Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things: Broken men and broken boys

Broken men, he thought. The wights are not the only sort of living dead. (ADWD, Jon V)

Hi again everyone, and welcome once more to the Red Mice at Play blog, home to my little corner of the A Song of Ice and Fire analysis community! As you may recall, last time we chatted about the broken swords of A Song of Ice and Fire in the first installment of my new series, Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things. In that essay, we noted that the broken sword motif was related to a lot of interwoven ideas: kingship, the Last Hero, greenseeing, magic and Lightbringer. 

This  post is the next installment of that series and today we will be focusing on the broken men of the series. Well, some of them. As per usual, I found out there were a few different broken men in the series and the essay suddenly became much longer than I planned, so we’ll be focusing on just one type of broken man today – the disabled characters of the series, aka the cripples of the “cripples, bastards and broken things” series title (so no Septon Meribald speech today). First, we’ll compare the symbolism of broken men and broken swords, just to make sure we’re on the right track, before diving into some of the “broken” characters of A Song of Ice and Fire, touching on the mythology of the Fisher King and Norse God Tyr along the way. Finally, we’ll be uncovering what I think is a phenomenal piece of wordplay which shows an important connection between the Last Hero and the Others.

Before we get started, there’s a couple of housekeeping details. First, a lot of the symbolism in this essay relies on some ableist and cissexist premises, e.g. Bran acquiring “the Broken” as a moniker as a result of his disability, or castration as a loss of manhood. It goes without saying that that’s bullshirt, but a fair few mythological ideas (and thus some of the symbolic motifs) do utilise these notions, so I’ll be referencing them a lot. I won’t be doing any analysis of ableism or gender identity, but there are a lot of great analysts out there working on these topics, if you’re interested (especially on tumblr, I’ve found e.g. lo-lynx has been churning out some awesome gender identity analysis recently, and there’s some great analysis of Tyrion and ableism). The second housekeeping note is a Game of Thrones Season 8 spoiler warning – it turns out a couple of events in there have implications for this analysis. For those of you trying to avoid spoilers, I’ve added them to the end of the essay with a teasing note about something in Season 8 being relevant; for those of you who don’t mind a teensy bit of Season 8 chat, I’ve provided jump links that (hopefully!) work so you should be able to easily get to and from the spoiler section without having to scroll for days (yeah, this is a monster essay again).

As always, huge thanks to George RR martin himself for creating this world we all love so much, plus to the large Twitter fam who, as ever, have been wonderful. In particular, thanks to the amazing Bronsterys, who has acted as contributor, sound board, editor and general provider of loveliness and self-esteem boosts – I couldn’t have done this without him. Last, but not least, thanks to you, dear reader, for kindly spending your time diving into ASOIAF with me.

Without further ado…

CONTENTS

Broken swords and broken men
Then I took a spear to the leg…
The Last Hero, God of War
Broken… ahem… swords
From ice to fire (ish)
Conclusions

Broken swords and broken men

So, why am I talking about broken men now? What does that really have to do with anything? 

Well, there are certain occasions in which men are described as swords. One which we covered in the last essay was the Others being described as “sword-slim” and their symbolic counterparts (the Kingsguard, as is outlined in detail elsewhere) being described as “the White Swords”. In one of the classic inverted symbolic parallels of the series, the Night’s Watch (aka black brothers) are also known as swords: the swords in the darkness. This idea of people themselves being swords is also evident in Syrio’s training of Arya and in the descriptions of guards:

It was the third time he had called her “boy.” “I’m a girl,” Arya objected.

“Boy, girl,” Syrio Forel said. “You are a sword, that is all.” (AGOT, Arya II)

Ned turned back to Janos Slynt. “I will also give you twenty good swords from my own household guard, to serve with the Watch until the crowds have left.” (AGOT, Eddard VI)

With that in mind, it suggests that there may be parallels between people and swords and, that being the case, broken swords and broken men may carry a lot of the same symbolism. Given the strong symbolic motifs associated with broken swords, this potential overlap suggests that an analysis of broken men could reveal some interesting information about Azor Ahai, the Last Hero and the end of the Long Night (2.0).

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Brotherhood Without Banners by sir-heartsalot

Importantly, we do see some evidence of broken men and broken swords sharing symbolism. One example is the Brotherhood Without Banners. Throughout a lot of the broken swords essay, we mentioned the Brotherhood Without Banners and, more specifically, Beric Dondarrion’s sword breaking in the midst of his duel with Sandor Clegane in Arya VI, A Storm of Swords. We demonstrated how this scene was a lot like a symbolic duel between the Night’s Watch and the Others, and we know that Beric Dondarrion had some hella undead greenseer vibes going on throughout the chapter – all symbolism associated with the broken sword motif. So, in tying broken swords and broken men together, these quotes really jumped out at me:

“The brotherhood without banners.” Tom Sevenstrings plucked a string. “The knights of the hollow hill.”

“Knights?” Clegane made the word a sneer. “Dondarrion’s a knight, but the rest of you are the sorriest lot of outlaws and broken men I’ve ever seen. I shit better men than you.” (ASOS, Arya VI)

“We were king’s men when we began,” the man told her, “but king’s men must have a king, and we have none. We were brothers too, but now our brotherhood is broken. I do not know who we are, if truth be told, nor where we might be going. I only know the road is dark. The fires have not shown me what lies at its end.” (AFFC, Brienne VIII)

In addition to this, Beric Dondarrion himself is described as a broken man:

One brother, a young novice, was bold enough to tell the red priest not to pray to his false god so long as he was under their roof. “Bugger that,” said Lem Lemoncloak. “He’s our god too, and you owe us for your bloody lives. And what’s false about him? Might be your Smith can mend a broken sword, but can he heal a broken man?” (ASOS, Arya VII)

As we saw previously, Beric Dondarrion and the Brotherhood Without Banners are heavily associated with broken swords and now it appears that they are described as broken men on multiple occasions. Lem Lemoncloak also appears to equate the mending of a broken sword as healing a broken man, suggesting some equivalence between these motifs. Taken together, this suggests to me that there is an overlap in the symbolism of these two motifs.

With that in mind, it is interesting to note that the reforging of a sword is linked to Beric Dondarrion’s resurrection. As you may recall, the people who wielded broken swords (Waymar Royce, Beric Dondarrion and the Smiling Knight) all died when their swords broke. They were also all resurrected (either literally or symbolically) after their death. We tied this to the slightly paradoxical idea that the event that breaks the sword is also the event that forges it meaning the broken sword is also the reforged sword, a play on the traditional fantasy trope of the broken/reforged sword. If this idea extends to men, as may be implied in Lem’s quote above, then death and resurrection can be tied to broken men as well as broken swords.

I can hear the skeptics among you saying “this all sounds fancy, but Lem is actually saying they aren’t the same, because he’s disbelieving the power of the Smith, so I don’t think they can be equated”. I can see that argument, but Lem is instead attributing this power to R’hllor whose messiah is most renowned for, well, forging a sword – Lightbringer… which we linked to the broken sword motif previously. So, he is still attributing the power of resurrection to a smith of sorts, just a smith of a different religion. In either case, the fact that a smith is associated with the healing of broken men suggests that there is an equivalence between broken men and broken swords.

All of which leads us to one of the most renowned broken men in the series…

Or perhaps broken boy might be the better description. Building upon the quote from Lem above, Catelyn also prays to the Smith on behalf of her best boy, Bran:

Lost and weary, Catelyn Stark gave herself over to her gods. She knelt before the Smith, who fixed things that were broken, and asked that he give her sweet Bran his protection. (ACOK, Catelyn IV)


This again fits neatly into the idea of broken men and broken swords being symbolically equivalent, and suggests we should see a lot of the broken sword symbolism for Bran. The first thing I wanted to note is that he [redacted for S8 spoilers, jump here if you want to read it *wink*], which matches one of the aspects of the broken sword essay. 

Secondly, he is a greenseer, which we tied closely to broken swords last time, given the description of Waymar’s broken sword looking like a “lightning struck tree”. Of particular interest for this essay is how frequently the description “broken” is given in the chapter that Bran becomes a greenseer:

Under the hill, the broken boy sat upon a weirwood throne, listening to whispers in the dark as ravens walked up and down his arms. 

He chose one bird, and then another, without success, but the third raven looked at him with shrewd black eyes, tilted its head, and gave a quork, and quick as that he was not a boy looking at a raven but a raven looking at a boy. The song of the river suddenly grew louder, the torches burned a little brighter than before, and the air was full of strange smells. When he tried to speak it came out in a scream, and his first flight ended when he crashed into a wall and ended back inside his own broken body

Bran did not want to be married to a tree … but who else would wed a broken boy like him? 

And through the mist of centuries the broken boy could only watch as the man’s feet drummed against the earth … but as his life flowed out of him in a red tide, Brandon Stark could taste the blood. (ADWD, Bran III)

So, Bran the Broken is greenseer and [that S8 redacted spoiler], so we are two for two on broken sword motifs being associated with a broken boy at the moment. 

Another important motif from the broken sword essay was that the breaking of the sword and re-forging of the sword appeared to be the same event. In Bran’s case, this seems to be his Jaime-assisted fall from the window being the thing that both ‘breaks’ him and ‘forges’ him into a greenseer. (Recall that the weirwoods were one of the key associations with a broken sword, so it would make sense that the broken men be associated with greenseeing.) After all, the three-eyed crow first showed up in Bran’s coma dream and showed Bran that he could access some kind of magical power. 

“When I was little I almost died of greywater fever. That was when the crow came to me.”

“He came to me after I fell,” Bran blurted. “I was asleep for a long time. He said I had to fly or die, and I woke up, only I was broken and I couldn’t fly after all.” (ACOK, Bran IV)

That Jojen also had a childhood illness that led to him meeting the three-eyed crow and receiving greendreams implies that a (near-)death experience is some kind of pre-requisite for access to magical powers. This fits in with the Odin motifs that are associated with greenseeing (as is outlined in more detail here and here), i.e. the idea of physical sacrifice to gain magical or otherworldly knowledge.

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Bran Stark by IrenHorrors (CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Moreover, the idea that disability in general can be linked to “broken things” is evident from this much-quoted Tyrion line:

“And I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples and bastards and broken things.” (AGOT, Bran IV)

This explicitly links physical disability to “broken things”, which suggests characters with disabilities in the series may have some of the relevant “broken” symbolism. Of these, Bran is the most obvious and he does indeed share a lot of symbolism with the broken sword motif.

So, having established the symbolic equivalence of broken men and broken swords, let’s delve into Bran the Broken and some Arthurian myth…

Then I took a spear to the leg…

Bad Skyrim allusions aside, the myth of the Fisher King – or the Maimed King, depending on the tale – appears to tie into a lot of the broken man symbolism and, in particular, Bran. For those of you who aren’t aware of the Fisher King, he is a disabled character from Arthurian legend who protects the Holy Grail – as with all Arthurian legend this means there are about fifteen different versions of the character and Grail quest. Heck, even Sir Thomas Malory reports two different injuries in the same book – firstly, the Fisher King is injured by Sir Balin wielding the Spear of Longinus; later, the Maimed King (either the grandfather or great-grandfather of the Fisher King) receives a leg wound by picking up a broken sword (and isn’t that a juicy tidbit for our purposes here). 

