Broken Swords

“The bleeding star bespoke the end […] 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.” (TWOW, The Forsaken)

Hello everyone, and welcome once again to the Red Mice At Play blog, where we dissect the symbolism of A Song of Ice and Fire. I know I haven’t written much recently, but I hope my  Game of Thrones content (here and here) provided something of an oasis in this drought of writer’s block I’m having.

Since the show season, I have become really interested in some symbolism other than fire stuff: in particular, the motif of the broken sword. Indeed, that has led me to some (in my opinion) rather interesting parallels, some slightly paradoxical fun and has birthed a new series – Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things. NB: I may mention some spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8 in this series, but I’ll try to keep those for the very end of each essay and will give a heads-up before I start going into all of that to those of you who are trying to avoid spoilers – you venture into the comments at your own risk! Oh, and there are some bloody long quotes in this essay, so… yeah… sorry about that…

Before we dive in, the usual thanks to George RR Martin for creating this world which we so adore, to all of the myth and symbolism friends I’ve made on the Twitteros and to you, dear reader, for choosing to read this analysis by lil’ ol’ me.


The Sword that was Broken
The (Last) Hero’s Sword
The Sword in the Stone Tree
The Sword Without a Hilt
The Sword that was Not Broken

The Sword that was Broken

Before we begin with the ASOIAF analysis proper, we should explore a few examples of the motif of broken sword as it appears in real world mythology and legend. Indeed, the broken sword is a motif that appears quite frequently, so I’ll pick a few of the more pertinent examples. In Arthurian legend, for instance, Arthur breaks the Sword from the Stone in combat and is given Excalibur by the Lady of the Lake to replace the broken sword. (Obviously, there are many different versions of this tale, it is Arthurian legend after all, but I believe this version is from Morte D’Arthur so it’s a pretty prominent one.) 

In a similar fashion, Norse mythology tells the tale of the sword, Gram. Odin thrusts the sword into the Barnstokkr tree and challenges men to pull the sword from the tree; most fail until Sigmund, who receives the sword as a gift having pulled it from the tree successfully. Then, after many vengeful hijinks with his son (who incidentally is also his nephew because incest isn’t just for ASOIAF), Sigmund ends up battling a disguised Odin, who breaks Gram. The pieces of the sword are saved for another of Sigmund’s sons, Sigurd. Once Sigurd is all growed up, a dwarven smith asks him to slay the dragon, Fafnir, and Sigurd agrees – on the condition that the smith forges him a mighty sword to kill the dragon. And so, Gram is reforged, notably on the third attempt to forge the mighty sword (*cough* Lightbringer *cough*).

Sigurd and Gram, Bengt A Lundberg / Riksantikvarieämbetet (CC-BY 2.5  )

This trope was picked up on by Tolkien, which Blue Tiger has expounded upon at length here. The most obvious broken sword in Lord of the Rings is Narsil, which broke in battle against Sauron and the broken shards were then used by Isildur to cut the One Ring from Sauron’s hand. The shards of Narsil were then retrieved from the battlefield and kept until such a time as Isildur’s heir could wield them. Eventually, Narsil was reforged into Andúril and wielded by Aragorn in the battles against Sauron’s minions in the Lord of the Rings. That probably sounds awfully similar to the story of Gram, which is no surprise given the well-documented influence of Norse and other Germanic/Scandinavian mythology on Tolkien.

In each of these cases, a broken sword is replaced, typically reforged, into an even more magical sword whose bearer goes on to do great deeds, and there is evidence that GRRM may be playing with this motif in A Song of Ice and Fire. Crowfood’s Daughter has an excellent video on this motif, in which she discusses the broken sword as one of the many symbolic markers of Azor Ahai. You should definitely check this out (as well as subscribing to her awesome channel) because it is superb analysis, but I’ll just pull a couple of examples from her video that demonstrate how closely the broken sword is tied to the Azor Ahai saviour figure. 

Firstly, we have the tale of the Last Hero, the guy who fought the Others and won (eventually, we assume). Here he is, wandering the hinterlands, searching for the children of the forest:

“Yet here and there in the fastness of the woods the children still lived in their wooden cities and hollow hills, and the faces in the trees kept watch. So as cold and death filled the earth, the last hero determined to seek out the children, in the hopes that their ancient magics could win back what the armies of men had lost. He set out into the dead lands with a sword, a horse, a dog, and a dozen companions. For years he searched, until he despaired of ever finding the children of the forest in their secret cities. One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him, and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds—” (AGOT, Bran IV)

Check one for the hero’s broken sword. Similarly, we see that Azor Ahai himself is associated with multiple broken swords before he forges Lightbringer on the third attempt:

“And so for thirty days and thirty nights Azor Ahai labored sleepless in the temple, forging a blade in the sacred fires. Heat and hammer and fold, heat and hammer and fold, oh, yes, until the sword was done. Yet when he plunged it into water to temper the steel it burst asunder. … Azor Ahai captured a lion, to temper the blade by plunging it through the beast’s red heart, but once more the steel shattered and split. Great was his woe and great was his sorrow then, for he knew what he must do.

“A hundred days and a hundred nights he labored on the third blade, and as it glowed white-hot in the sacred fires, he summoned his wife. ‘Nissa Nissa,’ he said to her, for that was her name, ‘bare your breast, and know that I love you best of all that is in this world.’ She did this thing, why I cannot say, and Azor Ahai thrust the smoking sword through her living heart. It is said that her cry of anguish and ecstasy left a crack across the face of the moon, but her blood and her soul and her strength and her courage all went into the steel. Such is the tale of the forging of Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes.” (ACOK, Davos I)

Another key example that we’ll be returning to throughout this essay is from the Prologue of A Game of Thrones:

The Other slid forward on silent feet. In its hand was a longsword like none that Will had ever seen. 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. There was a faint blue shimmer to the thing, a ghost-light that played around its edges, and somehow Will knew it was sharper than any razor.

Ser Waymar met him bravely. “Dance with me then.” He lifted his sword high over his head, defiant. His hands trembled from the weight of it, or perhaps from the cold. Yet in that moment, Will thought, he was a boy no longer, but a man of the Night’s Watch.

The Other halted. Will saw its eyes; blue, deeper and bluer than any human eyes, a blue that burned like ice. They fixed on the longsword trembling on high, watched the moonlight running cold along the metal. For a heartbeat he dared to hope.

Ser Waymar Royce found his fury. “For Robert!” he shouted, and he came up snarling, lifting the frost-covered longsword with both hands and swinging it around in a flat sidearm slash with all his weight behind it. The Other’s parry was almost lazy.

When the blades touched, the steel shattered.

A scream echoed through the forest night, and the longsword shivered into a hundred brittle pieces, the shards scattering like a rain of needles.

He found what was left of the sword a few feet away, the end splintered and twisted like a tree struck by lightning. (AGOT, Prologue)

This duel between the Others and the Night’s Watch offers a clear parallel to the Last Hero which we’ll explore in more detail later, so it’s quite telling that we also get a broken sword in this passage – and to open the books, no less. As such, it seems like George RR Martin may be playing with this mythological/fantasy trope in a few places. 

However, in each of these examples from A Song of Ice and Fire, we don’t really see the re-forging of these particular broken swords. Contrast that with the new sword given to King Arthur, or the reforging of Gram and Narsil into the hero’s swords and it indicates that we should see reforged swords somewhere in A Song of Ice and Fire.

In fact, we do. One such example is Ice: by splitting Ice into two swords, Tywin has created a broken sword in a sense; however, in being broken, the steel was also re-forged into Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper. This is a clear example of the broken and reforged sword motif, but with a twist: the event that breaks the sword is also the event in which it is forged. Yay for paradox fun! These broken/re-forged swords are then bestowed on Jaime Lannister and King Joffrey Baratheon – keep that in mind for later.

We also see this somewhat paradoxical duality in the Battle of the Redgrass Field – this sounds odd but bear with me. For those of you less familiar with the Blackfyre Rebellions, this was a civil war between Aegon IV’s (supposedly) legitimate son, Daeron II Targaryen, and his bastard son, Daemon. When Aegon IV issued his deathbed decree legitimising all of his bastards, Daemon Waters chose a new house name derived from the Targaryen sword he had been given: Blackfyre. As such, Daemon’s forces and the Blackfyre rebels generally can be symbolically considered as a sword. With that in mind, it’s interesting to note that in the decisive final battle of the First Blackfyre Rebellion, the Battle of the Redgrass Field, the Blackfyres were defeated by a pincer movement called “the hammer and anvil”. To say that another way, the Blackfyre army was broken by the hammer and the anvil. Given the sword symbolism behind the surname, this implies a sword broken by a hammer and anvil, the very items that are supposed to forge it – the breaking event as the forging event.

Daemon Blackfyre
The King Who Bore The Sword by naomimakesart

This may sound convoluted, but exactly the same type of imagery is also employed elsewhere in the series. The following quote from A Storm of Swords is during the battle at the Wall, in which the defenders of Castle Black are desperately trying to fortify the southern side of the castle against the wildling raiders Jon crossed with: 

Only now those foes have gotten past the Wall to come up from the south, Jon reflected, and the lords and kings of the Seven Kingdoms have forgotten us. We are caught between the hammer and the anvil. (ASOS, Jon VII)

Here, Jon is musing on the dire situation of the Night’s Watch, aka “the swords in the darkness”, and again we see the implication that swords are being broken by the very items that should forge them – the hammer (the wildling raiders to the south) and the anvil (the Wall/the massive wildling army to the north). The breaking/forging event itself doesn’t actually happen thanks to some ingenuity from the defenders and, eventually, the arrival of the One True King Stannis Baratheon, First of His Name, titles titles – nevertheless, the presence of this musing injects the broken/forged sword symbolism into this scene.

We see another load of broken swords in King’s Landing:

When the ashes had cooled enough to allow men to enter the castle safely, the swords of the fallen, many shattered or melted or twisted into ribbons of steel by dragonfire, were gathered up and sent back to the Aegonfort in wagons. (TWOIAF, The Reign of the Dragons: The Conquest)

King Joffrey leaned forward, hands grasping the arms of the throne. Broken sword points fanned out between his fingers. (AGOT, Sansa V)

Here the broken swords are reforged into the Iron Throne, one of the more obvious symbols of kingship in A Song of Ice and Fire. Indeed, a few of the above examples carry this kingly symbolism: the Battle of Redgrass Field decided whether the Blackfyres or the Targaryens would be king, and Widow’s Wail is delivered to Joffrey with Kevan Lannister calling it “a king’s sword” and Tywin stating “a king should bear a kingly weapon”. This ties the idea of the broken and reforged sword together with legitimising the monarchy, which invokes similar ideas in other fantasy, namely Narsil being reforged into Andúril in Lord of the Rings. 

