Fiery shadows: An analysis of “the shadow woman” from The Forsaken preview chapter

This is an analysis of a quote from a spoiler chapter of The Winds of Winter. I don’t provide context for the quote, but if you’re aiming for a TWOW blackout then you might want to avoid this.

This is a re-write of my published post on reddit.

Although I have not studied literature formally for a long time, I love investigating the interwoven textures of symbolism within a piece of literature. As we all know, George RR Martin loves his symbolism, which is probably one of the reasons I fell in love with this series and his prophecies.

So, when I heard about the reading at Balticon, this quote just jumped out at me.

TWOW, The Forsaken – “Beside him stood a shadow in woman’s form, long and tall and terrible, her hands alive with pale white fire.”

This appears to me to be a string of symbols that we might possibly be able to decipher, if we break it down. As such, I divided the description into the following terms:

  • A long shadow
  • A tall shadow
  • A terrible shadow
  • Alive with…
  • Pale fire
  • White fire

These terms were entered into and the extracts produced were then compiled into a list and I attempted to discover whether there were specific symbolic patterns associated with each of these terms. This list is available on the Appendix page.

Long shadows: dusk and death

The sunset was a common motif that associated with long shadows: 10 of 18 “long shadows” were references to the setting sun or to dusk.

ACoK, Arya IV – “The sun was low to the west, and the houses cast long dark shadows.”

ASoS, Bran II – “But late on the afternoon of that second day, as the shadows grew long, a mystery knight appeared in the lists.”

AFFC, Capt of the Guards – “The shadows of the afternoon were long and dark and the sun was as red and swollen as the prince’s joints before they glimpsed the towers of Sunspear to the east.”

ADWD, Bran I – “Ahead, shadows began to steal between the trees, the long fingers of the dusk. Dark came early this far north.”

ADWD, Jon IX – “Finally, as the shadows of the afternoon grew long outside the tent, Tormund Giantsbane—Tall-Talker, Horn-Blower, and Breaker of Ice, Tormund Thunderfist, Husband to Bears, Mead-King of Ruddy Hall, Speaker to Gods and Father of Hosts—thrust out his hand.”

So, as you can see, this is pretty consistent imagery of long shadows being equated with sunset. It is also interesting to note how many of these occurrences coincide with occurrences of death or triggers for events that caused death. For instance, the ACOK, Arya chapter is the same chapter that Ser Amory Lorch and his band of thugs attack the Night’s Watch group, killing Yoren amongst others. The Bran quote occurs in the re-telling of the Tourney at Harrenhal, the trigger for Robert’s Rebellion: many of the major characters within this story are now dead, mostly through events surrounding this rebellion. I have provided further explanations for associations with death in each of the compiled quotes in the associated Appendix.

Further indirect links are created between long shadows and death, either utilising objects or people associated with death. For instance:

AGoT, Arya III – “Huge empty eyes stared at her hungrily through the gloom, and dimly she saw the jagged shadows of long teeth.”

Here, Arya is looking at the long shadows of dragons’ teeth: as Xaro Xhoan Daxos says, dragons are “death and devastation, a flaming sword above the world” (Dany III, ADWD). Keep this quote in mind, as I will be referring back to it later.

ADWD, The Prince of Winterfell – “Lord Stark had not treated him cruelly, but the long steel shadow of his greatsword had always been between them.”

Given Theon’s hostage/ward situation, the threat of death was ever-present, embodied in Ned’s greatsword, Ice.


AGoT, Tyrion I – “Clegane cast a long shadow across the hard-packed earth as his squire lowered the black helm over his head. “I could silence the creature, if it please you,” he said through his open visor.”

So, Sandor Clegane casts a long shadow when threatening to kill the direwolves; a kind of doggy Grim Reaper if you will. As I hope this evidence demonstrates, objects and people cast long shadows when personifying death in some way, strengthening indirect links between death and long shadows.

Finally, we get this direct assertion from Mirri Maz Duur:

AGoT, Dany IX – “The grave casts long shadows, Iron Lord,” Mirri said. “Long and dark, and in the end no light can hold them back.”

So, yet again, death is casting a long shadow.

Applying this symbolism to The Forsaken quote, we can infer that the shadow by Euron’s side is a herald of night and death.

Tall shadows: Kings and kingmaking

The only direct reference to tall shadows being kings is this simile from AGOT:

AGOT, Jon I – “When he opened the door, the light from within threw his shadow clear across the yard, and for just a moment Tyrion Lannister stood tall as a king.”