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Sir Percival arrives at the Grail Castle, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons (image in public domain)

In comparing this myth to A Song of Ice and Fire, the first and most obvious of the parallels between Bran and the Fisher King is their disabilities. The Fisher King has a wound in the leg that prevents him from hunting and walking – a big deal in ye olde times – which parallels Bran’s disability. So, rather than go hunting, the Fisher King sits in the river all day, fishing. This seems to parallel Bloodraven’s description of the weirwood trees:

“A man must know how to look before he can hope to see,” said Lord Brynden. “Those were shadows of days past that you saw, Bran. You were looking through the eyes of the heart tree in your godswood. Time is different for a tree than for a man. Sun and soil and water, these are the things a weirwood understands, not days and years and centuries. For men, time is a river. We are trapped in its flow, hurtling from past to present, always in the same direction. The lives of trees are different. They root and grow and die in one place, and that river does not move them. The oak is the acorn, the acorn is the oak. And the weirwood … a thousand human years are a moment to a weirwood, and through such gates you and I may gaze into the past.” (ADWD, Bran III)

In essence, by becoming a greenseer, Bran is also spending all day in the river, ‘fishing’ for memories. Moreover, Ravenous Reader made the amazing find there is some greenSEE/green SEA wordplay, outlined in more detail here, meaning that water symbolism can effectively be folded into the greenseer constellation of symbolism. Moreover, the motif of a fisherman or fish-catcher has been associated with greenseeing and the weirwood trees, as the trees effectively trap the greenseer so they can access the weirnet. 

This would suggest that the Holy Grail in the Fisher King myths may be compared to the weirwood trees in A Song of Ice and Fire. The Holy Grail itself is frequently depicted as the chalice from the Last Supper that was used to receive Christ’s blood during the crucifixion. As we saw in the previous essay, the broken sword motif was associated with prayer-like or religious imagery, (self-)sacrifice to the trees and resurrection. For instance, when Waymar Royce is fighting the Others in a grove of trees north of the Wall:

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.  […] 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)

Or when Beric is killed during the trial by combat in the Hollow Hill, filled with weirwood roots:

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 VII)

In each of these cases, the characters are killed amongst trees and we see the ground (and therefore the trees) drinking their blood. This is made explicit in Bran’s weirwood vision:

Then, as he watched, a bearded man forced a captive down onto his knees before the heart tree. A white-haired woman stepped toward them through a drift of dark red leaves, a bronze sickle in her hand.

“No,” said Bran, “no, don’t,” but they could not hear him, no more than his father had. The woman grabbed the captive by the hair, hooked the sickle round his throat, and slashed. And through the mist of centuries the broken boy could only watch as the man’s feet drummed against the earth … but as his life flowed out of him in a red tide, Brandon Stark could taste the blood. (ADWD, Bran III)

This suggests that the weirwoods do contain the blood of the sacrificed, much like the Holy Grail collected the blood of Christ on the cross. Given the symbolism we covered last time, it is likely that at least one of these victims was the Last Hero. Moreover, each of the characters with the broken sword then went on to be resurrected, adding more of the Christ-like sacrificial saviour vibe to this symbolism. This implies that the Last Hero is a wight of some description, as has been covered by others.  

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King Arthur off to find the nearest weirwood tree

Importantly, it is the blood of the Christ still dripping from the Spear of Longinus that heals the Maimed King:

“Also I woll that ye take with you off thys bloode of thys speare for to anoynte the Maymed Kynge, both his legges and hys body, and he shall have hys heale.” […] And Sir Galahad wente anone to the speare which lay uppon the table and towched the bloode with hys fyngirs, and cam aftir to the Maymed Kynge and anoynted his legges and hys body. And therewith he clothed him anone, and sterte uppon hys feete oute of his bedde as an hole man, and thanked God that He had heled hym […]” (Le Morte D’arthur, Sir Thomas Malory, ed. Stephen H. A. Shepherd 2004, p. 584)

As that passage probably demonstrates, reading Malory has made me forever grateful for the advent of the printing press and the standardisation of English spelling. Anywho, applying this symbolism to the A Song of Ice and Fire symbolism we have seen so far, the weirwoods could be implied as healing in a sense – here the blood of Christ has healed the Fisher King and the weirwoods likely contain the blood of the sacrificed Last Hero figure, with Bran’s journey to becoming a greenseer strongly tied to his desire to be healed and be able to walk again:

“I’m here,” Bran said, “only I’m broken. Will you … will you fix me … my legs, I mean?(ADWD, Bran III)

All of this suggests that there are parallels with the Fisher King mythology that can be drawn upon in our analysis of broken men – specifically, we can see a link between the physical disability and the possession of something more magical. As such, we should see similar symbolism around other disabled characters, one of whom is Willas Tyrell. We don’t really know that much about Willas, but Cersei offers this summary:

“The Tyrell heir would be my choice,” Lord Tywin concluded, “but if you would prefer another, I will hear your reasons.”

“That is so very kind of you, Father,” Cersei said with icy courtesy. “It is such a difficult choice you give me. Who would I sooner take to bed, the old squid or the crippled dog boy?(ASOS, Tyrion III)

To my ears, “crippled dog boy” sounds like a description of Bran with his pet direwolf and both of the characters are crippled by sun figures – Bran by Jaime Lannister, who is “armored like the sun” in AGOT, Bran III; Willas by Oberyn Martell, whose sigil is a sun. This parallel suggests that Willas Tyrell may have some of the broken man symbolism we have touched on briefly here.

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Willas Tyrell by Ozneral-1516

Indeed, he is symbolically represented as a skinchanger via his passion for animals:

“Willas has the best birds in the Seven Kingdoms,” Margaery said when the two of them were briefly alone. “He flies an eagle sometimes.(ASOS, Sansa II)

“Willas is heir to Highgarden, and by all reports a mild and courtly young man, fond of reading books and looking at the stars. He has a passion for breeding animals as well, and owns the finest hounds, hawks, and horses in the Seven Kingdoms.” (ASOS, Tyrion III)

As Margaery says to Sansa, he flies an eagle which is very reminiscent of Orell, the eagle-skinchanger, as well as the three-eyed crow telling Bran that he must fly. In addition, Ravenous Reader has pointed out the symbolic similarity between the weirwoods and libraries as repositories of knowledge. As such, Willas being a bookish character may be meant to invoke this link between the libraries and the weirwood trees, thus symbolically implying him as a greenseer.

Moreover, the Tyrells are currently the lords of the Reach, taking over from House Gardener, who are swimming in so much symbolism they should be called House Greenseer. In particular, the progenitor of basically every house in the Reach (but in particular House Gardener) is Garth the Green and, as the name would suggest, he has an abundance of green man symbolism. For those of you who are unaware, green man symbolism is pretty ubiquitous in Northern European myth and, as my history teacher told me back in t’ day, it’s a fun game to try and spot a carving in any old cathedrals or churches you go to. More importantly for our purposes here, the green man mythology has tons of implications for the mythology surrounding greenseers. For instance, the green man is heavily associated with life and rebirth, mimicking the seasonal changes of the trees, and frequently tied to nature (or vegetative) deities. This sounds like a version of the weirwoods as home to the old gods, aka greenseers. In particular, Garth the Green is depicted as bringing fertility to the land (and to women) which ties into this life and vitality aspect of the green man persona. Garth is even depicted as a god in some tales, one who demands blood sacrifice sometimes which sounds a lot like the weirwoods drinking blood again. Even the name Garth appears to have a ton of ties to greenseer symbolism – this has been outlined in great detail elsewhere, so I won’t derail the present essay to paraphrase that, but trust me it exists and is pretty overwhelming.

Highgarden itself contains a lot of greenseer/weirwood symbolism too, as expected from the histories of the Reach. Firstly, there are three weirwood trees in its godswood, which appears to be highly unusual:

Even in the wolfswood, you never found more than two or three of the white trees growing together; a grove of nine was unheard of. (AGOT, Jon VI)

That is, even in the wolfswood in the heart of the North where the worship of the old gods remains strong, you would – maybe – see a trio of trees. The wolfswood is such a strong greenseer symbol that Bran claims dominion over the wolfswood as “prince of the green, prince of the wolfswood” (ASOS, Bran I) when warging into Summer, implying his greenseer power is symbolically reflected in the wolfswood. And we see the greensee/green sea wordplay being used in reference to the wolfswood:

The wolfswood, the northmen named the forest. Most nights you could hear the wolves, calling to each other through the dark. An ocean of leaves. Would it were an ocean of water. (ADWD, The Wayward Bride)

Still, you only see a maximum of a trio of weirwoods there. This suggests that Highgarden’s trio of weirwoods is a place with a high level of greenseer activity (either symbolically or in ASOIAF history), which accords with that we know of Garth Greenhand. Second, Highgarden is guarded by three walls:

Highgarden is girded by three concentric rings of crenellated curtain walls,  made of finely dressed white stone and protected by towers as slender and graceful as maidens. Each wall is higher and thicker than the one below it. Between the outermost wall that girdles the foot of the hill and the middle wall above it can be found Highgarden’s famed briar maze, a vast and complicated labyrinth of thorns and hedges maintained for centuries for the pleasure and delight of the castle’s occupants and guests…and for defensive purposes, for intruders unfamiliar with the maze cannot easily find their way through its traps and dead ends to the castle gates. (TWOIAF, The Reach: Highgarden)

This imagery is highly alchemical in nature: indeed, in one famous picture (see below), three walls protect a flaming tree that produces the elixir of youth. As the weirwood trees are depicted as flaming trees (ACOK, Theon V), three walls protecting three weirwood trees seems like a fun kind of parallel, especially given the power that is contained in the weirwoodnet seems to give longevity to the greenseers, much like this alchemical elixir of youth. 

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Red Queen in a tree (spot the fire at the base of the tree). From Pretiosa Margarita novella, Janus Lacinius.

Third, as I highlighted in the quote above, Higharden is renowned throughout Westeros for its briar maze. Maze imagery has a lot in common with Winterfell:

To a boy, Winterfell was a grey stone labyrinth of walls and towers and courtyards and tunnels spreading out in all directions. In the older parts of the castle, the halls slanted up and down so that you couldn’t even be sure what floor you were on. The place had grown over the centuries like some monstrous stone tree, Maester Luwin told him once, and its branches were gnarled and thick and twisted, its roots sunk deep into the earth. (AGOT, Bran II)

Somewhere in the great stone maze of Winterfell, a wolf howled. (AGOT, Tyrion I)

The snowmen the squires had built had grown into monstrous giants, ten feet tall and hideously misshapen. White walls rose to either side as he and Rowan made their way to the godswood; the paths between keep and tower and hall had turned into a maze of icy trenches, shoveled out hourly to keep them clear. It was easy to get lost in that frozen labyrinth, but Theon Greyjoy knew every twist and turning. (ADWD, Theon I)

Winterfell is a labyrinthine stone tree, Highgarden has a maze of trees (well, hedges). So it seems that both Bran Stark and Willas Tyrell are both heirs to maze castles, and we’ll just bypass all of the maze/labyrinth symbolism of the weirwoods themselves, which enhances the greenseer symbolism of these two broken characters.

These similarities would suggest that Willas Tyrell should have some Last Hero type shenanigans coming up, and that’s exactly the set up we see in Feast-Dance, as Willas Tyrell rallies the Reach to defend against the Ironborn. Of course, the Ironborn at this time are being led by Euron Greyjoy, Night’s King archetype extraordinaire. This positions Willas Tyrell as the Last Hero-type figure, which would be a match for the broken man symbolism that he appears to have.

