definitely sired at least one head of the dragon, Daenerys. It’s thus plausible the crown’s characteristics symbolize certain traits that when combined with other suitable traits, add up to the blood of the dragon. Perhaps Daemon Blackfyre carried some part of Aegon’s inheritance that would have led given rise to a pure dragon-blooded child prior to the line of Aerys and Rhaella?
Brynden Bloodraven Rivers is a man of obvious magical talents and perhaps the best example of a legitimized bastard carrying proven supernatural genes. He is a greenseer and just to emphasize the point, we know that greenseeing relies on the heritable skinchanging trait. Bloodraven himself says that greenseeing is in the blood and this trait must have passed to him through his mother Melissa Blackwood. Bloodraven’s magical repertoire includes sending dreams, skinchanging and greenseeing and is well known to fans and so I shall refrain from expanding on further details here.
Aegor Bittersteel Rivers may have been an angry man but he was also a puissant warrior and man of many achievements. He founded the famed Golden Company and supported several Blackfrye rebellions. I’ve already mentioned him in connection with the Volanteen coin above. Could his forming the Golden Company be a hint at “golden blood,” the golden blood of Old Valyria? His horsehead helm should remind us of other animal-headed representations such as the Hound’s snarling dog helm or Robb Stark with his direwolf’s head sewn onto his body. I’ve already discussed the implication of this imagery in terms of its link to skinchanging in part one of this series. His personal sigil, which depicts a fire-breathing stallion with black dragon wings is reminiscent of the centaur and reinforces the link to a supernatural heritage. Lastly, Bittersteel commanded the men of the Golden Company to boil the flesh off his skull, dip it in gold, and carry it before them when they cross the narrow sea to retake Westeros. The heads of leaders have been treated in this manner ever since. We could say that their spirit literally marches on! This act of preservation also evokes the burial rites of the Starks, the difference being that the bones and spirits of the kings of winter are kept under wraps in the crypts. As previously noted, carrying this golden skull into battle may also parallel Renly’s ‘rising from the dead’, his golden antlers running with flame, to lead the Lannister-Tyrell host into battle against Stannis at the Battle of the Blackwater. That Aegor Rivers swore to return to put a son of Daemon Blackfire on the Iron Throne reinforces this image of rising from the dead to accomplish a mission. Like Bloodraven, Bittersteel is possessed of a magical genetic inheritance. Perhaps we will find out exactly what this is in due course.
Aegon the Unworthy’s case serves to illustrate the scenario I propose above particularly well.
His actions are analogous to the genetically desirable slave girl/thrall taken as a concubine to produce talented bastard children, who are subsequently legitimized to secure these traits.
Ramsay Bolton, whose father Roose recognizes the trait that makes Ramsay special provides another very good example:
A year later this same wench had the impudence to turn up at the Dreadfort with a squalling, red-faced monster that she claimed was my own get. I should’ve had the mother whipped and thrown her child down a well … but the babe did have my eyes. She told me that when her dead husband’s brother saw those eyes, he beat her bloody and drove her from the mill. ADWD, Reek III
The dead miller’s brother must have associated something fearful with those eyes for him to have beaten his sister-in-law bloody and drive her from the mill. Here is a description of Ramsay:
His skin was pink and blotchy, his nose broad, his mouth small, his hair long and dark and dry. His lips were wide and meaty, but the thing men noticed first about him were his eyes. He had his lord father’s eyes—small, close-set, queerly pale. Ghost grey, some men called the shade, but in truth his eyes were all but colorless, like two chips of dirty ice. ADWD, Reek I
Like Aegon IV bastard sons, Ramsay Snow is legitimized by a king’s decree and becomes a Bolton and Roose’s heir. We may speculate on what the pale eyes really represent and have ample reason to suspect skinchanging ability within Bolton lineage. Fandom has long theorized that the Boltons are body snatchers, the original person, whoever he was, prolonging his life by warging into suitable persons to ensure many second lives. There is a lot of ghostly imagery in that paragraph – colourless or ghost grey eyes, shade – hmm, why do I have the feeling that Ramsay harbours the spirit of the Night’s King? Boltons were fond of wearing the skins of slain Starks …. Okay, that’s speculatory for now.
Eyes like chips of dirty ice suggest a tainted trait and indeed Roose freely admits that both he and his son have bad blood. Lord Bolton takes care to purge himself off this bad blood by regular leechings, giving rise to his other title, the “Leech Lord” as well as to the vampirish connotations that accompany it. Because of references to him as “a beast in human skin,” Ramsay could indeed be a warg, but never having had a suitable teacher, he is probably a skinchanger with no control over the dark aspect of his nature. George treats us to detailed descriptions of his diabolical personality and the torturous treatment he metes out to his victims. Of course, he could simply have a severe personality disorder but this is fantasy, a world where skinchangers and magic are a reality. References to bad blood and connotations to skinchanging should thus be taken seriously.
Moreover, Ramsay was born of rape. His father Roose showed no interest in the bastard child until he noticed the very same genetic trait that he himself possesses – that represented by those pale eyes like two chips of dirty ice. This was reason enough to support the child, to entrust certain tasks to him and to ignore his cruelty. Roose even takes suspicions regarding Ramsay’s involvement in the death of his trueborn son Domeric in his stride and finally legitimizes this bastard son as his heir.