Another hugely important motif associated with the broken and reforged sword is that of heroism. We see this in the legend of King Arthur, the man who will supposedly save England when she is in dire need, and in the legend of Sigurd, who uses the reforged Gram to kill the dragon Fafnir. We haven’t really touched on this aspect in A Song of Ice and Fire, but before we do, this probably calls for a section break.

The (Last) Hero’s Sword

Earlier in the essay, I pulled a couple of quotes which showed the Last Hero and Azor Ahai both associated with broken swords. While we mentioned these quotes briefly earlier, I’ve pulled everything related to the Last Hero, for context and as a little refresher before we dive into other analyses:

“Now these were the days before the Andals came, and long before the women fled across the narrow sea from the cities of the Rhoyne, and the hundred kingdoms of those times were the kingdoms of the First Men, who had taken these lands from the children of the forest. Yet here and there in the fastness of the woods the children still lived in their wooden cities and hollow hills, and the faces in the trees kept watch. So as cold and death filled the earth, the last hero determined to seek out the children, in the hopes that their ancient magics could win back what the armies of men had lost. He set out into the dead lands with a sword, a horse, a dog, and a dozen companions. For years he searched, until he despaired of ever finding the children of the forest in their secret cities. One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him, and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds—” (AGOT, Bran IV)

“Well,” said Yoren, “maybe he will and maybe he won’t. Good men have gone into those woods before, and never come out.”

All Bran could think of was Old Nan’s story of the Others and the last hero, hounded through the white woods by dead men and spiders big as hounds. He was afraid for a moment, until he remembered how that story ended. “The children will help him,” he blurted, “the children of the forest!” (AGOT, Bran IV)

How the Long Night came to an end is a matter of legend, as all such matters of the distant past have become. In the North, they tell of a last hero who sought out the intercession of the children of the forest, his companions abandoning him or dying one by one as they faced ravenous giants, cold servants, and the Others themselves. Alone he finally reached the children, despite the efforts of the white walkers, and all the tales agree this was a turning point. Thanks to the children, the first men of the Night’s Watch banded together and were able to fight—and win—the Battle for the Dawn: the last battle that broke the endless winter and sent the Others fleeing to the icy north. (TWOIAF, Ancient History: The Long Night)

White Walkers by moni158

In the Prologue of A Game of Thrones, we see a number of similarities to this tale. Firstly, we see men of the Night’s Watch ranging north of the Wall:

The first time he had been sent beyond, all the old stories had come rushing back, and his bowels had turned to water. He had laughed about it afterward. He was a veteran of a hundred rangings by now, and the endless dark wilderness that the southron called the haunted forest had no more terrors for him.

Until tonight. Something was different tonight. There was an edge to this darkness that made his hackles rise. Nine days they had been riding, north and northwest and then north again, farther and farther from the Wall, hard on the track of a band of Wildling raiders. Each day had been worse than the day that had come before it. Today was the worst of all. A cold wind was blowing out of the north, and it made the trees rustle like living things. All day, Will had felt as though something were watching him, something cold and implacable that loved him not. (AGOT, Prologue)

The haunted forest north of the Wall evokes strong dead lands vibe, not least because it is… well, haunted and full of the undead. Besides those more literal examples of the dead lands, we see that the rangers have been riding for nine days; this is reminiscent of the nine days that Hesiod says it would take for a bronze anvil (ahem) to drop from earth to Tartarus, a place in Hades reserved for those who sinned against the gods. If this is the case, this could be another reference to the dead lands, given that this imagery evokes the Underworld itself, in addition to potentially introducing some hammer/anvil forgery symbolism. We also see that the forest is described as an “endless dark wilderness” which leapt out to me as a sly Long Night reference – the Last Hero wandering the dead lands in the endless dark, anyone?

Moreover, Will’s statement that “something were watching him” would seem to suggest that the Others are hunting the rangers through the forest. It has been suggested that the scenario had been engineered by the Others themselves in order to catch Waymar Royce, who they may believe to be a Last Hero type. This would line up with the tale of the Last Hero, as the Last Hero and companions were hunted through the dead lands by the Others.

While the Night’s Watch men have not literally set out in search of the children of the forest and magic, they are on a quest north of the Wall “where the children went, and the giants, and the other old races”, as Osha tells Bran later in the book. In essence, the rangers have symbolically entered the magical realm and they find magical beings when they’re there – the Other old races. *cough*

Taking all of this imagery together, we can see some really strong parallels to the tale of the Last Hero immediately set up in a couple of paragraphs; we have the Night’s Watch on a quest in a magical land of the undead, in the endless dark, hunted by the Others. While the tale of the Last Hero kind of stops there, missing out on all of the helpful information about actually stopping the Long Night, I think that the strong initial parallels suggest that the rest of the Prologue could tell us a lot about what happens next.

And what happens next is the appearance of the Others and the duel itself. Notably, the sounds of the duel are described throughout as screaming:

The pale sword came shivering through the air.

Ser Waymar met it with steel. When the blades met, there was no ring of metal on metal; only a high, thin sound at the edge of hearing, like an animal screaming in pain. …

Again and again the swords met, until Will wanted to cover his ears against the strange anguished keening of their clash. …

Ser Waymar Royce found his fury. “For Robert!” he shouted, and he came up snarling, lifting the frost-covered longsword with both hands and swinging it around in a flat sidearm slash with all his weight behind it. The Other’s parry was almost lazy.

When the blades touched, the steel shattered.

A scream echoed through the forest night, and the longsword shivered into a hundred brittle pieces, the shards scattering like a rain of needles. (AGOT, Prologue)

Here, we have a frost-covered sword breaking with a scream. This is highly evocative of another broken sword we discussed earlier: Widow’s Wail, forged from breaking of Ice. Screaming frost-covered broken sword and an Ice-y Widow’s Wail, geddit? “HAR!” as Tormund would say. This imagery also evokes the forging of Lightbringer, with the “anguished keening” evoking Nissa Nissa’s cry of “anguish” and ecstasy (for what it’s worth, so does the name of the broken/reforged sword, Widow’s Wail). It also seems notable that King Robert’s name is invoked right before the sword breaks – this may symbolise Waymar Royce as a king’s man and thus be a circumspect way of him acquiring king symbolism by proxy, just in time for him to acquire the symbol of a broken sword.

Interestingly, we also get some religious imagery running throughout the chapter:

[Will] went to the tree, a vaulting grey-green sentinel, and began to climb. Soon his hands were sticky with sap, and he was lost among the needles. Fear filled his gut like a meal he could not digest. He whispered a prayer to the nameless gods of the wood, and slipped his dirk free of its sheath. (AGOT, Prologue)

While in the tree, Will prays to the gods, almost like he is calling the gods to watch over the duel like we see in trial by combat. This religious imagery is then continued throughout the chapter. One involves Will praying again when Waymar is resurrected, which I think is pretty understandable by anyone’s measure. The other instance occurs during the duel itself:

Then Royce’s parry came a beat too late. The pale sword bit through the ringmail beneath his arm. The young lord cried out in pain. Blood welled between the rings. It steamed in the cold, and the droplets seemed red as fire where they touched the snow. Ser Waymar’s fingers brushed his side. His moleskin glove came away soaked with red. (AGOT, Prologue)

This side wound could be an allusion to the fifth of the Holy Wounds of Christ’s crucifixion, when Jesus was pierced in his side by a lance or spear (supposedly the Lance of Longinus) to ascertain whether he was dead. Given the strong parallels between Ser Waymar in this scene and the tale of the Last Hero (the saviour of mankind, according to northern legend), it would make sense to give Waymar some symbolism related to Christ.

In addition to the side wound, Waymar also acquires an eye wound as the sword breaks:

When the blades touched, the steel shattered.

A scream echoed through the forest night, and the longsword shivered into a hundred brittle pieces, the shards scattering like a rain of needles. Royce went to his knees, shrieking, and covered his eyes. Blood welled between his fingers.

Will rose. Ser Waymar Royce stood over him.

His fine clothes were a tatter, his face a ruin. A shard from his sword transfixed the blind white pupil of his left eye(AGOT, Prologue)

This is highly reminiscent of Odin, who sacrifices his eye in order to gain wisdom of Mimir’s well. In fact, the side wound could also be an allusion to Odin: in another tale, Odin pierces himself with a spear to hang on the famous world tree of Norse mythology, Yggdrasil, in order to spy some magical runes in another well. In line with the mystical powers that Odin acquires and the Christ symbolism of the Prologue so far, Waymar is magically resurrected in defiance of mortal existence. This indicates some kind of magical transcendence through sacrifice, as though Waymar has acquired the fire of the gods, that is, the knowledge and power of the gods – immortality. That the broken sword symbol is tied to this sacrificial imagery – i.e. by causing the eye wound – means that we could interpret the broken sword as a symbol of acquiring mystical knowledge or the fire of the gods.

Dance with me then by sanrixian (available to pre-order here)

We’ll explore this idea a little more in a moment, but it’s important to note that this rather extravagant collection of symbolism is not limited to the Prologue of A Game of Thrones. In fact, we see many shared symbols of this with the duel between Beric Dondarrion and Sandor Clegane. Firstly, we see very similar Underworld imagery:

A huge firepit had been dug in the center of the earthen floor, and its flames rose swirling and crackling toward the smoke-stained ceiling. The walls were equal parts stone and soil, with huge white roots twisting through them like a thousand slow pale snakes. People were emerging from between those roots as she watched; edging out from the shadows for a look at the captives, stepping from the mouths of pitch-black tunnels, popping out of crannies and crevices on all sides. In one place on the far side of the fire, the roots formed a kind of stairway up to a hollow in the earth where a man sat almost lost in the tangle of weirwood. (ASOS, Arya VI)

Here, we are literally underground, a chthonic space which invokes the idea of the dead, especially with the maggot like description of the weirwood trees. Moreover, it is described as a “hollow hill”, the mystical places that are heavily associated with the children of the forest, as described in Wizz-the-Smith’s excellent essay – much like the Night’s Watch men ending up north of the Wall, “where all the old stories came rushing back” and “where the children of the forest, and the giants and the other old races” went. 