Another person with a leg wound is poor young Night’s Watch recruit, Lommy Greenhands. Giving Lommy the nickname “Greenhands” evokes images of Garth Greenhands and thus all of that greenseer symbolism, so again we have the overlapping Night’s Watch and greenseer symbolism. When travelling North around the God’s Eye, Lommy sustains a leg injury as Lorch and his men war crime their way across the Riverlands at the behest of Tywin Lannister: 

Arya grabbed Gendry by the arm. “He said go,” she shouted, “the barn, the way out.” Through the slits of his helm, the Bull’s eyes shone with reflected fire. He nodded. They called Hot Pie down from the wall and found Lommy Greenhands where he lay bleeding from a spear thrust through his calf. (ACOK, Arya IV)

This is an especially important representation of the Fisher King as, in Malory’s version of the tale (one of them, anyway), Sir Balin delivers the “Dolorous Stroke” (or leg wound) to the Fisher King using the Spear of Longinus. (Yeah, don’t ask me why the blood of Christ is still on the spear later, but that doesn’t get a mention here – Arthurian legends and narrative continuity aren’t great friends.) Lommy’s wound here is clearly reflective of that and suggests that he has the Fisher King/broken man symbolism too. At the time the “Dolorous Stroke” is delivered, the Fisher King’s castle falls down and this supposedly transforms his lands into a wasteland. We’ll be going into this in a lot more detail later, but for now, I wanted to point out how similar this sounds to the results of the Long Night and also to the riverlands as Tywin performs his Grand Chevauchee (war crimes).

In fact, the entire massacre at the holdfast has a lot of Long Night imagery (as has been analysed by myself and others), with some particularly strong parallels in the language with the birth of Dany’s dragons and thus the forging of Lightbringer. As we discovered last essay, the forging of Lightbringer is akin to the creation of the broken sword and so it seems important to note that we see the creation of a broken boy here at the same time. This parallels an analysis of Bran Stark Moreover, as with the broken sword/broken man symbolism, we see poor Lommy sacrificed to the trees:

Lommy Greenhands sat propped up between two thick roots at the foot of an oak. A spear had taken him through his left calf during the fight at the holdfast. By the end of the next day, he had to limp along one-legged with an arm around Gendry, and now he couldn’t even do that. They’d hacked branches off trees to make a litter for him, but it was slow, hard work carrying him along, and he whimpered every time they jounced him.

[…]

They found Lommy where they’d left him, under the oak. “I yield,” he called out at once when he saw them. He’d flung away his own spear and raised his hands, splotchy green with old dye. “I yield. Please.” 

[…] 

“Can you walk?” He sounded concerned.

“No,” said Lommy. “You got to carry me.”

“Think so?” The man lifted his spear casually and drove the point through the boy’s soft throat. Lommy never even had time to yield again. He jerked once, and that was all. When the man pulled his spear loose, blood sprayed out in a dark fountain. (ACOK, Arya V)

Sorry to make you read some casual child murder there, but this language does show the sacrifice of a young greenseer child with a leg wound, so it does seem important for this essay. For example, Lommy is called Lommy Greenhands, which reminds us of Garth the Green whose alternative nickname was “Garth Greenhands”. The other children also make Lommy a litter from tree branches, which sounds like it could be an allusion to a weirwood throne. The oak tree frequently stands in as a symbol of the weirwood tree (as is neatly demonstrated in these three essays), as world mythology often picks oak trees as a kind of cosmic world tree which is also what the weirwoods represent and it ties back into the green man mytholgy mentioned earlier. As such, Lommy being placed under an oak and being killed under it too would seem to represent a symbolic sacrifice to the weirwoods. That his leg wound and his death are both inflicted by spears may be an allusion to the breaking event also being death (actual or symbolic), as appeared to be the case in the broken sword essay

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Jon Snow and Ghost by Douglasbot

In the last essay, we tied a lot of the broken sword imagery to the Last Hero, and to start this essay, we linked the idea of broken swords with broken men. So, while it is fun to look at the symbolism of ancillary randos like Willas Tyrell and Lommy Greenhands, really we should be seeing some broken man symbolism from the big hitters of the Last Hero archetypes:

Long hours later, the rain stopped. Jon found himself alone in a sea of tall black grass. There was a deep throbbing ache in his right thigh. When he looked down, he was surprised to see an arrow jutting out the back of it. When did that happen?  (ASOS, Jon V)

Now, you can’t get much more archetypal Last Hero than Jon Snow, leader of the Night’s Watch who is killed (ahem, sacrificed) at the end of the written books (and presumably soon to be resurrected). This scene occurs just after Jon Snow has left the wildlings who climbed the Wall and chose to stay true to the Night’s Watch instead. This implies that Jon choosing to rejoin the Watch was directly involved in him being given a leg wound, again linking the Last Hero archetype with the broken man. Importantly, the Fisher King’s wound is frequently said to be in the thigh – this has some medieval connotations that we’ll talk about in a bit (or skip ahead here for essay spoilers ;P ), but I wanted to note this now to reinforce the parallels between these leg wounds and the broken man motif in A Song of Ice and Fire.

In addition, we see a link made between Jon’s leg wound and the tale of Azor Ahai, Nissa Nissa and the forging of Lightbringer:

“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)

Maester Aemon sniffed Jon’s wound again. Then he put the bloody cloth back in the basin and said, “Donal, the hot knife, if you please. I shall need you to hold him still.”

I will not scream, Jon told himself when he saw the blade glowing red hot. But he broke that vow as well. Donal Noye held him down, while Clydas helped guide the maester’s hand. Jon did not move, except to pound his fist against the table, again and again and again. The pain was so huge he felt small and weak and helpless inside it, a child whimpering in the dark. Ygritte, he thought, when the stench of burning flesh was in his nose and his own shriek echoing in her ears. Ygritte, I had to. For half a heartbeat the agony started to ebb. But then the iron touched him once again, and he fainted. (ASOS, Jon VI)

The parallels here seem quite clear. We have an armourer (Donal Noye) bringing the hot knife – this sounds a lot like the forging of a fiery sword. Then we have a scream accompanying the hot blade touching flesh – this is akin to Nissa Nissa’s scream and the scream that accompanied the breaking of the sword. Jon then evokes Ygritte’s memory as he smells “the stench of burning flesh”, which sounds a lot like the invocation of a Nissa Nissa type sacrifice, reinforced with “Ygritte, I had to.” Jon even pounds his fist against the table three times, potentially alluding to the three attempts to forge Lightbringer. As we covered in the last essay, much of the broken sword symbolism overlaps with Lightbringer and, given that the broken man and broken sword motifs appear to be very similar, it is almost inevitable that there would be Lightbringer symbolism associated with the broken man motif. 

We’ll be touching on some more Jon-as-broken symbolism throughout this essay but for now, I think we’ve covered enough leg wounds. Now, on to more broken man symbolism of the violent and horrendous maiming depicted in the series… Hurray! (For the symbolism, not maiming, of course – I’m not Joffrey.)

The Last Hero, God of War

As seen on a few occasions, some of the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire are called “crippled” if they have lost an arm or a hand. So, in addition to these characters tying in to all of the symbolic associations of the broken man, we can also see some ties to Tyr, the Norse god of war, law and justice. For those of you who aren’t that familiar with Norse myth, one of the most important Tyr myths is when the gods are trying to chain up Fenrir, the massive wolf prophesied to do a ton of destruction during Ragnarok. Fenrir, being the savvy son of Loki the trickster-god, senses a trap and refuses to be placed in chains unless one of the gods places their hand in his mouth. Tyr is the only god to step forward and place his hand in Fenrir’s mouth. Inevitably, when Fenrir is trapped, Fenrir chomps down and Tyr loses his hand.

Tyr_feeds_Fenrir
Tyr feeds Fenrir (public domain, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons)

We can see how this broken man symbolism applies to everyone’s second favorite Baratheon armourer, Donal Noye:

“Life,” Jon repeated bitterly. The armorer could talk about life. He’d had one. He’d only taken the black after he’d lost an arm at the siege of Storm’s End. Before that he’d smithed for Stannis Baratheon, the king’s brother. He’d seen the Seven Kingdoms from one end to the other; he’d feasted and wenched and fought in a hundred battles. They said it was Donal Noye who’d forged King Robert’s warhammer, the one that crushed the life from Rhaegar Targaryen on the Trident. He’d done all the things that Jon would never do, and then when he was old, well past thirty, he’d taken a glancing blow from an axe and the wound had festered until the whole arm had to come off. Only then, crippled, had Donal Noye come to the Wall, when his life was all but over. (AGOT, Jon III)

Loving that Jon defines old as “well past thirty”, yay for bratty teenagers. Anyways, back to Donal Noye. For starters, we have literally just spoken about him symbolically creating the hot knife that was used in the healing of Jon’s leg wound, which itself acted as a parallel to the forging of Lightbringer, a symbolic broken sword. In addition, he is a man of the Night’s Watch, which we previously noted as potentially being associated with broken swords, and as such the institution itself may also be associated with broken men. Indeed, this is the description of the Night’s Watch that Noye rallies against the wildlings attacking from the south:

“How many men are left here?”

“Forty odd,” said Donal Noye. “The crippled and infirm, and some green boys still in training.” (ASOS, Jon VI)

This suggests the Night’s Watch as fitting the “cripples, bastards and broken things” outline. Noye himself is a smith and armourer for the Watch, so his role in the watch invokes the idea of a broken/reforged sword. Noye also finds himself leading the Watch against the wildling invasion from the north, which gives Noye some serious Azor Ahai/Last Hero vibes – leader of the Night’s Watch, making weapons and fighting the icy northern invaders, anyone? 

In addition, throughout the battle, there is a ton of War for the Dawn imagery, not least of which is Donal Noye ordering fire to be flung at the wildlings during their nighttime attack:

“How do we fight them if we can’t see them?” Horse asked.

Donal Noye turned toward the two great trebuchets that Bowen Marsh had restored to working order. “Give me light!” he roared.

Barrels of pitch were loaded hastily into the slings and set afire with a torch. The wind fanned the flames to a brisk red fury. “NOW!” Noye bellowed. The counterweights plunged downward, the throwing arms rose to thud against the padded crossbars. The burning pitch went tumbling through the darkness, casting an eerie flickering light upon the ground below.  Jon caught a glimpse of mammoths moving ponderously through the half-light, and just as quickly lost them again. A dozen, maybe more. The barrels struck the earth and burst. They heard a deep bass trumpeting, and a giant roared something in the Old Tongue, his voice an ancient thunder that sent shivers up Jon’s spine.

“Again!” Noye shouted, and the trebuchets were loaded once more. Two more barrels of burning pitch went crackling through the gloom to come crashing down amongst the foe. This time one of them struck a dead tree, enveloping it in flame. Not a dozen mammoths, Jon saw, a hundred. (ASOS, Jon VIII)

I don’t know about you but the call for light in the midst of darkness sounds distinctly God-like (“Let there be light”, Genesis 1:3). Indeed, this call for light goes on to create the burning tree, invoking the idea of Moses and the burning bush as well as the weirwood trees like a blaze of flame, aka the home of the old gods. As such, Donal Noye requesting light sounds a lot like he is acting as a god (symbolically). This light then burns trees, which creates imagery tied to the weirwoods and thus the old gods, which in turn implies Noye as a greenseer: the broken smith has forged the broken sword. This is not quite in line with one of the conclusions we drew last time – that the Others were key in the breaking (and therefore forging) of the sword – but is in line with the more traditional interpretation of a heroic Azor Ahai figure forging Lightbringer. 

donal Noye v Mag the Mighty Sirheartsalot
Donal Noye v Mag the Mighty by Sir-Heartsalot

Much as with the symbolism we saw with broken swords and have seen so far with broken men, Donal Noye eventually sacrifices himself during this battle to defend the gate below the Wall, which builds upon the Last Hero self-sacrifice themes we’ve been tracking so far:

“Are they all dead?” Maester Aemon asked softly.