More consistently, tall shadows are associated with kingmaking. For instance, when Arya gets lost in the bowels of the Red Keep, she overhears Varys and Illyrio making plans to seat King Aegon VI on the Iron Throne. Importantly, they are described as casting tall shadows twice.

AGOT, Arya III – “Arya peered over the edge and felt the cold black breath on her face. Far below, she saw the light of a single torch, small as the flame of a candle. Two men, she made out. Their shadows writhed against the sides of the well, tall as giants. …  Flames licked at the cold air. The tall shadows were almost on top of her.”

When Davos sees Melisandre birth the shadow baby, it is described as tall as well:

ACOK, Davos II – “Two arms wriggled free, grasping, black fingers coiling around Melisandre’s straining thighs, pushing, until the whole of the shadow slid out into the world and rose taller than Davos, tall as the tunnel, towering above the boat.”

This tall shadow is birthed as part of the campaign to seat Stannis on the Iron Throne, thus is associated with kingmaking.

Davos himself also casts a tall shadow.

ASOS, Davos VI – “When Davos left the window his shadow went before him, tall and thin, and fell across the Painted Table like a sword.”

This happens as he reads Stannis plea for help from the Night’s Watch, which Stannis makes a play to become king – he should save the kingdom to win the throne, as it were.

Applying this to the TWOW chapter, it is noteworthy that Euron is described as having a tall shadow by Moqorro.

ADWD, Tyrion VIII – “Only their shadows,” Moqorro said. “One most of all. A tall and twisted thing with one black eye and ten long arms, sailing on a sea of blood.”

So, from this we can assume that Moqorro is seeing Euron as a king.

In summary, Euron’s shadowy herald of night and death will likely make him king.

Terrible shadows: the abominable shadowbinder

There are a grand total of 4 references to terrible shadows in the entirety of ASOIAF, so I might as well interpret them all.

AGOT, Dany IV – Some of the statues were so lovely they took her breath away, others so misshapen and terrible that Dany could scarcely bear to look at them. Those, Ser Jorah said, had likely come from the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai.

These statues cast long shadows earlier in the same chapter, so the Asshai’i statues cast long, terrible statues. And Asshai is, of course, the shadowbinding capital of the world.

ACOK, Dany IVShadows whirled and danced inside a tent, boneless and terrible.

Here, Dany is remembering Mirri Maz Duur’s ‘healing’ of Khal Drogo. Mirri used a spell she learned in Asshai, home of shadowbinders.

ASOS, Jaime II – “Oh, very good.” Jaime laughed. “Your wits are quicker than mine, I confess it. When they found me standing over my dead king, I never thought to say, ‘No, no, it wasn’t me, it was a shadow, a terrible cold shadow.'”

This mockery of Brienne invokes the memory of Renly’s death, which we know was caused by Melisandre’s shadow baby i.e. shadowbinding.

ADWD, Mel – Such shadows as I bring forth here will be terrible, and no creature of the dark will stand before them.

Mel the shadowbinder actually calls her shadows terrible: can’t get much more of a direct link there.

Every single terrible shadow in the series is linked to shadowbinding. So, we can assume that Euron’s king-making herald of night and death is a shadow captured by shadowbinding.

Alive with: Swords sing death

A lot of special swords are described as being alive with light:

  • Dawn: AGOT, Ned X – “ “And now it begins,” said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light.”

  • The Others’ blades: AGOT, Prologue – “No human metal had gone into the forging of that blade. It was alive with moonlight, translucent, a shard of crystal so thin that it seemed almost to vanish when seen edge-on.”

  • Stannis’ Lightbringer: ADWD, Jon III – The sword glowed red and yellow and orange, alive with light.

“Alive with” also precedes descriptions associated with dragons. For instance, Drogo’s egg is described as “alive with scarlet ripples and swirls in Dany II, AGOT. Moreover, on Drogo’s funeral pyre when these eggs hatch:

AGOT, Dany X – “The flames writhed before her like the women who had danced at her wedding, whirling and singing and spinning their yellow and orange and crimson veils, fearsome to behold, yet lovely, so lovely, alive with heat.”

And then:

AGOT, Dany X – “The night came alive with the music of dragons.”

Remember that quote I used earlier from Xaro Xhoan Daxos? “[Dragons] are death and devastation, a flaming sword above the world.” So, we have now added “dragons” to our special sword collection.

