Three Heads has the Dragon
Five books and six seasons down the line, we should realize that hatching and riding dragons are only a small part of a much larger scenario. I’m personally convinced that many clues within the narrative suggest some ancient cultures in G. Martin’s world practiced a form of primitive genetic engineering, usually disguised as dark magic and sorcery. Indeed, the background to the first murder investigation we are presented with, that of the death of Jon Arryn, is rooted in genetics. In the case of the three-headed dragon, we assume these three heads represent three riders, but is there all there is to it?
Could there be more to this symbol than meets the eye?
Nowadays, recombining and altering the biological properties of living things is firmly entrenched in science. Drunk on the possibilities offered by DNA manipulation, molecular biologists have demonstrated its application in medicine and agriculture, not to mention controversial research into areas formerly confined to the realm of science fiction. By splicing human DNA into cows for instance, scientists in China have successfully engineered cows that produce human breast milk. In Japan, the Evolved Mouse Project has generated over a hundred mice that chirp like birds and in Korea, cats that glow in the dark have been engineered and subsequently cloned. Strange and stranger. The idea that the author may have drawn on this theme should not surprise us.
My premise is the three ancestral Elder Races contributed their genetic heritage to and are represented by the three heads of the dragon.
Child of Three
When the Undying utter their pronouncements, Daenerys is baffled by the cryptic words:
… the shape of shadows … morrows not yet made … drink from the cup of ice … drink from the cup of fire …
… mother of dragons … child of three …
“Three?” She did not understand.
… three heads has the dragon … the ghost chorus yammered inside her skull with never a lip moving, never a breath stirring the still blue air … mother of dragons … child of storm …
ACOK, Daenerys IV
Relating their statement to the three heads of the dragon, the Undying identify Daenerys as a child of three, one of three children associated with the three heads. Jorah Mormont explains what Dany does not understand. Reminding her of Aegon the Conqueror and his sister-wives Visenya and Rhaenys, all of whom rode their own personal dragons, he suggests the three heads represent three riders. So is that all there is to it? Three riders for three dragons?
In my first investigation of the genetics of ice and fire, I examined the principal features of Valyrians – purple eyes, and silver-gold hair. That groundwork study led me to suspect these features represent three separate genetic units of inheritance and I asked myself how they might have originated.
Given the author’s use of multi-layered symbolism, we can build on this idea by reading their statement in another way: the Undying could (also) be telling us that the dragonheads represent three different ancient ancestors within Targaryen lineage and that Daenerys herself is a descendant child of these three ancestral heads . This idea is plausible, especially considering the special “blood of the dragon” inheritance of Daenerys and other persons of Valyrian descent. After extensive research, I finally came to some conclusions and put forward the following hypotheses:
The three heads of the dragon represent three different ancestral races, specifically the ancestral mothers of the Elder Races.
The sphinx symbolizes the perfected genetic heritage of the three ancestral races (represented by serpent, eagle and lion respectively) merged with the human race.
Creation of a master race: By cross-breeding the Elder Races with each other and with man, the ancients of the Dawn and later the Old Ghiscari laid the first foundations for a master race. The Valyrians perfected this early form of genetic engineering, culminating in the so called ‘blood of the dragon’. It is clear that this was not a straightforward process: several millennia and an untold number of unexpected varieties of hybrids and races of humanoids resulted, some very dangerous to man. The World Book mentions a whole host of weird and wonderful species found in various parts of the planet. Indeed, the different parties involved (GEotD, Old Ghiscari and Valyrians, to name a few major cultures) probably pursued different goals regarding the heritable traits they meant to harness.
Evidence for Genetic Manipulation
Valyrians are not entirely of the same blood as other men
What evidence do we have for the notion that the Valyrians or their forebears exploited other species to further their genetic interests? First off, the text offers significant clues to the special inheritance of Valyrians as well as to the idea of a master race:
“The great beauty of the Valyrians— with their hair of palest silver or gold and eyes in shades of purple not found amongst any other peoples of the world— is well-known, and often held up as proof that the Valyrians are not entirely of the same blood as other men. Yet there are maesters who point out that, by careful breeding of animals, one can achieve a desirable result, and that populations in isolation can often show quite remarkable variations from what might be regarded as common.”
TWOIAF – The Rise of Valyria
The implication is that Valyrians stand apart as a race. GRRM speaks of the inhuman beauty of some Valyrians while they themselves claimed to descend from dragons and were kin to those they controlled. The citation specifically mentions breeding for desirable traits as well as heritable characteristics propagated only in isolation.
We are right to assume that the ‘blood of the dragon’ did not spontaneously arise. Viserys Targaryen was convinced of the genetic supremacy of his ancestors, emphasizing his opinion by stating that Targaryens “do not mingle their blood with that of lesser men.”
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.
He talks of keeping the line pure, of golden blood, and of kingsblood, also believed to hold the power to wake dragons from stone. A special inheritance indeed. Daenerys literally woke dragons from stone; if anyone has ‘the blood of the dragon’, she has.
Similarly, Cersei thinks of Rhaegar in the highest terms – to her, he is more than a man:
Had any man ever been so beautiful? He was more than a man, though. His blood was the blood of old Valyria, the blood of dragons and gods.
Additionally, we learn that Targaryens, like their dragons, answered to neither gods nor men, implying that the Valyrians considered themselves above even the gods. With their dragons, true weapons of destruction, the Valyrians of old were unbeatable conquerors. Daenerys herself seems to think taking back Westeros is her divine right. What gives rise to such confidence, in fact, to such supremacism?
History suggests the Valyrians were not the first to embark on this course. Rather, by emulating what their ancestors of the Dawn Empire initiated and the Old Ghiscari continued, they succeed in perfecting a genetic heritage to suit their purposes as dragonlords and undisputed conquerors of the continent of Essos. The Bloodstone Emperor of the Dawn Age, an individual who engaged in sorcery and slavery, who married a so-called tiger-woman, is one clue to the scenario I propose.
Populations in Isolation
In nature, common examples of the evolution of unique geographically isolated populations include the marsupials of Australia, New Zealand and surrounding islands as well as bird and animal populations on Darwin’s famous Galapagos Islands. In science, this is termed allopatric speciation (Greek: allo = other, patric = fatherland). Generally, this kind of evolution occurs when populations are isolated from each other to an extent that prevents genetic exchange. Common causes are natural barriers such as the development of mountain ranges, island formation, glacial processes and the destruction of land bridges. Migration or the installment of artificial barriers (such as the Wall) also qualify, causing genetic drift in once related populations over the course of time. Sound familiar?
Crucial to Valyrian success was the choice of a peninsula as their homeland, a land mass sheltered by the volcanic mountain range known as the Fourteen Flames and bordered on three sides by the sea (see map – zoom in for more detail). Having only one easily defensible route to the mainland largely isolated the population from the rest of the continent, aiding in migration control. It is easy to see that this geological constellation facilitated maintenance and propagation of desirable traits within the resident population, while reducing the uncontrolled dilution of their race by unwanted outsiders.
Slavery must have played a major role in the quest for desirable hereditary characteristics: while slavery provided unlimited free labour, one of its secret aims was to generate groups of disenfranchised humans and Elder Races with the express purpose of using them as fodder in that precursor to modern genetic engineering – cross-breeding.
Let’s have a dictionary definition of cross-breeding:
To produce (an organism) by the mating of individuals of different breeds, varieties, or species; to hybridize.
Since such practices must have been just as repulsive to ordinary folk then as they would be today, most of this probably took place in secret, especially on islands, such as those in the Jade Sea, perhaps on sparsely inhabited mainland Sothoryos and in the case of Old Valyria, on their relatively secluded peninsula. Asshai, another peninsula in the east and a place from which legends claim dragons originated, also qualifies as such a region. Keeping populations geographically isolated then ensured the proliferation of particular genetic traits within that populace.
- The Three Sister Islands in Westeros offer a good example of physical traits surviving over centuries in isolated populations. Here, Ser Davos notices the webbed hands of Godric Borrells daughter’s daughter. Note the emphasis on his daughter’s daughter, rather than the more usual word granddaughter, suggesting the hereditary trait is handed down via female inheritance. According to Lord Godric, the trait has been in the family for 5000 years. Now, that’s a long time!
When Davos saw her [webbed] hand, he stared. Lord Godric did not fail to make note of it. “Aye, she has the mark. Like all Borrells, for five thousand years. My daughter’s daughter. ADWD, Davos I
- Staying with the fishy stuff, people with an unpleasant fishlike aspect to their faces, many of whom have webbed hands and feet, inhabit the Isle of Toads (Basilisk Islands), also infamous for a gigantic sculpture of a toad of malignant aspect. The World Book suggests these folk may be descendants of the forgotten people who carved the toad.
- Separated from the rest of Westeros by the Wall, the Wildlings too have lived in isolation for millennia, their only recourse to genetic variation being infrequent raids to capture women south of the Wall. Craster’s practice of marrying his own daughters is an extreme form of the concept of genetic isolation because by doing so, he ensures the propagation of heritable traits within his family alone. This is on a par with the incest practiced by the Targaryens and serves to achieve the same aim – to keep the line pure. We see that his policy generates sons for the Others and are right to suspect that these boys harbour a genetic inheritance that renders them suitable for transformation into a race of ice humanoids.
- The island of Lys is a former slave colony of Old Valyria and home to numerous people with the classic purple eyes and fair hair particular to the Freehold, most of whom are sex slaves. Lys is entirely devoted to the sex industry and we learn that women there are bred expressly for their beauty. Formerly a pleasure resort of the Valyrian nobility, ‘Lys the Lovely’ is not only isolated from the mainland via its island status, it is protected by high walls and hired sellswords. Small wonder old Valyrian bloodlines still run strong in Lys. I would say the women are bred for their special genetic traits, rather than for their beauty alone.
- The Island of the Lonely Light (Iron Islands), inhabited by the Farwynd family, are also believed to be home to individuals with unique characteristics, this time skinchanging:
Aeron knew some Farwynds, a queer folk who held lands on the westernmost shores of Great Wyk and the scattered isles beyond, rocks so small that most could support but a single household. Of those, the Lonely Light was the most distant, eight days’ sail to the northwest amongst rookeries of seals and sea lions and the boundless grey oceans. The Farwynds there were even queerer than the rest. Some said they were skinchangers, unholy creatures who could take on the forms of sea lions, walruses, even spotted whales, the wolves of the wild sea. AFFC, The Drowned Man
And from the World Book:
“Queer things are said of the Farwynds and the smallfolk they rule. Some say they lie with seals to bring forth half-human children, whilst others whisper that they are skinchangers who can take the forms of sea lions, walrus, even spotted whales, the wolves of the western seas”
- Though disguised as a penal colony, the Isle of Tears (Basilisk Islands) offers one very specific example of cross-breeding conducted in isolation on an island; here, the practice of mating humans with beasts is recorded as a means of torture but in reality, this abominable cruelty yielded very tangible results:
In the flesh pits, blood sorcery of the darkest sort was practiced, as beasts were mated with slave women to bring forth twisted half-human children. TWOIAF
- An excerpt taken from the tale of Nymeria’s odyssey in search for a safe haven illustrates the fate of many of the refugee women:
ABULU [Summer Isles], a small desolate isle northeast of Walano, served for more than two years as home to Nymeria and her followers. The princes of the isles refused to allow her to settle on the larger islands, for fear of waking the wroth of Valyria. As most of Nymeria’s people were female, Abulu became known as the Isle of Women, a name it still bears today. Disease, hunger, and slave raids took a steady toll of the Rhoynar there, until finally Nymeria led her ten thousand ships back to sea in search of a new refuge. TWOIAF
Here we find an echo of the idea of populations living in isolation. The Odyssey of Nymeria and her people is particularly important in respect of inheritance because I believe the Rhoynar descend from the Fisher Queens, who belonged to the Elder Race I name Merlings. Because of their special genetic inheritance, the women of the Rhoynar must have been especially desirable to the Valyrians – I shall go into more detail further down.
Tiger-Wives, Mermaids and Centaurs
Humans have a history of exploiting the animal and plant kingdoms, the earth itself and each other. Martin’s world is very similar to our own in this respect. Nations perpetually at war, genocide, slavery, the battle for territory and resources. But there is a difference between our real world and the fantasy realm of Planetos; In both aSoIaF and TWoIaF we read of hybrid creatures, folk with inhuman features, characters termed ‘beasts in human skin’ and, abominably, slaves forced to mate with animals. This raises the issue of cross-breeding. Was this practiced and if so, why? Which cultures were involved and when did this begin? Could the Wildlings’ aversion to kneeling, which they equate with bondage and perceive as curtailment to their freedom have its roots in past memories of genetic exploitation carried out under the guise of bondage or loyalty to a lord and master? Is this why Ygritte thinks the bastard name Snow is an evil name?
In respect of my hypotheses, why would the ancients have targeted the Elder Races in particular?
The logical answer to the last question is: to acquire the inherent powers and abilities of these races, with the institution of slavery playing a key role in achieving the ultimate goal of “gene-transfer” and subsequent racial supremacism.
I have mentioned that the Bloodstone Emperor taking a ‘tiger-woman’ to wife suggests interbreeding commenced during the Dawn age. In fact, while the term ‘tiger-woman’ suggests a hybrid inheritance, it may also indicate that this woman was capable of skinchanging tigers or cats. Alternatively, she may have been able to maintain a telepathic connection to tigers. Whichever is true, both represent heritable supernatural powers the sorcerous BSE would certainly have coveted. The practice of cross-breeding may have begun even earlier, during the reign of the Pearl Emperor, whom as legend has it, built the five forts bordering the Grey Waste to keep ‘the Lion of Night and his demons’ out of the realms of men. That bleak region with its diabolical creatures may have once been a major experimental ground for breeding hybrid animals and humans in general. Was the Empire of the Dawn overwhelmed by its own monstrous creations, necessitating the establishment of fortifications along its borders?
The following shortlist suggests a long history of cross-breeding stretching back thousands of years:
- the sphinxes of Oldtown, a combination of man, lion, eagle and serpent
- the sphinx-like ancient Harpy of Old Ghis,
- the Grey King who took a mermaid to wife
- the strange green folk of the Thousand Islands
- a mysterious race of centaurs that resided within the grasslands
- the shocking practice of mating human slave women with beasts (less than a hundred years before the Doom)
- humans with abnormal physical features in Yezzan’s grotesquerie
- the Sealord of Braavos’ menagerie
- mentions of the Crannogmen, believed to have interbred with the Children of the Forest
- mentions of humans interbreeding with giants
- mentions of ‘squishers’ and other webbed humanoids suspected to be ‘Deep Ones’
- mentions of zorses, tigers with pouches, lizard-men and the like
- various diabolical hybrids found in the Grey Waste
- oh, and to complete the list, the white walkers
Physiologically, the three-headed dragon is a chimera, of which there are many examples in ancient literature. According to Homer, the mythological chimera is “a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire.” In short, a creature uniting several others, often with multiple heads. Greek mythology features a number of these mystical monsters; three-headed Cerberus, known as the ‘hound of Hades’ is one of these, as is Hydra, the many-headed serpentine water monster. The Minotaur (half man, half bull) as well as centaurs (half man, half horse) fall in this category. So does the fabled sphinx. In the narrative, we also have the Harpy – that towering bat-winged, eagle-legged, female sphinx and emblem of the Ghiscari cities of Slaver’s Bay.
Complementing the three-headed dragon are the Sphinxes of Oldtown. My study suggests they represent the perfection of the original traits contributed to by the three postulated ancestral mothers. We have a pair of sphinxes, male and female, three species merged into one, each sphinx crowned by a human head.