“Yes. Donal was the last.” Noye’s sword was sunk deep in the giant’s throat, halfway to the hilt. The armorer had always seemed such a big man to Jon, but locked in the giant’s massive arms he looked almost like a child. “The giant crushed his spine. I don’t know who died first.” (ASOS, Jon VIII)

The crushing of Donal Noye’s spine may be a parallel to Bran’s fall and subsequent paralysis, thus invoking additional Fisher King/broken man symbolism for Noye at the moment of his sacrifice. In addition, eagle-eyed Bronsterys noticed that Donal is described as “the last”, probably an allusion to Donal Noye being a representation of the Last Hero archetype. There are a couple of potential greenseer clues here: namely Donal Noye is giving a “red smile” to a giant. As has been noted elsewhere, the weirwoods are compared to giants on a couple of occasions, so the throat wound of the giant may represent the face carving of the weirwood trees. Moreover, we see that the weirwoods often make people look like children, and this is directly linked to the image of a greenseer:

Before them a pale lord in ebon finery sat dreaming in a tangled nest of roots, a woven weirwood throne that embraced his withered limbs as a mother does a child. (ADWD, Bran II)

His father and the black pool and the godswood faded and were gone and he was back in the cavern, the pale thick roots of his weirwood throne cradling his limbs as a mother does a child. (ADWD, Bran III)

As such, Donal Noye looking like a child in the arms of a giant may symbolise him becoming a greenseer at the moment of his death – exactly the symbolism we’d be looking for in the broken man.

So, what of the Tyr symbolism? Well, we see Donal Noye lead the Night’s Watch into battle, a distinctly warrior-like aspect. Moreover, as described above, Noye acquires a ton of greenseer (and thus god) symbolism, which combined would seem to suggest he is representing a god of war aspect here. Noye is also the one to counsel Jon about his bullying of the other Watch recruits, which may lend itself to the law and justice aspect of Tyr’s mythology. Lastly, Tyr is prophesied to die during Ragnarok; while it is not quite the end of the world in this battle, there is a lot of War for the Dawn imagery here. Given the “last battle” nature of Ragnarok and the War for the Dawn, it seems like there could be some parallels there.

Ser Jacelyn Bywater is another character who fits into the hand loss version of the broken man symbolism:

Lord Janos Slynt took a gulp of wine and sloshed it around in his mouth for a moment before swallowing. “Bywater. Well. Brave man, to be sure, yet . . . he’s rigid, that one. A queer dog. The men don’t like him. A cripple too, lost his hand at Pyke, that’s what got him knighted. A poor trade, if you ask me, a hand for a ser.” (ACOK, Tyrion II)

By becoming the Lord Commander of the City Watch, Ser Jacelyn Bywater is now the head of the proto-police force in the capital city, so there we have our Tyr, god of law and justice symbolism. Importantly, Bywater was elevated to Lord Commander having been captain of the Mud Gate, aka the River Gate. Hello again, greenSEE/SEA and river of time! Add to that, gates also have some weirwood symbolism: gates are the means of passing from one side to another, much as the weirwoods are the means of passing from the physical realm into a spiritual one. This kind of gate metaphor is pretty ubiquitous in both myth (e.g. the pearly gates into heaven) and A Song of Ice and Fire (e.g. the weirwood tree known as the Black Gate under the Nightfort).

In addition, Bywater leads the goldcloaks into battle during the repelled invasion of Stannis. Not only does this invoke the idea of Tyr god of war leading men into battle again, it also creates some very strong parallels with Donal Noye, who was acting Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch during the repelled wildling invasion. Indeed, both men die in these attacks, suggesting some further parallels between the two characters and thus strengthening this broken man motif we’re constructing. The goldcloaks are therefore symbolising the Night’s Watch, at least insofar as the Battle of the Blackwater is concerned. Indeed, the goldcloaks are even alluded to as broken men prior to the battle:

The gold cloaks were almost as uncertain a weapon. […] “No man likes to look craven in the sight of his fellows, so they’ll fight brave enough at the start, when it’s all warhorns and blowing banners. But if the battle looks to be going sour they’ll break, and they’ll break bad. The first man to throw down his spear and run will have a thousand more trodding on his heels.” (ACOK, Tyrion XI)

So here, we have a weapon which is uncertain and likely to break – sounds a lot like some broken sword symbolism to me, again paired with some broken man symbolism. In addition, we are told that the goldcloaks mutinied and killed Bywater during the battle:

“During the battle. Your sister sent the Kettleblacks to fetch the king back to the Red Keep, the way I hear it. When the gold cloaks saw him leaving, half of them decided they’d leave with him. Ironhand put himself in their path and tried to order them back to the walls. They say Bywater was blistering them good and almost had ’em ready to turn when someone put an arrow through his neck. He didn’t seem so fearsome then, so they dragged him off his horse and killed him.” (ASOS Tyrion I)

This may be another parallel to the Night’s Watch, who mutinied against Jeor Mormont, leader of the Watch, and killed him. Much like the Battle at the Wall, the Battle of the Blackwater also has a strong War for the Dawn vibe, with the entire battle occurring at nighttime and lit with flame. Again, as with Donal Noye, Bywater dies during this battle, which may evoke the idea of Tyr dying during Ragnarok. Altogether, this suggests that there are some quite strong parallels between Ser Jacelyn Bywater and some of the leaders of the Night’s Watch, indicating Bywater may fall into this Last Hero/broken man archetype. 

The most prominent character to lose their hand in A Song of Ice and Fire so far is, of course, Ser Jaime Lannister. As you may recall from the previous essay, we touched on Jaime in the last essay as a wielder of the broken sword, Oathkeeper. In addition, we noted that he has some ties to the Smiling Knight vs. Ser Arthur Dayne duel. To briefly recap that duel:

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)

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)

In the above scene, the Smiling Knight wields a broken sword as part of the archetypal duel between the Last Hero and the Others. We noted that this conveys some death and resurrection symbolism, by the Smiling Knight being killed and Jaime then thinking of himself as the Smiling Knight. This fits with the death and resurrection symbolism we’ve tracked throughout these two essays. Moreover, in the very next chapter, Jaime Lannister is gifted the sword Oathkeeper, potentially tying the reflections about the broken sword of the Smiling Knight to the broken sword Oathkeeper.

temperance_naomimakesart
Temperance by naomimakesart

In addition to the broken sword symbolism, Jaime also appears to have a lot of broken man imagery:

He looked at his stump and grimaced. I must do something about that. If the late Ser Jacelyn Bywater could wear an iron hand, he should have a gold one. Cersei might like that. A golden hand to stroke her golden hair, and hold her hard against me. (ASOS, Jaime VIII)

This quote implies a potential symbolic parallel between Ser Jacelyn Bywater and Jaime Lannister through this motif of the broken man. Indeed, both Jaime and Jacelyn lead men into war, invoking the idea of Tyr as the God of War. Jaime himself is a renowned warrior in Westeros, so much so that Tyrion prays to the Warrior to protect Jaime – symbolically, this suggests Jaime as under the protection of Tyr. We also find out in A Storm of Swords that Jaime Lannister has a deep connection to oaths – both oathkeeping and oathbreaking – which ties him to the God of Law and Justice aspect of Tyr’s godhood. I won’t delve into oaths too much, as I have an entire essay planned devoted to the broken words, but I just wanted to introduce this parallel here. 

To further connect Jaime to the broken man motif, he is explicitly described as broken and crippled after he loses his hand:

But Tywin Lannister endured, eternal as Casterly Rock. And now you have a cripple for a son as well as a dwarf, my lord. How you will hate that… (ASOS, Jamie VI)

His maiming had been monstrously cruel. It was one thing to slay a lion, another to hack his paw off and leave him broken and bewildered. (AFFC, Brienne I)

This ties Jaime into the cripples, bastards and broken things motif, as spelled out by Tyrion in A Game of Thrones. Importantly, the Brienne quote creates a link that we have been missing so far: namely that the act of losing the hand is the creation of the broken man. 

Given the parallels between Lightbringer and broken swords and the parallels between broken swords and broken men we’ve uncovered, we would expect there to be a connection between Lightbringer and broken men. As such, Jaime’s breaking event (losing his hand) should have some strong Lightbringer forging symbolism and, indeed, it does: 

“’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)

He was a Lannister of Casterly Rock, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard; no sellsword would make him scream.

Sunlight ran silver along the edge of the arakh as it came shivering down, almost too fast to see. And Jaime screamed. (ASOS, Jaime III)

After the second time he fell from the saddle, they bound him tight to Brienne of Tarth and made them share a horse again. One day, instead of back to front, they bound them face-to-face. The lovers, Shagwell sighed loudly, “and what a lovely sight they are. ‘Twould be cruel to separate the good knight and his lady.” Then he laughed that high shrill laugh of his, and said, “Ah, but which one is the knight and which one is the lady?”

If I had my hand, you’d learn that soon enough, Jaime thought. His arms ached and his legs were numb from the ropes, but after a while none of that mattered. His world shrunk to the throb of agony that was his phantom hand, and Brienne pressed against him. She’s warm, at least, he consoled himself, though the wench’s breath was as foul as his own.

His hand was always between them. Urswyck had hung it about his neck on a cord, so it dangled down against his chest, slapping Brienne’s breasts as Jaime slipped in and out of consciousness. (ASOS, Jaime IV)

I’ve colour-coded this so hopefully you can see how strong the parallels are. One example is Jaime screaming when he “breaks” i.e. loses his hand – a parallel to the Nissa Nissa’s cry of anguish and ecstasy, and a pattern we saw with the broken swords last essay. As is described in the myth (ACOK, Davos I), Azor Ahai is depicted as Nissa Nissa’s wife and therefore lover, much as Jaime and Brienne are mocked as being lovers in the above quotes. Azor Ahai thrusts Lightbringer into Nissa Nissa’s breast; similarly, Jaime’s hand keeps slapping Brienne’s breast. Notably, the lover imagery occurs after the second time he fell from his saddle in ASOS, Jaime IV, implying the three forgings of Lightbringer – two times he tried to ride unsuccessfully, but on the third time, with the help of Nissa Nissa… Skipping right past the horse imagery that is integral to greenseeing, we see Jaime highlight Brienne’s warmth, reminding us of Jon’s summary of Azor Ahai and Lightbringer:

The pages that told of Azor Ahai. Lightbringer was his sword. Tempered with his wife’s blood if Votar can be believed. Thereafter Lightbringer was never cold to the touch, but warm as Nissa Nissa had been warm. In battle the blade burned fiery hot.  (ADWD, Jon III)

So, along with the rest of the Lightbringer symbolism, Brienne is consistently linked to Nissa Nissa in this scene and she is emphasised as warm. As we’ve been outlining, Jaime losing his hand is akin to Azor Ahai forging Lightbringer, so it’s should come as no surprise that Jaime describes the loss of his hand like this:

His hand burned.

Still, still, long after they had snuffed out the torch they’d used to sear his bloody stump, days after, he could still feel the fire lancing up his arm, and his fingers twisting in the flames, the fingers he no longer had. (ASOS, Jaime IV)

Altogether, I think this reinforces all of the links we’ve seen so far: Lightbringer, broken swords and broken men.