In this context, fellow theorist cantuse offers an alternative explanation for Melisandre’s vision in which she sees Jon as first a man, then a wolf, then a man again. Given Mel’s tendency to misinterpret her visions, cantuse proposes Ramsay as the man the red priestess actually sees in the flames, the implication being that the Bastard of Bolton is a warg. Very convincing write up – check it out here.
THE FALSE BARATHEONS – CERSEI’S BASTARDS
Joffery, Myrcella and Tommen belong in the category of legitimate bastards and are a classic example of ‘beautiful traits’ handed down from their extremely good looking parents. The author places a lot of emphasis on the golden hair and dazzling appearance of the three children. Recall also that the children’s golden hair is important to unravelling the death of Jon Arryn – a mystery essentially rooted in genetics and inheritance. All three are bastard children and in a twist to the original scenario regarding the handing down of genes, they are born fully legitimized into royalty via the secret incestuous relationship of their parents, with Robert Baratheon the oblivious cuckolded husband. Their right to the throne is secured by the treachery of their mother Cersei.
The narrative offers clues to the individual supernatural talents of each child and indeed, it does appear that each child represents one head of the dragon.
Joffery possessed a good singing voice, a genetic feature of the giants, which I propose is symbolically significant in terms of bonding with a familiar animal. Interesting is the observation regarding the black dog that suddenly appears to sniff Joffery’s corpse shortly after his demise. Given the implications of the Hound (whose sigil features black dogs and is himself known as Joffrey’s dog) as his sworn sword (see part I for more on this), I suspect the author draws attention to the black dog to indicate a bonding/skinchanging talent intrinsic to Joffery’s genetic make-up. His profile (good singing voice/bonding and cruelty) links to giant hybrids. Had he not been highborn, his cruelty would have made him a useful tool for any master wishing to consolidate power by means of fear and terror. We have seen enough of Gregor Cleagane to know that such monstrous individuals are instrumental in terms of the services they perform for their masters. But Joffery was a bastard prince who became king and like Aerys the Mad King, Joffery was a “crowned beast,” his murder a relief for the realm.
Tommen is a described as a sweet boy, is much more pliable than his brother Joffery was, with no signs of the latter’s inherent cruelty apparent. He would probably make a good king, a man with the interests of his people at heart. In another line of investigation, I have discovered that the word ‘sweet’ is most often linked to a fiery temperament or heritage: both Dany and Cersei are called ‘sweet sister’ by their siblings for instance. This also extends to honey and associated names such as Melisandre or Melissa (Latin mel – honey, sweetness, Greek melissa – honeybee). Given that Tommen is a rather meek child, I initially wondered how sweet might relate to Tommen’s genetic heritage and recalled he showed great interest in training for jousting. In fact, there is a scene that reminds us very much of Rhaegar at the tourney of Harrenhal. Tommen is practicing at jousting against a quintain and succeeding when Cersei arrives:
… the wretched little Bulwer girl began to hop about, chanting, “Tommen will be the champion, the champion, the champion.” “When he is a man grown,” said Cersei.
Their smiles withered like roses kissed by frost. The pock-faced old septa was the first to bend her knee. The rest followed, save for the little queen and her brother. Tommen did not seem to notice the sudden chill in the air. “Mother, did you see me?” he burbled happily. “I broke my lance on the shield, and the bag never hit me!”
Cersei causes the sudden chill in the air; here she is associated with blue winter roses. Note how the smiles wither, reminding us of how all the smiles died when Rhaegar crowned Lyanna at the Tourney of Harrenhal. The Bulwer girl proclaims Tommen as the champion. Recall also Ned’s thoughts about how all strikes seemed to glance off Rhaegar’s armour and compare that to the above – ‘the bag never hit me‘. Tommen clearly mirrors Rhaegar here, a Targaryen with a fiery inheritance.
Tommen’s special inheritance becomes clearer when we consider his attachment to the three kittens given to him by Maergery and his wish to become the Knight of Flowers’ squire. The kittens remind us also of Rhaeny’s cat Balerion, named after Aegon the Conqueror’s dragon, Balerion the Black Dread. Tommen thinks of Balerion the tomcat is a bad cat:
From soup to sweet Tommen burbled about the exploits of his kittens, whilst feeding them morsels of pike off his own royal plate. “The bad cat was outside my window last night,” he informed Kevan at one point, “but Ser Pounce hissed at him and he ran off across the roofs.” ADWD, Epilogue
Flowers, kittens and pets in general may signify a love for nature, while the kittens should remind us of the cat-eyed children of the forest. If you’ve read part one, you’ll know I attribute the traits of navigation and telepathy, both of which I deem essential to the blood of the dragon, to the children of the forest.