The gates of the Citadel were flanked by a pair of towering green sphinxes with the bodies of lions, the wings of eagles, and the tails of serpents. One had a man’s face, one a woman’s. AFFC, Samwell IV
Think of the human head crowning the sphinx as indicative of human control over the other parts of the sphinx. This contrasts animal-headed representations such as the image of Sandor Clegane who sports a snarling hound helm or even of Robb Stark with his direwolf’s head sewn onto his body. In these cases, the imagery suggests the beast nature is in control of the man.
What of the female-headed Harpy? As an emblem of the Old Ghiscari Empire and of present day Slaver’s Bay, the Harpies of Astapor and Yunkai are by virtue of the manacles and chains they bear, symbolic of the brutal slavery practiced by their masters. Though human-headed, they are another symbol of “a beast in human skin”, one that inflicts misery on humankind. Intriguingly, with the thunderbolt she carries, the Harpy of Old Ghis is reminiscent of Zeus who chastised humans with his thunderbolts. Indeed, Greek mythology depicts the harpy as a female monster sent to punish evil doers, kinslayers especially, for their crimes. The name harpyia means „snatcher“, so called because they carried off kinslayers to the Erinyes. They also deprived their victims off food by carrying it off before it could be eaten. Coincidentally, most slaves we encounter in Slaver’s Bay are ‘snatched’ from their homes, be it by the Dothraki, pirates or others who specialize in slave raiding. On a side note, the original Harpy of Old Ghis may therefore have been a symbol of vengeance and if the actions of the Sons of the Harpy are any indication, this assessment is indeed plausible. Whatever the case, the Harpy is another hybrid – simply another form of Sphinx.
A Living Sphinx
Take a look at Alleras, an acolyte of the Citadel who in all likelihood is Sarella, daughter of Oberyn Martell. She is nicknamed “the Sphinx” by Lazy Leo and is the child of a Dornishman and Summer Islander. Lazy Leo specifically relates Alleras’ mixed heritage to the sphinx and to the three-headed dragon.
The Sphinx looks slight, but there’s strength in those slim arms, he reflected, as Alleras threw a leg across the bench and reached for his wine cup. “The dragon has three heads,” he announced in his soft Dornish drawl. “Is this a riddle?” Roone wanted to know. “Sphinxes always speak in riddles in the tales.”
It had been Lazy Leo who dubbed Alleras “the Sphinx.” A sphinx is a bit of this, a bit of that: a human face, the body of a lion, the wings of a hawk. Alleras was the same: his father was a Dornishman, his mother a black-skinned Summer Islander. His own skin was dark as teak. And like the green marble sphinxes that flanked the Citadel’s main gate, Alleras had eyes of onyx. “No dragon has ever had three heads except on shields and banners,” Armen the Acolyte said firmly. “That was a heraldic charge, no more. Furthermore, the Targaryens are all dead.”
Armen the Acolyte has it all wrong and yes, it is a riddle. The three-headed dragon is more than a heraldic charge. Lazy Leo thinks of Alleras in terms of a combination of two creatures closely resembling the mythological Griffin (lion and eagle). Clearly, ‘two heads’ in evidence here, indicating her mixed parentage and alluding to her “dual-sex” nature (a woman disguised as a man). Lazy Leo’s comments regarding Alleras are important because they lend weight to the possibility that the genetic inheritance of Targaryens includes different species or races, each race corresponding to a head of the dragon. Since the author has actually named two important individuals after the Griffin (Griff aka Jon Connington and Young Griff, claimed to be Rhaegar Targaryen’s son), it’s worth taking a look at chimerism in terms of real-world genetics.
Real World Human Chimeras
In medicine, persons carrying two genetically distinct sets of DNA exhibit chimerism. People with blood chimerism (an example of microchimerism), have more than one blood type, for instance. Human chimerism is not confined to blood type alone however. Tetragametic chimerism occurs when two separate egg cells are fertilized by two sperms to produce two embryos. This is in itself is nothing abnormal and would lead to the birth of non-identical twins in a normal pregnancy. Sometimes these embryos fuse however, and when this happens, an organism with two distinct cell lines, two different sets of DNA, forms. In some cases, the cells of a sibling miscarried in the womb are absorbed by the other embryo, so that the surviving individual ends up with additional genes, originally belonging to their “ghost” twin (also known as the ‘vanishing twin syndrome’). Although most affected persons are not even aware of the condition, some people do exhibit visible symptoms particularly heterochromia: eyes and hair of two different colours, splotchy or patchy skin of differing shades and mixed sex organs (hermaproditic). Chimeric animal populations also occur naturally in nature, notably the marmorset New World monkey, the tortoiseshell cat and the anglerfish.
By now, readers should have pricked up their ears because George Martin’s narrative counts several plausible examples, the most prominent of which are Tyrion Lannister and Shiera Seastar. Both are examples of ‘two-headedness’, at least. Tyrion even dreams of himself as having two heads. Daenerys, with her silver-gold hair also belongs in this category, as do several less obvious characters. Indeed, several fictional works are based on or have incorporated the ‘vanishing twin’ syndrome in particular. Amongst these are The Dark Half by Stephen King, Kingdom of the Wicked by Ian Edginton and many more, including, you guessed it – A Song of Ice and Fire. Here we find a reference to Maelys the Monstrous, the Last Blackfyre pretender who supposedly ‘ate’ his twin in the womb, making him a kinslayer! Perhaps you’ll agree with me that there is more to this than meets the eye.
Check out the fascinating case of Lydia Fairchild for more on this subject. Due to the extensive nature of my study, chimerism and its role in the development of special bloodlines such as the blood of the dragon will be the topic of a follow-up post. In this article, I shall concentrate on establishing the three heads of the dragon as symbolic of the Elder Races.
The Elder Races
Three Elder Races on Westeros?
The author makes it clear that the Children of the Forest and the Giants once occupied the continent from the Lands of Always Winter down to the shores of the Summer Sea. There is no doubt that these two groups belong to the Elder Races. Uncertainty surrounds a possible third Elder Race. Some say Westeros also belonged to the Others, while the Ironborn claim to have settled on the Iron Islands long before the coming of the First Men. Uniting these two suggestions is the element of water.
Before their coming, it is thought, Westeros belonged to the giants, the children of the forest, and the beasts of the field. But on the Iron Islands, the priests of the Drowned God tell a different tale. According to their faith, the ironborn are a race apart from the common run of mankind. “We did not come to these holy islands from godless lands across the seas,” the priest Sauron Salt-Tongue once said. “We came from beneath those seas, from the watery halls of the Drowned God who made us in his likeness and gave to us dominion over all the waters of the earth.
The World of Ice and Fire.
It’s interesting that the Ironborn believe themselves a race apart and there is at least circumstantial evidence that they may be right. Their customs and religion differ from the rest of Westeros, their beliefs, and ways of governance unlike those common elsewhere in the Seven Kingdoms. There is also the mystery of the Seastone Chair, carved of greasy black stone, discovered by the First Men on their arrival at Old Wyk, suggesting the presence of a previous folk. Note that the chair is most often a permanent piece of frequently used furniture within the home. A heavy stone chair is practically immobile and can be considered a fixed feature anywhere it stands. As such, I consider the Seastone Chair as pretty good proof of the presence of previous inhabitants. While the Ironborn themselves claim to hail from beneath the sea, we find evidence for an ancient sea-faring nation on Battle Isle, home to the seat of House Hightower. Here stand the labyrinthine foundations of a massive fortress of great antiquity, built by an unknown people. Though the stonework suggests it is of Valyrian origin, predating the First Men and the Andals, the construction style itself does not match the preferences of the Valyrians. Whoever the builders were, their origins appear lost to history.
Reliable runic reports however state that men have lived at the mouth of the Honeyvine River since the Dawn Age, in fact, since before the coming of the First Men. One Maester Jellico, who lived amongst the children of the forest in ancient times suggests the following:
… the settlement at the top of the Whispering Sound began as a trading post, where ships from Valyria, old Ghis, and the Summer Isles put in to replenish their provisions, make repairs, and barter with the elder races. TWOIAF, The Seven Kingdoms, The Reach
So the children and the giants appear to have had contact with sea-faring nations and why not? Our own history is filled with tales of journeys to all reachable corners of the earth, even in ancient times.
More uncertainty surrounds the identity and origins of ancestors of the Hightowers, who came to possess the Battle Isle at some point, with scholars wondering if they were First Men or not:
“Were they First Men, as most scholars believe today? Or did they mayhaps descend from the seafarers and traders who had settled at the top of Whispering Sound in earlier epochs, the men who came before the First Men? We cannot know.”
Winterfell gives cause for speculation regarding the presence of a third race during the earliest epochs. The oldest part of the castle, the First Keep, presumed to have been constructed at the beginning of the Age of Heroes, has a round form (drum tower), an advanced construction style attributed to the later era of Andals. Incidentally, Storm’s End, also built during the time of the First Men, sports a similar round drum tower. In the Winterfell crypts, the interred ancient Kings of Winter have iron swords laid across their laps, some of these swords so ancient that they have crumbled to rust. Working iron is however, another technology attributed to the Andals so how did the Kings of Winter come by the iron that adorns their graves? Could the Starks have had access to innovative technologies long before the Andal migration to Westeros? Was there another race trading with or living in the North very early in history? Recall also that ironworking is said to have been developed by the Rhoynar, a water based culture.
Osha also makes a statements that give us reason to wonder:
“North of the Wall, things are different. That’s where the children went, and the giants, and the other old races.” AGOT, Bran VII
Who were these other old races? Does she mean the Others themselves? Perhaps the Hornfoots whose feet are so thick and horny they walk barefoot in the snow? The Walrusmen from the Frozen shore? Some unknown race?
Contradictory information regarding the arrival of the First Men in the North confounds the issue further; though the World Book states that the First Men occupied the North within a short period of arriving in Westeros, it also casts doubt on the veracity of this assumption, stating that in reality, it would have taken decades or even centuries for them to have arrived and settled there. We are left with the impression that there were people besides the children and the giants living in the north before the arrival of the FM. If so, who were they?
Amongst the many legends of Garth Greenhand, one claims he came to Westeros long before the first men, that he was the first man and only man in Westeros at the time, wandering the continent and treating with the giants and the children of the forest. In the oldest tales, he is named Garth Greenhair or Garth the Green.
Religion may serve as a clue to the possible origins of some Westerosi presented to us. The Ironborn differ from the rest, we know: their god is the Drowned God of the sea, his greatest adversary the Storm God, whom as legend has it, was tricked by the Grey King to send fire to earth. There are variations on this sea god/storm god theme. From Lord Godric Borell, we learn the people of the Three Sisters worshiped comparable gods:
“Storms.” Lord Godric said the word as fondly as another man might say his lover’s name. “Storms were sacred on the Sisters before the Andals came. Our gods of old were the Lady of the Waves and the Lord of the Skies. They made storms every time they mated.” ADWD, Davos I
The lady of the waves appears to be a sea goddess, married to a sky god. Together they produced storms. Note that this religion was prevalent before the coming of the Andals and probably stems from the time of the First Men or before. It seems unrelated to the old gods of the CotF and reminds us of the legend of Storm’s End which features a god of the sea and goddess of the wind. Duran Godsgrief incurred the wrath of these gods when he married their daughter Elenei. In retaliation, the gods produced violent storms that batter and destroy Storm’s End six times before Bran the Builder came up with some magic formula to make the castle impregnable. These are very similar themes with roots in the ancient past, to an era perhaps even before the coming of the First Men. Indeed, the First Men are said to have given up their gods in favour of the gods of the CotF. Could sky, storm and sea gods have been the religious focus of the original folk that migrated to Westeros, or as the Ironborn legend suggests, practiced by people who settled on the continent prior to the First Men?
All these chronicles, legends and unsolved mysteries suggest an unknown folk visited or may have resided on the continent, maintaining relations with the Elder Races in ancient times. Thus, the Ironborn beliefs and repeated mentions of Merlings, presumably a race associated with the sea, have us wondering if a riverine or sea-faring race could have settled in parts of Westeros eons ago:
- The Driftwood Throne, high seat of the Velaryons (an ancient Valyrian family with strong ties to the sea), is said to have been given to them by the Merling King to conclude a pact.
- Robar Royce won the allegiance of Ursula Upcliff, a reputed sorceress who claimed to be a bride of the Merling King.
- Ser Artys Arryn allegedly counted giants and merlings amongst his friends. He also married a woman of the CotF who died in childbirth.
- There are claims that the Ironborn are closer kin to fish and Merlings than the other races of mankind.
- Owen Oakenshield who conquered the Shield Islands drove selkies and Merlings into the sea.
- There are suggestions that the mazemakers of Lorath were destroyed by an enemy from the sea – Merlings in some versions and selkies or Walrusmen in other versions of the tale.
- One Braavosi courtesan is known as the Merling Queen. She is never seen without her mermaids (young maidens).
- The Manderly coat of arms bears a white merman with dark green hair, beard and tail, carrying a black trident, over a blue-green field. Their castle features underwater scenery, their guards wear merman armour. A merman, “Old Fishfoot”, graces a square in White Harbour.
- Locations/landmarks and a ship named after Merlings – Merling Rock, the Spears of the Merling King, the ship named the Merling King, hired by Peter Baelish for various journeys.
- Patchface’s visions, most of which feature merpeople from under the sea.
Interesting is that the Driftwood Throne of the Velaryons stands out as complementary to the Driftwood Crown of the Ironborn. Two sides of a coin? So who were these Merlings? GRRM has Patchface speak in riddles to confound us but we know the fool’s suspected prophecies are of importance to the story itself. It’s thus significant that his brainteasers feature merpeople and that everything takes place ‘under the sea’. It looks like we have ample reason to suspect that an unknown sea-faring people had contacts with the elder races of Westeros prior to the arrival of the Valyrians or other cultures. On account of a previous study, I believe the Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea represent this unknown people, and were themselves an Elder Race. For lack of a better term, I have named this race the Merlings and shall expand on them further down. See also the Pearl Inheritance series (Part 1 and Part 2, which deals with the Fisher Queens) for more).
Speculation: it’s plausible that the race I term Merlings suffered a cataclysmic fate analogous to Patchface’s drowning at sea and that some of these found a safe haven in Westeros, either washing up on its shores or succeeding in reaching the continent by ship. Analogies to this include the Battle of the Blackwater (fiery cataclysmic event) and Davos’ washing up on the Spears of the Merling King. The utter destruction of the Rhoynar by the Valyrian Freehold (another fiery event) and subsequent odyssey of Nymeria in search of new lands is another example. A catastrophe of significant magnitude could also explain the Ironborn legend of origin beneath the sea – a people drowned by a disastrous occurrence only to be ‘born again’ in a new land (this is what happened to Patchface if you think about it). The Driftwood Throne/Crown mystery could be a hint at the means by which these displaced peoples reached Westeros – the throne standing for those who like Nymeria arrived by ship, while the crown stands for those ‘drowned’ and washed up upon the shores. Note there is at least one hint that supports this idea – Patchface’s ridiculous jangling hat is also described as a crown.
The next section deals with the traits the elder races possessed that rendered them so attractive to man.
The Lure of the Elder Races
What did the Elder Races have to offer that was so tempting to humans?