Speaking of broken men, after the loss of his hand, a feverish Jaime engages in one of the more impressive sequences of symbolic motifs that can be crammed into one paragraph, all of which appear to relate to the broken man motif:

Jaime lay on his back afterward, staring at the night sky, trying not to feel the pain that snaked up his right arm every time he moved it. The night was strangely beautiful. The moon was a graceful crescent, and it seemed as though he had never seen so many stars. The King’s Crown was at the zenith, and he could see the Stallion rearing, and there the Swan. The Moonmaid, shy as ever, was half-hidden behind a pine tree. How can such a night be beautiful? he asked himself. Why would the stars want to look down on such as me?

“Jaime,” Brienne whispered, so faintly he thought he was dreaming it. “Jaime, what are you doing?”

Dying,” he whispered back. (ASOS, Jaime IV)

A detailed analysis of Jaime IV, A Storm of Swords, has been done elsewhere too, but given the importance of this chapter to the broken man analysis, I thought it was worth pointing out a few of the symbolic connections. The first thing I wanted to note is that this passage would seem to link Jaime losing his hand to his death: this ties in very neatly to the idea of the broken man as a sacrifice. Moreover, this passage is related to greenseeing in a number of ways. One of these is the whispering of Jaime and Brienne, as whispering is frequently associated with the communication of the old gods and therefore greenseers:

“Watch them and keep them safe, if it please you, gods. Help them defeat the Lannisters and save Father and bring them home.”

A faint wind sighed through the godswood and the red leaves stirred and whispered. (AGOT, Bran VI)

Red leaves whispered in the wind. […] Under the hill, the broken boy sat upon a weirwood throne, listening to whispers in the dark as ravens walked up and down his arms. (ADWD, Bran III)

Down here there was no wind, no snow, no ice, no dead things reaching out to grab you, only dreams and rushlight and the kisses of the ravens. And the whisperer in darkness.

The last greenseer, the singers called him, but in Bran’s dreams he was still a three-eyed crow. (ADWD, Bran III)

“But,” said Bran, “he heard me.”

He heard a whisper on the wind, a rustling amongst the leaves.” (ADWD, Bran III)

In addition to the whispering, Jaime thinks that he is dreaming, which also suggests that there is a symbolic connection to greenseeing or mystical visions here – for example, Bloodraven is first introduced to readers as “dreaming in a tangled nest of roots” so dreaming appears to be a core component of greenseeing symbolism. Jaime later describes that he continues to be tied to the trees in the evening by his captors, which reinforces the idea of broken man Jaime symbolically becoming a greenseer – think here of Bloodraven literally being trapped by the tree as its roots grow through and around him. Even the stars are getting in on the weirwood action:

The Moonmaid, shy as ever, was half-hidden behind a pine tree. (ASOS, Jaime IV)

As has been described elsewhere in great detail, the “shy maid” is a motif that is strongly related to the weirwoods themselves and here we have a shy (moon) maid connected to the trees.

Another point I wanted to raise here is that Jaime losing his hand is linked to his staring at the stars, as we can see from the opening sentence of this passage:

Jaime lay on his back afterward, staring at the night sky, trying not to feel the pain that snaked up his right arm every time he moved it. (ASOS, Jaime IV)

Symbolically (and especially when analysed with all of the greenseer motifs in mind), this suggests the idea of physical pain and sacrifice to transcend this plane of existence and gain access to astral plane, frequently tied to mystical powers. This is highly reminiscent of Odin, who we mentioned a lot in the last essay and whose symbolism manifests a lot in the greenseers of the series. In fact, Jaime even notes that his eye wound is hurting a few paragraphs later, a link to Odin who sacrificed his eye, reinforcing the Jaime-as-broken-man-symbolic-greenseer thing. Staring at the stars actually creates a link to another of the broken men we have analysed today – Willas Tyrell: 

Willas has a bad leg but a good heart,” said Margaery. “He used to read to me when I was a little girl, and draw me pictures of the stars. (ASOS, Sansa I)

“Willas is heir to Highgarden, and by all reports a mild and courtly young man, fond of reading books and looking at the stars. He has a passion for breeding animals as well, and owns the finest hounds, hawks, and horses in the Seven Kingdoms.” (ASOS, Tyrion III)

This reinforces the common connections between the broken men motifs we have been touching on so far, and I think it would be remiss of me to not point out how integral star symbolism is to the story of the Long Night. Indeed, “he had never seen so many stars” is a key hallmark of Long Night symbolism.

JaimeLannister_chillyravenart
Jaime Lannister by chillyravenart

As with the other broken men of the series we’ve touched on so far, Jaime also acquires some death and rebirth/resurrection symbolism as a result of his breaking:

At Harrenhal the tubs had been huge, and made of stone. The bathhouse had been thick with the steam rising off the water, and Jaime had come walking through that mist naked as his name day, looking half a corpse and half a god. He climbed into the tub with me, she remembered, blushing. (AFFC, Brienne II)

“Robert’s beard was black. Mine is gold.”

“Gold? Or silver?” Cersei plucked a hair from beneath his chin and held it up. It was grey. “All the color is draining out of you, brother. You’ve become a ghost of what you were, a pale crippled thing. And so bloodless, always in white.” She flicked the hair away. “I prefer you garbed in crimson and gold.” (AFFC, Jaime III)

At Harrenhal, we see Jaime submerged in water (I told you, Ravenous Reader’s greensee/SEA pun is everywhere!), a depiction of Jaime entering the weirwoodnet. In these scenes, he is described as half a corpse and a ghost, suggesting death and resurrection. Specifically, Cersei links Jaime becoming a ghost to his becoming crippled, again tying death and the breaking event (losing his hand) together – this is the exact wounding-as-sacrifice imagery we have been following throughout. The half-corpse, half-god imagery is also highly reminiscent of our old friend, Bloodraven:

Seated on his throne of roots in the great cavern, half-corpse and half-tree, Lord Brynden seemed less a man than some ghastly statue made of twisted wood, old bone, and rotted wool. (ADWD, Bran III)

Obviously, the “half-tree” bit is a reference to the greenseers as the old gods of the weirwood tree, so Bloodraven is also a half-corpse, half-god. Altogether, this suggests that losing his hand has caused Jaime to acquire some greenseer symbolism, which is exactly what we would expect from the broken man motif. Harrenhal itself is likely to be pretty heavy on the old greenseer activity, as it sits right by the God’s Eye and Isle of Faces, some of the most mystical places in the series. Add to that, the castle is made from ancient weirwoods:

Every child of the Trident knew the tales told of Harrenhal, the vast fortress that King Harren the Black had raised beside the waters of God’s Eye three hundred years past, when the Seven Kingdoms had been seven kingdoms, and the riverlands were ruled by the ironmen from the islands. […] Weirwoods that had stood three thousand years were cut down for beams and rafters. (ACOK, Catelyn I)

Add to that, Jaime seems to experience some kind of magical dream when he falls asleep on a weirwood stump a little way from Harrenhal, which makes him go back to save Brienne. Regardless of whether there are actual magical implications from the chopped down weirwoods, symbolically this region (and Harrenhal in particular) is a hub of greenseer activity. Given the broken man motif, it seems appropriate and important that this is the first major place that Jaime visits when he is turned into a broken man.

Another reason it seems important for Jaime to visit Harrenhal is that this is the place where Jaime joined the Kingsguard:

King Aerys made a great show of Jaime’s investiture. He said his vows before the king’s pavilion, kneeling on the green grass in white armor while half the realm looked on. When Ser Gerold Hightower raised him up and put the white cloak about his shoulders, a roar went up that Jaime still remembered, all these years later. But that very night Aerys had turned sour, declaring that he had no need of seven Kingsguard here at Harrenhal. Jaime was commanded to return to King’s Landing to guard the queen and little Prince Viserys, who’d remained behind. Even when the White Bull offered to take that duty himself, so Jaime might compete in Lord Whent’s tourney, Aerys had refused. “He’ll win no glory here,” the king had said. (ASOS, Jaime VI)

The Tourney of Harrenhal took place in the Year of the False Spring, which reminds us of the idea of the False Dawn, that we touched on a little in the last essay – namely that dawn is associated with the Others because they are the avatar of a dawn that never breaks, i.e. day never arrives. The False Spring is imagery that is quite similar in nature, as it is a spring that does not lead to summer, like the Others are associated with a dawn that does not lead into day. 

Moreover, after the False Spring, winter returned to Westeros with a vengeance (The World of Ice and Fire, The Fall of the Dragons: The Year of the False Spring), really emphasising the False Spring or False Dawn symbol as a precursor to the Long Night. Symbolically, this means that winter (here symbolising the Long Night) returned with two events: (1) Rhaegar kidnapping Lyanna in an archetypal recreation of the Night’s King catching the Night’s Queen to make Others and (2) the creation of a new member of the Kingsguard, which symbolically represents the creation of the Others (others (ha!) have covered the links between the Kingsguard and the Others). 

Notably, however, the Mad King states that Jaime will win no glory. This is one of the many vows of the Night’s Watch – hello there, early Last Hero symbolism for Jaime. And what is one of Jaime’s first acts as a member of the Kingsguard? Well, that would be betraying his vows to kill the king (Aerys II) who is presiding over a bitter winter in order to install a king who presides over one of the longest summers since records began (Robert). Symbolically, then, Jaime is symbolically killing the Night King to end the Long Night – sounds a lot like the Last Hero. This symbolism is reinforced by this remembered quote from Barristan Selmy:

Selmy had never approved of Jaime’s presence in his precious Kingsguard. Before the rebellion, the old knight thought him too young and untried; afterward, he had been known to say that the Kingslayer should exchange that white cloak for a black one. (ADWD, Tyrion XI)

Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner on the Last Hero/Night’s Watch symbolism, I think! 

The healing of Jaime’s arm wound also strongly parallels the healing of Jon’s leg wound that we discussed at the end of the Fisher King section. Let’s compare them side-by-side:

I will not scream, Jon told himself when he saw the blade glowing red hot. But he broke that vow as well. Donal Noye held him down, while Clydas helped guide the maester’s hand. Jon did not move, except to pound his fist against the table, again and again and again. The pain was so huge he felt small and weak and helpless inside it, a child whimpering in the dark. Ygritte, he thought, when the stench of burning flesh was in his nose and his own shriek echoing in her ears. Ygritte, I had to. For half a heartbeat the agony started to ebb. But then the iron touched him once again, and he fainted. (ASOS, Jon VI)

Nothing helped when the time came to pare away the rotten flesh. Jaime did scream then, and pounded his table with his good fist, over and over and over again. He screamed again when Qyburn poured boiling wine over what remained of his stump. Despite all his vows and all his fears, he lost consciousness for a time. When he woke, the maester was sewing at his arm with needle and catgut. “I left a flap of skin to fold back over your wrist.”

“You have done this before,” muttered Jaime, weakly. He could taste blood in his mouth where he’d bitten his tongue. (ASOS Jaime IV)

As we can see highlighted in blue, both of these broken men wounds are accompanied with a scream, just as the broken sword was, and the healing leaves the men weak (as shown in orange). In addition, highlighted in green, both men pound their fist on the table three times, potentially invoking the three forgings to make Lightbringer. Each of these broken men scenes are also accompanied with broken vows (highlighted in pink), and yes, that is another tease for the future broken words series. Hopefully it shows just how integral promises and oaths are to this motif. Moreover, both Jon’s leg wound and the loss of Jaime’s hand seem to be symbolic depictions of the forging of Lightbringer, as we covered earlier. Heck, Jon even has a burning hand injury himself, after fighting the wight in A Game of Thrones:

Jon plunged his hand into the flames, grabbed a fistful of the burning drapes, and whipped them at the dead man. (AGOT, Jon VII)

At first it had felt as if his hand were still aflame, burning day and night. Only plunging it into basins of snow and shaved ice gave any relief at all. (AGOT, Jon VIII)

Given the quite strong “broken” imagery parallels between these two characters (and in the healing scenes in particular), this suggests that Jaime has some strong parallels with arch-Night’s Watch/Last Hero figure, Jon Snow, reinforcing these Night’s Watch/Last Hero connections for Jaime himself.