The Brotherhood Without Banners itself has a lot of similarities to the Night’s Watch, too. They call one another brothers throughout, sworn to each other, the realm and their god – much like the brotherhood of the Watch, whose vows are said in front of their preferred gods and in which they dedicate themselves to the realm. Furthermore, during the duel itself, Beric dons his surcoat, which is described as “a long black surcoat”; by not drawing attention to the sigil in this initial description, the black clothing evokes the uniform of the Night’s Watch. 

This mystical underworld space is even presided over by the (un)dead, Lord Beric Dondarrion, on behalf of the dead King Robert:

 “With their help, we fight on as best we can, for Robert and the realm.”

“Robert?” rasped Sandor Clegane, incredulous.

“Ned Stark sent us out,” said pothelmed Jack-Be-Lucky, “but he was sitting the Iron Throne when he gave us our commands, so we were never truly his men, but Robert’s.”

“Robert is the king of the worms now. Is that why you’re down in the earth, to keep his court for him?” (ASOS, Arya VI)

Later, as Arya accuses Sandor of murdering Mycah, Sandor asks Arya “Don’t you know you’re dead?” to which Arya replies, “No, you’re dead!” Symbolically, this gives us yet more dead characters in the underworld of the hollow hill. All of this imagery again layers on the chthonic underworld/dead lands imagery that is so prevalent throughout the chapter, which in turn parallels the imagery of the A Game of Thrones Prologue and of the tale of the Last Hero. In addition to this, the Brotherhood are proclaiming themselves as King’s men prior to this duel, just as Waymar did.

So, with those strong parallels between the duels in mind, let’s return to the actual reason for this essay and take a look at the broken sword:

Smooth as summer silk, Lord Beric slid close to make an end of the man before him. The Hound gave a rasping scream, raised his sword in both hands and brought it crashing down with all his strength. Lord Beric blocked the cut easily . . .

“Noooooo,” Arya shrieked.

. . . but the burning sword snapped in two, and the Hound’s cold steel plowed into Lord Beric’s flesh where his shoulder joined his neck and clove him clean down to the breastbone. The blood came rushing out in a hot black gush. (ASOS, Arya VI)

Beric Dondarrion with his burning sword is highly reminiscent of Azor Ahai and his burning sword, Lightbringer, which pegs Beric as the archetypal hero in this scene. Against that, we see the “cold steel” of the Hound break that burning sword – very much like the Others ice-sword breaking Waymar’s sword. Both swords break with a scream, as Sandor gives a “rasping scream” and Arya shrieks right as the sword “snap[s] in two”. Here, we are reminded of the broken/reforged sword called Widow’s Wail, strengthening the shared symbolism of these broken swords, and Nissa Nissa’s cry of anguish and ecstasy during the forging of Lightbringer.

Beric Dondarrion vs. The Hound by Joel Chaim Holtzman (with profuse thanks to Joel for giving permission to reproduce the image here)

Further parallels between the two scenes include the religious motifs running through the chapters. Most explicitly, we have a priest of R’hllor presiding over the trial by combat:

But when the Hound made to step toward his foe, Thoros of Myr stopped him. “First we pray.” He turned toward the fire and lifted his arms. “Lord of Light, look down upon us.”

All around the cave, the brotherhood without banners lifted their own voices in response. “Lord of Light, defend us.”

“Lord of Light, protect us in the darkness.”

Lord of Light, shine your face upon us.”

“Light your flame among us, R’hllor,” said the red priest. “Show us the truth or falseness of this man. Strike him down if he is guilty, and give strength to his sword if he is true. Lord of Light, give us wisdom.”

For the night is dark,” the others chanted, Harwin and Anguy loud as all the rest, “and full of terrors.” (ASOS, Arya VI)

This is a more extended version of the imagery we saw in the Prologue of A Game of Thrones, with Will “whisper[ing] a prayer to the nameless gods of the wood” before the duel between Waymar and the Others. This religious imagery is reinforced by the injuries that Beric Dondarrion has acquired during his various deaths – a lance through the chest (a reference to the Lance of Longinus), an eye wound (Odin sacrificing his eye to drink from Mimir’s well) and a bruised neck (Odin sacrificing himself by hanging on Yggdrasil). All of these injuries allude to the idea of sacrifice to transcend the physical world and gain more magical knowledge. Again, these wounds are extremely similar to those received by Waymar Royce, so I think that the parallels between these scenes (and therefore the tale of the Last Hero) are quite clear. 

That mystical knowledge/fire of the gods becomes evident when Beric Dondarrion appears after being (re-re-re-re-re-)resurrected:

“You go to hell, Hound,” she screamed at Sandor Clegane in helpless empty-handed rage. “You just go to hell!”

“He has,” said a voice scarce stronger than a whisper.

When Arya turned, Lord Beric Dondarrion was standing behind her, his bloody hand clutching Thoros by the shoulder. (ASOS, Arya VI)

Much like Waymar Royce, Beric Dondarrion returns from the dead in spectacular fashion. This transcendence of death again indicates the acquisition of mystical knowledge, a defiance of the material fact of mortality. Once again, this death is accompanied by the broken sword, potentially alluding to the broken sword as a marker of sacrifice prior to acquiring god-like powers i.e. the resurrection/immortality. 

While both of these scenes include a broken sword, neither has been reforged. However, we do get this interesting image:

He found what was left of the sword a few feet away, the end splintered and twisted like a tree struck by lightning. (AGOT, Prologue)

This is an extremely specific image that is going to need a new section to explore so, awaaaay we go…

The Sword In The Stone Tree

Lightning struck tree

Earlier, we discussed the idea that the event that broke the sword could also be considered the event that forged the sword. As part of that analysis, we discussed the idea that the Stark sword, Ice, was broken – but it was also reforged into Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail. We then touched on the broken sword in the Prologue, which was not reforged, but did look like this:

He found what was left of the sword a few feet away, the end splintered and twisted like a tree struck by lightning. (AGOT, Prologue)

This might not look like much on the surface, but the lightning struck tree is actually a specific image from the mythology of A Song of Ice and Fire:

The deeds attributed to the Grey King by the priests and singers of the Iron Islands are many and marvelous. It was the Grey King who brought fire to the earth by taunting the Storm God until he lashed down with a thunderbolt, setting a tree ablaze. (TWOIAF, The Iron Islands: Driftwood Crowns)

We see that a lightning struck tree is a burning tree, which evokes the image of the burning bush of Moses as an avatar of the voice of God. This ties into some of the imagery we touched on earlier, with the broken sword being bestowed upon the hero archetype at the moment of their death (and rebirth). 

Another prominent example of a burning tree is this:

The red leaves of the weirwood were a blaze of flame among the green. (ACOK, Theon V)

If you have read any of my previous essays, then you won’t be surprised at this appearance of the weirwood trees because literally every essay about symbolism I’ve ever written seems to lead back to these goddamn trees. If you haven’t read my other essays, well, spoilers for them, I guess 😛 

By uniting these pieces of symbolism, it’s almost as if the broken sword in the Prologue of A Game of Thrones is depicting the image of a weirwood tree, making Waymar a symbolic greenseer. ‘Say what now?’ I hear you cry. I am stressing he’s symbolising a greenseer here, he isn’t literally becoming one – however, there are a couple of interesting markers that show him as a greenseer, in a symbolic sense. 

In the first instance, as we noted in the previous section, Waymar acquires a couple of key Odin symbols – the one eye and the side wound, as an allusion to the spear piercing Odin so he can hang on the Norse world tree, Yggdrasil. Odin’s magical transcendence through some sort of self sacrifice is kind of a theme, and a lot of the time that self-sacrifice is mediated through Yggdrasil. As many in the fandom have noted, the relationship between the greenseers and the weirwood trees is very reminiscent of Odin’s relationship to Yggdrasil, with the greenseers themselves effectively being the old gods of the weirwood – much like Odin is a god closely tied to Yggdrasil – and acquiring their powers by effectively sacrificing themselves to the trees – think of the room of the really old greenseers who are neither dead nor alive in A Dance With Dragons, Bran III.

With that in mind, the following quotes are quite revealing:

When the blades touched, the steel shattered.

A scream echoed through the forest night, and the longsword shivered into a hundred brittle pieces, the shards scattering like a rain of needles. Royce went to his knees, shrieking, and covered his eyes. Blood welled between his fingers.

The broken sword fell from nerveless fingers. Will closed his eyes to pray. Long, elegant hands brushed his cheek, then tightened around his throat. They were gloved in the finest moleskin and sticky with blood, yet the touch was icy cold. (AGOT, Prologue)

I have highlighted here that Waymar is described as having bloody eyes and bloody hands, much like the weirwood trees:

The weirwood’s bark was white as bone, its leaves dark red, like a thousand bloodstained hands. A face had been carved in the trunk of the great tree, its features long and melancholy, the deep-cut eyes red with dried sap and strangely watchful. (AGOT, Catelyn I)

He turned back to the weirwood and studied the carved face a moment. It is not the face we saw, he admitted to himself. The tree’s not half as big as the one at Whitetree. The red eyes wept blood, and he didn’t remember that either. …  The dusk was deepening, the leaves of the weirwood rustling softly, waving like a thousand blood-red hands. (ASOS, Samwell I)

The heart tree stood before him, a pale giant with a carved face and leaves like bloody hands. (ADWD, The Turncloak)

The crofter’s village stood between two lakes, the larger dotted with small wooded islands that punched up through the ice like the frozen fists of some drowned giant. From one such island rose a weirwood gnarled and ancient, its bole and branches white as the surrounding snows. Eight days ago Asha had walked out with Aly Mormont to have a closer look at its slitted red eyes and bloody mouth. It is only sap, she’d told herself, the red sap that flows inside these weirwoods. But her eyes were unconvinced; seeing was believing, and what they saw was frozen blood. (ADWD, The Sacrifice)

Waymar acquiring the bloody eyes and the bloody hands of the weirwood tree could be an indication that he is symbolically becoming a greenseer here, as he has effectively “become the tree” – the exact description that Bran gives of his first experience as a greenseer (ADWD, Bran III). 

As with the rest of the imagery in the Prologue and the Beric/Sandor scene, there is a huge amount of greenseer imagery surrounding Beric Dondarrion. Firstly, we meet Beric Dondarrion seated in a weirwood throne which is a clear allusion to greenseers, as we see in The World of Ice and Fire and in Bran III, A Dance with Dragons. In addition to this, Beric also has the Odin-esque missing eye, hanging wound and the lance through the torso (which may also be an allusion to the Crucifixion, as we covered in the last section); given the relationship between Odin and the tree Yggdrasil, being draped in the same symbolism suggests a close relationship to the Yggdrasil analogues of A Song of Ice and Fire, the weirwood trees. 