I propose the following:
Giants – physical strength and singing (the trait that bonds humans with their familiar animals)
Children of the Forest – telepathy and navigation
Merlings – intelligence (wisdom, knowledge and prophecy), illusion and later skinchanging, (merlings also held the key to fertility, longevity)
Many of you may be unconvinced of the attributes I assign to the Elder Races here. You may not have considered the proposed Merlings in terms of an Elder Race. Bear in mind that the little we know of these races represents the end result of millennia of inter-breeding, both forced and natural, so that the gene-pool of the Children of the Forest, for example, has changed and been supplemented over time. I trust that as you read, you will recognize the connections made.
The Giants – Physical Strength and Bonding
An attribute that confers sheer physical power upon those who inherit it and one of considerable significance in the narrative: most great warriors we meet have strength complementing their superior fighting ability. The immense strength of giants is demonstrated by their performance during the battle at Castle Black; we are also well aware of both Wun Wun’s and Hodor’s strength. A master who harnesses the power of a giant or giant hybrid naturally profits from this as well. Scattered throughout the narrative are men with the physique of giants, all of whom are very strong. They often exhibit an aggressive, warlike or even brutally cruel nature. Humans with giant’s blood in their lineage tend to be good warriors. A few examples:
Ser Gregor Clegane: a warrior and giant of a man with a savage nature to match his brute strength. A man unpredictable and vicious, one who revels in violence and relishes violating women. A man employed by Tywin Lannister to do his dirty work and the perfect scapegoat for atrocities actually committed on Tywin’s orders. In accordance with his size, he aptly bears the title the Mountain that Rides.
It was the size of him, m’lord. Those as say the giants are all dead never saw this one, I swear. Big as an ox he was, and a voice like stone breaking.”
“He’s even bigger than Hodor, you’ll see. They call him the Mountain That Rides.”
Gregor Clegane should remind us of the outsized men of Old Nan’s tales:
In Old Nan’s stories, giants were outsized men who lived in colossal castles, fought with huge swords, and walked about in boots a boy could hide in.
Wun Wun was very little like the giants in Old Nan’s tales, those huge savage creatures who mixed blood into their morning porridge and devoured whole bulls, hair and hide and horns.
Greatjon Umber could have stepped right out of Old Nan’s tales:
And when Lord Umber, who was called the Greatjon by his men and stood as tall as Hodor and twice as wide … ….
When Hallis Mollen moved to restrain him, he knocked him to the floor, kicked over a table, and unsheathed the biggest, ugliest greatsword that Bran had ever seen.
The Greatjon has quite a temper doesn’t he? I am fairly convinced that the ‘outsized men’ spoken of by Old Nan were giant/human hybrids. Most of the giant-like men we meet are not necessarily as vicious as Gregor Clegane. They are however definitely strong fearsome and fearless warriors. The list includes Gregor’s brother the Hound, Robert Baratheon, Khal Drogo and historic characters such as the Andal Torgold Tollet and Duncan the Tall of “Dunk and Egg” fame. Let’s not forget Brienne, massively built for a woman and a warrior to boot. Ser Duncan the Tall who was muscular and stood almost seven feet tall was humble, rather than aggressive. Interestingly, though he never knew his parents, he thought of going north, even to the Wall (where the likelihood of finding people with giant heritage is relatively high), in the hope of meeting some tall man who might be his father. Robert Baratheon was famous for his size, strength and prowess in battle. He was a warrior to the core, bringing down foes with his mighty war hammer.
Ser Jon the Oak, son of Garth Greenhand, had a giantess for a mother. He was 8 feet tall, some tales put him at 12 feet. Legend has it that Jon the Oak was the First Knight and that he brought chivalry to Westeros. Though knighthood first came to Westeros with the Andals, we again find a link between giants and prowess in fighting in this legend.
In terms of inheritance, the above examples suggest exceptionally good warriors have specific “giant traits” in their genetic make-up. Linked to good warriorship are attributes such as fearlessness and courage; giants are however not famous for their intelligence or cunning. This short conversation between Robb Stark and his mother Catelyn summarizes the pros and cons of a giant heritage quite well:
“The Greatjon is always saying that we should smash Lord Tywin. I thought I’d give him the honor.” It was his first misstep, but how to make him see it without wounding his fledgling confidence? “Your father once told me that the Greatjon was as fearless as any man he had ever known.”
Robb grinned. “Grey Wind ate two of his fingers, and he laughed about it. So you agree, then?” “Your father is not fearless,” Catelyn pointed out. “He is brave, but that is very different.”
Her son considered that for a moment. “The eastern host will be all that stands between Lord Tywin and Winterfell,” he said thoughtfully. “Well, them and whatever few bowmen I leave here at the Moat. So I don’t want someone fearless, do I?”
“No. You want cold cunning, I should think, not courage.”
“Roose Bolton,” Robb said at once. “That man scares me.” AGOT, Catelyn
THE SINGING THAT INITIATES BONDING WITH A FAMILIAR ANIMAL
Hodor connects the giants to the theme of bonding. By bonding, I mean the ability to bond with a familiar animal as in warging and skinchanging. wolfmaid7 has established the importance of singing in the context of bonding – see her post on Those Who Sing for a full understanding of what this means. To summarize, singing initiates the bond between a warg and his familiar. The song occurs in a special frequency audible to warg and familiar only; without it, no spiritual connection between man and beast can occur. A man may be born a warg but without the additional trait of singing, he will not hear the summons sung by his potential familiar animal.
My premise is that this singing is a blood trait originally acquired from the giants.
One of the reasons Bran easily skinchanges Hodor lies in Hodor’s natural affinity for spiritual bonding, introduced by ‘singing’. Yes, giants possess a song, sung in a silent frequency. Great evidence for this is tucked away in one of Jon’s chapters in ‘A Storm of Swords’. Here, we are introduced to the lyrics of the song entitled ‘The Last of the Giants’. Very relevant is the last line of the song cited here:
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.
The singing of the giants should not be confused with the songs of the earth sung by the Children of the Forest. This song is a lament, informing us of the suffering of the giants, how they lost their territory to the smallfolk, were hunted down and finally relegated to the lands beyond the Wall. The Last of the Giants tells us that with the demise of the giants, the singing will fade away. This ‘singing’ refers to the singing that initiates a bond between a warg and his familiar, or indeed between a dragon and its rider. There can be no bonding without this spiritual singing and silencing one who is able to sing thus ends the ability to bond.
Lest you object to the idea of Hodor singing, consider this selection of quotes – true to the idea that the song is sung in a silent frequency, Hodor does not sing aloud, but he does hum very often:
He [Bran] dozed off once, lulled to sleep by the smooth swing of the big stableboy’s stride and the soft humming sound he made sometimes when he walked …
When Hodor came bustling in, smiling and humming tunelessly ….
Bran heard muffled footfalls and a low humming, and Hodor came blundering out of the trees …
Hodor made his way through the dense stands of oak and ironwood and sentinels, to the still pool beside the heart tree. He stopped under the gnarled limbs of the weirwood, humming …
There is lots more of that, if you care to do a search.
GIANTS AND STONE
The symbolic association between giants and mountains, boulders, rocks and stones offers further clues to the above. Recall in this context that Gregor Clegane has a voice like stone breaking, that he is compared to a mountain and that Wun Wun is described in terms of a boulder. The extinct Jhogwin were also known as stone giants. Let’s dive straight into the Singing Stones of the Summer Isles or the Howling Hills of Essos, for instance:
We learn the Singing Stones, which happen to be west of the main Summer Isles, have a song.
THE SINGING STONES, west of the main isles, have jagged peaks so riddled with holes and airways that they make a strange music when the wind blows. The people of the Stones can tell which way the wind is blowing from the sound of their song. Whether gods or men taught the stones to sing, no one can say. The World of Ice and Fire
Note: Humming, which involves breathing air out through the nose, is quite similar to the wind blowing through airways within stone. That the people of the Stones can tell which way the wind is blowing from the sound of their song is probably a nod at two different kinds of bonding – the the song of the wolf and the song of the dragon.
In some clever writing, GRRM connects giants with howling/singing and warging in completely unrelated passages across two books. Note the mention of the Walders and remember that Hodor’s real name is Walder* in the books.
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. The World of Ice and Fire
In a Game of Thrones, Bran perceives the howling of the wolves as ‘singing’:
Of late, he often dreamed of wolves. They are talking to me, brother to brother, he told himself when the direwolves howled. He could almost understand them … not quite, not truly, but almost … as if they were singing in a language he had once known and somehow forgotten. The Walders might be scared of them, but the Starks had wolf blood. AGOT, Bran
* The name Walder derives from Old Germanic Walter, from the elements waltan and heri, meaning ruler of the army. Dictionary sources also cite the meaning as strong fighter or good warrior. This is in line with the attributes I assign to individuals with a possible giant heritage.
Getting to the bottom of the origins of singing is really only possible in a roundabout way. Examining aspects of warging and skinchanging is a good way of investigating this. Please notice that singing and warging/skinchanging are not synonymous. Singing is a prerequisite to warging or skinchanging.
THE STORY BEHIND BONDING
The first persons worth considering are Gregor Clegane, the Mountain that Rides and his brother Sandor Clegane, also a large muscular man, whose distinguishing feature is his hound helm. Together, the biographies of these two brothers indicate that the singing that initiates warging is a blood trait intimately linked to giants.
Gregor’s title, “the Mountain that Rides”, is revealing in this regard. Recall that Bloodraven, one of our experts on the subject, explicitly compares riding to skinchanging in his teachings to Bran:
“A wild stallion will buck and kick when a man tries to mount him, and try to bite the hand that slips the bit between his teeth,” Lord Brynden said, “but a horse that has known one rider will accept another. Young or old, these birds have all been ridden. Choose one now, and fly.” ADWD, Bran
Bran, Hodor, Centaurs and the Hound
Bran demonstrates this association between riding and warging by riding Hodor both physically and spiritually. Hodor serves as Bran’s mount, as his horse if you will. Hodor also serves as a host vessel for Bran’s soul, completing the symbolic picture. Remember that Bran uses Hodor’s innate strength to fight against wights outside of the children’s cave and to carry an exhausted Jojen to safety after an expedition within the caves.
The theme of riding leads us to another piece of related evidence: the centaurs.
The mythological centaur is an amalgam of man and horse; both Lyanna and Brandon, known for their ‘wolf-blood’ (suggesting a warging trait), are described as centaurs because of their superb riding ability. There is a double meaning implied here. This merger between man and horse is another representation of skinchanging and ties in to the symbolism of the Mountain that Rides (i.e. the giant that skinchanges) above. Similar connotations can be found in respect of the Dothraki. Superb riders, the Dothraki are a horse culture and analogous to the legendary ancient centaurs of the grasslands. Riding is so important that no matter how excellent his reputation as a warrior, a Khal who can no longer ride loses his claim to leadership. Indeed, in an echo of the exclusive nature of bonding with a familiar, a Dothraki’s horse belongs to its rider alone. A man will share everything, even his wife but never his horse. Khal Drogo does not sing but in a variation on the theme, does make music – the silver bells in his hair tinkle softly when he moves.
Sandor Cleagane and his snarling dog helm offer more clues to my proposition. The helmet Sandor wears finds its mythological counterpart in the Helm of Darkness, the main weapon of Hades, given to Perseus to assist his quest to kill the gorgon Medusa. The helm confers invisibility on its wearer and in terms of the narrative, is akin to warging, which essentially renders the warg invisible during habitation of a familiar animal. The Hound’s helm adds a new dimension to the theme of giants and warging because through this connection (as well as the Clegane dog sigil), we can infer that the dog possibly represented the familiar animal associated with the ferocious type of giant, i.e. the outsized men of Old Nan’s tales.
As evidenced by Sandor’s nature while he still owned his helm, by the savage noseless Rorge who takes it from finds and dons it, and the effect the helm appears to have on Lem Lemoncloak who acquires picks it from Rorge’s corpse afterwards, it seems the ‘instinctive nature of the hound’ confers a degree of viciousness on its wearer. Thoros of Myr certainly seems to think so:
Thoros: There is nothing good about that helm, nor the men who wore it. Sandor Clegane was a man in tormet, and Rorge a beast in human skin.
Lem: I’m not them.
Thoros: Then why show the world their face? Savage, snarling, twisted … is that who you would be, Lem?
Lem: The sight of it will make my foes afraid.
Thoros: The sight of it makes me afraid.
Remember that a helm covering the head takes precedence over the human mind itself, the imagery suggestive of a man who is not quite in control of his darker nature. But perhaps Thoros has nothing to worry about regarding Lem’s wearing of the helm. The dog, after all is ‘man’s best friend’ and the probably the first animal domesticated by homo sapiens. Kevin Lannister reminds us that:
When a dog goes bad, the fault lies with his master.
After losing his helm, the Hound is a changed man, accepting a vow of silence and becoming a gravedigger on the Quiet Isle. It gets even more intricate when we consider the Quiet Isle and the implications of Silence.
Just a reminder before we move on: symbolically, the special helm indicates that its wearer can hear the singing of a familiar animal.
SILENCE AND THE QUIET ISLE
Symbolically, by losing his helm, the Hound loses his connection to his “hound nature.” The analogy is more complex than that though:
- the Hound is not the singer but the recipient of the song
- he hears Joffery’s song, which binds him to the boy
- Sandor becomes Joffery’s sworn sword, bound to protect him – he is also known as Joffery’s dog
- Sandor’s bond with Joff is tentative at best. This is because Sandor was ‘kissed by fire’ (by his brother Gregor), the fire that weakens and breaks bonds
- Sandor also lost an ear to the flames, again emphasizing the analogy to not being able to ‘hear’ or remain fully loyal to his master
- symbolically, the Hound breaks his oath and therefore the ‘singing’ bond between himself and his master Joffery;
- the bond is broken or loosened by fire, by the fire on the Blackwater that he fears1.
- he no longer hears the singing distinctly and himself becomes “silent” (as symbolized by the Quiet Isle and the vow of silence implemented there) 2.
- Fire is instrumental in breaking the invisible spiritual bonds that bind skinchangers to their familiars and the dead to their white-walker masters. Fire thus releases the soul from the bound dead – this is why they must be burned. Melisandre’s fiery sacrifices illustrate this in depth. The practice of cremation, a burial rite particular to the Dothraki (re Khal Drogo) and to Targaryens achieves this as well. You’ll find more insights into this in my post on fire magic.
- Sandor’s reduced capacity for ‘hearing the song’ is told by analogy: Sandor only has one ear, the other lost to the flames when his brother presses his face into the fire. The Hound helm itself loses an ear which is sliced off during the Battle of the Blackwater. Lastly, one of the brothers on the isle has an ear bitten off by Sandor’s great black stallion, Stranger, implying the loss of hearing on one ear. Sandor’s role as a gravedigger reinforces the idea – he puts the silent dead to rest in a silent grave. By virtue of his name, the stallion Stranger represents death – the horse represents a very aggressive form of death, one that bites and kicks everyone apart from his master. No other can ride him. Think of this in terms of the undead who respond only to their controlling masters or even of dragons who only allow one individual to ride them. Stranger is renamed Driftwood by the brothers on the Quiet Isle. Now, this is significant in terms of what we know about weirwoods as repositories of knowledge and consciousness. The analogy becomes concrete when we combine all the symbolism involved in the right order:
As Joffery’s sworn sword, Sandor the Hound, is a giant of a man. He is the boy’s guard, bound to him by oath (singing) to protect him. As symbolized by the hound helm, Sandor is also Joffery’s ‘familiar animal.’ Spiritually, the bond between them is upheld through singing. Incidentally, Joffery has a good singing voice. Fire severs such bonds though. The Hound had already been ‘kissed by fire’ long before he went into Joffery’s service. Thus affected by fire, his was always a tentative bond at best, made clear by his desire to protect Sansa from the worst of his master’s cruelties. At the Battle of the Blackwater, the massive concentration of wildfire tips the balance completely, finally undoing the spiritual bond between Joffery and himself. He deserts his post and master. But the Hound still has his helm – symbolically he still retains his skinchanging ability and he immediately looks for someone who can give him a new song:
SANSA THE SINGER
After deserting the Battle of the Blackwater, Sandor enters Sansa’s chambers and in the ensuing exchange, demands from her a song.