The following exchange ensues when Tommen tells Cersei about his kitten’s exploits; he mentions Lady Whiskers stealing a mouse from Ser Pounce:
“Ser Pounce must learn to defend his rights,” she told him. “In this world the weak are always the victims of the strong.” The king considered that, licking honey off his fingers. “When Ser Loras comes back, I’m going to learn to fight with lance and sword and morningstar, the same way he does.” AFFC, Cersei
Sweet Tommen licks honey off his fingers……
Think of Ser Pounce in terms of the CotF who were certainly the victims of the strong and had a hard time defending their rights both against the First Men and the Andals. We have another parallel to the children: like the giants, who were the children’s brothers and their bane, so too was Joffery Tommen’s brother and because of his cruelty, his bane. You recall all the nasty things Joff did to Tommen, skinning his fawn and bullying him, I trust. Tommen’s three kittens may also reflect different factions within the children of the forest themselves. There may have been those like Ser Pounce, who despite his name succumbs to Lady Whiskers and others who were more militant, such as the wood dancers, who warred to protect their rights and heritage. The names Bran and the Reeds give to the children they meet in the cave beyond the wall – Leaf, Ash, Coals, Snowylocks etc. could also be an indication of different factions of the children of the forest in ancient times. Nice to see them all working together now. With Tommen mirroring Rhaegar here, it looks like Tommen is that false Baratheon to whom we can attribute one of the supernatural traits that Rhaegar had.
Myrcella is an intelligent girl (a Merling feature), one with an aptitude for strategic thinking which she demonstrates by her mastery of cyvasse.
“It is said you show our brave Prince Trystane no mercy at the cyvasse table.” “He always sets his squares up the same way, with all the mountains in the front and his elephants in the passes,” said Myrcella. “So I send my dragon through to eat his elephants.” AFFC, The Queenmaker
Arys Oakheart thinks of her thus:
The truth was, the princess was braver than her brother, and brighter and more confident as well. Her wits were quicker, her courtesies more polished. Nothing daunted her, not even Joffrey.
Looking at the symbolism here, Trystane is associated with mountains and elephants which translates to giants and mammoths, while Myrcella uses her dragons to great effect. The intention is to crown her as queen – how nice, a dragon queen! Myrcella reminds me of Daenerys without the “bite”, though admittedly, she’s quite merciless with those dragons in the game of cyvasse. Indeed, there are a number of allusions to a dragon heritage including her love of hot Dornish dishes:
The best snake sauce had a drop of venom in it, he had heard, along with mustard seeds and dragon peppers. Myrcella had taken to Dornish food as quick as she had to her Dornish prince, and from time to time Ser Arys would try a dish or two to please her. The food seared his mouth and made him gasp for wine, and burned even worse coming out than it did going in. His little princess loved it, though. AFFC, The Soiled Knight
What is clear is that like Dany before she found her magic, Myrcella is also used as a pawn in someone else’s game – something I have already discussed in part one of the Pearl Inheritance. Notable is that Myrcella is sent to Dorne, to the Martells, and betrothed to Trystane Martell. This gives us a double merling connection, once via her name and again by association with the Rhoynar, who were a river/water-based culture, whom I believe were a later offshoot of the Fisher Queens. I have long suspected that Sunspear and its shadow city represent the old Great Empire of the Dawn and Asshai respectively. The Water Gardens then symbolize the Silver Sea, bringing us back to the Fisher Queens from whom I believe the merlings in general descended. Indeed, after the failed attempt to crown Myrcella as queen, Doran Martell ships her off to the Water Gardens, her last known location and suggestive of a Fisher Queen heritage. Recall that the Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea were wise and that the Water Gardens were built for the first Daenerys, wed to a Martell of Dorne. Likewise, the first Daenerys displayed wisdom regarding her observations on the theme of equality.
It was Daenerys who filled the gardens with laughing children. Her own children at the start, but later the sons and daughters of lords and landed knights were brought in to be companions to the boys and girls of princely blood. And one summer’s day when it was scorching hot, she took pity on the children of her grooms and cooks and serving men and invited them to use the pools and fountains too, a tradition that has endured till this day.” ADWD, The Watcher
Also significant is the showdown that takes place along the Greenblood. This murky green river is the home of the Orphans of the Greenblood, those exiles of the Mother Rhoyne who were loath to give up their heritage, suggesting a continuation of Rhoynish tradition and heritage beyond the land of their ancestors. Their wonderfully carved boats bring to mind the beautiful architecture of the Rhoynar, while mermaids and fish faces recall the Fisher Queens yet again.
All but the poorest orphan boats were wonderfully carved and painted. This one was done in shades of green, with a curved wooden tiller shaped like a mermaid, and fish faces peering through her rails. AFFC, The Queenmaker
Myrcella’s protector, Ser Arys Oakheart of the Kingsguard, meets his end here at the hands of Areo Hotah. His head is sliced off, landing in the Greenblood river, where his red blood mingles with the murky green waters, literally becoming green blood. This colour symbolism and word play on the GREENBLOOD should also put us in mind of the Bloodstone Emperor (of the Dawn), the mineral bloodstone being green with red inclusions. In a previous essay on the genetics of ice and fire, I argue that Daenerys’ ancient female ancestors were the Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea. Durran Durrandon had already established Dany’s link to the Empire of the Dawn – indeed, her forefathers came from that great empire. Supplementing his theory is my hypothesis regarding Daenerys female inheritance – her foremothers were merling Fisher Queens of the Dawn Age. The plot to crown Myrcella and subsequent attempt on her life thus evokes the ancient legend of the Amethyst Princess who was slain by her envious brother, the Bloodstone Emperor. In the scenario at the Greenblood, the BSE is of course played by Gerold Dayne, who styles himself Sword of the Evening. Anyone who has read LmL’s theories on the Bloodstone Emperor, should prick up their ears, because we now have a direct link between that sorcerous kinslaying/Queenslaying Emperor, the Long Night and the Daynes of Starfall.