As was alluded to in the last Dany quote, the “night came alive with the music of dragons.” Other musical “alive withs” are as follows:

  • The penultimate room in the House of the Undying is “alive with the most beautiful music she had ever heard” (Dany IV, ACOK).
  • Ny Sar was “alive with song” before its destruction by the Valyrians (The World of Ice and Fire)
  • Wolves howling make the air come alive, in the wolfswood on the journey to the Wall (Tyrion II, AGOT) and in the Riverlands (Jaime III, ASOS). NB: wolves howling is a “terrible sound”, “yet there was music in it too” and it is “what death sounds like” (Cat V, AGOT) – all things that we have been associating with this strange shadow woman.

All of these musical “alive withs” herald something unpleasant. The room in the House of the Undying was a trap that led to the greater horror of the blue corpses that the Undying Ones truly were: Ny Sar was utterly destroyed by the Valyrians in their conquest of Essos; the musical howling of wolves is the sound of death; and the music of dragons is nothing more than a reminder that they are death and devastation.

In the interest of full disclosure, there are a lot of other instances of “alive with” imagery that does not fit quite so neatly into this sword/music/death pattern. However, these do occur in chapters or around people with extended Lightbringer/Azor Ahai symbolism, as defined by Lucifer Means Lightbringer on his blog. I have placed these quotes in the Appendix, and I’ll explain why Lightbringer is cropping up towards the end of this post.

For now though, we’ll interpret the new evidence in light of the original Forsaken quote. It appears that Euron’s woman is likely to be a shadowbound herald of night, death and destruction, a special sword or dragon that he will use to make himself king.

Pale fire: Pale flaming swords = pale dragonfire

There are very few occurrences of pale fire in the text, and they refer to two things: a flaming sword and Viserion.

The first quote requires a bit of inference. During their fight against the wildlings, lamp oils is lit and thrown from the Wall.

ASOS, Jon VIII – “Tongues of pale yellow fire swirled around the jars as they plunged downward.”

It is only by recalling the Night’s Watch vows that we can make sense of this: “We are the swords in the darkness” and “the fire that burns against the cold”. So, the Night’s Watch is a fiery sword.

The other references to pale fire swords are much simpler.

ACOK, Davos I – “The man [Thoros] had made for a colorful spectacle, his red robes flapping while his blade writhed with pale green flames

AGOT, Dany IX – “Ghosts lined the hallway, dressed in the faded raiment of kings. In their hands were swords of pale fire. They had hair of silver and hair of gold and hair of platinum white, and their eyes were opal and amethyst, tourmaline and jade.”

So here we have the fiery sword that is the Night’s Watch, Thoro’s of Myr’s flaming sword (which is being compared to Stannis’ Lightbringer) and the swords of long-dead kings (or Emperors) all producing pale fire.

The other pale fires are more associated with Viserion, in particular.

ADWD, The Dragontamer – The dragon knew his name. His head turned, and his gaze lingered on the Dornish prince for three long heartbeats. Pale fires burned behind the shining black daggers of his teeth. His eyes were lakes of molten gold, and smoke rose from his nostrils.

TWOW, Tyrion I – The dragon caught one burning body just as it began to fall, crunching it between his jaws as pale fires ran across his teeth. White wings cracked against the morning air, and the beast began to climb again.

So, much like the flaming swords above, Viserion produces pale fire. And remember, dragons are “flaming swords above the world”, so we are able to equate these two.

To summarise, Euron’s shadowbound herald of night, death and destruction is a pale fiery sword/Viserion, which will make him king.

White fire: R’hllor and Dragonbinder and tying it all together

Once again, there are very few occurrences of white fire: just two, in fact.

The first is uttered by Melisandre with respect to R’hllor:

ASOS, Davos VI – “Melisandre cried, “We thank you for Stannis, by your grace our king. We thank you for the pure white fire of his goodness, for the red sword of justice in his hand, for the love he bears his leal people. Guide him and defend him, R’hllor, and grant him strength to smite his foes.”

The second is with respect to the Dragonbinder horn, owned by… Euron!

AFFC, The Drowned Man – “And now the glyphs were burning brightly, every line and letter shimmering with white fire.”

Notably, Dragonbinder is black and red and Valyrian steel, with glyphs that glow red and then white-hot – white-hot being the temperature of Lightbringer when tempered in Nissa-Nissa’s breast. This also belies Melisandre’s assertion that white fire is R’hllor’s goodness: not only is it the perfect temperature for wife-sacrificing weapon-forging, but Dragonbinder horrifically kills the man the blows the horn as the glyphs become white fire.