“I’ll have that song. Florian and Jonquil, you said.” His dagger was out, poised at her throat. “Sing, little bird. Sing for your little life.” ACOK, Sansa VII
Sansa who comes from a warging family knows the tunes and lyrics of many a song. She is the obvious singer in the family and stands for one who carries the unique trait. Note that Sansa represents a gentler ‘mistress’ and gives him a different song, not the one he asks for.
Gentle Mother, font of mercy,
save our sons from war, we pray,
stay the swords and stay the arrows,
let them know a better day.
Gentle Mother, strength of women,
help our daughters through this fray,
soothe the wrath and tame the fury,
teach us all a kinder way.
Upon receiving this gentle song, a plea to the Mother, whose theme is one of non-violence, the Hound, previously aggressively holding a dagger to Sansa’s throat, calms down. And through the song, the Hound is no longer bound to the dog, he’s bound to the wolf.
Kevan Lannisters words:
When a dog goes bad, the fault lies with his master
make Sansa’s song all the more significant: Sandor’s previous masters have have been harsh and monstrous. In a parallel to Lady, the gentlest of the wolf-pups, can we expect to see a very different side of the Hound’s nature in the future?
The Hound’s sullied cloak
Now, interestingly, Sansa uses the very cloak the Hound discards, sullied with blood and fire to protect herself from the cold. Shivering, she wraps herself in it to keep warm.
She found his cloak on the floor, twisted up tight, the white wool stained by blood and fire. The sky outside was darker by then, with only a few pale green ghosts dancing against the stars. A chill wind was blowing, banging the shutters. Sansa was cold. She shook out the torn cloak and huddled beneath it on the floor, shivering.
Coupled with Sandor’s hatred of the hypocrisy he associates with the white cloak, and the obvious degeneration in morals sweeping through the Kingsguard, this suggests that blood and fire actually redeems the cloak and transforms its function. Remember that it is the fiery treatment his brother subjects him to that weakens the bond between him and his master Joffery while fire which breaks that bond entirely. To use Melissandre’s own words, fire cleanses and we have seen this phenomenon on more than one occasion, in Dany’s dragon dreams for instance, where dragonfire scours her clean and makes her strong. We need to digress a bit to see this connection more clearly. Note that Sansa, a red-head and child of Winterfell, is associated with a warm home, fed by hotsprings, a life-sustaining oasis in the midst of the cold hard North. Cut off from her home, family and direwolf, Sansa is completely adrift, caught up in the cold emotionless machinations of a Red Keep hostile to her. Symbolically, we understand how the Hound’s sullied cloak helps her to regain some warmth. Later, she is married off to Tyrion, also associated with blood and fire. His engineering of the defense of King’s Landing is based on a huge conflagration, on wildfire – once again, fire saves the day. Tyrion also has blood on his hands. He kills his father Tywin and is accused of killing Joffery, Sansa’s one time nemesis. In fact, the rumor that he was responsible for the king’s murder has spread far and wide:
“In Tyrosh we name him Redhands, for the blood running from his fingers. A king’s blood, and a father’s. Some say he slew his mother too, ripping his way from her womb with savage claws.”
Tyrion, though not responsible for Joffery’s death, admits to it freely, even telling Jamie he was responsible for the boy’s death. He, associated with fire and blood, protects Sansa in many ways, both actually and symbolically.
Completing the analogy of the sullied cloak is Podrik Payne who rescues Tyrion by eliminating the white cloak – Ser Mandon Moore, before the kingsguard can strike his final blow, all this taking place in the midst of fire and blood.
I take this for one of the many signs indicating that Tyrion and Sansa have a fire and blood inheritance, one intimately connected to the blood of the dragon.
After being left for dead by Arya, the Hound is discovered by the Elder Brother of the Quiet Isle and nursed back to health. The implication that he ‘came back to life’ brings us full circle to Stranger, the bitten off ear and the horse’s renaming as Driftwood. In analogy, Sandor has
- lost the ability to hear Joff’s song;
fire has released the spiritual chains binding him to his former Master
- accepted a new song from a wolf-maid
- put the dead to rest, symbolizing silence and the end of his old way of life
- his soul is now in a state of drifting consciousness (Driftwood)
Much and more can be interpreted into the above but this will have to do for now.
In fact, the tales of bards who meet violent deaths imply that killing them is symbolic of destroying the singing/bonding trait. As such, Tyrion’s decision to have Symon Silver-Tongue killed as a precaution to preventing the bard from publicly singing his compromising song is analogous to terminating the power to bond. I’ve bolded publicly singing because it stands in direct contrast to the Hound’s private audience with Sansa and with the ‘silence’ or indistinctly heard singing on the Quiet Isle. As with the Singing Stones, the implication is we are dealing with two types of singing, indicative of two types of bonding. In relation to the above, the reasoning behind Littlefinger’s choice to maim Marillion’s eyes rather than the more logical choice of his tongue becomes clearer: by retaining his tongue, Marillion symbolically retains the ability to sing and this he appears to continue to do even after his supposed death.
Dogs, Boots and Wargs
There’s one more thing worth looking at regarding the link between giants and bonding: it’s all in the boots. Footwear, especially in the form of boots is another of GRRM’s codes for warging. From Varamyr’s prologue chapter to aDwD, we learn what Haggon had to say about boots and dogs in relation to warging:
Dogs were the easiest beasts to bond with; they lived so close to men that they were almost human. Slipping into a dog’s skin was like putting on an old boot, its leather softened by wear. As a boot was shaped to accept a foot, a dog was shaped to accept a collar, even a collar no human eye could see. aDwD, Prologue
George certainly knows how to weave his symbolism. As it happens, Old Nan’s outsized men wore boots a boy could hide in, a euphemism for giants who skinchanged dogs? I think so. But giants are also frequently associated with bulls, so let’s have a look at that:
In the narrative, most large men are consistently compared to bulls or oxen in size, strength and mental acumen (or rather the lack of it).
Ser Gregor for example, is compared to an ox:
Big as an ox he was, and a voice like stone breaking.
They said Robert Baratheon was strong as a bull and fearless in battle, a man who loved nothing better than war.
Victarion is like some great grey bullock, strong and tireless and dutiful, but not like to win any races. No doubt, he’ll serve me as loyally as he has served my lord father. He has neither the wits nor the ambition to plot betrayal.”
Ser Jorah Mormont
Ser Jorah was not a handsome man. He had a neck and shoulders like a bull, and coarse black hair covered his arms and chest so thickly that there was none left for his head.
There are so many similar passages that one cannot fail to take a closer look. This one is particularly interesting:
The fight between Jamie and Brienne
She is stronger than I am.
The realization chilled him. Robert had been stronger than him, to be sure. The White Bull Gerold Hightower as well, in his heyday, and Ser Arthur Dayne. Amongst the living, Greatjon Umber was stronger, Strongboar of Crakehall most likely, both Cleganes for a certainty. The Mountain’s strength was like nothing human. It did not matter. With speed and skill, Jaime could beat them all. But this was a woman. A huge cow of a woman, to be sure, but even so … by rights, she should be the one wearing down.
Jamie lists a number of large men renowned for their strength and fighting ability. True to the bovine imagery, he names Brienne, also a giant of a woman and warrior, a huge cow and he’s not the only one to do so. We also have a mention of the White Bull, Gerold Hightower. So what’s up with bulls?
Well, bulls and oxen are undoubtedly strong, resilient creatures and a natural choice for comparative imagery in respect of the giants. Bulls are aggressive, impatient and quick to rouse to anger. GRRM pursues this course throughout the story. Sam’s father has him bathed in the blood of a bull aurochs in the hope of boosting his son’s courage. Grenn of the Night’s Watch is named the Aurochs by Ser Alliser Thorne. At sixteen, Grenn is a head taller than Jon, and though strong, he’s initially not a good fighter until Jon teaches him how to defend himself. Grenn is not that smart either. Going back to Old Nan’s outsized men, we again find a mention of bulls:
Wun Wun was very little like the giants in Old Nan’s tales, those huge savage creatures who mixed blood into their morning porridge and devoured whole bulls, hair and hide and horns.
Consuming blood evokes blood rituals while devouring whole bulls could be a euphemism for skinchanging bulls. Perhaps this is another plausible reason for the savagery those outsized men exhibited. This suspicion begins to take shape when we consider Gendry and his bull’s head helmet:
“This is Gendry. Strong for his age, and he works hard. Show the Hand that helmet you made, lad.” Almost shyly, the boy led them to his bench, and a steel helm shaped like a bull’s head, with two great curving horns.
Then he’d go off to polish his helm. It was a beautiful helm, rounded and curved, with a slit visor and two great metal bull’s horns. Arya would watch him polish the metal with an oilcloth, shining it so bright you could see the flames of the cookfire reflected in the steel. Yet he never actually put it on his head.
Gendry, Robert Baratheon’s bastard son, appears to be just as strong as his father. His bull helm should evoke the helm of darkness already mentioned in connection with warging. Imagine him actually wearing it and we are reminded of the Horned Lord, especially the darker aspect of this mythological figure. That he hardly ever wears it may be a good thing, especially taking the implications of animal-headed imagery into consideration. Assuming my analysis of the helmet is correct, is it any wonder that the ancient outsized men who devoured bulls whole were so savage?
How about Gregor Clegane, a man compared to an ox? Now here’s a twist in the symbolism: an ox, also known as a bullock, is a castrated bull. Castration has an effect on the nature of the bull – it makes the animal easier to control. Ser Gregor’s actions are often extreme, out of control. His aggressive nature is perhaps not a mark of the ox but rather of the three dogs that comprise his sigil. In terms of the story, the distinguishing features of the ox or bullock appear to be unquestioning devotion to duty and loyalty, suggested also by the quote involving Victarion:
Victarion is like some great grey bullock, strong and tireless and dutiful, but not like to win any races. No doubt, he’ll serve me as loyally as he has served my lord father. He has neither the wits nor the ambition to plot betrayal.”
So Gregor may be savage but he is also loyal to the master he serves.
Note that the kingsguard can be likened to castrated bulls via the vow of chastity and absolute loyalty demanded of them and this might be the simple significance of Gerold Hightower’s unofficial title – the White Bull.
After Gregor Clegane’s transformation into Robert Strong, he is named to the kingsguard. However Qyburn achieved his goal, he cured the giant of a man and somehow changed aspects of his personality as well. Robert Strong is just as savage as he was in his former life, but he’s been brought under control – a great advantage over the rampaging monster he was. Like an ox or indeed like Victarion, he has neither the wits nor the ambition to plot betrayal. He service and loyalty to Cersei is absolute:
“Should Ser Loras fall, Your Grace will need to find another worthy for the Kingsguard,” Lord Qyburn said as they crossed over the spiked moat that girded Maegor’s Holdfast.
“Someone splendid,” she agreed. “Someone so young and swift and strong that Tommen will forget all about Ser Loras. A bit of gallantry would not be amiss, but his head should not be full of foolish notions. Do you know of such a man?”
“Alas, no,” said Qyburn. “I had another sort of champion in mind. What he lacks in gallantry he will give you tenfold in devotion. He will protect your son, kill your enemies, and keep your secrets, and no living man will be able to withstand him.”
“So you say. Words are wind. When the hour is ripe, you may produce this paragon of yours and we will see if he is all that you have promised.”
“They will sing of him, I swear it.” Lord Qyburn’s eyes crinkled with amusement. “
After his transformation by Qyburn, Gregor Robert Strong, now bound to Cersei, is the epitome of savagery and obedience. He now does exactly as ordered without question or deviation. Unlike Gregor who eventually admits publicly to killing Elia and baby Aegon, Robert Strong will hold his tongue and keep Cersei’s secrets. According to Qyburn, Ser Robert has taken a vow of silence, and will not speak until all of King Tommen’s enemies are dead and evil has been driven from the realm. Getting back to the implications of silence/singing/bonding, it seems Qyburn’s sorcerous treatment involved giving him a new song, one exclusive to Cersei (he will not speak/sing for another), tying him to her until that bond can be broken, presumably by fire. Notice the reference to singing in the above citation!
The main take-away here is the idea that singing is a genetic trait originally possessed by the giants. Humans bought into this heritage through interbreeding and used it to promote their own interests.
One main application was breeding giant/human hybrids for their innate singing ability. These hybrids were further transformed by warging: by incorporating a dog, bull or ox spirit nature, giant hybrids acquired characteristics useful to their masters. Their deployment then consolidated the power of their masters.
Taking advantage of the giant bonding trait, the ancients enhanced their own bloodlines with strength and great fighting ability, which can be viewed as a step to the invincibility of a race.
Traits indicative of a giant heritage in humans include:
- Above average height and strength
- Great fighting ability – make great soldiers or knights
- Diminished intelligence
Other traits not discussed at length here include:
- Very poor eyesight
- Good sense of smell
- Strong body odor
- The giants we meet beyond the Wall appear to be vegetarian. Wun Wun certainly loves his veggies.
- Hodor, believed to be of giant-human parentage, loves a good piece of meat.
- Ancient giant hybrids were possibly engaged in blood rituals
- Giant hybrids may be associated with fire – see the Umbers and the Last Hearth (last warm place in the North), or the Titan of Braavos with his fiery eyes.
- Giants are consistently associated with stones, rocks and mountains.
The Children of the Forest: Telepathy and Navigation
First, I would like to cast doubt on the idea that the CotF originally possessed the traits of skinchanging or greenseeing (remember also that warging/skinchanging is a prerequisite for greenseeing). I believe they merely revered the weirwoods that served as a repository for collective consciousness. Whether they were able to tap into that consciousness prior to supplementing their own genetic repertoire is doubtful.
The Children have always honoured the weirwoods and once, when they called the whole of Westeros their home, lived very much in accordance with nature. Being classic hunter-gatherers, they relied on nature rather than agriculture for sustenance; they had no use for Garth Greenhand’s teachings on agriculture and were content to continue living off the land. From what we know, they also fashioned weapons of obsidian and both sexes hunted with weirwood bows and flying snares. The original life-style of the children seems far removed from the existence they live today; instead of spending their days in green fields and forests, the few remaining Children reside in the cold North beyond the Wall, having retreated there after losing the battle against the advance of man. Now, a dark cavern filled with bones serves as their home.
Though the Children are associated with greenseeing, several puzzling facts within the narrative should prompt us to ask whether they originally possessed this ability or alternatively, if they acquired it later, perhaps in defense against the intrusion of man. For what better way to keep ahead of the aggressor than to spy on him through a network of trees? There is some support for the idea that warging and greenseeing, said by Bloodraven to ‘be in the blood’, was not originally part of the Children’s genetic makeup but rather entered the Children’s genome through their interaction with man and perhaps another elder race.
Hints at this include:
- Persistent mentions of “the Children of the Forest and their greenseers” in both aSoIaF and tWoIaF:
the phrasing “and their greenseers” gives the impression that the CotF were a race apart from their greenseers. These greenseers are also termed as ‘wise men’ of the children. History also mentions the Warg King, his greenseers and the Children of the Forest. This king of wargs appears to have been human, but what of his greenseers who are set apart in this account as well. Who were his greenseers? Were they human? Were they Children of the Forest? Another race entirely?