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Ghost by Farynh

Another connection between these two characters is their symbolic castration – yup, I pulled the ol’ switcheroo, this essay has been a very elaborate dick joke. A very elaborate dick joke with some medieval euphemisms, which will take a new section to explain… 

Broken… ahem… swords

Anyone who has followed me on Twitter for a while knows that I’ve been looking at castration symbolism for a while, starting with the ridiculous eunuch horn/unicorn pun which actually turned out to be a thing, symbolically. Now, finally, I have a chance to weave this into a proper essay and I’m so excited! Before I get into this analysis proper, as I mentioned at the start of the essay, a lot of this symbolism conflates possession (or loss) of a penis with being a man (or not) and masculinity (or lack thereof), so this is just a warning in case you don’t want to deal with that right now. 🙂

The easiest way to introduce this idea is to return to the idea of the Fisher King. As I mentioned in passing, most tales of the Fisher King (or Maimed King, but I’ll say Fisher King just for convenience) indicate that the leg wound is actually a thigh wound, even delivered by a broken sword in some renditions. Importantly, thigh wounds in medieval literature were frequently a sanitised depiction of castration – a broken sword, if you will *eyebrow wiggle*. In addition to there being lots of real-world literary connections between penises and weaponry, we know that this sword-penis euphemism is being used in A Song of Ice and Fire from this quote:

“I am old now, a dried-up thing, too long a widow, but I still remember the look of my maiden’s blood on his cock the night he claimed me. I think Brandon liked the sight as well. A bloody sword is a beautiful thing, yes.” (ADWD, The Turncloak)

And there’s a bunch of other symbolic connections between swords and penises too, so I think we’re pretty safe on this trail of broken swords and castrated men. The tale of the Fisher King reinforces this castration imagery in a couple of other ways too. The Fisher King notably can’t hunt and hunting was an important medieval depiction of male virility, so this implies the Fisher King as infertile. In addition, the lands of the Fisher King are frequently depicted as blighted, utilising the idea of the fertility of the king being linked to the fertility of the land. Translated into A Song of Ice and Fire, King Robert is like the anti-Fisher King – very fertile, loves his hunting, and reigns over a land of peace and bounty.

Given that the broken man motif appears to have a lot of symbolism in common with the Fisher King, it seems interesting to note how many of these broken men characters share some infertility or castration symbolism. When Ned thinks of Bran, the archetypal broken character, he in particular notes that Bran may never be able to have children:

But [Bran] will never run beside his wolf again, [Ned] thought with a sadness too deep for words, or lie with a woman, or hold his own son in his arms. (AGOT, Eddard V)

While impotence is not necessarily true of disability in the real world, symbolically this reflects that Bran’s ‘breaking’ event is akin to a Fisher King wound and thus is, at least in part, equated to castration. In addition, the only other greenseer we see in the series, Bloodraven, also has a thigh wound that is directly connected to the weirwood trees:

Roots coiled around his legs like wooden serpents. One burrowed through his breeches into the desiccated flesh of his thigh, to emerge again from his shoulder. (ADWD, Bran II)

This would seem to reinforce the connection between the symbolic castration/breaking event, depicted via thigh wounds, and the symbolic acquisition of greenseer powers, exactly as predicted in our broken analysis.

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Bloodraven and Bran by Luciferys

The thigh wound euphemism itself is also used with one of the broken men we have discussed today:

Long hours later, the rain stopped. Jon found himself alone in a sea of tall black grass. There was a deep throbbing ache in his right thigh. When he looked down, he was surprised to see an arrow jutting out the back of it. When did that happen?  (ASOS, Jon V)

Oh, hai there, Jon Snow, Last Hero extraordinaire, look at you with your symbolic castration in the style of the Fisher King, how intriguing. And this is the wound that leads to some pretty flagrant Lightbringer symbolism (see what I did there 😛 ), which ties us back to the Lightbringer-as-broken-sword motif. In addition to suffering this thigh wound, Jon’s symbolic castration is reinforced elsewhere:

“What are you doing up here tonight?” he asked. “Besides freezing your manhood off…

“I have drawn night guard,” Jon said. “Again.” (AGOT, Tyrion III)

This quote is from some of Jon’s earliest times at the Wall and he is apparently “freezing his manhood off” – that sounds like a particularly unpleasant form of castration, to be quite honest. Importantly, he is doing this because he’s on night guard… Well, I guess it would be too obvious if he was on the night watch… because on the Night Watch, you freeze your… ok you get it. Anyway, the implication here is that castration, in particular, is tied to becoming part of the Night’s Watch. Indeed, later, castration is linked to the Night’s Watch vows:

Val patted the long bone knife on her hip. “Lord Crow is welcome to steal into my bed any night he dares. Once he’s been gelded, keeping those vows will come much easier for him.” (ADWD, Jon XI)

Again, Jon is implied as a castrated figure, but in tying this to the Night’s Watch vows, it implies the entirety of the Night’s Watch as (symbolically) castrated (and yes, that is more vows symbolism). The vows even state that a man of the Watch should “take no wife and father no children” so it seems that this is acting as a symbolic castration, in effect. In addition, we see that others in the Seven Kingdoms think that castrated men should be sent to the Wall:

“Twenty,” said Lord Randyll Tarly, “and most of them Gregor Clegane’s old lot. Your nephew Jaime gave them to Connington. To rid himself of them, I’d wager. They had not been in Maidenpool a day before one killed a man and another was accused of rape. I had to hang the one and geld the other. If it were up to me, I would send them all to the Night’s Watch, and Connington with them.” (ADWD, Epilogue)

This is a particularly neat quote because it links castrated men to hanged men. On the basis of our analysis of broken men so far, we know that that broken men are tightly linked to greenseeing and, as others have pointed out, greenseeing itself is tightly linked to hanged men by symbolically invoking the idea of Odin hanging on Yggdrasil to acquire magical powers. This is entirely in keeping with what we know of the broken man/broken sword motif so far – the Last Hero as some kind of greenseer.

The_Sacrifice_of_Odin_by_Frølich
The Sacrifice of Odin by Frolich (retrieved from Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain)

Another character that has some deep-seated castration symbolism, along with the rest of their broken man symbolism, is Jaime Lannister:

Jaime pushed her away with the stump of his right hand. “No. Not here, I said.” He forced himself to stand.

For an instant he could see confusion in her bright green eyes, and fear as well. Then rage replaced it. Cersei gathered herself together, got to her feet, straightened her skirts. Was it your hand they hacked off in Harrenhal, or your manhood? (ASOS, Jaime IX)

None of this euphemistic “thigh wound” nonsense for Queen Cersei; instead, Cersei directly and explicitly connects the loss of Jaime’s hand to castration. This is a connection that Jaime himself makes when first coming to terms with the loss of his hand:

They had taken his hand, they had taken his sword hand, and without it he was nothing. The other was no good to him. Since the time he could walk, his left arm had been his shield arm, no more. It was his right hand that made him a knight; his right arm that made him a man. (ASOS, Jaime IV)

This is emphasised by the mockery of the Bloody Mummers earlier in the chapter:

These quotes heavily implies that Jaime is somehow less of a man with the loss of his hand, which ties into the other castration imagery here, and in both instances Jaime’s hand is explicitly linked to his ability to wield a sword, which implicates the broken sword motif too. In the grand literary tradition of equating sex and violence, when his right hand returns to him in a dream, Jaime describes it like this:

He held his right hand up and flexed his fingers to feel the strength in them. It felt as good as sex. As good as swordplay. Four fingers and a thumb. He had dreamed that he was maimed, but it wasn’t so. (ASOS, Jaime VI)

That Jaime’s hand is linked to his sexuality again reinforces that Jaime’s hand can be thought of as a symbolic penis and the loss of it is therefore a symbolic castration event. Altogether, this is highly evocative of the broken man motif that we have discovered so far, in particular the Fisher King castration wound as it applies to Jaime.

So, that covers the major characters we’ve mentioned so far in this essay and discusses how the castration symbolism applies to their symbolism. I think that means it’s time to bring in some new blood (in a not-creepy, not-sacrificial way): step forward Reek, nee Theon Greyjoy.

“Lord Ramsay treats his captives honorably so long as they keep faith with him.” He has only taken toes and fingers and that other thing, when he might have had my tongue, or peeled the skin off my legs from heel to thigh. (ADWD, Reek II)

“My lord,” he said, “my place is here, with you. I’m your Reek. I only want to serve you. All I ask … a skin of wine, that would be reward enough for me … red wine, the strongest that you have, all the wine a man can drink …”

Lord Ramsay laughed. You’re not a man, Reek. You’re just my creature.” (ADWD, Reek II)

“M’lord. If I might ask … why did you want me? I’m no use to anyone, I’m not even a man, I’m broken, and … the smell …” (ADWD, Reek III)

Taken together, this suggests that Theon is likely to have been castrated by Ramsay (“and that other thing”) – it fits Ramsay’s sadistic nature to take away one of Theon’s psychological crutches. Moreover, Theon links his being broken to his being “not even a man”, again symbolically equating the broken man motif with castration. Theon also notes that toes, fingers and “that other thing” (likely his penis) have been taken, which lines up with the hand, leg and castration imagery we have discovered in this essay. Theon even has a broken smile:

“Him? Can it be? Stark’s ward. Smiling, always smiling.”

“He smiles less often now,” Lord Ramsay confessed. “I may have broken some of his pretty white teeth.”

“You would have done better to slit his throat,” said the lord in mail. (ADWD, Reek I)

As with the other broken men/broken sword imagery we have seen, Theon’s breaking at the hands of Ramsay is linked here to a sacrifice, by connecting the broken smile to the slitting of the throat. Importantly this sacrificial imagery is also linked to Theon’s rebirth:

“I am ironborn,” Reek answered, lying. The boy he’d been before had been ironborn, true enough, but Reek had come into this world in the dungeons of the Dreadfort. (ADWD, Reek II)

“Theon,” a voice seemed to whisper.

His head snapped up. “Who said that?” All he could see were the trees and the fog that covered them. The voice had been as faint as rustling leaves, as cold as hate. A god’s voice, or a ghost’s. How many died the day that he took Winterfell? How many more the day he lost it? The day that Theon Greyjoy died, to be reborn as Reek. (ADWD, The Prince of Winterfell)

As with the other breaking events of the series, this symbolism suggests the death and rebirth of Theon Greyjoy, much like Jon and Beric Dondarrion’s (more literal) death and resurrection. It is also very reminiscent of Bran’s breaking event transforming him into a greenseer. Indeed, the Prince of Winterfell quote includes a ton of greenseer metaphors – a whisper on the wind, rustling leaves, the voice of a god (or greenseers, as they are otherwise known) – and these appear right around the time that Theon starts reclaiming his identity as Theon Greyjoy and rejecting the identity of Reek. This culminates in additional greenseer-y goodness:

The old gods, he thought. They know me. They know my name. I was Theon of House Greyjoy. I was a ward of Eddard Stark, a friend and brother to his children. “Please.” He fell to his knees. “A sword, that’s all I ask. Let me die as Theon, not as Reek.” Tears trickled down his cheeks, impossibly warm. “I was ironborn. A son … a son of Pyke, of the islands.”