Old Gods Can Hear You by Hoshiko91

As well as these symbols, Beric’s death has some “becoming the weirwood tree” imagery too:

Lord Beric’s knees folded slowly, as if for prayer. When his mouth opened only blood came out. The Hound’s sword was still in him as he toppled face forward. The dirt drank his blood.

When Arya turned, Lord Beric Dondarrion was standing behind her, his bloody hand clutching Thoros by the shoulder. (ASOS, Arya VI)

While Beric doesn’t have bloody eyes here, we know that he has already lost an eye as part of his Odin/greenseer symbolism package. He does, however, have a bloody mouth – this is also a description of the weirwood tree (as shown in the ADWD, The Sacrifice quote above). Upon his resurrection, Beric now has bloody hand imagery which evokes the bloody hands of the weirwood leaves and completes his weirwood transformation. 

This may seem like a bit of a stretch to connect all of this to lightning struck trees (and thus broken swords), except many of these symbolic images also occur next to another lightning struck tree:

He swung beneath the limb of a dead tree whose blackened trunk still bore the scars of the lightning that had killed it. The carrion crows had been at work on his face, and wolves had feasted on his lower legs where they dangled near the ground. Only bones and rags remained below his knees . . . along with one well-chewed shoe, half-covered by mud and mold. (AFFC, Brienne VII)

Here we see the hanged man on a lightning struck tree, which pairs the image of Odin hanging himself on Yggdrasil to gain magical powers with that of the tree struck by the Storm God’s lightning bolt. In essence, the hanged man has become a symbolic greenseer and this is supported by a few other images in the paragraph. 

Firstly, the lightning struck tree is described as dead so it can be thought of as a wight, um white tree. White trees are of course the weirwoods – think of the village called Whitetree north of the Wall, so called because of its huge weirwood tree. Moreover, as we touched on a little earlier, the hollow hill in the riverlands carries a huge amount of underworld symbolism as well as containing a weirwood throne inhabited by the walking dead. Indeed, the other actual greenseer we’ve seen in any detail, Bloodraven, is described as “half-corpse and half-tree” which sounds like a pretty close match to the wight tree and is self-evidently related to weirwood trees.

The hanged man also shares some symbolism with Bran Stark; namely, that “the carrion crows has been at work on [the hanged man’s] face”. This could be an allusion to one of Bran Stark’s earlier dreams, in which the three-eyed crow pecks at Bran’s forehead to open Bran’s third eye. If so, that implies that (symbolically) this man’s hanging on the lightning struck tree has been equivalent to the opening of his third eye. All in all, this hanged man and this lightning struck tree seem to be an extraordinarily good device to represent a shitton of greenseer symbolism.

If you want to take it even further, we may see a lot more lightning struck trees in this chapter:

After that, hardly a hundred yards went by without a corpse. They dangled under ash and alder, beech and birch, larch and elm, hoary old willows and stately chestnut trees. Each man wore a noose around his neck, and swung from a length of hempen rope, and each man’s mouth was packed with salt.

The noose was the preferred method of execution for Beric Dondarrion and his band of outlaws, it was said. If so, the so-called lightning lord might well be near. (AFFC, Brienne VII)

Because the lightning lord “Beric Dondarrion” has hanged each of these men on trees, you might say that these trees have been … struck by lightning. *ba dun tss.gif*

finger gun snek
Thanks, I’m here all week

Ok, that one is pushing the boat out, but it’s fun to speculate and would fit with the other symbolism in the chapter, so I thought I’d throw it out there for you guys.

So that has been a pretty deep tangent into related imagery and symbols about weirwoods, loosely tied to broken swords because of Waymar’s broken sword looking like a lightning struck tree. This may sound roundabout symbolism so far, but we do see some further indications that broken swords are related to the trees and greenseeing in Arya’s later Harrenhal chapters in A Clash of Kings.

In these scenes, we see Arya retrieving and wielding her “sword”, a broken broomstick. The description of it as having a jagged splintery end is very reminiscent of Waymar’s broken sword from the A Game of Thrones Prologue: Arya’s ‘sword’ is wooden, making it a “splintered tree”, like Waymar’s broken sword. Arya even retrieves her sword from a stack of “twisted splintered branches”, which matches the description of Waymar’s “splintered and twisted” sword (and thus the lightning struck tree). As this imagery is associated with weirwoods, this implies that Arya’s broken broomstick sword may be drawn from the weirwood trees, in a sense.  Even the description of the “rotting wood” may be an allusion to the weirwoods: that the wood is rotting suggests that it is dead, thus making it a wight tree, taking us right back to the wight/white tree wordplay that symbolically represents the weirwoods. Yay for punning!

This line of analysis is very reminiscent of the tale of Gram in Norse mythology that we recounted earlier. In this tale, Gram is placed in the Barnstokkr tree by Odin – he of the many greenseer symbols – and is drawn forth by Sigmund. Given that this sword is placed in the tree by Odin, drawing forth that godly tree-sword could be considered as acquiring greenseer status (symbolically). Moreover, some scholars have noted that the Barnstokkr tree shares many of the Norse symbols of the world tree, Yggdrasil, and may derive from a corruption of “Branstokkr” with its root in “brandr” (meaning fire). As the representation of the weirwoods in A Song of Ice and Fire appears to be associated with fire and is heavily influenced by Yggdrasil, this makes the weirwoods symbolic burning world trees, like Barn- (or Bran-)stokkr. Taken together, this would reinforce the parallel between Arya’s stick sword and Gram, the broken sword of Norse myth, in addition to further implicating greenseeing in this broken sword motif.

In a potentially similar scenario, King Arthur draws forth the sword from the stone and this sword later breaks. Given that weirwood trees turn to stone after a (very long) time, Arya drawing forth a broken sword from a symbolic weirwood tree could be a parallel to drawing forth the sword from the stone. (No, I’m not saying Arya will be queen, although I’m here for it if it happens.)

Arya Stark with Needle by oozn

In addition, Arya only wields this broken sword in the godswood at Harrenhal:

Sometimes she even climbed the trees and danced among the upper branches, her toes gripping the limbs as she moved back and forth, teetering a little less every day as her balance returned to her.

Up in the kingdom of the leaves, she unsheathed and for a time forgot them all, Ser Amory and the Mummers and her father’s men alike, losing herself in the feel of rough wood beneath the soles of her feet and the swish of sword through air. (ACOK, Arya IX)

In these quotes, it sounds like Arya is inhabiting the world of trees, symbolically entering the weirwoods like a greenseer. This is reinforced by Arya seemingly presenting her broken stick sword to the heart tree as an offering, having killed some imaginary folks:

A broken branch became Joffrey. She struck at it until it fell away. The queen and Ser Ilyn and Ser Meryn and the Hound were only leaves, but she killed them all as well, slashing them to wet green ribbons. When her arm grew weary, she sat with her legs over a high limb to catch her breath in the cool dark air, listening to the squeak of bats as they hunted. Through the leafy canopy she could see the bone-white branches of the heart tree. It looks just like the one in Winterfell from here. If only it had been . . . then when she climbed down she would have been home again, and maybe find her father sitting under the weirwood where he always sat.

Shoving her sword through her belt, she slipped down branch to branch until she was back on the ground. The light of the moon painted the limbs of the weirwood silvery white as she made her way toward it, but the five-pointed red leaves turned black by night. Arya stared at the face carved into its trunk. It was a terrible face, its mouth twisted, its eyes flaring and full of hate. Is that what a god looked like? Could gods be hurt, the same as people? I should pray, she thought suddenly. (ACOK, Arya IX)

She slashed at birch leaves till the splintery point of the broken broomstick was green and sticky. “Ser Gregor,” she breathed. “Dunsen, Polliver, Raff the Sweetling.” She spun and leapt and balanced on the balls of her feet, darting this way and that, knocking pinecones flying. “The Tickler,” she called out one time, “the Hound,” the next. “Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, Queen Cersei.” The bole of an oak loomed before her, and she lunged to drive her point through it, grunting “Joffrey, Joffrey, Joffrey.” Her arms and legs were dappled by sunlight and the shadows of leaves. A sheen of sweat covered her skin by the time she paused. The heel of her right foot was bloody where she’d skinned it, so she stood one-legged before the heart tree and raised her sword in salute. “Valar morghulis,” she told the old gods of the north. She liked how the words sounded when she said them. (ACOK, Arya X)

By “killing” some of the names on her list in the godswood, it’s like Arya is offering a symbolic sacrifice to the weirwoods. Indeed, by slashing the leaf people and making her broken sword sticky with leaf sap, there is the implication that Arya’s broken sword is now bloody as she presents it to the weirwood. This reminds us of the broken and reforged swords, Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper, which are now blood red in colour, as well as Ned cleaning Ice in the pool in front of the Winterfell heart tree.The blood here is green rather than red, but this only helps to add to the greenseer symbolism of Arya’s broken sword – as I mentioned in a previous essay, green blood is used as a description for certain other items that share greenseer symbolism, such as wildfire.

This symbolic blood sacrifice is then backed up with some actual killings, as Jaqen emerges from the trees and demands a third name:

Jaqen H’ghar stood so still in the darkness that he seemed one of the trees. “A man comes to hear a name. One and two and then comes three. A man would have done.”

“Three lives were snatched from a god. Three lives must be repaid. The gods are not mocked.”

The hungry gods will feast on blood tonight, if a man would do this thing,” Jaqen said.

“A girl is greedy.” Jaqen touched one of the dead guards and showed her his bloody fingers. “Here is three and there is four and eight more lie dead below. The debt is paid.”

“The debt is paid,” Arya agreed reluctantly. She felt a little sad. Now she was just a mouse again.

A god has his due. And now a man must die.” (ACOK, Arya IX)

By framing these deaths as for the gods, these deaths are being presented as some kind of blood sacrifice or blood debt, which would line up with the bloody, broken sword that Arya presents to the heart tree. Moreover, Jaqen is described as “one of the trees” at the start of this passage making him a symbolic greenseer; in line with this symbolism, he acquires the bloody hands of the weirwood tree while killing the guards, in addition to his red and white (hair) colour symbolism.