2. Legends speak of ‘green men’, tasked with watching over the trees on the Isle of Faces in accordance with the Pact that ended hostilities between the FM and the Children:
So the gods might bear witness to the signing, every tree on the island was given a face, and afterward, the sacred order of green men was formed to keep watch over the Isle of Faces.
This citation tells us plainly that the trees on the isle had no carved faces until the pact. Why was that? We have been led to believe that the Children generally carved faces into all weirwoods, yet here was a whole grove without any faces at all. Were they unable to access the isle prior to the pact? I think the children failed to carve those trees because they never had greenseers amongst their own race. With the pact, they resorted to a third party to act as caretakers of the trees. In fact, it would have been to their advantage to have a party sympathetic to their cause installed on the isle.
3. Following on with this idea, take a look at descriptions of green men:
“Nursery tales tell us that they are horned and have dark, green skin is a corruption of the likely truth, which is that the green men wore green garments and horned headdresses.”
Old Nan tells a similar tale:
Maybe he came from the Isle of Faces,” said Bran. “Was he green?” In Old Nan’s stories, the guardians had dark green skin and leaves instead of hair. Sometimes they had antlers too, but Bran didn’t see how the mystery knight could have worn a helm if he had antlers.
Bran’s speculates if the mystery knight was green and came from the Isle of Faces. The mystery knights we are introduced to are all human but Bran’s question and the description given suggest the mysterious guardians were perhaps humanoid rather than human. Their green skin stands out, so does the suggestion they actually possessed antlers. We do have a mention of a queer folk with green-tinged skin living on the Thousand Islands, a folk which like the green men, live on islands surrounded by water. Are these connected in some way and were they a race apart from both the Children and the First Men?
4. And why would green men watch over the weirwoods in place of the Children so early in the history presented to us? They had to be greenseers to perform the task of watching through the eyes of the weirwoods on the Isle of Faces. The Children lost much of their territory to the First Men – if they possessed the ability to bond with the trees, why place men, green or otherwise, as guardians of the trees? By the same token, we must ask why Bloodraven serves as a greenseer instead of a CotF. His presence in the Children’s cave suggests the lack of a powerful greenseer amongst the children themselves. Further, Bran, another human, is Bloodraven’s successor, one we understand he has been expecting and waiting for for decades. Again, why Bran and not a Child of the Forest?
5. By all accounts, the birth of a greenseeing CotF is very rare. We know that they are marked by green or red eyes, are not robust and survive only through binding with the trees, a state that prolongs their lives. I’ll get to the implications of fragile health later but what of the green and red eyes? Unlike golden-eyed individuals, the rarity of these features suggests they were not originally present in the gene pool of their population but rather acquired at some point in time.
Warging or skinchanging is a prerequisite for greenseeing, so if there were no greenseers amongst them originally, we can assume that skinchanging was not part of their heritage either.
I propose that the Children, acquired the ability to skinchange both animals and later their trees via a detour.
- man acquired the genetic trait for singing (bonding) by inter-breeding with the giants
- man acquired the genetic trait for skinchanging by inter-breeding with the Merlings (more further down)
- the Children later inherited these traits by inter-breeding with humans who carried the corresponding genes
It should be obvious that sexual relationships between the Children and the Giants were probably physically impossible and there’s a good chance that even if it occurred, the genetic material involved may have been incompatible, not producing any viable offspring. This is the case in nature, where crossing even related species such as a female horse with a male donkey produces an infertile mule. The World Book cites a related example: it states the brindled women of Sothoryos could not breed with humans. Offspring were born stillborn and monstrous. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? There is also the matter of the fragile nature of green and red-eyed CotF, those rare Children with the gift of greenseeing. A gift such as greenseeing acquired in a roundabout way through the breeding of sexually incompatible species undoubtedly comes at a cost. Even when genes become viable by passing through suitable intermediaries, this is the most likely reason why such rare candidates are “not robust.” On the other hand, relationships between female giants and men were possible (Jon the Oak, Osha’s information) and over time, a union between the odd human possessing a strong bonding trait and a CotF would have yielded rare greenseers for the Children as well.
TELEPATHY AND NAVIGATION
So if the Children could not skinchange originally, what special ability did they have that men found so attractive?
The answer lies in telepathy and in navigation. Both are essential to the special bond between dragons and humans, specifically in respect of controlling a flying dragon (as in navigation.) This is what constitutes the ‘blood of the dragon’. Interpreting what ‘Songs of the Earth’ sung by the children actually means is the key to understanding their contribution to the genetics of the Valyrians.
If you’ve read my article on Earth Magic, you’ll know that I propose GRRM has modelled his ‘Songs of the Earth’ on the tradition of songlines as practiced by indigenous Australian peoples. Songlines are all about navigation and mapping terrain over extensive areas of a continent. Think of it as mental cartography whereby a route with all landmarks are captured in song; the songs are passed on to the rest of the tribe as well as to far distant clans. To achieve this, ancient Aborigines travelled the land for hundreds of miles, noting routes and landmarks, incorporating them into song. Complete songlines were spiritually transmitted to distant clans via dreamtime stories and handed down the generations. We can think of this in terms of telepathic transmission.
The children of the forest probably practiced something similar during the Dawn Age. There are a few hints to this in the narrative. Leaf for instance, talks of wandering through Westeros for years:
I was born in the time of the dragon, and for two hundred years I walked the world of men, to watch and listen and learn. I might be walking still, but my legs were sore and my heart was weary, so I turned my feet for home.” ADWD, Bran
I imagine Leaf composed her songlines as she wandered. Indeed, a map is no use if not updated periodically and the world that men created would have changed the landscape considerably over time. Even the extensive journey of Lomas Longstrider, who recorded the ‘seven wonders of nature’ and the ‘nine wonders made by man’, can be regarded as a clue to this fascinating form of mental cartography. In the absence of literacy, Songs of the Earth are probably a clue to navigation, a means to capture and telepathically transmit a route in song. Consider also that as a hunter-gatherer race, the Children may have been nomadic, roaming the land and settling for a while in areas of plentiful resources, moving on to greener pastures to allow the previously settled area to recover in game and vegetation. Composing songs of the earth as a form of cartography makes perfect sense in this regard. Songs of the Earth are a means to navigate. That they are familiar with secret routes is also evident from Leaf’s account of her travels. How did she cross the wall to enter the world of men (assuming she did walk and not dream)? Grendel and Gorne’s secret cavern that passes beneath the Wall perhaps?
Another hintat the Children’s preoccupation with navigation are the remains of large bats in Bloodraven’s cave. Most bat species have developed a remarkable navigation system, relying on echolocation to locate their prey in the dark. Perhaps the Children found a way to emulate this in order to negotiate their dark caverns or alternatively, to find their way about during the blackness of the previous Long Night. Perhaps they even rode these bats. Their golden eyes, said to afford them a certain degree of night vision is another link to the theme of navigation – one has to be able to see to negotiate a route in darkness. I propose they had an instinctive genetic aptitude for navigation and that this rendered them an attractive target for cross-breeding and harvesting genetic material. Their natural predisposition for navigation coupled with what I shall explain next – their ability to communicate spiritually – make the Children ideal foundation material for the ‘blood of the dragon’.
Spiritual Communication / Telepathy
I have to emphasize the difference between warging and what I mean by spiritual communication. We’ve seen very much of the former but not much of the latter, which obscures the distinction considerably. They are not the same thing.
Bran’s arc gives us deep insights into the mechanism of warging. Warging primarily involves a union of souls – the human soul departs the human body to take up residence in the body of the familiar host. While inhabiting a host, Bran’s body is left behind, devoid of a soul and almost lifeless. Bran has no control of his body while out of it. He has no more life within him than a rag doll in this state. During an out of body experience, a warg is in danger of starving to death or indeed of being victimized if his soul remains absent long enough. Further, a warg or skinchanger hazards taking on the nature of the beast if he spends too much time inhabiting his host animal. Recall Jojen warns Bran of these threats to his physical body and psyche several times. We thus note that while wargs have control over their familiar animal during habitation, they have absolutely no control over what happens to their own bodies. This is symptomatic of true warging. It is most definitely an undesirable state to be in if one wants to physically ride and control a dragon. The form of telepathy I ascribe to the Children overcomes this handicap completely. GRRM has largely hidden this exquisite trait from you and though I encountered it a number of times, I was not able to place it until recently. Consider the following:
Communication as we understand it is based on the transfer of sound through a medium such as air or water. Telepathy involves the transfer of thoughts without the aid of a (known) medium. We think of this as a form of spiritual communication and have no real idea how this works.
Calling animals to their aid:
The World Book tells of the Children’s efforts to defend themselves against the First Men. One of things they did was to call upon animals to aid them in battle:
When the Andal king Erreg the Kinslayer surrounded the hill, the children emerged to defend it, calling down clouds of ravens and armies of wolves … or so the legend tells us …
In a further account, this time in the White Wood:
… of the night in the White Wood, where supposedly the children of the forest emerged from beneath a hollow hill to send hundreds of wolves against an Andal camp, tearing hundreds of men apart beneath the light of a crescent moon.
It is unlikely the Children skinchanged all these animals, especially since we know they were few in number. We cannot reconcile “clouds of ravens” and “armies of wolves” with the relatively small number of children. More plausible is telepathic communication, guiding and coordinating the beasts to their aid. The text talks about calling the beasts, thus we understand the children and their greenseers summoned the animals rather than skinchanged them. Short of employing a horn or similar instrument to rouse their friends in the animal kingdom, the only possible explanation is telepathy.
The warg and skinchanger demonstrates telepathic ability when he sends his shadowcat to bring him women. Varamyr is a warg but he does not appear to inhabit his shadowcat for this particular purpose. He sends the creature and waits for it to return with a woman in tow. The women follow against their own will, as though the cat wields some kind of mesmerizing power over them, or indeed, as if Varamyr’s telepathic powers, manifest through the cat, hold them in sway. Again, sending the cat to do his will echoes the CotF calling the beasts to their aid. Call it spiritual communication or telepathy. Whatever is at work here is not skinchanging.
Arya is often discussed in terms of her supposed ability to warg yet we have never actually witnessed this in her POV chapters. Like Bran originally (before his third eye opened), she has wolf dreams but has she ever consciously left her body to join with Nymeria? Though I don’t doubt she is a warg, I cannot think of any instance whereby she actually leaves her physical body. What she has done is see through the eyes of a couple of cats. Note that this does not belong in the realm of skinchanging because Arya shows none of the typical signs associated with the soul leaving the body. She is in full possession of her physical capacities during each incidence of connecting with the cats and it comes without any effort on her part. I would attribute this to a telepathic connection to the cats in question, allowing her to see through their eyes and hear conversations with their ears.
Unlike Bran’s habitation of Summer or Hodor, Arya achieves a psychic link with the cats without falling into a trance or having an out of body experience that could endanger her physical being. This suggests that Arya need not be anywhere near Nymeria to give her wolf an order. Should she become aware of the implications of her ability, it would be sufficient to connect with Nymeria and her wolf pack telepathically. Arya’s arc also involves the theme of navigation. Not only does she travel extensively through the riverlands, she also increasingly shows an aptitude for orientation, taking note of growth patterns of mosses and lichens on trees as an aid to determining a route. Recall also Arya’s mastery of the tunnels and paths in the House of Black and White during her training as Blind Beth. In a parallel to the Children who navigate their dark caves, Arya learns to navigate expertly in perfect darkness. Additionally, her first telepathic experience with a cat occurs while she is blind, deep beneath the House of Black and White.
The Children’s association with ravens:
Ravens are messengers trained to carry letters from one place to another. To do this they must navigate between their home castle and their destination. Before they can deliver any messages, they must know the way. Very clever birds learn the names of more than one castle but clearly, the main point here is that said ravens can find their way to each castle.
Now, according to Septon Barth, the CotF could speak with ravens and even made them repeat their words. The World Book specifically states the following as well:
According to Barth, this higher mystery was taught to the First Men by the Children so that ravens could spread messages at a great distance.
What a curious statement! Think about it! What does teaching ravens to speak words have to do with spreading messages at a great distance? Did the ravens shout the words loudly enough to be heard for hundreds of miles? That’s what this statement implies, but that makes no sense.
So what do Septon Barth’s writings tell us? It suggests that the children taught ravens to navigate, taught them the way to many destinations. Only in this way would ravens be able to spread messages at a ‘great distance’. Maybe ravens did speak as Septon Barth suggests but of significance here is finding the way to diverse destinations, as only the cleverest birds are capable of nowadays. How did the Children achieve this? By way of their speech? The speech of the Children, described as ‘the song of stones in a brook’, or the wind through leaves, or the rain upon the water’, serves to emphasize their deep connection with nature itself. Perhaps ravens found it easy to learn this natural speech but I suspect the crux of the matter lies in telepathy. I think the Children were able to mentally direct ravens to a destination. By transmitting their songlines to ravens via telepathy (like the Aborigines passed on their songlines to distant clans), the children succeeded in guiding ravens to any place they desired. Smart birds would be able to memorize the way to more than one destination. Bran the Builder supposedly learned the speech of the children – my guess is in reality, he learned and became proficient in telepathy!
No doubt readers also know about the ‘shadows on the soul’, the soul parts of deceased CotF residing within all ravens and point to these as possible navigators. This cannot be so. We are told that all ravens harbor souls yet none of these birds are ‘clever enough’ to fly to several destinations.
One very interesting points regarding ravens:
- The association of ravens with black iron via the metal assigned to ravencraft in a maester’s chain
I will not start a discussion on black iron here and will only point out that the metal is comparable with dragonbone. Dragonbone is black and composed mainly of iron. Recall that our own planet possesses an iron core that takes on magnetic properties due to the Earth’s rotation. This results in magnetic North and South poles and a corresponding magnetic field. Along with vision, olfactory clues and compass information from the position of the sun and stars, migratory birds navigate by sensing the Earth’s magnetic field. In some birds, iron rich membranes within the ears allow them to sense the Earth’s magnetic field. Moreover, behavioral and physiological adaptations necessary for migration are genetically controlled.
Could the Children of the Forest have originally possessed the ability to navigate the planet by means of a similar in-built genetic trait? With the seasons out of sync on Planetos, can we assume that the planet’s magnetic field underwent a drastic change at some point, with dire consequences for birds and other migratory species? Note that the author does not describe any migratory activity in animals at all (the only exception appears to be the Snow Shrike, a bird normally confined to wintry climes, sighted by Catelyn in the Riverlands as Robb’s army marched south).
The World Book however talks about a cataclysmic event that caused the Long Night. The legend of Qarth tells of a second moon that was destroyed upon coming too close to the sun. There are a number of theories devoted to the interpretation of this cataclysmic occurrence, including a comet striking the moon and the massive eruption of a volcano in the Land of Always Winter. The eruption of the “Fourteen Flames,” a volcanic event that destroyed Old Valyria is another example of a cataclysmic event, this time in the more recent past. Whatever took place, a resulting shift in the planet’s axis is plausible, and with it, changes in the planet’s magnetic field as well as an imbalance in the length of the seasons. A tilt could thus explain the absence of migratory animals, or rather their inability to instinctively navigate as before the event. Were the children thus unable to navigate by natural means after the event? The possibility of a shift in the tilt of the planet’s axis is touched on in the World Book, where Maester Nicol argues the following:
Based upon his work on the movement of stars in the firmament , Nicol argues unconvincingly that the seasons might once have been of a regular length, determined solely by the way in which the globe faces the sun [axial tilt] in its heavenly course. The notion behind it seems true enough— that the lengthening and shortening of days, if more regular, would have led to more regular seasons— but he could find no evidence that such was ever the case, beyond the most ancient of tales. TWOIAF
Though most of the evidence is circumstantial, I am fairly convinced that the Children were once capable of travelling by means of an intrinsic genetic mechanism and that this trait was of great interest to the Valyrians in respect of engineering a symbiosis between humans and dragons.