A leaf drifted down from above, brushed his brow, and landed in the pool. It floated on the water, red, five-fingered, like a bloody hand. “… Bran,” the tree murmured.

They know. The gods know. They saw what I did. And for one strange moment it seemed as if it were Bran’s face carved into the pale trunk of the weirwood, staring down at him with eyes red and wise and sad. Bran’s ghost, he thought, but that was madness. (ADWD, A Ghost in Winterfell)

That Theon is communicating with the old gods in this scene (in particular, Bran as a greenseer) suggests that Theon has (symbolically) acquired the ability to speak to the gods, implying magical powers. This ties in really closely with his death and rebirth symbolism, which appears to be connected to the death and rebirth symbolism of greenseers more generally. Interestingly, Theon is asking for a sword here – I wonder if this is connected to the broken sword motif, given the broken sword-weirwood-Lightbringer connection?

Speaking of Lightbringer, Theon’s reclamation of his identity in this scene is linked to “impossibly warm” tears, which reminds me of Melisandre’s tears of flame while looking into the fire (ADWD, Melisandre). This suggests to me that a part of Theon’s broken man transformation is related to a fiery transformation, a transformation that has been covered by others at length. Importantly, however, Theon’s emergence as a broken man in the early chapters is also linked to the cold, but to investigate this, I think we need a section break.

.

From ice to fire (ish)

So far, I’ve only been focusing on the potential Last Hero connotations of the broken man motif. However, Theon-as-Reek is first depicted as cold:

But the footsteps stopped just when they were loudest, and the keys clattered right outside the door. The rat fell from his fingers. He wiped his bloody fingers on his breeches. “No,” he mumbled, “noooo.” His heels scrabbled at the straw as he tried to push himself into the corner, into the cold damp stone walls. (ADWD, Reek I)

Little Walder led the way with torch in hand. Reek followed meekly, with Big Walder just behind him. The dogs in the kennels barked as they went by. Wind swirled through the yard, cutting through the thin cloth of the filthy rags he wore and raising gooseprickles on his skin. The night air was cold and damp, but he saw no sign of snow though surely winter was close at hand. (ADWD, Reek I)

“A bath?” Reek felt a clenching in his guts. “I … I would sooner not, m’lord. Please. I have … wounds, I … and these clothes, Lord Ramsay gave them to me, he … he said that I was never to take them off, save at his command …”

“You are wearing rags,” Lord Bolton said, quite patiently. “Filthy things, torn and stained and stinking of blood and urine. And thin. You must be cold.” (ADWD, Reek III)

So, this would suggest that at least a part of this broken man symbolism is an initial cold start (or an initial cold transformation but that’s a discussion for another time). In Theon’s case, this is not a surprise given that Roose and Ramsay have some Night King/Other symbolism which seems to have spawned the Bolt-On theory. This suggests that they are, in a sense, enacting some kind of ice transformation with Theon, implying the symbolic creation of a wight or an Other here. 

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Theon Greyjoy by maryallen138

Over the course of A Dance with Dragons, Theon’s reclaims his identity and this is associated with his becoming gradually warmer:

They gave him a horse and a banner, a soft woolen doublet and a warm fur cloak, and set him loose.  (ADWD, Reek II)

“You are wearing rags,” Lord Bolton said, quite patiently. “Filthy things, torn and stained and stinking of blood and urine. And thin. You must be cold. We’ll put you in lambswool, soft and warm. Perhaps a fur-lined cloak.(ADWD, Reek III)

The hall was blessedly warm and bright with torchlight, as crowded as he had ever seen it. Theon let the heat wash over him, then made his way toward the front of the hall. (ADWD, The Prince of Winterfell)

He had always thought of the crypts as cold, and so they seemed in summer, but now as they descended the air grew warmer. Not warm, never warm, but warmer than above. (ADWD, The Turncloak)

In the godswood the snow was still dissolving as it touched the earth. Steam rose off the hot pools, fragrant with the smell of moss and mud and decay. A warm fog hung in the air, turning the trees into sentinels, tall soldiers shrouded in cloaks of gloom. […] Tears trickled down his cheeks, impossibly warm. (ADWD, A Ghost in Winterfell)

These quotes appear to link Theon becoming more of a Last Hero type with heat, which intuitively makes sense given the Last Hero appears to fight against the icy Others. Eagle-eyed readers will notice I have omitted one earlier quote of Theon experiencing heat after his Reek transformation:

The chamber at the top of the steps was dark, smoky, and oppressively hot. (ADWD, Reek II)

This quote occurs as Theon-as-Reek-pretending-to-be-Theon-again to reclaim the castles of Moat Cailin. This quote occurs much earlier in the chapter order, before Theon has fully reclaimed his identity, potentially throwing off this transformation idea. However, I think it’s important to note that the heat is still paired with Theon’s identity as Theon Greyjoy – after all, in this scene, Theon-as-Reek is pretending to be Theon in order to get the remaining ironborn to surrender. The horrible nature of the heat could be a reference to Reek!Theon’s discomfort as Theon and his desperate clinging to his Reek identity in the early portions of Dance

Notably the reclamation of Theon’s identity is also paired with his return to Winterfell, which could be a reference to the parallel breaking/forging event. Theon is captured during the sack of Winterfell, meaning that his breaking event (his transformation to Reek) is also paired with the breaking of Winterfell.

The stone is strong, Bran told himself, the roots of the trees go deep, and under the ground the Kings of Winter sit their thrones. So long as those remained, Winterfell remained. It was not dead, just broken. Like me, he thought. I’m not dead either. (ACOK, Bran VII)

These events both occur because of Ramsay Bolton. In an inverse parallel to this destruction, Theon begins to reclaim (or reforge) his identity when he returns to Winterfell – indeed, Theon’s first not-Reek titled chapter occurs within the walls of Winterfell. A significant portion of Theon reclaiming his identity is also due to the Boltons, with the Boltons increasingly asking Reek!Theon to pretend to be Theon!Theon and thus triggering Theon remembering his identity. At the same time, the Boltons are trying to restore Winterfell that they had previously destroyed (ADWD, The Prince of Winterfell). To me, this suggests a mirroring of Theon and Winterfell’s fates as broken people and broken places which I find really interesting (so I hope you’ll forgive the slight tangent there). Crucially, the icy Other-like Boltons are integral to both transformations, which seems to be represent one of the more confusing aspects of the broken sword symbolism we covered last time – namely that the Others appear to have been involved in the breaking of the sword which therefore implicates them in the reforging of the sword. This led to the apparently contradictory implication that the Others were somehow (at least symbolically) involved in the forging of Lightbringer (discussed as a potential broken sword) – here we appear to see some symbolism that reinforces this conclusion, with the Boltons both ‘breaking’ and ‘re-forging’ Theon and Winterfell. 

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Winterfell by IrenHorrors

It is not just Theon who undergoes this ice-to-fire transformation (or at the very least, Other-ice-to-not-Other-ice transformation). Jon Snow, for instance, acquires his broken man castration symbolism when defecting from the wildlings back to the Night’s Watch. Symbolically, Jon is leaving an invading force from beyond the Wall (wildlings as symbolic Others) to return to the Watch (it’s in the vows, after all – I am the fire that burns against the cold). This sequence of events is linked to the symbolism we’ve covered already in this essay – Jon’s symbolic castration (that’s the arrow wound to the thigh in ASOS, Jon V) and the forging of Lightbringer (that’s the healing of the arrow wound in ASOS, Jon VI) – and therefore seems to strongly implicate an ice-to-fire transformation during this aspect of Jon’s Last Hero/broken man symbolism.

Similarly, utilising the wildlings as symbolic Others symbolism, it is interesting to note how the wildlings are described after they are defeated by Stannis:

The fighters had fared better. Three hundred men of fighting age, Justin Massey had claimed in council. Lord Harwood Fell had counted them. There will be spearwives too. Fifty, sixty, maybe as many as a hundred. Fell’s count had included men who had suffered wounds, Jon knew. He saw a score of those—men on crude crutches, men with empty sleeves and missing hands, men with one eye or half a face, a legless man carried between two friends. And every one grey-faced and gaunt. Broken men, he thought. The wights are not the only sort of living dead. (ADWD, Jon V)

So, after the battle at the Wall, the fighters are called broken men by Jon and have acquired some of the injuries that we’ve covered in this essay: namely arm and leg wounds. In addition, Jon calls these broken men a different type of living dead – to me this strongly implicates the death and resurrection of the Last Hero. Importantly, this is directly contrasted with the icy wights, symbolism that potentially indicates different alignments types of death and resurrection (for want of a better description). We may even meet just such a member of the Night’s Watch living dead: Coldhands. Notably, Coldhands stays away from fire like the wights (as noted by Bran in ADWD) but he rescues the living from the dead. “Not the only sort of living dead” also fits with George RR Martin’s description of Beric Dondarrion as a fire wight, which could be a revealing comparison given all the Last Hero symbolism of Beric Dondarrion. If you aren’t satisfied with that broken man symbolism, check out how Bowen Marsh described Tormund’s band of wildlings before they cross the Wall:

“Mance Rayder swore an oath as well,” Marsh went on. “He vowed to wear no crowns, take no wife, father no sons. Then he turned his cloak, did all those things, and led a fearsome host against the realm. It is the remnants of that host that waits beyond the Wall.”

Broken remnants.”

A broken sword can be reforged. A broken sword can kill.(ADWD, Jon XI)

Yep, we got us some broken swords again, folks. Again, this reinforces the connections between the broken man motif and the broken sword motif, both of which we have linked to the Last Hero archetype. Skipping quickly past yet more oathbreaking, Tormund is the leader of this particular band of broken men, and he also has some broken man symbolism – because why have just one symbol when you can layer up multiple variations of the same symbolic motif?

“Would that I could find her again. She was fine to lay with, that bear. Never was a woman gave me such a fight, nor such strong sons neither.”

“What could you do if you did find her?” Jon asked, smiling. “You said she bit your member off.

“Only half. And half me member is twice as long as any other man’s.” Tormund snorted. “Now as to you . . . is it true they cut your members off when they take you for the Wall?(ASOS, Jon II)

The leader of the broken sword with a broken sword, as it were, and this takes us back to the castration symbolism we saw earlier. It also reinforces the Night’s Watch as symbolically castrated on the whole, something we picked up on when analysing Jon’s castration symbolism. Moreover, as many in the fandom have noted, Tormund sounds a hell of a lot like Joramun… You know, Joramun, the King Beyond the Wall who worked with the Stark King to bring down the Night’s King. Heck, Tormund is even called Tormund Horn-Blower, symbolically linking him to Joramun’s famous Horn of Winter. Altogether, I would suggest that this symbolically depicts a formerly icy force (the wildlings-as-Others) defecting to the Night’s Watch, having been broken.

Our favourite broken boy, Bran Stark, is another such example of a breaking event being associated with an ice to fire transformation of sorts. As is noted when he begins his fateful climb, as yet unnamed Summer howls and leaves Bran feeling chilled:

The wolf did as he was told. Bran scratched him behind the ears, then turned away, jumped, grabbed a low branch, and pulled himself up. He was halfway up the tree, moving easily from limb to limb, when the wolf got to his feet and began to howl.