This blood sacrifice imagery also ties into some of the religious imagery that we see in this scene. Specifically:

In the godswood she found her broomstick sword where she had left it, and carried it to the heart tree. There she knelt. Red leaves rustled. Red eyes peered inside her. The eyes of the gods. “Tell me what to do, you gods,” she prayed. (ACOK, Arya X)

This would parallel some of the imagery that we saw in the death of Beric Dondarrion in his broken sword duel against Sandor Clegane:

Lord Beric’s knees folded slowly, as if for prayer. When his mouth opened only blood came out. The Hound’s sword was still in him as he toppled face forward. The dirt drank his blood. (ASOS, Arya VI)

The description of Beric’s knees folding introduces very similar religious imagery and, given he is in the hollow hill with its walls woven with weirwood roots, it’s akin to him praying to the weirwoods having presented a broken sword to them. Similarly, the dirt drinking his blood matches the description of another blood sacrifice in front of the weirwoods in a Bran vision (ADWD, Bran III). As such, Beric Dondarrion’s death is presented as him being sacrificed (or sacrificing himself) to the trees – the result of this is actual magical resurrection.

The Arya scene in Harrenhal has some similarities to this, as the passage subsequently takes on some magical elements – it reads as though the old gods are replying to her request: 

In the godswood she found her broomstick sword where she had left it, and carried it to the heart tree. There she knelt. Red leaves rustled. Red eyes peered inside her. The eyes of the gods. Tell me what to do, you gods,” she prayed. 

For a long moment there was no sound but the wind and the water and the creak of leaf and limb. And then, far far off, beyond the godswood and the haunted towers and the immense stone walls of Harrenhal, from somewhere out in the world, came the long lonely howl of a wolf. Gooseprickles rose on Arya’s skin, and for an instant she felt dizzy. Then, so faintly, it seemed as if she heard her father’s voice. “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives,” he said.

“But there is no pack,” she whispered to the weirwood. Bran and Rickon were dead, the Lannisters had Sansa, Jon had gone to the Wall. “I’m not even me now, I’m Nan.”

“You are Arya of Winterfell, daughter of the north. You told me you could be strong. You have the wolf blood in you.”

“The wolf blood.” Arya remembered now. “I’ll be as strong as Robb. I said I would.” She took a deep breath, then lifted the broomstick in both hands and brought it down across her knee. It broke with a loud crack, and she threw the pieces aside. I am a direwolf, and done with wooden teeth. 

That night she lay in her narrow bed upon the scratchy straw, listening to the voices of the living and the dead whisper and argue as she waited for the moon to rise. They were the only voices she trusted anymore. She could hear the sound of her own breath, and the wolves as well, a great pack of them now. They are closer than the one I heard in the godswood, she thought. They are calling to me. (ACOK, Arya X)

At this point, Arya determines that she should escape from Harrenhal and later kills a guard by cutting his throat, giving herself bloody hands in a mirror image of the guard killed by Jaqen H’ghar in her previous chapter. In the passage quoted above, there is a very real possibility that this could be real magic, given how little we know of the magic of the weirwoods. Even if it isn’t ‘real’ magic, the writing of this passage and subsequent blood sacrifice imagery is clearly meant to symbolise it – the animation of the weirwood tree, the howling of the wolves, a conversation with Ned, hearing the voices of the dead and being called by her pack (likely Nymeria, thus implicating Arya’s actual warging abilities) all speak to this idea. The presence of this magic (either literal or symbolic) is accompanied with the broomstick being broken again – which could imply that part of the symbolism of the broken sword is magic itself. 

Which neatly leads us to the next section….

The Sword Without a Hilt

So far, we have seen how the broken sword motif is very closely linked to greenseeing and its magic, capped off with Arya presenting her broken broomstick sword to the weirwoods regularly. Now would probably be an appropriate time to emphasise one aspect of this ‘sword’:

Her blade was much too light and had no proper grip, but she liked the sharp jagged splintery end. (ACOK, Arya IX)

Arya is wielding the proverbial “sword without a hilt” here –

“The Horned Lord once said that sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.” (ASOS, Jon X)

 – and let’s be realistic, if your sword doesn’t have a hilt, then it’s broken (and you should probably see your smith asap). Importantly, each time that Arya wields this broken “sword without a hilt”, the passages are steeped in imagery of greenseer magic and accompanied by blood sacrifice, which would seem to reinforce the link between the broken sword and the sword without a hilt (magic). Heck, even the fact that this sword was originally a broomstick evokes the image of a witch and, thus, magic. 

Halloween Black Cats Moon Brushes Witch
Basically Arya (CC0)

We see a similar argument presented by Maester Luwin way back in A Game of Thrones:

“Take a lesson, Bran. The man who trusts in spells is dueling with a glass sword.” (AGOT, Bran VII) 

This is a very similar metaphor to sorcery being “a sword without a hilt”, which suggests that a glass sword could be considered as part of this broken sword pattern of symbolism. It is made clear over the next couple of paragraphs that these “glass swords” are made of dragonglass:

 “Have a look at these,” he said as he pulled the stopper and shook out a handful of shiny black arrowheads. 

Bran picked one up. “It’s made of glass.” Curious, Rickon drifted closer to peer over the table.

Dragonglass,” Osha named it as she sat down beside Luwin, bandagings in hand. (AGOT, Bran VII)

We do see what happens in duels with (dragon)glass swords in A Storm of Swords:

Samwell Tarly threw himself forward and plunged the dagger down into Small Paul’s back. Half-turned, the wight never saw him coming. The raven gave a shriek and took to the air. “You’re dead!” Sam screamed as he stabbed. “You’re dead, you’re dead.” He stabbed and screamed, again and again, tearing huge rents in Paul’s heavy black cloak. Shards of dragonglass flew everywhere as the blade shattered on the iron mail beneath the wool. (ASOS, Samwell III)

The dragonglass sword breaks. Notably, this sword (well, dagger, same difference) breaks with a scream, just like Beric’s sword and Waymar’s sword. The shards of dragonglass flying everywhere are also very reminiscent of the breaking of Waymar’s sword, where “shards scatter[ed] like a rain of needles” (AGOT, Prologue). Moreover, this passage precedes the appearance of Coldhands, a resurrected Night’s Watchman; so again we are seeing the broken sword preceding resurrection (ish).

Samwell the Brave by Kaleadora

Importantly, the forging of dragonglass is described as follows:

“Obsidian,” Maester Luwin insisted, holding out his wounded arm. “Forged in the fires of the gods, far below the earth.” (AGOT, Bran VII)

This brings in the fire of the gods language that we noticed earlier with broken swords – the lightning struck tree imagery of Waymar’s broken sword and the Storm God’s thunderbolt, specifically – and this would reinforce the association with magic and resurrection that we have been coming across throughout the essays.

Given these parallels, it appears that both glass swords and swords without hilts can be considered as broken swords, therefore drawing sorcery and spells into the collection of “broken sword” symbolism we’ve identified so far. Indeed, many of the broken swords we’ve mentioned so far in this essay appear to share this magical symbolism, so I’ll rattle through these quickly. 

Firstly, Ice is a Valyrian steel sword, the forging of which is thought to involve blood sacrifice and dragonfire – this suggests that the steel of Ice/Oathkeeper/Widow’s Wail is imbued with some kind of magical properties and echoes the blood sacrifice we saw around other broken swords. In addition, the use of spells in the (re)forging of Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail is made explicit by Tobho Mott:

“Your lord father had asked for the crimson of your House, and it was that color I set out to infuse into the metal. But Valyrian steel is stubborn. These old swords remember, it is said, and they do not change easily. I worked half a hundred spells and brightened the red time and time again, but always the color would darken, as if the blade was drinking the sun from it. And some folds would not take the red at all, as you can see.” (ASOS, Tyrion IV)

Similarly, the Iron Throne is made of broken swords, was forged with dragonfire and regularly receives a ‘sacrifice’ of kingsblood, from the various monarchs who cut themselves on it:

Joffrey lurched to his feet. I’m king! Kill him! Kill him now! I command it.” He chopped down with his hand, a furious, angry gesture . . . and screeched in pain when his arm brushed against one of the sharp metal fangs that surrounded him. The bright crimson samite of his sleeve turned a darker shade of red as his blood soaked through it. (ACOK, Sansa VIII)

“Have you ever seen the Iron Throne? The barbs along the back, the ribbons of twisted steel, the jagged ends of swords and knives all tangled up and melted? It is not a comfortable seat, ser. Aerys cut himself so often men took to calling him King Scab, and Maegor the Cruel was murdered in that chair. By that chair, to hear some tell it.” (ASOS, Davos IV)

Symbolically, the Iron Throne is has received the blood and fire treatment, bringing to mind the description of the magics of Valyria. 

During the Battle of Redgrass Field, Daemon Targaryen was said to be slain by an arrow from Bloodraven:

“I’d always heard that it was Baelor Breakspear who won the battle,” said Dunk. “Him and Prince Maekar.”

The hammer and the anvil?” The old man’s mustache gave a twitch. “The singers leave out much and more. Daemon was the Warrior himself that day. No man could stand before him. … Daemon dismounted to see that his fallen foe was not trampled, and commanded Redtusk to carry him back to the maesters in the rear. And there was his mortal error, for the Raven’s Teeth had gained the top of Weeping Ridge, and Bloodraven saw his half brother’s royal standard three hundred yards away, and Daemon and his sons beneath it. He slew Aegon first, the elder of the twins, for he knew that Daemon would never leave the boy whilst warmth lingered in his body, though white shafts fell like rain. Nor did he, though seven arrows pierced him, driven as much by sorcery as by Bloodraven’s bow.

The war was done when Daemon died.” (The Sworn Sword)

As I mentioned earlier, this battle can be considered as ‘forging’ a broken sword, as the Hammer and Anvil broke the Blackfyre rebels (with ‘Blackfyre’ being taken from the Targaryen ancestral sword of the same name). Importantly, we see the idea of sorcery being involved in that, with Bloodraven implied to be using sorcery to direct arrows against his half-brother Daemon. Bloodraven and his Raven’s Teeth – i.e. his archers – notably use weirwood arrows and bows, which is emphasised in the above quote as “white shafts [falling] like rain”. As such, this potentially suggests blood sacrifice (of king’s blood, no less) to the weirwoods, a motif that we came across quite often in the previous section.