Think of telepathy as a means of internal (and subconscious) communication between man and beast, with the navigation aspect allowing both dragon and rider to find their way to destinations without the need for physical maps or compasses. Interestingly, in many animal species, geomagnetic compass sensitivity depends on the spectral composition of light to which moving animals are exposed. I speculate that the distinct purple eyes of Valyrians are involved in dragon control, perhaps picking up certain wavelengths of the light spectrum (red and blue), which then allow positioning and navigation to occur. A dragonrider then telepathically transmits the desired destination and route to the dragon.
Note that though they used saddles, dragonriders of old did not employ bridles to steer their mounts. In Dany’s last chapter in aDwD, we learn the following:
The dragonlords of old Valyria had controlled their mounts with binding spells and sorcerous horns. Daenerys made do with a word and a whip […]
but […] Neither whip nor words could turn Drogon if he did not wish to be turned.
Being spiritually bound (and bound by blood) to her dragon, Daenerys needs neither binding spells nor sorcerous horns to control Drogon. At some point, she loses her whip and so uses her hands and feet to make the dragon go in the desired direction.
Dany’s experience with riding a dragon is new, in fact, mounted on the dragon’s back, she oft felt as if she were learning to ride all over again. Her first riding attempts are reminiscent of Bran’s after his fall. He too has to learn to ride Dancer, a young horse specially trained to respond to his voice and to tensile signals:
Go,” Bran whispered to his own horse. He touched her neck lightly, and the small chestnut filly started forward. Bran had named her Dancer. She was two years old, and Joseth said she was smarter than any horse had a right to be. They had trained her special, to respond to rein and voice and touch.
This is not telepathy but certainly a more subtle method than employing spells, horns or whips. Quite significantly, both Bran and Dany learn to fly during their respective dreams: Bran during what I call his ‘waking’ dream, spurred on by the three-eyed-crow and Daenerys during her ‘waking the dragon’ dream, spurred on by her ancestors, the pale ghosts with gemstone eyes, dressed in the raiment of kings. Bran even likens his new riding ability to flying:
I can ride!” Bran shouted, grinning. It felt almost as good as flying.
Notice also that the bond formed between these two characters and their familiar animals is for life. Dragons only bond with one individual and can be ridden only by that person during his or her lifetime. Similarly, bonding with a wolf is said to be like wedding a woman; wolves too remain bound to and loyal to their human counterparts.
In this context, there’s a certain significance to Bran naming his new horse Dancer. Recall the hunters and warriors of the children were wood dancers and note the possible parallel to dragons who are bred for war and who are associated with dancing through the epic war, the Dance of the Dragons.
Drogon’s habit of flying home to ‘Dragonstone’ at nightfall is an interesting parallel to the homing instincts of messenger ravens who fly to their home castles, or indeed the flock of ravens that descends nightly on their ‘home weirwood’ at Raventree Hall:
And no matter how far the dragon flew each day, come nightfall some instinct drew him home to Dragonstone.
And the ravens?” asked Jaime. “Where are they?”
“They come at dusk and roost all night. Hundreds of them. They cover the tree like black leaves, every limb and every branch. They have been coming for thousands of years. How or why, no man can say, yet the tree draws them every night.”
So both ravens and dragons appear to have homing instincts. A lot more can be interpreted into this but right now I’d like to leave it at these implications: like Bran who eventually learns to take control of Summer by spiritually inhabiting the wolf, I expect Daenerys to learn to control Drogon by merely thinking – essentially, by telepathy – a feature inherited from the Children of the Forest. So far, we are yet to experience Dany’s telepathic talents in the books.
As yet, the only hints we have at telepathic communication are:
Drogon’s timely appearance and the unanimous scream both Dany and Drogon emit when the dragon is pierced by a spear during the fighting pit scene in Meereen
Dany’s thoughts while desolately roaming the Dothraki Sea in ADWD:
And the dragons, what am I to do with them? “Drogon,” she whispered softly, “where are you?” For a moment she could almost see him sweeping across the sky, his black wings swallowing the stars.
The TV-Series however demonstrates quite clearly that Daenerys summons her dragon by supernatural means. This becomes apparent in Season 6. Drogon does not simply appear randomly. He appears at exactly the right moment to intimidate the Yunkai. He turns up because Daenerys summons him telepathically. She then directs him to the pyramid where Viserion and Rhaegal emerge. The dragons fly in formation and respond to Daenerys’ commands. There is no real need for her to speak commands at all. I believe the dragons do not need to hear, rather, like the armies of wolves and clouds of ravens called by the children in ancient times, they receive their commands telepathically. The quote above suggests Daenerys is calling for her dragon; she may not realize it but she does call him, and Drogon will eventually respond to her summons.
Perhaps the following tale from the histories of Old Valyria is relevant to my proposed idea of telepathic navigation:
Jaenara Belaerys flew her dragon, Terrax, farther south than any man or woman had ever gone before, seeking the boiling seas and steaming rivers of legend, but found only endless jungle, deserts, and mountains. She returned to the Freehold after three years to declare that Sothoryos was as large as Essos, “a land without end.” TWOIAF
Flying around extensively for three years in completely unknown territory is quite remarkable. We can assume Jaenara possessed neither maps nor route descriptions. We wonder how she and her dragon avoided ‘going round in circles’ and how they managed to find their way back home. Navigating by the sun and stars is a possibility of course but somehow, I think there was more to it than that. Note the dragon is aptly named Terrax – derived from terra – earth, land, soil – and associated words terrain, territory, all related to the theme of navigation and to the children of the forest who sing the songs of the earth.
Building durable roads
Still on the subject of navigation, let’s not forget that Valyrians and Targaryens were responsible for building good durable roads to facilitate journeys within Essos and Westeros respectively:
Furthermore, the Conciliator began the construction of the great network of roads that would one day join King’s Landing to the Reach, the stormlands, the westerlands, the riverlands, and even the North—understanding that to knit together the realm it must be easier to travel among its regions. The kingsroad was the greatest of these roads, reaching hundreds of leagues to Castle Black and the Wall. TWOIAF, The Targaryen Kings
These roads may indicate localities associated with a concentration of genes that contribute to the blood of the dragon, particularly the genes pertaining to navigation. Note that though the kingsroad leads all the way to the Wall, Dorne and the Iron Islands are not part of the route.
Unlike the muddy tracks that passed for roads in the Seven Kingdoms, the Valyrian roads were wide enough for three wagons to pass abreast, and neither time nor traffic marred them. They still endured, unchanging, four centuries after Valyria itself had met its Doom.
The old Valyrian road glimmered ahead of them like a long silver ribbon winding through wood and dale. For a little while Tyrion Lannister felt almost at peace. “Lomas Longstrider told it true. The road’s a wonder.”
No other folk besides the dragonlords appear to have bothered with road-building. Like the children of the forest, they had a thing for navigating the realms they occupied but instead of capturing the routes in song, they built physical roads for a comfortable travelling experience. Lomas Longstrider remarks the road is a wonder. Indeed, so were the instinctive navigational gifts of the children!
The Old Valyrian roads are also known as dragon roads, the one leading from Volantis to Meereen as the demon road.
Dragon roads, men called the great stone roadways of the Freehold, but the one that ran eastward from Volantis to Meereen had earned a more sinister name: the demon road.
Yes, I do believe that the author has applied a naming system that can be decoded. The above is a clue to the two forms of bonding and mechanism of control I touched on above – the dragon road symbolizes Daenerys’ telepathic bonding, while the demon road denotes bonding and control via soul transfer as in the case of warging and skinchanging.
George Martin’s puzzles are not that simple but we’re getting there … slowly.
Golden Eyes, Rhaenys, Arya and Balerion the Cat
The nasty black tomcat that leads Arya into the tunnels beneath the Red Keep once belonged to Rhaenys, Rhaegar’s young daughter. Balerion the Cat is named after Aegon the Conqueror’s dragon, Balerion the Black Dread. Interestingly, chasing the cat eventually leads Arya straight to the area where the skulls of past Targaryen dragons are stored. Additionally, readers have cause to speculate on whether or not Rhaeny’s soul inhabits the cat. No doubt George is telling us something here. Given Arya’s telepathic and navigational talents, I would say deciphering the rest is relatively simple: the psychic link between dragons and their counterparts is telepathic and navigational in nature.
These genetic features originally stem from the golden-eyed children of the forest (re cat-like eyes with night vision). Indeed, cats seem to play a decisive role in this conundrum of symbolism. Arya has a telepathic connection to cats, so does Varamyr. Cersei appears to have a psychic connection to the lion she fearlessly touches beneath Casterly Rock. What of the BSE’s tiger-woman? If she indeed hailed from Leng, she may have had golden eyes. Was she both a skinchanger and a telepath? Daenerys, a proven dragonrider, likes to cuddle up in her white lion skin, the great lion slain for her by Khal Drogo. Incidentally, lions usually have golden eyes.
Early in the days of the GEotD, we read of the wrath of the “Lion of Night and his demons” – was this a man with telepathic ability who was able to call on the beasts of the field to wreak havoc on the people of the Dawn? Does the ‘Lion of Night‘ imply he was a shadowcat, akin to the shadowcat that Varamyr telepathically sends to bring him women?
Let’s not forget golden-eyed Missandei, an ex-slave and freed woman, originally from the Island of Naath, now Daenerys’ confidant. Missandei also happens to speak several different languages. She is a translator. Her eyes remind us of the CotF, while her natural ability for languages could be another link to the children or to Leaf, who speaks the True Tongue, Old Tongue and the Common Tongue. But the word translate, from the Latin translatus, also means to carry over or ‘to remove from one place to another‘. Could the author be playing with language, specifically the idea of teaching ravens to speak, as an analogy to navigation or to the transfer of thoughts? Missandei also has a ‘sweet, strong voice‘ – note that as a national of Naath, she is linked to the Lord of Harmony, the god of Naath, who happens to be a giant. She too appears to have psychic abilities. She hears things others do not, which together with her sweet voice, links her to singing. We can infer that Missandei’s genetic heritage includes the singing of the giants that is essential to bonding as well as the navigational and telepathic genes denoted by her golden eyes. Small wonder she is associated with Daenerys – she is a living example of traits essential to a dragon heritage.
Could it be that golden eyes are a morphological feature indicative of genetically transmittable telepathic and navigational gifts the world over? How about the lion that forms part of the Oldtown Sphinx? Does this animal collectively stand for the ancestors who contributed these gifts to the blood of the dragon? I think so and shall expand on that in a follow-up post.
One more thought: little Rhaenys’ soul within her black tomcat Balerion evokes the ‘shadows on the soul’, the souls of deceased children of the forest within their ravens. Balerion the Black Dread in turn recalls Drogon, the latter often referred to as a ‘black shadow’. As BR informs us, all ravens that frequent the children’s cave have been ridden and in parallel to this statement, Rhaenys possibly rides her tomcat Balerion. Given that Drogon is a ‘black shadow’, can we infer that dragons contain the souls of past riders as well? Plausible. But that’s another story.
We can conclude that telepathy and navigation are components of the blood of the dragon and together, they make controlling and riding a dragon possible. Finally yet importantly, are three characteristics particular to the children of the forest that lend weight to their role as genetic contributors:
- both sexes hunted, their hunters known as wood dancers (think of dragons which can be male and female as opposed to the white walkers who are male. Also relevant are the sphinxes in Oldtown, male and female, as opposed to the lone female Harpy)
- their ability to hunt with ‘flying snares’, evoking dragons taking their prey in flight (as opposed to white walkers who were said to hunt while riding ice spiders)
- their association with obsidian, a mineral of volcanic origin, also known as frozen fire, which they crafted into weapons
A quick summary to conclude this section on the talents of the CotF:
- Despite the frequent mentions of greenseeing/ers in connection with the Children, they did not originally have this ability, neither were they capable of skinchanging.
- The Children were experts in navigation, singing songs of the earth, which like the songlines of the Australian Aborigines represent a form of mental cartography. Herewith they mapped the land in the form of telepathically transmittable songs. After being relegated to the cold North they were confined mostly to their caverns. Faced with this situation, they possibly emulated bat echolocation for navigation within the dark confines of the underground; alternatively, they may have even ridden the bats, directing them telepathically to desired locations.
- Their deep intrinsic relationship with nature probably enables the CotF to communicate telepathically with birds and beasts. This includes summoning animals and directing ravens to desired destinations.
- Navigation and telepathic communication render the children classic candidates in the genetic development of the ‘blood of the dragon’. These traits make dragon binding and control possible.
The Merlings: intelligence, prophecy, illusion
So it’s back to my beloved Fisher Queens! I can tell you that though the author divulges so little about them, they are of immense importance to the backstory. All research I’ve carried out on the Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea suggests they were a unique race. For lack of a concrete name, I shall simply term this third Elder Race “Merlings.” We do know that their kingdom included the vast Silver Sea in Essos, since desiccated to leave only three bodies of water, one of which is the Womb of the World. We know the area once occupied by that great lake as the Dothraki Sea, a region that plays a major role in Daenerys’ life. Whether the Fisher Queen ‘Merlings’ were amphibious to begin with is unclear, but their association with the Silver Sea and their naming itself (Fisher) relates to the sea or to water, influencing my choice of Merlings as a third Elder Race. I suggest you read this post for more comprehensive insights into this race.
The Fisher Queen Merlings were wise, so much so that kings sought their counsel on important issues. As suggested by their ‘floating palaces’, they were perhaps capable of considerable feats of magic and/or technology as well. A race advanced and innovative enough to build floating palaces (which could have been elaborately constructed ships for all we know) may have succeeded in crossing the Narrow Sea to Westeros long before any other civilization. From the little we know about them, knowledge must have played a major role in their culture. Intelligence and indeed, far-sighted vision are thus characteristics we can attribute to them. Far-sightedness encompasses not only the wisdom to deduce circumstances and advise on future events, it also suggests an inherent gift of being able to visualize or see into the future. Considering the vastness of the Silver Sea, the Fisher Queens must have been a water-based culture, with much of their activities centered on this element. Examining cultures and specific houses connected to water in general should therefore be helpful in discovering more about the talents I attribute to this race.
Descendants of the “merling” Fisher Queens may include the Rhoynar, Velaryons (Lord of the Tides, Corlys Velaryon, the Sea Snake, for instance), the Manderlys of White Harbour, the Tullys of Riverrun, the Crannogmen, people of the Three Sister Islands and of course the Ironborn. Braavos, a sea faring nation founded on an island riddled with canals may also be an offshoot of this early civilization. Remember the mutinous slaves were led there by their moonsingers. Let us first take a look at Patchface, one who according to the smallfolk, miraculously survived a ship wreck via the intervention of a mermaid who taught him to breathe in exchange for his seed. If there is anything to the smallfolk’s notion, then Patchface is a veritable merman indeed.
UNDER THE SEA
I personally believe the origin of the mer-people featured in Patchface’s riddles lies rooted in the culture of the Fisher Queens and that Merlings mentioned in the narrative and the Fisher Queen culture are closely related.
