The true villains of ASOIAF: thoughts from the latest episode of ‘Game of Thrones’

Hi again everyone, I’m back again with Game of Thrones thoughts – who knew I had it in me to write so quickly? Anyways, I will be chatting all things Game of Thrones so if you are not up to date with the latest episode (Season 8, Episode 3) and do not want to be spoiled, turn away now! (There’s also a teensy TWOW, The Forsaken spoiler, as well.)

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Yes, I am re-using gifs – you can never have too much Carice

So………

It happened.

Like.

Poof.

Gone.

The end.

The Night King has passed on. He is no more. He’s kicked the bucket, he’s shuffled off this mortal coil, he’s run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.

night-king-bright
Take a bow, Night King

I, for one, was not anticipating him to die so quickly this season. Well, maybe he isn’t dead and he’s hiding in the trees for a magical astral plane battle. I hope it’s that because I’m a sucker for magic, but who knows?

Assuming that this is it and the Night King stays an ex-Night King, what does this tell us about the books? I have a few thoughts which tie in to my previous Game of Thrones essay on the themes of starting back and cycle-breaking, so you might want to check that out before diving into this. It’s not essential though and it’s lovely to have you here 🙂

NB: This is not a review, and I do not intend for it to be one. I know this episode has divided the fandom more than Marmite and that there are pretty strong opinions on both sides. I am not wading into that at all – this is going to be focused on analysing the information we have gleaned from the show and applying that to the books.

Without further ado…

The villains left behind

Now Arya has single-handedly offed the Big Bad Guys of the series (well, not quite single-handedly given her Left/Right switcheroo), we have to have a look at the baddies left behind – Cersei, Qyburn and Euron.

Cersei

Personally, I don’t know if Cersei will last this long in the books or whether her presence in the show is a product of Lena Headey’s brilliance. However, as was touched on in one of Lucifer means Lightbringer‘s livestreams, Cersei does have a lot of important symbolism that pegs her as a Night’s Queen type. We’ll get into this a bit more very soon, but for those of you who may be less familiar with the book lore, the Night’s Queen is the fandom nickname given to the stolen bride of the Night’s King:

The gathering gloom put Bran in mind of another of Old Nan’s stories, the tale of Night’s King. He had been the thirteenth man to lead the Night’s Watch, she said; a warrior who knew no fear. “And that was the fault in him,” she would add, “for all men must know fear.” A woman was his downfall; a woman glimpsed from atop the Wall, with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars. Fearing nothing, he chased her and caught her and loved her, though her skin was cold as ice, and when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well.
He brought her back to the Nightfort and proclaimed her a queen and himself her king, and with strange sorceries he bound his Sworn Brothers to his will. For thirteen years they had ruled, Night’s King and his corpse queen, till finally the Stark of Winterfell and Joramun of the wildlings had joined to free the Watch from bondage. After his fall, when it was found he had been sacrificing to the Others, all records of Night’s King had been destroyed, his very name forbidden.

So, when we say that someone has Night’s Queen vibes – like Cersei, for example – it carries a strong implication that that person is also symbolises the worship of the Others. Another person we know who ‘worships’ the Others by sacrificing to them is Craster – in the show we see the implications of this explicitly:

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Baby White Walkers in their baby creche

In the books, it’s not as straight out as “Craster turns his sons into Others” but it’s about as close as you can get to that. For instance, Lord Commander Mormont tells Jon Snow that Craster “serves crueler gods that you or I” when Jon Snow learns about the baby boys being left in the woods. Gilly describes the things that collect Craster’s boys as having the blue star eyes of the Others and, when escaping from Craster’s keep with Gilly, Sam is warned about “Craster’s sons” (aka the Others) coming for Gilly’s babe. There are loads more details on Lucifer means Lightbringer’s analysis here.

In essence, to worship the Other is to sacrifice to them, and to sacrifice to them is to create them – so when we hear of Night’s King and his corpse bride “sacrificing to the Others” we should be thinking of White Walker creation. Some of my amazing internet bezzies like Ba’al the Bard, Questing Beast and Lady Shar are in the process of analysing the wealth of symbolism surrounding the Night’s Queen here – remember to subscribe to The Wight Queen blog for some amazing updates!

That is some pretty long preamble to Cersei’s symbolism. Notably, Cersei in the books has a fair amount of corpse symbolism. For instance, when she lights the Tower of the Hand on fire:

The green light of the wildfire had bathed the face of the watchers, so they looked like nothing so much as rotting corpses, a pack of gleeful ghouls, but some of the corpses were prettier than others. Even in the baleful glow, Cersei had been beautiful to look upon. She’d stood with one hand on her breast, her lips parted, her green eyes shining. She is crying, Jaime had realized, but whether it was from grief or ecstasy he could not have said.