Nevertheless, by the links to the three elder races suggested above, the three bastard Lannister siblings each represent one head of the dragon.
A TOUCH OF GOLD
Constant references to the golden appearance of major Lannister characters bring to mind Visery’s words to Dany on the ‘golden blood of Old Valyria’:
The line must be kept pure, Viserys had told her a thousand times; theirs was the kingsblood, the golden blood of old Valyria, the blood of the dragon. Dragons did not mate with the beasts of the field, and Targaryens did not mingle their blood with that of lesser men.
In a parallel to Targaryen incest, Cersei and Jamie do keep their line ‘pure’ and while she thinks of Rhaegar as even more beautiful than Jamie, Robert Baratheon is definitely a lesser man in her eyes. She goes even further by comparing her husband to a boar:
Robert Baratheon, the First of His Name, may there never be a second. A dim, drunken brute of a man. Let him weep in hell.
Those had been the worst nights, lying helpless underneath him as he took his pleasure, stinking of wine and grunting like a boar.
Could the golden hair of the Lannister children be synonymous with the golden blood, the kingsblood of Old Valyria? Consider Jon’s thoughts on Jamie:
They called him the Lion of Lannister to his face and whispered “Kingslayer” behind his back. Jon found it hard to look away from him. This is what a king should look like, he thought to himself as the man passed. AGOT, Jon I
In line with the consensus on the golden appearance of Cersei and Jamie, Jon seems mesmerized by Jamie, comparing him to Robert Baratheon, whom he finds disappointing. This could easily be a hint at kingsblood within the Lannister bloodline, the golden blood of Old Valyria, especially when we take Jon’s description of Tommen’s and Tyrion’s hair into account:
Arya was paired with plump young Tommen, whose white-blond hair was longer than hers …
… One green eye and one black one [Tyrion] peered out from under a lank fall of hair so blond it seemed white …
AGOT, Jon I
Tyrion’s and Tommen’s hair, described here as ‘white-blond‘ is just a variation on the more commonly used ‘silver-gold‘ applied to Dany and other Targaryens.
By the example of Cersei, Jamie and their bastard children, we understand why incest eventually presented a major way to secure a bloodline that had achieved some measure of perfection and why those who had achieved supremacy chose to practice it. Targaryen incest is amply documented in the story with the author showing us all the pros and cons of the practice in terms of the outcome of various unions.
Undoubtedly, cross-breeding was a brutal way to recombining otherwise foreign genes but man eventually devised means other than slavery to tap into the genome of likely candidates. This would include:
- marrying the (genetically) promising daughters of a defeated foe (like the Starks taking the Warg-King’s daughters)
- the Ironborn taking ‘saltwives’ as thralls – sons of saltwives enjoyed the same rights as trueborn, meaning they could be integrated into the trueborn family if necessary.
- the Lord’s right to the first night with the newly wed wife of any of his subjects. Here focus was on the chance of begetting supernaturally or otherwise talented issue. Roose’s “right to the first night” in respect of the Miller’s wife proved fruitful – the boy Ramsay was born with Roose Bolton’s pale eyes, which in turn signify some other characteristic as explained above.
- stealing women (to supplement the gene-pool) as practiced by the wildlings and mountain clans of the moon.
- incest / marring very close relatives
- in addition, the Valyrians kept an external gene pool in their colony of Lys – a colony devoted to recreation, entertainment and above all, the sex industry that could always be drawn upon to supplement their gene pool.
In general, the way in which traits would have been expressed in the progeny of sexual unions between unlike species would have been very unpredictable, especially in view of the power of supernatural gifts inherited by their holders. Think of the africanized Killer Bees and analogous giant hybrids. Breeders ended up with resilient honey bees, yes, but hybridization also produced an aggressive strain of bees most dangerous to man and beast alike. Compounding this unpredictability in hybridized strains is the reality that bastard children are more likely to be shunned or not taken care of by their fathers, often leaving mothers destitute and unable to provide adequate care and education to affected children. The chances of a bastard child’s magical talents developing in the wrong direction are relatively high and George has shown us that this is indeed the case, Ramsay being the prime example. Even after Roose recognizes the trait that confirms his paternity, he takes no measures to ensure the child gets a decent education. Instead of assigning to him a master of arms for example, he chooses to send the first Reek, a man spurned by others because of his strong body odour, as a companion for his son.
I have seen my bastard fight. He is not entirely to blame. Reek was his tutor, the first Reek, and Reek was never trained at arms. Ramsay is ferocious, I will grant you, but he swings that sword like a butcher hacking meat.” ADWD, Reek III
Roose himself wonders if it was Reek who corrupted Ramsay or the other way around. What is very evident is Reek’s willingness to partake of all Ramsay’s atrocities, right down to sexually assaulting the bodies of his master’s murdered female victims “while they are still warm.” He is also thought to have played a part in Lady Hornwood’s death by starvation:
Reek, he’s called,” Hayhead said when Bran asked who it was. “I never heard his true name. He served the Bastard of Bolton and helped him murder Lady Hornwood, they say.”