Patchface’s brainteasers tell a story. He gives at least one location that casts doubt on his ‘under the sea’ claims. When he proclaims, “it’s always summer under the sea,” he is really talking about a tropical region, a place where it is always warm and has been for thousands of years. This could only have been on Essos where several locations come to mind. One such could be The Land of Always Summer, part of destroyed Old Valyria. Asshai, or the dry region beyond the Bones, above the Golden Empire of Yi Ti are possibilities, but so is the area now home to the horselords, the Dothraki Sea, an area that once encompassed both the Silver Sea and the grasslands below. Given the importance of this region in respect of Daenerys arc, this is where I propose the so-called merlings of legend originated.
Figuring this out is difficult to say the least but I think the author often leaves a breadcrumb trail of hints in the form of wordplay and derivatives, so looking at similar words, phrasing and spin-offs can be of help in deciphering puzzling information.
Consider the syllables mer and myr for instance:
It introduces all mer-people – merlings, mermaids, merwives, mermen. Let’s examine Patchface’s famous citation about merwives weaving gowns of silver seaweed and compare that to a short history of the island of Myr.
It’s always summer under the sea. The merwives wear nennymoans in their hair and weave gowns of silver seaweed. ACOK, Prologue
From World Book and discover that the people of Myr are known as Myrmen, phonetically very close to mermen. We also learn that an ancient, vanished people dating back to the Dawn Age raised the original city of Myr, and like the Rhoynar, were wiped out or enslaved by the Valyrians.
The origins of Myr are murkier. The Myrmen are believed by certain maesters to be akin to the Rhoynar, as many of them share the same olive skin and dark hair as the river people, but this supposed link is likely spurious. There are certain signs that a city stood where Myr now stands even during the Dawn Age and the Long Night, raised by some ancient, vanished people, but the Myr we know was founded by a group of Valyrian merchant adventurers on the site of a walled Andal town whose inhabitants they butchered or enslaved.
The wordplay on mer and myr may not be enough to convince us but the next bit of information should catch our attention because it links Patchface’s words to the people of Myr:
Trade has been the life of Myr ever since, and Myrish ships have plied the waters of the narrow sea for centuries. The artisans of Myr, many of slave birth, are also greatly renowned; Myrish lace and Myrish tapestries are said to be worth their weight in gold and spice, and Myrish lenses have no equal in all the world.
The World of Ice and Fire, The Quarrelsome Daughters: Myr, Lys, and Tyrosh
Like Patchface’s merwives, the artisans of Myr engage in weaving. Myrish lace and Myrish tapestries are woven textiles. As we shall see, that they produce Myrish lenses is also of importance to my theory. In fact, merwives are also connected to weaving elsewhere: the Grey King of Ironborn legend married a mermaid, wore robes of silver seaweed and had tapestries of silver seaweed hanging in his hall. Knowing what we do, it is no stretch to assume that his merwife wove these items. And in a parallel to Patchface’s introductory sentence, the Ironborn claim to have originated from beneath the sea. It’s also interesting that certain maesters believe the Myrmen to be akin to the Rhoynar and I tend to believe they are right.
The Rhoynar are a likely later offshoot of the earlier Fisher-Queen kingdom, both being cultures linked to water and to knowledge. The Rhoynar are credited as being the first to discover the secrets of working iron. They also constructed exquisitely beautiful palaces and cities, reminding us of the floating palaces of the Fisher Queens. Women playing an important role in leadership is another similarity we find, the women of the Silver Sea being queens and of course the parallel Nymeria whose name contains the mer syllable and who eventually led her people to a final safe haven in Dorne. It’s likely that the struggle between Old Valyria and the Rhoynar may reflect a similar state of affairs that took place much earlier, involving the Great Empire of the Dawn and the Kingdom of Fisher Queens. In a parallel to the destruction of the Rhoynar and subsequent flight of Nymeria and her womenfolk, the Fisher Queen Kingdom may have suffered a similar fate, necessitating a migratory movement towards safer regions such as Westeros. Such a scenario would explain the presence of the Houses Fisher on Westeros, now extinct (Fishers of the Misty Isle and Fishers of the Stoney Shore).
Notice also, that though a small group of immigrants, the Rhoynar are important enough to be included in the list of titles held by the King of Westeros:
In the name of Robert of the House Baratheon, the First of his Name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm.
These are a few of the more concrete examples linking cultures associated with water with the Fisher Queens. Rather than writing realms on my conviction that they represent a third Elder Race, I shall get on with the hereditary traits that I propose made them attractive targets for harvesting genetic material.
Besides their association with water, the main distinguishing characteristic of merling women lay in their ability to manipulate light. Notice that here too we have a parallel to the Rhoynar, a river based culture also associated with the Rhoynish Sun, which now forms part of the Martell sigil.
As elaborated on in the earlier post dealing with the Fisher Queens, weaving gowns of silver seaweed symbolizes the weaving of light. In support of this, both Melisandre and the kindly man of the House of Black and White speak of weaving light in terms of magic and illusion:
“Call it what you will. Glamor, seeming, illusion. R’hllor is Lord of Light, Jon Snow, and it is given to his servants to weave with it, as others weave with thread.”
“Mummers change their faces with artifice,” the kindly man was saying, “and sorcerers use glamors, weaving light and shadow and desire to make illusions that trick the eye.
In both cases, light is woven to create a magical effect, a glamour, an illusion.
Optical illusions and glamours are all about camouflage and hiding the true nature of something from public view. Patchface’s gowns of silver seaweed are thus a euphemism for camouflage as well. Recall the Grey King’s tapestries of silver seaweed. On examining passages referring to tapestries in the books, you will find that in most cases, they relate to concealment. Guards (and kingsguards) stay out of sight behind tapestries to emerge when summoned for instance. At the Darry castle, Tyrion discovers numerous tapestries of Targaryen kings hidden away in the cellar. This weaving of light is probably the original basis for all magic concerned with concealment, including warging and skinchanging.
The Crannogmen are of particular interest in respect of possible Fisher Queen / Merling ancestry. Like the Fisher Queens, they their territory includes a watery environment and they build floating homes that wander about the swampy Neck in Westeros. Significant is that the smallfolk are said to weave – they construct their huts of woven reeds. They are also experts at staying hidden, away from the prying eyes of strangers.
They were a poor folk, fishers and frog-hunters who lived in houses of thatch and woven reeds on floating islands hidden in the deeps of the swamp. Mudmen are sneaks, they won’t fight like decent folks, they skulk and use poison arrows. You never see them, but they see you. Those who go into the bogs after them get lost and never come out. Their houses move, even the castles like Greywater Watch. ACOK, Theon IV
I like the connotations in respect of skinchanging: “you never see them, but the see you” – you’ll never see the human skinchanger within his familiar animal, but he will see you!
Notice also that unlike strangers to the bog, the Crannogmen have no problems finding their way around their swampy territory, recalling the theme of navigation. It is suggested that Crannogmen may have mingled with the children of the forest at some point in time so that we can expect to find traits that originated from the children in addition to the merling heritage. In line with amphibious ‘merman’ connotations, Meera claims her father is able to breathe mud.
Meera herself recalls a modern day Fisher Queen, literally, and she is very talented in this regard. Frogs and fish seldom escape her nets and spears. Her chief weapon is a silver three-pronged spear, or trident, the weapon of a merman, putting us in mind of merfolk yet again. Meera’s name also contains the mer syllable and though we are not sure if she weaves, she does carry a woven item – a net. She uses this net offensively to catch prey but also employs it in defense, as in netting Sam at the Nightfort or capturing Summer in a test of her ability. Let’s take a closer look at the symbolism of catching a wolf in a net.
WEAVING AND WARGING
Being half man, half fish, merpeople in general fit the image of skinchanging. Merlings are also mentioned in connection with selkies (skinchanging seals) so we shall examine how this weaving might relate to warging and skinchanging.
Nets are woven of fibers to form a grid-like structure in which fish and other aquatic creatures are caught. They are also useful in trapping birds, butterflies and other insects. Based on the role of weaving light above – its role in camouflage and hiding in particular – we can deduce that the scene involving Meera’s capture of a wolf could relate to warging.
She wins,” her brother Jojen said. “Summer’s snared.”
He was right, Bran saw. Thrashing and growling at the net, trying to rip free, Summer was only ensnaring himself worse. Nor could he bite through. “Let him out.
Visualize Meera’s woven net as a magical ‘net of darkness’, a net that alludes to camouflage and at the same time renders the wolf harmless to those on the outside. It’s important that Meera, in her capacity as a woman (we’re looking for parallels to Fisher Queens here), does this. The implication is she ‘tames’ the wild wolf by ensnaring him in her magical net. Consider Sansa’s direwolf, Lady, in this context. Lady was the gentlest of the litter and shortly before having to kill her, Ned thinks of her as the best of the lot. She may indeed have been the least aggressive of the litter or may have had some special qualities George never revealed to us. I need to digress at this point: based on what we have learned about the aggressive nature of men with giant’s blood, the implication is that many of these individuals may have been born with a warging trait similar to the wolf-blood and like the highly temperamental Brandon and Lyanna, their “wolf nature” was out of control. Bran himself needed tuition to avoid giving in to the wolf nature. Rickon on the other hand receives no tuition. His wolf Shaggydog was wild to begin with and we witness Rickon’s continual decline into that wildness up until the point where he leaves the story with Osha.
Now think of Meera as a ‘mother of wolves’, as a woman who carries a gene for warging in her blood and imagine her net as part of this inheritance, standing for both the warging trait and fulfilling the function of taming the wolf nature. What this really means is a wolf-blood inheritance without the adverse effects wolf-blood normally has on individuals born with it. Compare Sansa/Lady with wolf-blooded Arya/Nymeria or wild Rickon/Shaggydog in this regard. Consider also this interesting citation where Lady’s actions are described as as delicate as a queen’s. As delicate as the one time Fisher Queens?
I’ve never seen an aurochs,” Sansa said, feeding a piece of bacon to Lady under the table. The direwolf took it from her hand, as delicate as a queen.
Nymeria, in contrast, is anything but ladylike, she exhibits a certain wildness even as a puppy. She will not fetch for Arya and she hates being brushed.
Arya grabbed Nymeria around her neck, but the moment she pulled out the brush again the direwolf wriggled free and bounded off. Frustrated, Arya threw down the brush. “Bad wolf!” she shouted.
Sansa couldn’t help but smile a little. The kennelmaster once told her that an animal takes after its master. She gave Lady a quick little hug. Lady licked her cheek.
In the next scene, Meera releases Summer. Bran attaches himself to his direwolf and lets the animal drag him across the ground. The scene ends with Bran astride Summer.
Summer, to me.” Bran spread his arms. “Watch,” he said, an instant before the wolf bowled into him. He clung with all his strength as the wolf dragged him bumping through the grass. They wrestled and rolled and clung to each other, one snarling and yapping, the other laughing. In the end it was Bran sprawled on top, the mud-spattered direwolf under him. “Good wolf,” he panted. Summer licked him across the ear.
Notice the exclamations “bad wolf” and “good wolf” how Bran rides Summer in the above citations. We can interpret the entire scene in terms of Meera birthing a child with this special ‘becalmed’ warging gene, the warg child subsequently bonding with and inhabiting the wolf. Bran’s being astride Summer symbolizes both his control over the wolf and his own wolf nature. Meera’s net symbolically transforms Summer into a “good wolf”, like Lady, one that is perhaps more obedient does not exert a negative psychological influence on its master.
This short interpretation does not explain the entire origins of warging, but it serves to illustrate the involvement of a water-based culture in its genesis.
LIGHT AND WATER BASED PROPHECY
Melisandre employs fire as a medium for her prophetic visions. What is fire if not a giver of light? The sun itself, source of all natural light on earth is a huge ball of fire. Light enables us to see and in magical terms, it is this light that empowers the highly gifted to see the future. The author takes this even further by indulging in wordplay regarding the words “sea” and “see.” The women of the Silver Sea who counseled kings were wise visionaries capable of weighing the pros and cons of a situation and advise accordingly. Perhaps they were in fact able to see the future as well, employing both water and light as a medium.
In the narrative, prophecy and advice occurs in the form of dreams, is tasted in a drop of blood, heard in the rumble of the waves or in the whisperings of stars or leaves.
GRRM provides quite a number of clues in support of the idea that prophecy originated with the merlings. This includes Patchface whose prophetic gifts awaken after his near-drowning experience; Aeron Damphair’s consultations with the Drowned God / listening to the song of the leviathan for advice is a further example of obtaining knowledge through water. We can add the Rhoynar to this list – they listened to the whisperings of the Mother Rhoyne in their quest for information on the future and in my analysis of water magic, I postulate that the whispering heads serve as interpreters for the whisperings and rumblings of the nearby sea.
Both Bran and Rickon experience the same dream regarding Ned’s death and it turned out to be prophetic in nature. Their mother Catelyn has symbolic components suggesting a merling inheritance in her lineage. Born a Tully in Riverrun within the Riverlands, she, like the Merlings, is heavily associated with water. From Catelyn herself, we learn how important the river is to the Tully’s heritage:
The Tullys drew their strength from the river, and it was to the river they returned when their lives had run their course.
The weight of his armor would carry Lord Hoster down to rest in the soft mud of the riverbed, in the watery halls where the Tullys held eternal court, with schools of fish their last attendants.
Sounds rather like the Ironborn, doesn’t it? Despite the emphasis on the river, the Tullys also incorporate a fiery tradition in their burial rights. Lord Hoster’s funeral boat is set alight and burns before sinking beneath the waters. Catelyn and her siblings also have auburn hair, another link to fire; being a red-head, she is kissed by fire. In a previous essay on Catelyn’s genetic inheritance, I unravel a text passage indicative of her as the source of genes responsible for Bran’s greenseeing gift. It involves the Myrish lens is an optical device, its function dependent on light. It is an instrument that allows us to see things at a distance. Like the one in a thousand skinchangers that can become greenseers and the fragile red-eyed CotF who have the gift, the Myrish lens is both rare and delicate and is delivered to Catelyn in a wooden box. I recommend the relevant post for a more detailed explanation. Note that the Myrish Lens is an item on its own, separate from the wooden box, though hidden within it. The connection to weirwoods is evident, the Myrish lens symbolizing the instrument with which one can see through the trees. That it is a Myrish artifact reveals its origins, not form the children, but from the proposed merpeople of legend.
References to Edmure’s ‘one-eyed fish’ reference both an aquatic creature and one-eyed Bloodraven, who happens to be a greenseer. Lysa’s son Sweetrobin, a sickly child, also shows telltale signs of supernatural ability, claiming to hear the presumed deceased Marillion singing during the night. Since all three Tully siblings appear to be invested with gifts linked to greenseeing, it’s worth taking a look at their mother, Minisa Whent. By the laws of genetics, we can infer that the relevant gene originated from her and the surrounding symbolism supports this theory. House Whent is one of many that came into possession of Harrenhal. Built by Black Harren of the Ironborn (link to Merlings), Harrenhall is destroyed by dragonflame (fire). The massive castle stands on the shores of the God’s Eye (one eye), in the midst of which we find the Isle of Faces with its grove of weirwoods, presumably still looked after by greenseeing green men.
On the fiery side of things, both Daenys the Dreamer and the Ghost of High Heart dream of events that come to pass; so far they appear to be the most reliable fortunetellers in the story. The link between them is fire, Daenys through her Targaryen inheritance and the GoHH through references to her eyes that glow like hot coals, seeing eyes. In addition, heat appears to be conducive to dreaming, including visionary dreaming. Tyrion drinks fire-wine and hopes to dream of dragons while fever often initiates dreaming. Dany’s fever-dream leads to her ‘waking the dragon’. Jamie tries to suppress his fever dreams with dreamwine but has a very disturbing one anyway. Maester Luwin associates fever with dreams and queer thoughts:
I agree that it is odd that both you boys dreamed the same dream, yet when you stop to consider it, it’s only natural. You miss your lord father, and you know that he is a captive. Fear can fever a man’s mind and give him queer thoughts.