So, the association with R’hllor narrows down the fiery sword to a very particular fiery sword: Lightbringer. Whilst there are quite a few contenders for who or what Lightbringer is in the series (and there may not necessarily be just one), the passage being analysed has consistently produced associations with dragons. To my mind, that means that here it is heavily implied that Euron gets a dragon. The pale fire appears to me to narrow the dragon down to Viserion, as he is the only one of Daenerys’ dragons to produce pale fire (Drogon’s fire is black with red streaks, and Rhaegal’s is orange/yellow with green streaks).

How will Viserion be shadowbound? Well, dragons are pretty consistently associated with shadows:

ACOK, Dany I – “Balerion . . . his fire was as black as his scales, his wings so vast that whole towns were swallowed up in their shadow when he passed overhead.”

ASOS, Davos VI – “The wings of the stone dragons cast great black shadows in the light from the nightfire.”

ADWD, Dany X – “Dany followed his eyes, and there the shadow flew, with wings spread wide. The dragon was a mile off, and yet the scout stood frozen until his stallion began to whicker in fear.”

The Princess and the Queen – “They (Moondancer and Sunfyre) met amidst the darkness that comes before the dawn, shadows in the sky lighting the night with their fires.”

Moreover, the first dragons are assumed to have come from the Shadowlands beyond Asshai and the Asshai’i may have taught the Valyrians to ride dragons (whilst this is disputed in ‘The World of Ice and Fire’, I believe this is the version of history Septon Barth subscribed to and I’m always going to defer to him). Given that dragons are equated to shadows, Asshai is home to shadowbinders, and the Asshai’i may have taught the Valyrians what they know about dragons, I don’t believe it is a stretch to assume that the Valyrian Dragonbinder horn works using some kind of shadowbinding magic. It also explains why Dragonbinder kills the man who blows the horn: think of the life force that was stripped away from Stannis by Melisandre’s two shadowbinding experiences.

Yet another reason I believe that this is Viserion is that the shadow is in “woman’s form”. This implies that the shadow can change genders: interestingly, George has never gendered any sword in the novel, nor have any of the characters, so it is not likely that an actual sword is the Lightbringer referenced here. The Night’s Watch is made up exclusively of men who can’t change their genders. Leaving dragons. Importantly, “dragons are neither male nor female, Barth saw the truth of that, but now one and now the other, as changeable as flame” (AFFC, Sam IV): I assume that this means Viserion happens to be female at the time she is captured by Euron.

‘Wait, but isn’t Lightbringer supposed to be the sword that saved mankind?’ I hear you cry. Well, maybe not. Lightbringer is the product of Azor Ahai murdering his wife in a blood magic ritual, after all. Furthermore, as proposed by Lucifer Means Lightbringer, it seems apparent that this ritual may have actually caused the Long Night, rather than finishing it. If this is true (and, boy, there is a lot of symbolism that suggests it is), then that would explain why we found a lot of symbolism surrounding sunsets, death and destruction: sunsets and death invoke images of the Long Night, which was caused by Azor Ahai’s Lightbringer.

In conclusion, Euron will capture Viserion using Dragonbinder (which may work on the principles of shadowbinding). He will then use her to capture the Iron Throne. Viserion, as an incarnation of Lightbringer, is a herald of night, death and destruction.

 Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope you enjoyed it and please feel free to comment below.

Archmaester Aemma

5 thoughts on “Fiery shadows: An analysis of “the shadow woman” from The Forsaken preview chapter

  1. [Edit: Show spoilers ahead, folks!]

    Wow, that’s some eye-popping analysis! There are many really exciting points in here. To take one example, I love the way you show that the phrase “alive with” is, ironically, connected with death. And as you say, this ties in with the way that the R’hllorists claim that fire represents light and warmth, when really dragonfire is probably more of a death-bringer. It’s magic, a sword without a hilt, and the fire of the gods that’s too powerful and dangerous for people to wield safely. I also think you’ve struck gold by focusing on Viserion, years before the TV show explicitly turned that dragon into a tool of the Big Bad. “Pale” and (obviously) “white” are words associated with the Others, so it seems like George is linking the dragons to the Others with this symbolism: Both are killers. And at least on the show, Viserion ultimately brings the two together completely by becoming a dragon Other.
    A remaining question is the varying roles that Euron, Dany, and the Others themselves will play in the endgame of the books. You’ve given some reasons that Euron might be the central (human) bad guy, and those reasons make a lot of sense. But on the other hand, from the very beginning of the books, the Others have represented icy apocalypse, and Dany has been on a journey of power acquisition that will apparently end with her becoming the Others’ fiery analogue as a bringer of desolation. I’m not sure how much room that leaves for Euron. Maybe he’ll fill some of the role played by the Night King in the show? It’ll be interesting to see. Thanks for all of these wonderful insights!


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