We have analysed the Beric Dondarrion vs. Sandor Clegane duel nearly to death now; however, I feel like it is important to note exactly how many symbols of magic we see in that chapter. Firstly, the chapter takes place in a hollow hill, notably a place of the children of the forest and their magics – and hollow hills throughout the series have been demonstrably shown to be places of strong magic. Moreover, this cave is woven through with weirwood roots and is inhabited by Beric, with all of Beric’s Odin and greenseer symbolism that we outlined previously. Beric then creates a burning sword with just his blood and is literally resurrected, as overt an example of magic as you can get. This is even pointed out explicitly in the text, so it feels like something we should pay attention to:

The flames swirled about his sword and left red and yellow ghosts to mark its passage. Each move Lord Beric made fanned them and made them burn the brighter, until it seemed as though the lightning lord stood within a cage of fire. “Is it wildfire?” Arya asked Gendry.

“No. This is different. This is . . .”

“. . . magic?” she finished as the Hound edged back. (ASOS, Arya VI)

Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr by taka081

Speaking of burning swords, the mother of all of them is Lightbringer:

A true sword of fire, now, that would be a wonder to behold. Yet at such a cost . . . When he thought of Nissa Nissa, it was his own Marya he pictured, a good-natured plump woman with sagging breasts and a kindly smile, the best woman in the world. He tried to picture himself driving a sword through her, and shuddered. I am not made of the stuff of heroes, he decided. If that was the price of a magic sword, it was more than he cared to pay. (ACOK, Davos I)

As we saw in Beric’s scene, though, a fiery sword is magic and it breaks; extrapolating from that, Lightbringer, “a true sword of fire” and “a magic sword”, could be considered a broken sword. After all, sorcery is explicitly named a sword without a hilt; a sword without a hilt is a broken sword; and, as we saw with Arya’s broomstick, a broken sword is a magic sword  and so we circle back to sorcery.

Similarly, the forging of Stannis’s version of Lightbringer carries some of the hallmarks of broken swords that we’ve touched on so far. For instance, he draws forth the burning sword from the statue of the Mother, whilst it is on fire:

The Mother seemed almost to shudder as the flames came licking up her face. A longsword had been thrust through her heart, and its leather grip was alive with flame.

The king plunged into the fire with his teeth clenched, holding the leather cloak before him to keep off the flames. He went straight to the Mother, grasped the sword with his gloved hand, and wrenched it free of the burning wood with a single hard jerk. Then he was retreating, the sword held high, jade-green flames swirling around cherry-red steel. (ACOK, Davos I) 

The Mother is a carved wooden statue of a god – which sounds a lot like a weirwood, what with it being a carved tree and all. Importantly, this wooden god is on fire like the lightning struck tree which launched us deep into the realms of greenseeing magic this essay, with the lightning struck tree being our first description of a broken sword (AGOT, Prologue). In addition to that, the sword is embedded in the chest of the Mother, a callout to the blood sacrifice of Nissa Nissa to forge Lightbringer. It also reminds us of the dragonglass blades that Maester Luwin shows to Bran (AGOT, Bran VII), “forged in the fires of the gods”. As such, Stannis bringing forth Lightbringer from this collection of symbolism, the very same symbolism that has been present throughout our exploration of broken swords, reinforces the idea of Lightbringer as a broken sword.

Indeed, Stannis’s Lightbringer is described as a “magic sword” several more times throughout the series:

“A washerwoman claims Stannis stole through the heart of his brother’s army with his magic sword.(ACOK, Tyrion VIII)

“Last I heard, King Stannis was outside the city walls. They say he has a hundred thousand men and a magic sword.”

Jaime’s hands wrapped around the chain that bound his wrists, and he twisted it taut, wishing for the strength to snap it in two. Then I’d show Stannis where to sheathe his magic sword. (ASOS, Jaime II)

“With this fool’s jabber of Stannis and his magic sword, it seemed to me that we had best give Joffrey something extraordinary as well. A king should bear a kingly weapon.” (ASOS, Tyrion IV)

This latter quote in particular reinforces the link between broken/reforged swords, magic and Lightbringer as it refers to Widow’s Wail. As we touched on, by being half of the broken sword, Ice, Widow’s Wail is a broken and reforged sword and it is reforged with spells making it as much a “magic sword” as Stannis’s Lightbringer. That Widow’s Wail, a broken sword, shares so much of this ‘magic sword’ symbolism with Stannis’s Lightbringer and is being directly compared to Lightbringer reinforces the common symbolism between Lightbringer and the broken sword motifs we’ve identified so far.

In line with this, Azor Ahai’s forging of Lightbringer involved the creation of other swords that broke:

And so for thirty days and thirty nights Azor Ahai labored sleepless in the temple, forging a blade in the sacred fires. Heat and hammer and fold, heat and hammer and fold, oh, yes, until the sword was done. Yet when he plunged it into water to temper the steel it burst asunder.

 Azor Ahai captured a lion, to temper the blade by plunging it through the beast’s red heart, but once more the steel shattered and split. Great was his woe and great was his sorrow then, for he knew what he must do.

A hundred days and a hundred nights he labored on the third blade, and as it glowed white-hot in the sacred fires, he summoned his wife. ‘Nissa Nissa,’ he said to her, for that was her name, ‘bare your breast, and know that I love you best of all that is in this world.’ She did this thing, why I cannot say, and Azor Ahai thrust the smoking sword through her living heart. It is said that her cry of anguish and ecstasy left a crack across the face of the moon, but her blood and her soul and her strength and her courage all went into the steel. (ACOK, Davos I)

Again we see a reference to sacred fires, and since the word “sacred” literally refers to religion or gods, this brings to mind the fires of the gods which forge dragonglass (i.e. the glass swords) and the Storm God’s thunderbolt which created the burning/lightning struck tree imagery. Note here how Nissa Nissa’s cry of anguish and ecstasy accompanies the forging of the sword Lightbringer and how, throughout this essay, we’ve noticed that the breaking of swords has been accompanied with screams:

When the blades touched, the steel shattered.

A scream echoed through the forest night, and the longsword shivered into a hundred brittle pieces, the shards scattering like a rain of needles. Royce went to his knees, shrieking, and covered his eyes. Blood welled between his fingers. (AGOT, Prologue)

He stabbed and screamed, again and again, tearing huge rents in Paul’s heavy black cloak. Shards of dragonglass flew everywhere as the blade shattered on the iron mail beneath the wool. (ASOS, Samwell III)

 Lord Beric blocked the cut easily . . .

“Noooooo,” Arya shrieked.

. . . but the burning sword snapped in two, and the Hound’s cold steel plowed into Lord Beric’s flesh where his shoulder joined his neck and clove him clean down to the breastbone. (ASOS, Arya VI)

This then ties into the idea that we opened the essay with: the breaking event is also the forging event.

Stannis Baratheon by omarito

So, what does this mean? Well, there appears to be a paradoxical bit of symbolic fun happening with the breaking and forging of swords occuring in the same event; this breaking and forging event is associated with a scream; and the resulting broken sword appears to be associated with magic and the fire of the gods. As I’ve alluded to in the previous paragraphs, these are all hallmarks surrounding the forging of Lightbringer: Lightbringer was finally forged after multiple swords broke during tempering, it was forged with Nissa Nissa’s cry of anguish and ecstasy, it was forged with blood magic and it was forged in those sacred (i.e. godly) fires. Symbolically, Lightbringer is the ultimate broken sword – as such, it makes sense that our hero, Azor Ahai, would carry that sword (thinking all the way back to the very first section of this essay).

And if Lightbringer is a broken sword, this may have some interesting implications for the onset of the Long Night. Consider this: if the breaking event and the forging event are the same, then perhaps the item that ended the Long Night was also what started it? That item being Lightbringer. Indeed, this may be exactly what is being suggested in the quote I used to open this essay:

“The bleeding star bespoke the end […] 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.” (TWOW, The Forsaken)

This explicitly links the idea of the Long Night 2.0 to the idea of the breaking and forging event. This is far from an original idea and has been hypothesised by many members of the fandom, with lots of plot and symbolic evidence that this may have been the case – but it is nice to see that our exploration of broken swords ties in so nicely with this idea. 

Any sensible person would stop their essay here, but I have one final section to cover: what about the other sword?

The Sword that was Not Broken

In each of the fights we’ve analysed, there has been the broken sword wielded by the hero but there has also been an unbroken sword. To explore some of the associations of the unbroken sword, I’m going to introduce another duel between Ser Arthur Dayne of the Kingsguard and the Smiling Knight of the Kingswood Brotherhood, recounted to us by Jaime Lannister: 

And Ser Gerold might have written a few more words about the deeds he’d performed when Ser Arthur Dayne broke the Kingswood Brotherhood. He had saved Lord Sumner’s life as Big Belly Ben was about to smash his head in, though the outlaw had escaped him. And he’d held his own against the Smiling Knight, though it was Ser Arthur who slew him. What a fight that was, and what a foe. The Smiling Knight was a madman, cruelty and chivalry all jumbled up together, but he did not know the meaning of fear. And Dayne, with Dawn in hand . . . The outlaw’s longsword had so many notches by the end that Ser Arthur had stopped to let him fetch a new one. “It’s that white sword of yours I want,” the robber knight told him as they resumed, though he was bleeding from a dozen wounds by then. “Then you shall have it, ser,” the Sword of the Morning replied, and made an end of it. (ASOS, Jaime VIII)

Notably, the Smiling Knight’s sword it so notched that Arthur allows him a replacement sword – indicating that the Smiling Knight’s sword fits into the “broken sword” motif. This would suggest that this scene may fit the pattern of duels we have explored so far and, indeed, there are other parallels in this situation which suggest this. 

the smiling knight sir heartsalot
The Smiling Knight by Sir-Heartsalot

Firstly, the Kingswood Brotherhood and the Brotherhood without Banners share some commonalities. For instance, Merrett Frey compares the two Brotherhoods in the Epilogue of A Storm of Swords, suggesting that the two organisations of outlaws may share some common symbolic motifs. Moreover, the Smiling Knight is one of the leaders of the Kingswood Brotherhood, much like Beric Dondarrion leads the Brotherhood without Banners in the parallel Beric vs. Sandor duel. In addition to that, the Smiling Knight is called a robber knight in the above quote, a label that is also bestowed upon Beric Dondarrion:

“What else? It wasn’t for the pleasure of looking at your face, Dondarrion, I’ll tell you that. You’re uglier than me now. And a robber knight besides, it seems.” (ASOS, Arya VII)

As we covered earlier, Beric Dondarrion has some really strong parallels to the last hero archetype, so the symbolic parallels between Beric and the Smiling Knight would suggest that the Smiling Knight also plays into the Last Hero archetype. And, speaking of the Last Hero, the Smiling Knight is described as “bleeding from a dozen wounds”, which echoes the following description of Waymar Royce after his Last Hero duel:

Royce’s body lay facedown in the snow, one arm outflung. The thick sable cloak had been slashed in a dozen places. (AGOT, Prologue)

Again, this parallel reinforces the interpretation of the Smiling Knight as the archetypal Last Hero, in a sense, given that Royce is playing this role in the Prologue. In addition to this, Ulmer of the Kingswood was a member of the Kingswood Brotherhood and is a member of the Night’s Watch in the main series. Indeed, Ulmer is one of the few rangers who returns to the Castle Black after the mutiny at Craster’s. This suggests that the Kingswood Brotherhood may be acting as a symbolic Night’s Watch, given the Smiling Knight and Ulmer have (symbolic or literal) ties to the Watch.