The boy is a sly creature by all accounts, and he has a servant who is almost as cruel as he is. Reek, they call the man. It’s said he never bathes. They hunt together, the Bastard and this Reek, and not for deer. I’ve heard tales, things I can scarce believe, even of a Bolton.
In no way was Reek a suitable mentor for Ramsay and by his active participation, encouraged Ramsay to explore the violent and macabre aspects of his personality to the full.
Old Nan’s outsized men, whom I believe were the bastard offspring of giant/human unions had a comparable diabolical reputation. If they were indeed untaught wargs with no control over their warg nature, then we can understand why the general population feared them and why this fear has persisted over the centuries.
Jojen explains to us just what kind of evil the people associate with wargs when he calls Bran a warg for the first time:
“Warg. Demon. Shapechanger. Beastling. That is what they will call you, if they should ever hear of your wolf dreams.” The names made him afraid again. “Who will call me?”
“Your own folk. In fear. Some will hate you if they know what you are. Some will even try to kill you.” Old Nan told scary stories of beastlings and shapechangers sometimes. In the stories they were always evil. ” ACOK, Bran IV
Pretty heavy stuff! But this isn’t an isolated sentiment. During the confrontation between Jon Snow and Janos Slynt, when Slynt refuses to obey the Lord Commander’s orders to go to Greyguard, Slynt throws the following words at Jon:
Slynt laughed, dribbling porridge down his chest. “Greyguard’s a good place for the likes of you, I’m thinking. Well away from decent godly folk. The mark of the beast is on you, bastard.” ADWD, Jon I
After Ygritte’s capture by Jon, they learn each other’s names and Ygritte is shocked by what she learns:
“I’m Jon Snow.”
She flinched. “An evil name.”
“A bastard name,” he said.
Ygritte is aware that Snow is a bastard name and flinches at the thought. Moreover, though it is clear to both Ygritte and the reader that Snow is a bastard name, the author highlights Ygritte’s words by immediately associating evil with the bastard name.
Ygritte soon tells Jon the story of Bael the Bard, the song o’ the winter rose. She introduces the tale thus:
“You said you were the Bastard o’ Winterfell.”
No doubt you are familiar with the tale but allow me to point out the following: the Stark maiden gives birth to a son, a bastard son. Perhaps he was legitimized, perhaps not. The point is, this bastard son becomes a kinslayer when he kills his father Bael later in life. Next to violating guest right, this is one of the worst crimes a citizen of Westeros can commit and as Ygritte remarks:
“Aye,” she said, “but the gods hate kinslayers, even when they kill unknowing.
So, we have an early example of kinslaying, an act that remains a vile crime in spite of the circumstances leading to it and this crime is committed by a bastard-born child. This feeds directly into the idea that bastard children are marked by evil and that nothing good can be expected of them.
In view of these examples, is it any wonder that a fear of and stereotyping of bastards is commonplace in the population of Westeros? And make no mistake, this categorizing is part of the collective consciousness of folk both north and south of the Wall.
Perhaps Jon Arryn knew what he was doing when he sought out Robert’s bastards with a view to providing for their needs and education.
The text provides many examples illustrating the conviction that bastard born children are unsavoury in some way.
Roose Bolton attributes Ramsay’s propensity for cruelty to his bastard status:
He swears that he shall not sheathe his sword so long as a single Greyjoy remains in the north. Perhaps such service might atone in some small measure for whatever crimes his bastard blood has led him to commit.“
Though feigned in this case, Quorin Halfhand echoes negative sentiments against bastards:
“They warned me bastard blood was craven,” he heard Qhorin Halfhand say coldly behind him. “I see it is so. Run to your new masters, coward.”
Craster’s bastard ‘black blood’ status is the reason why he is a terrible savage:
“Dolorous Edd says Craster’s a terrible savage. He marries his daughters and obeys no laws but those he makes himself. And Dywen told Grenn he’s got black blood in his veins. His mother was a wildling woman who lay with a ranger, so he’s a bas …“
Stereotyping extends to bastard born women as well:
Marillion to Sansa:
I have been singing love songs for hours. My blood is stirred. And yours, I know … there’s no wench half so lusty as one bastard born. Are you wet for me?”
Joffery is an illegitimate child whose cruelty is on a par with Ramsay’s. Though born into a wealthy family and educated in a manner appropriate to his station, Cersei fails to instill discipline and a positive value system in her son. By projecting her own hunger for power onto him, she encourages his antisocial behaviour to the extent that she loses control over his actions. His official father Robert took little interest in his children or family as a whole, even admitting this to Ned. Though Joffery boasts of his father’s prowess in battle, King Robert, with his preference for drink, whoring and hunting and his tendency to engage in domestic violence towards Cersei, is no positive role model for his son. As far as possible supernatural talents go, the issue does not even come up, the royal family does not believe in snarks and grumkins, and Joffery has no mentor to help develop and control any abilities he might have.