Hello, Cersei as a beautiful corpse, that’s interesting. She’s also prettier than others – an others/Others pun, potentially? This could be a callout to the Night King’s beautiful corpse bride. Similarly, Cersei acquires a lot of death symbolism during her last A Dance with Dragons chapter. For instance, the silent sisters (handmaidens and wife to the Stranger, god of death and the unknown) are the ones who attend Cersei shortly before her walk, implying that Cersei is symbolically dead. Similarly, there’s lots of bell tolling which implies the “for whom the bell tolls”death motif as well. After completing her walk, however, she is lifted up by Ser Robert Strong just as Cersei lifted up Joffrey when he was a baby – implying Cersei as someone who has been reborn. Beric asks “are you my mother, Thoros?” after being resurrected many times, to the rebirth symbolism here can be tied back to resurrection too. I’ve broken it down in more detail here if you’d like to check out more examples of this death and rebirth symbolism during her walk chapter.

cersei_lannister_by_sir_heartsalot_d1dlvxh
Cersei Lannister by SirHeartsalot

Why is this important?

Qyburn

Qyburn is a clear parallel to Victor Frankenstein here – a crazed scientist obsessed with unlocking the secrets of life and death and willing to commit obscene acts to do so. We know that Qyburn achieves this resurrection with Gregor Clegane (now Ser Robert Strong in the books), similar to how Frankenstein stitches together his nameless monster from stolen body parts. Both unGregor and the monster are also giants, towering at around 8 feet tall. It seems super interesting that this guy, the one who can resurrect people, can be found around Cersei, who is draped in this death and rebirth symbolism.

Now, I’m not trying to say that Cersei will literally die and be resurrected by Qyburn, that’s slightly too tinfoil for my taste (although could be cool to see). What I am saying is that there seems to be related symbolism happening between two characters that weave together to tell one story.

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The necromancer admiring the Night King’s work

Moreover, Qyburn as a parallel to Frankenstein is a super interesting comparison for another reason – the subtitle is “The Modern Prometheus”. This pegs Victor Frankenstein and, by extension, Qybrun as a man seeking after the knowledge and power of the gods. This reminds us of the mythical Azor Ahai archetype, the tale of a man who sought after the powers of the gods: think here of mythical figures like the Grey King who stole fire from the Storm God and Nagga the Sea Dragon, as well as characters like Daenerys who wake dragons (aka fire) from stone eggs to fulfil prophecy. Again, this is all symbolism, I’m not calling Qyburn Azor Ahai! (I also don’t necessarily think that Azor Ahai was the hero, but more on that can be found elsewhere [link].)

Euron

Euron is potentially the most important character in this trio of characters. While in the show he’s essentially a crazy pirate and stereotypical baddie, in the books he is a terrifying:

“Who knows more of gods than I? Horse gods and fire gods, gods made of gold with gemstone eyes, gods carved of cedar wood, gods chiseled into mountains, gods of empty air . . . I know them all. I have seen their peoples garland them with flowers, and shed the blood of goats and bulls and children in their names. And I have heard the prayers, in half a hundred tongues. Cure my withered leg, make the maiden love me, grant me a healthy son. Save me, succor me, make me wealthy . . . protect me! Protect me from mine enemies, protect me from the darkness, protect me from the crabs inside my belly, from the horselords, from the slavers, from the sellswords at my door. Protect me from the Silence.” He laughed. “Godless? Why, Aeron, I am the godliest man ever to raise sail! You serve one god, Damphair, but I have served ten thousand. From Ib to Asshai, when men see my sails, they pray.”

Poor Quentyn has some excellent analysis of Euron’s blood-drenched, Lovecraftian quest for apotheosis, titled the Eldritch Apocalypse (some of his posts on that here) and this is what I want to point out here. Euron is actively trying to become a god and is willing to commit horrors to get there. For those of you who don’t want TWOW spoilers (although I do think you’re missing out terribly), don’t read the quote below and just jump ahead to the analysis afterward.

In The Forsaken chapter that George read at Balticon in 2016, Euron’s quest to become like a god is made explicit.