As with the other duels we have discussed, the Smiling Knight also gets some resurrection symbolism:

And me, that boy I was . . . when did he die, I wonder? When I donned the white cloak? When I opened Aerys’s throat? That boy had wanted to be Ser Arthur Dayne, but someplace along the way he had become the Smiling Knight instead. (ASOS, Jaime VIII)

Here, Jaime is declaring himself as dead and the new Smiling Knight – implying the Smiling Knight as dead and resurrected (symbolically). This parallels Waymar and Beric who are both resurrected after they die in their duels.

So, we’ve established that there are strong parallels between this duel and the previous duels we analysed, concluding that the Smiling Knight is playing the role of the Last Hero in this scene. As we have established in the previous duels, the counterpart of the Last Hero in this duel is the symbolic Other – in this case, Ser Arthur Dayne.

“Wait, what?” I can hear you cry. “Ser Arthur Dayne, Sword of the Morning, wielder of Dawn, Kingsguard to the fiery Targaryens – he symbolises the Others?!

Yes, I believe so, for a few reasons. For starters, the phrasing of the duel has some potentially interesting connotations:

It’s that white sword of yours I want,” the robber knight told him as they resumed, though he was bleeding from a dozen wounds by then. “Then you shall have it, ser,” the Sword of the Morning replied, and made an end of it. (ASOS, Jaime VIII)

It is made explicit here that the Smiling Knight and Ser Arthur Dayne are fighting over Dawn. A Battle for the Dawn, if you will. Hehe! Well, I thought it was funny. In any case, a War for the Dawn setup heavily implies the involvement of an archetypal Night’s Watch man and an archetypal Other. We have already identified the Smiling Knight as the Night’s Watch figure in this scene, meaning Ser Arthur Dayne must be the symbolic Other.

Ser Arthur Dayne Mike Hallstein
Ser Arthur Dayne by Mike Hallstein, in all his Other-like glory

In addition, the Kingsguard themselves have a fair amount of Other-y symbolism, which therefore applies to Ser Arthur Dayne. This has been outlined in detail elsewhere, but here’s a quick overview of the ice associations of the Kingsguard:

Yet the huge man at the head of the column, flanked by two knights in the snow-white cloaks of the Kingsguard, seemed almost a stranger to Ned … (AGOT,  Eddard I)

One knight wore an intricate suit of white enameled scales, brilliant as a field of new-fallen snow, with silver chasings and clasps that glittered in the sun. (AGOT, Sansa I)

 The seven knights of the Kingsguard took the field, all but Jaime Lannister in scaled armor the color of milk, their cloaks as white as fresh-fallen snow. (AGOT, Sansa II)

 Ser Mandon Moore rode at his side, white steel icy bright. (ACOK, Sansa V) 

The water, when it came, was only lukewarm, but Selmy lingered in the bath until it had grown cold and scrubbed his skin till it was raw. Clean as he had ever been, he rose, dried himself, and clad himself in whites. Stockings, smallclothes, silken tunic, padded jerkin, all fresh-washed and bleached. Over that he donned the armor that the queen had given him as a token of her esteem. The mail was gilded, finely wrought, the links as supple as good leather, the plate enameled, hard as ice and bright as new-fallen snow. (ADWD, The Kingbreaker)

And these are just a few select quotes, there are far more out there. This symbolism suggests the Kingsguard as armoured in ice, symbolically, which sounds a lot like the Others to me. We also see the Kingsguard referred to as white shadows on occasion:

Joffrey was galloping at his side, whey-faced, with Ser Mandon Moore a white shadow on his left. (ACOK, Tyrion IX)

His two white shadows were always with him; Balon Swann and Mandon Moore, beautiful in their pale plate.  (ACOK, Tyrion XIV)

Dany glimpsed Ser Barristan sliding closer, a white shadow at her side. (ADWD, Daenerys I)

“White shadow” is another one of those key phrases used to callout the Others:

The Others made no sound.

Will saw movement from the corner of his eye. Pale shapes gliding through the wood. He turned his head, glimpsed a white shadow in the darkness. Then it was gone. (AGOT, Prologue)

“We have white shadows in the woods and unquiet dead stalking our halls, and a boy sits the Iron Throne,” he said in disgust. (AGOT, Jon VIII)

“We do not ride for the Wall. We ride north, after Mance Rayder and these Others, these white shadows and their wights.” (ACOK, Jon III)

This again suggests that Kingsguard shares a lot of icy symbolic motifs with the Others themselves. In addition to these, we see that they share some “white sword” symbolism:

“I am a Sworn Brother of the Kingsguard, the White Swords.” (AGOT, Arya IV)

Ser Barristan Selmy, resplendent in white plate, led them in. Ser Arys Oakheart escorted the queen, while Ser Boros Blount walked beside Joffrey, so six of the Kingsguard were now in the hall, all the White Swords save Jaime Lannister alone. (AGOT, Sansa V)

Now they came forward dressed in shifts of undyed wool to receive their knighthoods from the Kingsguard. It took a long time, since only three of the Brothers of the White Sword were on hand to dub them. (ACOK, Sansa VIII)

The Other slid gracefully from the saddle to stand upon the snow. Sword-slim it was, and milky white. Its armor rippled and shifted as it moved, and its feet did not break the crust of the new-fallen snow. (ASOS, Samwell I)

This reinforces the overlapping Others-Kingsguard symbolism. The white sword, Dawn, is even described similarly to the Others’ swords. (I’m colour-coding the shared characteristics and I’ve tried to make it colour-blind friendly but let me know if it’s not!) Here’s the description of the Other’s blade in the Prologue duel:

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. There was a faint blue shimmer to the thing, a ghost-light that played around its edges, and somehow Will knew it was sharper than any razor. (AGOT, Prologue)

And here are the parallel descriptions of Dawn:

The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light. (AGOT, Eddard X)

“The finest knight I ever saw was Ser Arthur Dayne, who fought with a blade called Dawn, forged from the heart of a fallen star.” (ACOK, Bran III)

With Dawn he tapped him on the shoulder; the pale blade was so sharp that even that light touch cut through Jaime’s tunic, so he bled anew. (AFFC, Jaime I)

Both are forged from metal that isn’t human – explicitly in the case of the Others, and implied in the case of the meteor used to forge Dawn. Both are alive with some form of light. Both appear as crystal or glass. And both are incredibly sharp, sharper than any non-magical sword could be.

So, to summarise, Ser Arthur Dayne has a lot of icy symbolism going for him. As a Kingsguard he is armoured in ice and a white shadow. He also goes way overboard on “white sword” motif: as a Dayne, he comes from a castle with a tower called “the Palestone Sword”; he is a White Sword of the Kingsguard, therefore living in the White Sword Tower; he is literally called a sword in his title, the Sword of the Morning; and he wields a white sword (Dawn). That sword also shares a lot of (symbolic) similarities to the swords of the Others. This symbolism also goes the other way (heh, Other, lol) – the Others are associated with Ser Arthur Dayne, Sword of the Morning, and wielder of Dawn.

This does produce a rather interesting conundrum: why are the Others (and the people who symbolise them) associated with morning, dawn and light given that the Others are icy, wintry and cold creatures of the Long Night?

And this conundrum, this core paradoxical symbolism in the narrative, is why I think the duel between Ser Arthur Dayne and the Smiling Knight is informative. Because, in thus duel, we see the Smiling Knight’s sword break, but not Dawn.

Dawn does not break.

I’ll say that again for those of you at the back of the class.

Dawn does not break.


This is a pun of epic proportions hidden in plain sight. The Long Night isn’t the Long Night because it’s pitch black the entire time, with the moon and stars out all the time as though Planetos stopped spinning on its axis — no, it’s the Long Night because dawn arrives, day after day, but never breaks. This is a working idea that I’ve had for a little while now, and that I’m in the process of investigating for another essay but it was impossible to avoid here and an important point to raise. 

To avoid diverting the essay too much, I just want to point to a couple of quick symbolic examples in support of this idea: firstly, the period of the Dance of the Dragons known as the False Dawn. This was the brief period of ostensible peace after the death murder of Aegon II and the crowning of Aegon III, with one side summarily defeated and letters suing for peace being sent by raven across the continent – only for Lord Cregan Stark to arrive in King’s Landing for the Hour of the Wolf. Notably, the hour of the wolf is thought to be the blackest part of night in the ASOIAF world – so here we have a False Dawn, leading into the Hour of the Wolf. Subtle… Moreover, during the Hour of the Wolf (Dance of the Dragons version, not the time), Cregan passed judgement on twenty-two men accused of poisoning King Aegon II, executing two and sending 19 men to the Wall (Aegon III stepped in to save Corlys Velaryon, the 22nd person in this line-up). In effect, the False Dawn leads to the blackest part of night and a ton of men join the Night’s Watch, which sounds like Long Night symbolism to me. Specifically, 19 men were sent to the Watch, like the 19 castles on the Wall. This therefore suggests that the False Dawn is tied into the idea of a dawn that does not break: as a false dawn, it leads only to the blackest part of night and the creation of the Night’s Watch. If that isn’t some symbolism for the Long Night, I don’t know what is.

Secondly, we see another dawn heavily tied to ice and cold imagery in the final Sansa chapter of A Storm of Swords. We’ll run through the ice symbolism first:

Snow was falling on the Eyrie.

Outside the flakes drifted down as soft and silent as memory. Was this what woke me? (ASOS, Sansa VII)

The Eyrie is a white marble castle on top of a mountain, which itself implies an ice castle of some description, and now it is also being covered in snow. The implication that the snow has woken Sansa suggests she is connected to the snow in some way, an idea reinforced by her entering the godswood:

Yet she stepped out all the same. Her boots tore ankle-deep holes into the smooth white surface of the snow, yet made no sound. Sansa drifted past frosted shrubs and thin dark trees, and wondered if she were still dreaming. Drifting snowflakes brushed her face as light as lover’s kisses, and melted on her cheeks. At the center of the garden, beside the statue of the weeping woman that lay broken and half-buried on the ground, she turned her face up to the sky and closed her eyes. She could feel the snow on her lashes, taste it on her lips. It was the taste of Winterfell. The taste of innocence. The taste of dreams.