Perhaps the most important take-away here is not the issue of bastardy per se, but the effect of inadequate care and negligence on children growing up both inside of and outside of family units. Catelyn, who is so unhappy over the presence of Jon in Winterfell, asks herself why Ned insisted on bringing the child home and raising him with the same privileges granted his trueborn children. Clearly, incorporating bastard children into the home is not the norm in Westeros. In her thoughts, Catelyn admits to expecting Ned to have seen to the child’s needs but as per Ramsay, we’ve seen what inadequate care and mentoring could lead to, especially in a child with a talent such as warging. There’s a difference between simply taking care of the needs money can buy and educating a child within a loving, intact family unit. When it comes to Jon, Catelyn fails to live up to the words of her house: Family, Duty, Honour, with family heading the list. Jon is nevertheless a privileged bastard who has a predominantly loving family and had the opportunity to partake of an education on a par with that of his siblings. That is the big difference between Jon Snow and Ramsay Snow.
Personality defects, cruelty and evil behaviour attributed to bastards naturally do not apply to them alone and as demonstrated in the narrative, occurs in the most distinguished of families. As King Jaehaerys once stated: madness and greatness are two sides of the same coin.
Besides uncertainty regarding the effect of recombined genes in bastard children, physically deformed offspring would be a regular occurrence among the progeny of women victimized in the quest for the three-headed dragon, but some of these children would demonstrate desirable qualities as well. A glimpse into the Yellow Whale’s grotesquerie offers insights into what ancient breeding grounds might have produced:
But he was said to be the richest man in Yunkai, and he had a passion for grotesques; his slaves included a boy with the legs and hooves of a goat, a bearded woman, a two-headed monster from Mantarys, and a hermaphrodite who warmed his bed at night. “Cock and cunny both,” Dick Straw told them. “The Whale used to own a giant too, liked to watch him fuck his slave girls. Then he died. I hear the Whale’d give a sack o’ gold for a new one.” ADWD, The Windblown
We even find out what talents the poor two-headed girl offers:
The two-headed girl was feeble-minded; one head was no bigger than an orange and did not speak at all, the other had filed teeth and was like to growl at anyone who came too close to her cage.
This experiment obviously failed, or did it? Looks like something is missing here. Two-headed, feeble-minded, one head dumb and another growling like a dog – a beast in human skin? What’s more, Yezzan liked to watch a giant have sex with his slave girls. Perhaps they all drank moon-tea afterwards but if not, what might their children have been like? Like Hodor? Gregor? Or the vicious outsized men of Old Nan’s tales? It is interesting that the Yellow Whale’s favourite ‘treasure’ is Sweets, described thus:
“You are trying to decide if I’m a man or woman,” Sweets said, when she was brought before the dwarfs. Then she lifted her skirts and showed them what was underneath. “I’m both, and master loves me best.”
A grotesquerie, Tyrion realized. Somewhere some god is laughing. “Lovely,” he said to Sweets, who had purple hair and violet eyes, “but we were hoping to be the pretty ones for once.” ADWD, Tyrion
Now, I doubt this citation is as innocent as it looks. Like the multitude of hints GRRM has woven into the narrative, Sweets is yet another piece in the puzzle surrounding the three-headed dragon – akin to dragons who can be both male and female, Sweets has both male and female sex organs along with purple hair and violet eyes. Sweets could have dyed hair but he is obviously a hermaphrodite and he has the rare and classic Valyrian eyes. Moreover, he is his master’s favourite, which besides the sex aspect, indicates some further hidden characteristic not openly revealed to us – most likely the secret behind the purple eyes, which I believe are involved in dragonriding – see the section on the children of the forest in part one of this series for more on that idea.
Still on the theme of frail children, Varamyr, nicknamed Lump during childhood, was himself born a frail and sickly child:
Lump had been born a month before his proper time, and he was sick so often that no one expected him to live. ADWD, Prologue
Even as a grown man and powerful warg and skinchanger, Varamyr is aware that without his beasts, he is not a powerful man:
Without his beasts he did not look like a great man.
ROBERT SWEETROBIN ARRYN
Sweetrobin, cousin to Bran and his siblings, is a frail sickly child prone to shaking fits. We may not have seen Sweetrobin’s supernatural gifts in action but there is every indication that he is endowed with powers yet to be revealed. In my opinion, one of the strongest hints we have in this regard is the boy’s hearing the supposedly dead Marillion sing at night. Bran, Jon and Dany all hear their familiars singing at the outset of the relationship. The presence of a weirwood throne at the Eyrie should also alert us to the possibility that Sweetrobin has some talent. I have already explained the significance of his ragdoll in this context.
Lastly, Catelyn, mother to the most talented skinchanger and budding greenseer we know of, is sister to Lysa Arryn, Sweetrobin’s mother. In my analysis of Catelyn’s contribution to Stark inheritance, I show that Catelyn supplies the gene for Arya’s wolf-blood as well as what I term the ‘greenseeing trait’ to Bran and her other children. Is it not likely that Lysa was possessed of a similar inheritance, passed on to her son Robert? If I had to risk a prediction on Sweetrobin’s magical talents, I would say he has the potential to be a dragonrider – all research I’ve carried out so far points in that direction and that’s the beauty of the three-headed dragon: depending on the combination of genes involved you get individuals with different magical abilities. The main point here is yet another link between infirmity and supernatural talent.