“The bleeding star bespoke the end,” he said to Aeron. “These are the last days, when the world shall be broken and remade. A new god shall be born from the graves and charnel pits.” Then Euron lifted a great horn to his lips and blew, and dragons and krakens and sphinxes came at his command and bowed before him. “Kneel, brother,” the Crow’s Eye commanded. “I am your king, I am your god. Worship me, and I will raise you up to be my priest.”

euron_greyjoy__the_crow_s_eye_by_rodrigoviana14_daj2zh4.png
Euron Greyjoy by RodrgioViana14

As has been analysed by others like Lucifer means Lightbringer, Durran Durrandon and PoorQuentyn (again, TWOW spoilers in their stuff), Euron is essentially acting as the Bloodstone Emperor. For those of you who may not know, the Bloodstone Emperor is a legendary emperor from the east, the last in a line of emperors from the Great Empire of the Dawn. He is renowned for killing his older sister, the Amethyst Empress, in an act so heinous the gods caused the Long Night, forever remembered as the Blood Betrayal.

The Bloodstone Emperor then goes on to perform blood magic, dark arts, necromancy, cannibalism, slavery, worship strange black stones that fell from the sky (as though he walked out of a Lovecraft story) and may have been the first priest of the Church of Starry Wisdom (again, as though he walked out of a Lovecraft story). The references to Lovecraft woven through his story (and the associated myths from that region of Planetos) also invoke the idea of cosmic horror, a truth so terrifying that it sends humans mad to think on it:

“Balon was mad, Aeron is madder, and Euron is maddest of them all.”

Sounds like he’s had a bit too much of that cosmic horror.

In addition to all of that, Euron has some distinctive Night’s King symbolism, which is covered by Lucifer means Lightbringer here. One key example would be him turning blue from the Shade of the Evening, much like the cold Undying Ones that Dany meets in A Clash of Kings. eck, in the show, given Cersei’s corpse symbolism, he’s even acquired himself a corpse bride!

In essence, this is a guy that is apocalyptically bad for humanity. With this in mind, it makes sense to me that he is in the endgame. Fighting Daenerys, the Amethyst Empress Reborn.

To go forward, we must go back

Oh yeah, I am re-using that line, because I think that’s what this all comes down to.

The Others are the product of humanity’s hubris – either as a direct result of their own hubris (if you believe humans created the Others/White Walkers as I do), or indirectly as the children of the forest attempted to protect themselves from genocide by humans (if you believe the children created the Walkers). They are the symptom of what’s wrong with mankind, but not the cause. Mankind must address the cause of their problems.

And so we come back to our new Bloodstone Emperor and our new Amethyst Empress, Euron and Daenerys. It is clear in the books that Euron is actively seeking after Daenerys:

“The last of her line. They say she is the fairest woman in the world. Her hair is silver-gold, and her eyes are amethysts . . . but you need not take my word for it, brother. Go to Slaver’s Bay, behold her beauty, and bring her back to me.”

Taken together with his worship of every god on the planet and sailing around the world to gain knowledge of myths from other Planetosi regions, it doesn’t bode well for Dany (see also Durran Durrandon’s excellent analysis on this – TWOW spoilers).

Bloodstone_Emperor_by_Sanrixian.jpg

This is that cycle motif again, the same archetypal characters re-appearing and performing the same roles. We have our heroes (Daenerys as the Amethyst Empress and the Starks and the remaining Night’s Watch) fighting to defeat the necromancer (Qyburn), the wight queen (Cersei) and the man seeking godhood and a crown (Euron). This hearkens back to the analysis I released last week, about starting back – I believe we are seeing a lot of parallels to earlier seasons in Season 8 and reversals in long standing events and traditions. These characters enacting prehistoric roles would be the pinnacle of that motif, the chance to correct Planetos’ original sin – the usurpation and potential blood sacrifice of the Amethyst Empress.

We should also remember that, ultimately, this is a human story. Yes, it involves high fantasy magic but this is all about the consequences of humanity’s hubris, actions and learning from mistakes – ourselves as individuals and from our inherited legacy. So whilst the Night King in the show (and the Others more generally in the books) are important villains, they may not be the villains – that role goes to the humans, just as much as heroism.

And hey, even if all of the symbolic analysis is wrong or does not apply to the show, as Maester Merry says:


Thanks so much again for reading, it’s an honour to have you guys spend time with me. Thanks also to George RR Martin, to all my friends and mythenthusiasts on the Twitteros, and to HBO (images from them, unless otherwise specified).

If you have any thoughts, feel free to comment below or find me on Twitter as @ELSmith1994.

I’ll be back soon with more book analysis, promise! ❤

  • Archmaester Aemma
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