When Sansa opened her eyes again, she was on her knees. She did not remember falling. It seemed to her that the sky was a lighter shade of grey. Dawn, she thought. (ASOS, Sansa VII)

The description of the snow is very reminiscent of the description of the transformative power of fire as described by Melisandre in A Dance with Dragons (“The fire was inside her, an agony, an ecstasy, filling her, searing her, transforming her. Shimmers of heat traced patterns on her skin, insistent as a lover’s hand.), so this could be read as some kind of ice transformation for Sansa. In addition, as Sansa falls to the ground, it appears that she may be being paralleled to the fallen statue of Alyssa Arryn. Given that Alyssa Arryn has a ton of ice symbolism herself (such as Alyssa’s tears becoming frozen), this adds to Sansa’s icy symbolism in this scene. Sansa also begins to craft a very detailed representation of Winterfell in snow and ice amongst the godswood:

The snow fell and the castle rose. Two walls ankle-high, the inner taller than the outer. Towers and turrets, keeps and stairs, a round kitchen, a square armory, the stables along the inside of the west wall. It was only a castle when she began, but before very long Sansa knew it was Winterfell. She found twigs and fallen branches beneath the snow and broke off the ends to make the trees for the godswood. For the gravestones in the lichyard she used bits of bark. Soon her gloves and her boots were crusty white, her hands were tingling, and her feet were soaked and cold, but she did not care. The castle was all that mattered. (ASOS, Sansa VII)

Sansa’s recreation of Winterfell reminds me of GRRM’s quote that “the Others can do things with ice we can’t imagine” and I wonder if that is being referenced here. In any case, we do see that the snow is transforming her here, in a sense, which carries on the themes and comparisons we mentioned above. Similarly, later in the chapter, she is called a “snow maid” by Petyr Baelish and Marillion states she has a “frozen heart” in the following quote:

“I am composing a new song, you should know. A song so sweet and sad it will melt even your frozen heart. ‘The Roadside Rose,’ I mean to call it.” (ASOS, Sansa VII)

And if that doesn’t give you Lyanna of the blue winter rose vibes, the wolf-maid who sniffled at a sad song, I don’t know what else could. 

Sansa print
Sansa Stark by Sanrixian

I think that covers the Sansa-ice transformation symbolism pretty comprehensively; importantly, the mentions of dawn are also woven throughout the chapter but it never appears to break. Firstly, Sansa wakes before dawn:

The room was cold and black, though she was warm beneath the blankets. Dawn had not yet come. (ASOS, Sansa VII)

Then, as Sansa symbolically mirrors the statue of Alyssa Arryn, dawn arrives:

When Sansa opened her eyes again, she was on her knees. She did not remember falling. It seemed to her that the sky was a lighter shade of grey. Dawn, she thought. (ASOS, Sansa VII)

Then she begins to build her snow Winterfell:

Dawn stole into her garden like a thief. The grey of the sky grew lighter still, and the trees and shrubs turned a dark green beneath their stoles of snow. (ASOS, Sansa VII)

The dawn as thief thing is interesting, given the Others propensity for baby stealing, but that’s its own essay. Importantly, dawn has not broken here and instead we are seeing a sky that is just a differing shade of grey. That is the last mention of dawn in this chapter, but we do get one last mention of the sunlight:

The floors and walls of the High Hall were made of milk-white marble veined with blue. Shafts of pale daylight slanted down through narrow arched windows along the eastern wall. Between the windows were torches, mounted in high iron sconces, but none of them was lit. Her footsteps fell softly on the carpet. Outside the wind blew cold and lonely.

Amidst so much white marble even the sunlight looked chilly, somehow . . . though not half so chilly as her aunt. (ASOS, Sansa VII)

But wait? Daylight means dawn has broken, right? Well, not exactly – take a look at the colours that are associated with the Others: they white shadows, with flesh pale as milk and burning blue eyes. Much like the milk-white marble, veined with blue here in the Eyrie. Consider, too, Ser Arthur Dayne, Sword of the Morning, and how he is symbolically associated with the Others. Moreover, the daylight that we see is a weak and chillycold type of light, the implication being that this is not a true dawn in any sense. In Sansa’s first chapter of A Feast for Crows, we see a continuation of this imagery:

No matter where she went in the castle, Sansa could not escape the music. It floated up the winding tower steps, found her naked in her bath, supped with her at dusk, and stole into her bedchamber even when she latched the shutters tight. It came in on the cold thin air, and like the air, it chilled her. Though it had not snowed upon the Eyrie since the day that Lady Lysa fell, the nights had all been bitter cold. (AFFC, Sansa I)

This continues the cold transformation imagery from earlier, although notably it is the nights that are colder – a Long Night reference, perhaps? This is also the infamous “We shall serve him lies and Arbor gold” chapter, so I wonder if there is a parallel here to the false bit of the “False Dawn” idea.

So, what does this mean for our broken swords essay?

The most obvious implication is that dawn has to break in order to end the Long Night. I wonder if this means we will get another duel involving the Last Hero archetype and the Others, with the Other’s sword breaking rather than the Last Hero’s. Will the sword Dawn break to symbolise this? I think that might be a fun parallel, but perhaps a touch heavy handed, but I guess we’ll find out in A Dream of Spring.

I also think this idea of the False Dawn ties into Stannis’s fake Lightbringer. We covered that the forging of Lightbringer as being a collection of symbols that perfectly coincide with all the other symbols of broken swords we’ve investigated. However, this symbolism is undercut by events that happen in the scene itself, such as the slapstick comedy of Stannis swearing as he sets himself on fire and the slightly ominous description of the sword as “burnt”, not burning, as Salladhor Saan says. This important distinction is emphasised by Maester Aemon: 

The description of the sword as a “false light” and being “without heat” implies that idea of the False Dawn again, especially a dawn tied to cold and the Others.

Finally, I have what I think is one of the weirdest conclusions I’ve come to (not to hype it excessively or anything). From what we’ve seen this essay, it seems that the breaking of the sword is also the forging of the sword and that broken swords are closely tied to all the symbolism of Lightbringer; given this, does this mean that the Others forged Lightbringer by breaking the Last Hero’s sword? This sounds patently ridiculous – why would the icy Others even want to forge fiery Lightbringer? – but this conclusion does follow on pretty logically from the symbolism we covered in this essay. 

This is also backed up by one of my previous essays, The Extraordinary Symbolism of Tobho Mott. Those of you who have read this one may recall that Tobho Mott has a fuckton of ice symbolism – he has a massive sapphire necklace dangling from his neck and lives on Visenya’s hill (which has a bunch of icy symbolism), for instance. However, he is also in possession of a forge as hot as dragon’s fire and consistently forges items that do Lightbringer things. The breaking of Ice and forging Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail, which we have discussed prominently in this essay, is a huge example of this and again suggests the Other-y dude breaking swords and forging Lightbringer(s). 

Which is batshit crazy.


So, as usual, this essay grew in the telling, but I hope you’ve enjoyed part 1 of this new series, Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things. So what have we learned about broken swords?

As is usually the case with these in-depth meanderings, we see the broken sword motif has a huge number of symbolic connotations:

  • The broken sword appears to be tied to the idea of the monarchy e.g. the broken sword Widow’s Wail being described as a kingly sword and the Iron Throne being made of broken swords.
  • The broken sword is also typically wielded by someone playing the Last Hero role, such as Ser Waymar Royce, Ser Beric Dondarrion and the Smiling Knight, and the unbroken sword is wielded either by the Others or by someone playing the role of the Others.
  • The description of Ser Waymar’s broken sword as a “lightning struck tree” suggests that the broken sword can also be seen as a metaphor for acquiring greenseer powers.
  • Relatedly, the broken sword can be seen as a symbol of magic, tying into the idea of a sword without a hilt (e.g. Arya’s broken broomstick which “has no proper grip”).
  • As an extension of this idea, many of the “forging” a broken sword descriptions are shared with the forging of Lightbringer, suggesting Lightbringer itself may be a broken sword. These shared symbols are:
    • Being broken/forged with a scream;
    • Being broken/forged in the sight of the gods;
    • Both broken swords and Lightbringer are related to magic;
    • The breaking/forging of the swords is accompanied by some (symbolic or literal) blood sacrifice.

In addition to these symbolic connotations, we have seen that, unlike many of the myths and legends that may have served as inspiration for this motif, the sword that is broken is also the sword that is re-forged. This is depicted most clearly with the breaking of Ice into two new swords, Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail, but it has cropped up throughout the essay. We then extended this idea to the idea that, if forging Lightbringer ended the Long Night, it may also have been the thing that caused the Long Night too.

the sword that was broken brian boudreau
Lightbri- er, wait, wrong franchise… (Brian Boudreau)

Lastly, we discussed the unbroken swords that appeared in each duel, introducing the duel between the Smiling Knight and Ser Arthur Dayne. This duel contained the key piece of information we needed – namely that, during the Long Night, Dawn does not break

This information does introduce a new puzzle though: if the breaking event is the forging event, and the Others are the ones who break the sword, does that mean the Others forged Lightbringer? Hopefully we’ll uncover more information about that as this essay series progresses because, quite honestly, I don’t have a clue what the fuck is happening there.

In any case, I hope this (massive) essay has shown that there is a lot of potential symbolism to explore in this cripples, bastards and broken things motif. In the next couple of essays, I want to investigate a couple of topics which we skirted around in this essay. 

Firstly, I want to have a look at the broken men of the series, as this moniker is given to the Brotherhood without Banners, and I want to see how that ties into this overall motif – and, yes, we will be talking about *that* monologue, so have your tissues at the ready! 

Then I hope to take a look at broken words, broken vows, broken promises and the like – the sword/words pun that has been very well-documented and one of the prime examples of a broken sword is Ice which becomes Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper. With that in mind, I believe this would quite neatly complement the broken swords idea we’ve explored so far.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed the essay and, if you have any questions or comments, I’d love to read them in the comments section below. To get notifications when I post a new essay, you can subscribe to my blog – there’s an option to do this down below the comments or on the menu to the right near the top of the page.

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