The crannogmen are thought to have interbred with the children of the forest and Jojen is notable for his greendreams, which through at times as cryptic as Melisandre’s visions in the flames, turn out to be true. We can argue here on whether these dreams are borne of his own subconscious mind or were sent to him by Bloodraven. Significant here is the link between Jojen’s fragility and his prophetic ability – he is not a strong child, relying on his sister Meera to look out for him, barely surviving the journey to the children’s cave beyond the Wall. And like those frail children of the forest with the potential to become greenseers, Jojen has moss-green eyes. We learn that in his childhood, Jojen suffered a severe bout of greywater fever, an illness that almost caused his death. Like Bran, he was visited by the three-eyed-crow who gave him the gift of greensight during this illness, after which he began to experience prophetic dreams.
BRAN THE BROKEN
Bran’s crippling is analogous to the above. He is Bloodraven’s ‘favourite’, the extremely talented boy anticipated for years. Though not born handicapped, Bran’s condition mirrors the physical deformity and great talent that may have arisen from cross-breeding species. On a side note, we can also view the new Southron alliances the Starks make in terms of betrothals and fostering as analogous to bringing together individuals of different “species”, as diversifying the bloodline. This move guarantees the incorporation of fresh magical genes into the bloodline and is particularly relevant to Catelyn’s genetic contribution to the current set of Stark children.
Bran’s gifts awaken after his fall, highlighting the connection between a handicap and supernatural powers. The boy is dismayed that he will never become the knight he always dreamed of being, but it does not take him long to hit upon the idea that he could perhaps become a knight despite his handicap:
“There was a knight once who couldn’t see,” Bran said stubbornly, as Ser Rodrik went on below. “Old Nan told me about him. He had a long staff with blades at both ends and he could spin it in his hands and chop two men at once.” AGOT, Bran
Not only does he cite the handicapped Symeon-Star-Eyes as an example, it also occurs to him to use Hodor as a means to fulfilling his dream:
“Ser Rodrik should teach me to use a poleaxe. If I had a poleaxe with a big long haft, Hodor could be my legs. We could be a knight together.”
Maester Luwin responds by reminding him that a man’s physical body must be one with his mind to be able to fight:
“I think that … unlikely,” Maester Luwin said. “Bran, when a man fights, his arms and legs and thoughts must be as one.”
This is just what Bran will achieve in the future, skinchanging Hodor, thus becoming one with the giant’s body, which he can then direct as he pleases. Bran could indeed be a fully functional knight while inhabiting Hodor – a mystery knight, his identity a secret within the big man.
Bloodraven is another prime example of a physically handicapped individual with great supernatural powers. Though not blind in one eye by birth, greenseeing Bloodraven is defined by his one seeing eye which burns like a hot ember. More importantly, recall also that Bloodraven is an albino. Albinism is an inherited disorder that leaves the skin, hair and eyes without colour. Typical symptoms are white or silvery hair, red eye colour caused by blood vessels shimmering through an iris devoid of pigment; and very pale, white or creamy skin. There are many variations of the disorder, some affecting only the eyes. In Africans, affected persons may have white or light brown skin, blond or reddish hair and red or hazel eyes. Albinism occurs due to a defect in one of the genes that produce melanin, the pigment responsible for darker colouring in all animals.
Defective genes are always recessive and must pass down from both parents for a child to be born with the condition. We can thus infer that both Aegon the Unworthy and Melissa Blackwood were carriers of the gene. Because melanin-production also serves to protect the skin from sunlight, persons with albinism are generally sensitive to light and must take measures to shield both skin and eyes from uv-light to avoid severe sunburn. Bloodraven’s place of abode amidst the darkness of the underground cavern is thus very helpful as far as his condition is concerned.
It is highly probable that his albinism is linked to his supernatural gifts and the assumption is strengthened by his teachings to Bran about the rare children of the forest born with green or red eyes: these are born with an inheritance that make them greenseers. In addition, they are born not robust, their lives extended only by being bound to a weirwood tree.
I’d like to go back to the Bolton’s pale colourless eyes and share a few thoughts on their possible link to albinism. As explained above, albino eyes are really colourless, devoid of pigment. The eyes are perceived as red by virtue of blood vessels that shimmer through. Colourless eyes then suggest an absence of blood or blood that isn’t flowing or ‘living’ – bad blood? Roose’s regular leechings which remove blood from his system reinforces this idea. Also relevant – to encourage blood flow, leeches inject an anticoagulant into their host and this property has been made use of since ancient times as a remedy for all kinds of ailments. The most important thing about leeching is the anticoagulant prevents blood clotting and promotes continuous blood circulation. This brings to mind the wights. They exhibit no vital processes, their blood coagulating in the extremities, causing the black colouring of their hands and feet. Roose has pasty skin and a pallid chest – altogether pale, evoking albinism. His cold nature suggests a lack of ‘hot blood’ in his veins, cold blood, bad blood, that does not reach his eyes. Presumably, the white walkers, who hate all living things with hot blood in their veins would love Roose or not necessarily recognize him as an enemy! Perhaps this cold-blooded inheritance indicates that the Bolton’s are a throwback to those ancient wildlings who consorted with giants and ghouls and whose women lay with the Others to bring forth twisted half-human children?