As a priestess of fire, Melisandre employs the flames for prophetic work. Her inaccurate predictions could stem from a lack of intrinsic ability, the lack of a water inheritance in her genetic make up for instance. She does not appear to employ blood magic as an aid to seeing either.
Talking about blood, consider also Maegi the Frog and one-eyed Yna of Braavos: both predict the future by tasting a drop of blood taken from the individual in question. Both are associated with water, Maegi through the frog and Yna through Braavos. Their predictions are accurate and neither appear to dream, using blood as their prophetic medium. It looks like there are three ways of achieving precise predictions: water/blood based, water/light or fire based and a combination of all three – water/fire/blood based. I think it’s interesting that one-eyed Yna is linked to blood, just as one-eyed Bloodraven is linked to blood. This suggests that Bloodraven relies on blood to enhance his greenseeing gifts. Given his Targaryen association with fire and his remaining eye that glows like a hot coal, he is perhaps lacking the water element component that would make him a really powerful greenseer.
Bran however combines this water/fire inheritance, the combination of which is so conducive to visionary seeing. He has both the ‘merling touch’ and fire inheritance from his mother Catelyn and partakes of the additional ingredient, blood, incorporated into the weirwood paste meant to awaken his gifts. This is probably the reason he is such a powerful greenseer. In fact, in his last POV in ADWD, he appears to access the weirwood consciousness without skinchanging the tree.
Let’s briefly revisit the mystical Crannogmen. In context with my assessment of the original powers of Merlings, Jojen experiences ‘green dreams’ which predict future events. Jojen is small and slim with moss green eyes. He wears green-colored clothing. His solemn way of talking makes him seem older and wiser than he really is, prompting Old Nan to dub him ‘little grandfather’. The keyword here is wise – this is one feature additionally linking him to a merling inheritance. His father sent him to impart knowledge to Bran, to teach him all the important aspects of being a warg. Jojen himself is neither a warg nor greenseer but his merling inheritance is the foundation upon with his greensight builds. Like Bran and Patchface, his gift awakens after a near-death experience.
Additionally, one cannot help noticing the parallels between Jojen and the mysterious green men installed on the Isle of Faces. Not only does his father actually visit the isle, Jojen himself has green eyes, wears green clothes and is wise. Are we to associate him with the ‘wise men of the children’? If so, we would be a step further in proving that green men may have been of a different race entirely. I shall devote the next section to some tell-tale symbolism that offers clues to the origins of the original greenseers or green men.
THE GREEN MAN SYNDROME
First off, my suspicious regarding the origins of green men, greenseers and even Garth the Green of ancient fame center again around the Merlings. One reason for this proposition is the strong link to fertility found amongst water-based cultures. Many Merling associated houses or cultures are based in fertile lands with a high rate of food production. A direct snippet of evidence linking the Fisher Queens to fertility is that remnant of the Silver Sea – the Womb of the World. My previous study of the Fisher Queens suggests they had a knowledge of agriculture and an influence on the fertility of the land. I also suspect they in fact were responsible for the 10,000 year “peace and plenty” enjoyed by the Great Empire of the Dawn. Don’t forget that enhancing the productivity of the land depends on knowledge, another feature of the merling culture.
Interestingly, we again find the Merling/Ironborn dichotomy regarding fertility and agriculture. Unlike the ‘merlings’, few Ironborn practice agriculture, relying on fishing and the spoils of reaving as a food source. The islands are stony and inimical to farming with very few engaging in food production in the isolated green areas of their territory. In fact, the Greyjoy motto is “we do not sow”.
Green Men, Horned Lords and Corn Kings
The Green Man belongs to a set of archetypes connected to male strength, virility and fertility. These include Horned Gods such as the Celtic Cernunnos, the Greco-Roman Pan/Faunus as well as derivatives such as Herne the Hunter. Related to this are the corn king myths and rituals in which the corn king represents the spirit of vegetation, coming into being in spring, reigning during summer, ritually dying at harvest time and being born again at the winter solstice to grow in strength and rule again. All these archetypes involve the idea of seasonal birth, death and rebirth often encompassing a sacrificial aspect to ensure the rebirth of spring/growth. Corresponding agricultural rituals have been practiced in many societies since ancient times. That George has drawn on these myths is evident in the narrative. Garth the Green (also Garth Greenhands), described in the World Book, is said to have been the first High King of the First Men, leading them from the East over the former land bridge of Dorne to Westeros. His appearance mirrors that of the green men said to look after the trees on the Isle of Faces – green skin/clothes, hands or hair, sometimes wearing antlers. Most importantly, he was concerned with agriculture, teaching men to farm and spreading seeds from his inexhaustible sack. According to the singers, “Garth made corn ripen, the trees fruit, and the flowers bloom.” He was extremely fertile in other aspects as well, siring many children, causing maidens to flower and even barren and old women to regain their fertility. Darker tales also exist, referring to a deity who demanded blood sacrifices to ensure a bountiful harvest. This is in keeping with the legends and rituals surrounding Horned Gods and Corn Kings in folklore. What’s more, many of the Houses of Westeros trace their ancestry back to him, with the original Gardeners of Highgarden in the Reach heading this list, his Gardener descendants styling themselves undisputed High Kings.
For the purpose of my analysis, I shall restrict myself to some of the more obvious connections between Garth the Green, green men, water-linked houses and people with associations to water in general.
The Manderlys of White Harbour
The Manderlys are a sea-faring nation whose sigil depicts a mermaid. Decorating their main castle hall are elaborate underwater motifs, the murals portraying themes associated with the sea. Recall also the merman statue named Old Fishfoot that graces a cobbled square in White Harbour. All this sea and mermaid imagery links them to a merling culture.
The Manderlys also produce vast amounts of food produce, benefitting from fertile lands along the White Knife as well as the sea. Lord Manderly himself enjoys his food, no lack there. He is so overweight that George consistently terms him a whale or leviathan, and a man too fat to sit his horse. It is the Manderlys who supply a lot of the food sustaining the Bolton army at Winterfell.
Interestingly, the Manderlys still claim membership to an order named the Order of the Green Hand, originally founded by House Gardener of the Reach, whose sigil was a green hand. Perhpas members of the Order of the Green Hand were recruited to the sacred order of green men, the latter responsible for looking after the trees on the Isle of Faces.
So the gods might bear witness to the signing, every tree on the island was given a face, and afterward, the sacred order of green men was formed to keep watch over the Isle of Faces.
Perhaps these two orders are one and the same or at least connected. If so, we have another link to the idea that the Merlings, an intelligent race of visionaries, teamed up with the Children of the Forest as caretakers of their trees. Perhaps by naming the order “the green hand”, George has used a variation on the expression “green thumb”, which expresses an exceptional aptitude for gardening or for growing plants successfully. Green Men would have to be gardeners to look after the trees. Now, the mythological Green Man was usually depicted in the form of a face (without a body), either peering through a dense foliage of leaves or with foliage emanating from mouth, nose, eyes and ears. This foliate depiction of a green man’s face evokes the faces carved into weirwood trees and indeed, the histories tell us that the weirwoods on the Isle of Faces were faceless prior to the pact and subsequent installation of green men as caretakers. In the lore, we find that green men do not necessarily welcome the intrusion of men and this is the case in aSoIaF as well. It’s thus significant that Howland Reed who is associated with a watery environment and whose people share similarities to the former Fisher Queens actually gains access to the Isle and is able to spend time there.
Green men are also thought to have worn antlers and this puts us in mind of the Baratheons, their sigil the black stag. To emphasize the point, both Robert and Renly wore magnificent helms topped with golden stag antlers, making them veritable horned lords. At this juncture, I’ll just mention that the stag is associated with virility and fertility and due to the annual shedding and regrowth of its antlers, is a symbol of birth, death, regeneration cycle.
Renly with his fabulous green armour comes across as a horned god and in this quote we find his suit of armour even stands sentry like a guard, putting us in mind of green men once again:
Beside the entrance, the king’s armor stood sentry; a suit of forest green plate, its fittings chased with gold, the helm crowned by a great rack of golden antlers. The steel was polished to such a high sheen that she could see her reflection in the breastplate, gazing back at her as if from the bottom of a deep green pond.
Given by Catelyn Tully, herself associated with merlings, this description encompasses all elements of the ‘green man.’ Besides standing sentry like a guard, its colour is forest green and it is crowned by a rack of antlers. We even get a mention of water, as Catelyn sees her reflection in the plate, itself compared to a deep green pond. Recall Renly’s link to Garth Greenhand is reflected by his alliance with the Tyrells, successors to the Gardeners of Highgarden. Moreover, his private friendship with Loras Tyrell strengthens this connection even further. Renly’s death and “resurrection” at the Battle of the Blackwater completes the analogy to the death and rebirth of the Horned Lord.
Robert of course is the classic horned god. His reign was characterized by peace and plenty, he loved the good things in life, food and wine and of course he engaged with women at every opportunity, fathering many bastards before his death.
This is pretty good, but for it to be of any value we need to link Renly and Robert to a more obvious merling/water-based inheritance. On the surface, this seems unlikely until we consider their mother, Cassana Estermont. House Estermont of Greenstone is a noble house sworn to Storm’s End. Estermont itself is a small island east of Cape Wrath. Recall the role of islands in the propagation of unique traits I explained above. Interestingly, their arms feature a dark green sea turtle on a pale green field. The dominant colour here is green and the culture most often associated with the turtle is …
the Rhoynish culture with their Old Man of the River:
“I’d heard the Rhoynar had some turtle god,” said Ser Arys.
“The Old Man of the River is a lesser god,” said Garin. “He was born from Mother River too, and fought the Crab King to win dominion over all who dwell beneath the flowing waters.” AFFC, The Queenmaker
The Old Man of the River? Green sea turtles, old men of the river – seems to me we keep circling back to the crannogmen and Jojen, the wise little grandfather of the watery Neck, all dressed in green.
On close examination, we find that merlings (or if you prefer, folk connected to water) in association with prophecy and greenseeing is a widespread phenomenon in the narrative. Links are not always apparent but they are present. I’ll leave you with one last piece of suggestive evidence from Maester Luwin regarding Jojen and Meera:
“The histories say the crannogmen grew close to the children of the forest in the days when the greenseers tried to bring the hammer of the waters down upon the Neck. It may be that they have secret knowledge.”
This citation mentions my watery crannogmen banding with the children at a crucial moment in time. Maester Luwin actually suggests the crannogmen may have been instrumental in helping the children bring down the hammer of the waters. Bringing down the hammer of the waters implies a knowledge of water magic similar to that of the Rhoynar who called upon the Mother Rhoyne to rise in defense of their kingdom. Howland Reed himself is said to be capable of elemental magic – turning water to earth and back. We’ve seen Jojen charged with the task of imparting knowledge and greenseers are in the business of acquiring knowledge through the trees. This also involves spying of course, which we also refer to as “gathering intelligence”. Considering the attributes of intelligence and knowledge we can ascribe to the Fisher Queens, their Kingdom that was likely a water-based culture, the links to fertility via the Womb of the World and other supporting evidence, I would say the possibility that Garth the Green was a product of their culture is high. As to the question of why he would have gathered his people in search of new lands, consider the following: The Fisher Queen Kingdom was likely doomed, perhaps suffering a fate similar to the Rhoynar. Suggestive evidence is given by a reference to the hero Huzhor Amai, who married the “last Fisher Queen.” Unlike the Rhoynar who were led by Nymeria, the Fisher Queen Kingdom probably had no traditional female leaders left to lead them to a new haven so this role was taken up by Garth the Green.
Whatever is true, via their visionary and skinchanging abilities, those of merling heritage make perfect candidates for greenseeing.
INTELLIGENCE AND KNOWLEDGE
I’ve put so much effort into writing about the merling connection to prophecy and greenseeing that the aspect of intelligence and knowledge I attribute to the merlings has fallen somewhat by the wayside. I shall restrict myself to some brief examples of water/merling linked people:
Catelyn Tully: an intelligent woman who initially influences her son’s war effort by giving him sound advice. She also recognizes the symbolism behind the stag and direwolf killing each other and is the first to feel a sense of foreboding when dark things beyond the Wall are mentioned.
Wyman Manderly: too fat to sit his horse but very clever. A strategic thinker who cunningly observes the rules while stabbing his enemies in the back. A good leader who eats too much but provides for his smallfolk. Described as a whale or leviathan, both creatures of the sea.
Petyr Baelish: via his preferred ship – the Merling King. An intelligent man who rises from rags to riches within a short space of time. Smart manipulator. His ancestors hailed from Braavos, a canal riddled island and sea-faring nation.
Tyrion Lannister: keenly intelligent, an avid reader who keeps his mind sharp with books, cleans up the drains of Lannisport (gets the water flowing again, promoting health) organizes the Battle of the Blackwater, half drowns and is revived on the Rhoyne.
Arya Stark: intelligent and cunning; spends most of the story in places associated with water – Riverlands, Braavos. Learns the water dance.
Asha Greyjoy: smart sea-faring warrior woman and kraken – reminds me of a pirate queen. Marooned with Stannis’ army amidst ice.
Sam Tarly: a less obvious merling connection, avid reader and aspiring maester. A self-proclaimed coward – he has ‘water in his veins.’ Kills a creature of frozen water.
Myrcella Baratheon: daughter of Jamie and Cersei. A sweet girl who like her uncle Tyrion, is intelligent and shows great aptitude for cyvasse.
Davos Seaworth: a sea-faring smuggler who washes up on the Spears of the Merling King. Stannis Baratheon’s loyal Hand and wise advisor on many of the challenges facing the king.
Rhaegar Targaryen: a man who spent most of his youth buried in books, composed songs and loved music. Killed at the Ruby Ford, a crossing of the Trident in the Riverlands, his rubies carried by the river to the Quiet Isle. Crowns and abducts Lyanna in the Riverlands.
The Ironborn: seafaring culture noted for their lack of education. Here we have an inverse relationship but the Ironborn do have the Reader who like Tyrion, spends much of his time preoccupied with books.
Patchface – drowned at sea and revived – another inversion as far as intelligence goes.
Summary of the hereditary characteristics of the Merlings
- Wisdom, intelligence, knowledge
- Visionaries, both mundane and prophetic.
- Illusion, camouflage, skinchanging
- Fertility (agriculture and procreation – see Fisher Queen series)
My premise is that the original Fisher Queen culture possessed these traits and were thus much sought after by kings and nobles of the Great Empire of the Dawn. Rather than engage in legitimate marriages, it is plausible that the men of the Great Empire in particular resorted to capturing and subjugating these desirable women with the intention of profiting from their genetic heritage.
Warlike matriarchal societies present in Essos today possibly trace back to the Fisher Queens; the propensity for warriorship amongst women in these cultures may have originated in the fight against early aggressors.
I’ve come to the end of this part of the series and hope you see the connections I make regarding the desirable traits of the Elder Races in relation to the three-headed dragon.
Part two raises a few more points on the role of slavery, the pros and cons of recombining genes and looks at on how the quest for the three-headed dragon is related to the theme of cripples, bastards and broken things.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned!
Film images from the HBO Series A Game of Thrones
Essays in the Three Heads has the Dragon Series:
Part I: The Elder Races (this essay)
Back to Top