The wildlings were cruel men, she said, slavers and slayers and thieves. They consorted with giants and ghouls, stole girl children in the dead of night, and drank blood from polished horns. And their women lay with the Others in the Long Night to sire terrible half-human children. AGOT, Bran
Food for thought.
The One-Eyed/Red-Eyed Syndrome
The one-eyed/red-eyed syndrome is very often connected to supernatural gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. Relevant characters include:
- The Ghost of High Heart whose eyes are like hot coals (red eyes, a sign of albinism) – she has prophetic dreams and can recognize supernatural powers in others (she identifies Arya as a warg)
- One-eyed Yna of Braavos who can taste the future in a drop of blood
- The one-eyed crone, a dosh khaleen of the Dothraki, who declares Dany’s unborn child the Stallion who mounts the world.
- Varamyr, a warg and skinchanger linked to the one-eyed theme via his wolf named One-Eye. It is this wolf he chooses for his second life.
- Red-eyed Melissandre, who sees visions in the flames.
Notice that albinism could apply to those of Valyrian blood, many of whom have pale creamy white skin, silver-gold, platinum or white hair. Further, like the red eyes common in albinism, purple or violet eyes also occur due to a lack of pigmentation. One can rightfully ask how a people prone to albinism managed to survive in a tropical region. Here I suspect the incorporation of genetic material from that small species of lemur native to the warm Summer Isles and steamy jungles of Sothoryos – the Little Valyrian – said to have silver-white fur and purple eyes. Daenerys roams the heat of the Dothraki Sea and Red Waste for months, she tolerates very hot baths and survives the fire that hatches her dragons – notice she is the Unburnt – a title with many layers of meaning, one of which is her relative insensitivity to heat and a component of her special version of blood of the dragon.
We should be aware that in the quest for genetic perfection, overcoming handicaps as well as reducing the chances of begetting sickly offspring was of as much importance as generating physically sound magically talented children. Introducing a giant heritage to a talented but otherwise not very robust line would markedly improve fitness and chances of survival for instance. Here we can expect the incorporation of traits such as strength and physical fitness. Giants are not known for their intelligence however, creating another difficulty; perfection is not easy to attain, after all. It’s a trade-off affair.
Another aspect worth considering is the deliberate maiming of children. George’s symbolism is so intertwined that sometimes the obvious is hard to detect: maiming a supernaturally talented child, especially the act of crippling as in Bran’s case, ensures the child or person will not be able to escape confinement that easily and consolidates a master’s power over the person.
With Bran thinking of himself as Bran the Broken, the theme of cripples and broken things overlaps to some extent. Bran is broken in the sense that he was left crippled, broken by Jamie Lannister’s desire to keep a guilty secret. Like the clay doll maester Luwin fashions and throws down from on high to demonstrate the danger of climbing, Bran breaks. On a side note, his breaking appears to be as essential to overcoming the invasion of Others as the breaking of the Arm of Dorne was essential to curtailing the influx of the First Men to Westeros, late though both incidents may have been.
Theon Greyjoy is well worth investigating in connection with the broken man syndrome. Theon is kept a prisoner and tortured mercilessly by Ramsay. The main intent behind this brutality centers on an effort to change Theon’s identity, to coerce him into relinquishing his princely heritage as Theon Greyjoy and heir to the Seastone Chair in favour of the subjugate Reek. Theon Greyjoy, a man formerly known for his smiles, is reduced to a miserable shadow of his former self, a broken man. Putting aside Septon Meribald’s great speech on the broken man for a moment, there seems to be a link between breaking a man and skinchanging in particular – Bran and the Hound (part one) serving as examples for the phenomenon. In lieu of further evidence, those are my observations to date.
In terms of harvesting genetic traits in the quest for the three-headed dragon, it is easy to see how slavery and other forms of subjugation contributed to the broken thing syndrome. Would a slave woman forced to mate with beasts retain her sanity? Do the tears branded under the eyes of the whores of Slaver’s Bay signify a painful history that goes much deeper than the present cross they bear? What role does crippling and torture play in bringing supernatural talents to the fore?
Keep in mind that in all these examples, inheritance is the key to the supernatural powers in question, and in many significant cases these gifts come at a cost.
Warging, skinchanging, riding dragons, hatching dragons, telepathy and other gifts are based on inheritance, on genetics. Taboos may be broken, sacrifices made, weirwood paste eaten and sorcery practiced: these methods only serve to modify these powers and render them even more powerful. When genes of normally incompatible species unite, we can expect beauty, strength, great fighting ability or physical handicaps, infertility and infirmity in addition to highly desirable traits and this is precisely what happens when hereditary traits of the three elder races combine.
Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments!
Essays in the Three Heads has the Dragon Series:
Part II: Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things (this essay)
Film images from the HBO Series A Game of Thrones
Back to Top