Bran looked back down. His wolf fell silent, staring up at him through slitted yellow eyes. A strange chill went through him. He began to climb again. Once more the wolf howled. (AGOT, Bran II)

Bran is then thrown from the tower of the First Keep, which is his breaking event in the sense that this is the cause of his paralysis and the origin of his moniker “the Broken”. We see the cold theme continue in his coma dream of the next chapter:

It was cold here in the darkness. There was no sun, no stars, only the ground below coming up to smash him, and the grey mists, and the whispering voice. (AGOT, Bran III)

This is very near to the start of Bran’s coma dream as he is high in the air and falling swiftly. The coldness of this chapter is reinforced by the weird ice spikes of death and the reveal of the heart of winter:

North and north and north he looked, to the curtain of light at the end of the world, and then beyond that curtain. He looked deep into the heart of winter, and then he cried out, afraid, and the heat of his tears burned on his cheeks.

[…]

There was nothing below him now but snow and cold and death, a frozen wasteland where jagged blue-white spires of ice waited to embrace him. They flew up at him like spears. (AGOT, Bran III)

Altogether, this would seem to suggest some icy death transformation symbolism for Bran, especially given Varamyr’s description of true death as being “plunged into the icy waters of a frozen lake”. However, in line with the ice/fire alignment of broken men, the surrounding cold and icy death symbolism is contrasted with Bran’s hot tears, suggesting a rejection of the ice and a move towards the more fiery symbolism: 

Now, Bran, the crow urged. Choose. Fly or die.

Death reached for him, screaming.

Bran spread his arms and flew. (AGOT, Bran III)

Here, we see Bran choose life which I think could be representative of (at least in this scene) the fire side of the ice and fire dichotomy. Similarly, upon waking, the coldness of the air in Winterfell is specifically contrasted to the warmth of Summer:

And then there was movement beside the bed, and something landed lightly on his legs. He felt nothing. A pair of yellow eyes looked into his own, shining like the sun. The window was open and it was cold in the room, but the warmth that came off the wolf enfolded him like a hot bath. (AGOT, Bran III)

This again suggests that while there is something icy to Bran and/or his environment, he chooses his skinchanging/greenseeing abilities and this choice coincides with warmth.

There are also a couple of Kingsguard who make the jump from Kingsguard-as-Others symbol to Last Hero, and this is connected to them acquiring some broken man symbolism. In the first instance, as we have covered in detail in this essay, we see Jaime Lannister as a Kingsguard lose his hand and then acquire all of this archetypal symbolism: the Lightbringer forging metaphors, the castration symbolism, the symbolic connections with the weirwoods, etc. During his time as Kingsguard to Robert Baratheon, he fathers abominations on an ice queen, which sounds a lot like some kind of Night’s King/Night’s Queen symbolism:

Two seats away, the king had been drinking heavily all night. His broad face was flushed behind his great black beard. He made many a toast, laughed loudly at every jest, and attacked each dish like a starving man, but beside him the queen seemed as cold as an ice sculpture. (AGOT, Jon I)

The queen’s face was a mask, so bloodless that it might have been sculpted from snow. (AGOT, Sansa II)

“I declare upon the honor of my House that my beloved brother Robert, our late king, left no trueborn issue of his body, the boy Joffrey, the boy Tommen, and the girl Myrcella being abominations born of incest between Cersei Lannister and her brother Jaime the Kingslayer.(ACOK, Prologue)

“Her own father got this child on her?” Stannis sounded shocked. “We are well rid of her, then. I will not suffer such abominations here. This is not King’s Landing. (ADWD, Jon I)

There is some important symbolism here and I haven’t just included this Stannis quote because I think he’s hilarious. Notably the “abominations” of Jaime and Cersei’s incest are equated with the “abominations” of Craster’s incest via Stannis’ quote – see, told you it was important. Moreover, we know that Craster’s sons are given to the woods to become Others (this is made clear in ASOS, Sam I), so this symbolically implies Jaime and Cersei creating Others. 

JaimeCerseinaomimakesart
Jaime Returning from Crakehall by naomimakesart

On a closer level, there could be a temperature contrast directly linked to Jaime’s breaking event i.e. the loss of his hand. In Jaime III, ASOS, there are multiple mentions of Jaime being chilled or cold, the first of which occurs in his fight with Brienne:

She is stronger than I am.

The realization chilled him. (ASOS, Jaime III)

During this fight, there is a lot of Azor Ahai/Nissa Nissa symbolism, including but not limited to the sex and swordplay motif (“His point scraped past her parry and bit into her upper thigh. A red flower blossomed…”; “She looks as if they caught us fucking instead of fighting.”), tree sacrifice (“He pinned her against an oak, cursed as she slipped away”) and the brook (i.e. the river of time, greensee/greenSEA pun). A fuller analysis of this fight scene is available elsewhere, but notably this scene includes a lot of references to death here too, which implies a kind of cold transformation, as demonstrated in this quote:

True death came suddenly; he felt a shock of cold, as if he had been plunged into the icy waters of a frozen lake. (ADWD, Prologue)

The fight ends with the arrival of the Bloody Mummers, in which Jaime again gets a few cold/chill descriptions:

Urswyck spread his hands. “What Timeon means to say is that the Brave Companions are no longer in the hire of House Lannister. We now serve Lord Bolton, and the King in the North.”

Jaime gave him a cold, contemptuous smile. “And men say I have shit for honor?”(ASOS Jaime III)

“Are you such a fool as to think the goat can outfight the lion?”

Urswyck leaned over and slapped him lazily across the face. The sheer casual insolence of it was worse than the blow itself. He does not fear me, Jaime realized, with a chill. (ASOS, Jaime III)

The goat wants me to piss my breeches and beg his mercy, but he’ll never have that pleasure. He was a Lannister of Casterly Rock, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard; no sellsword would make him scream.

Sunlight ran silver along the edge of the arakh as it came shivering down, almost too fast to see. And Jaime screamed. (ASOS Jaime III)

Altogether, this would appear to reinforce the idea of a symbolically cold Jaime before his breaking event. In contrast to this, and as touched upon in the previous section, Jaime after losing his hand is described as hot in a variety of ways:

His hand burned.

Still, still, long after they had snuffed out the torch they’d used to sear his bloody stump, days after, he could still feel the fire lancing up his arm, and his fingers twisting in the flames, the fingers he no longer had. (ASOS, Jaime IV)

Sometimes he even wept, until he heard the Mummers laughing. Then he made his eyes go dry and his heart go dead, and prayed for his fever to burn away his tears. (ASOS, Jaime IV)

His missing hand throbbed and burned and stank. (ASOS, Jaime IV)

Interestingly, the Bloody Mummers also appear to be playing the role of symbolic Others in this scene: the Bloody Mummers are currently working for the Boltons and thus are working for symbolic Others; Urswyck is known as the “Faithful”, evoking the idea of the Faith (who are symbolically icy); Urswyck slaps Jaime “lazily”, evoking the idea of the Other lazily parrying Ser Waymar Royce’s sword in the A Game of Thrones Prologue; and, the arakh that is used to cut off Jaime’s hand makes the sunlight silver, and “shivers” down, suggesting the cold weapons of the Others. This would appear to reinforce that odd piece of symbolism we saw in the broken sword essay and in this essay, that the Others appear to be involved in the creation of the broken sword/broken man or the Lightbringer/Last Hero archetypes.

In addition to this seeming ice-to-fire transformation, Jaime has also, in his past, killed a king who presided over a terrible winter in order to protect innocents, an act that should have earned him a black cloak according to Barristan Selmy. As discussed earlier, Jaime does therefore have some Last Hero symbolism, albeit from the Robert’s Rebellion era, as opposed to the current timeline. Whether Jaime recreates this Last Hero symbolism after acquiring his broken man symbolism remains to be seen, but given the broken man symbolism we’ve seen above, I strongly expect him to do so. In addition, there’s a little Season 8 info (below) which may support this idea.

Another example of a Kingsguard-Other turned Last Hero-broken man archetype is Ser Lucamore Strong, nicknamed “the Lusty” for fathering sixteen bastard children on 3 wives:

The amiable and well-loved Ser Lucamore Strong of the Kingsguard, a favorite of the smallfolk, was found to have been secretly wed, despite the vows he had sworn as a White Sword. Worse, he had taken not one but three wives, keeping each woman ignorant of the other two and fathering no fewer than sixteen children on the three of them.

[…]

Speaking for his Sworn Brothers, Ser Gyles Morrigen declared that Strong had dishonored all they stood for, and requested that he be put to death.

When dragged before the Iron Throne, Ser Lucamore fell to his knees, confessed his guilt, and begged the king for mercy. Jaehaerys might well have granted him some, but the errant knight made the fatal error of appending “for the sake of my wives and children” to his plea.

[…]

As the false knight’s wives and children wept or cursed or stood in silence, Jaehaerys commanded that Ser Lucamore be gelded forthwith, then clapped in irons and sent off to the Wall. “The Night’s Watch will require vows from you as well,” His Grace warned. “See that you keep them, or the next thing you lose will be your head.” (F&B, The Long Reign—Jaehaerys and Alysanne: Policy, Progeny and Pain)

I’ve tried to condense the scene down a bit – I didn’t think you’d want to read an entire two pages from Fire and Blood – but wanted to flag a few things here. First, let’s establish Lucamore as an Other. Ser Lucamore is a member of the Kingsguard, so he wears the icy armour and has all of the white sword symbolism that is associated with the Others. In addition to this, much as with Jaime, we see that Ser Lucamore has fathered illegitimate children with his wives. The children don’t have quite the same extravagant abomination symbolism as the twincest kids do, but there is an implication that these are unnatural children in a sense, via the illegality of their parents’ marriage. Some of Lucamore’s kids are even called “other children” at one point in the tale – I don’t want to make too much of a fuss over this, because “other” is quite an ubiquitous word, but it would make sense for these kids to be symbolic Others and other being used as an allusion to Others appears to be utilised elsewhere, so I thought it was worth a mention. Importantly, the wives and kids are weeping, cursing or silent – frequently these are symbols of a Night’s Queen figure (and H/T to Bronsterys for that catch). In any case, this suggests an icy Kingsguard-as-Other potentially creating more Others in unnatural unions. 

Upon the discovery of this symbolic Other creation his multiple marriages, Ser Lucamore experiences his breaking event. Namely he is punished by being gelded and sent to the Watch. There is also a suggestion that this breaking event is a symbolic death: the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard had recommended that Ser Lucamore be executed; Ser Lucamore makes a “fatal” error when begging the King for mercy; and the King notes that he will live his life at the Watch under the threat of execution. This would seem to invoke the death and resurrection aspect of the broken man/Last Hero archetype. There’s even the potential allusion to the role of the symbolic Others in the creation of the broken man archetype, with Ser Ryam Redwyne and Ser Gyles Morrigen of the Kingsguard being the ones to reveal Ser Lucamore’s crimes and, in the case of Ser Gyles, to call for his death. So, yet again, all of the broken man symbolism seems to revolve around this breaking event changing Ser Lucamore from a symbolic Other into a symbolic Last Hero. 

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Coldhands by Luciferys

I also wanted to add a slight caveat to this analysis. I’ve been discussing ice-to-fire transformation throughout this section, but wanted to clarify that I don’t necessarily think that’s the case, mechanistically. I’m not pitching the Night’s King’s conversion to R’hllorism here. Instead, I’m discussing the “alignment” of the archetypes – what side is the Last Hero on? Ice or fire? I currently conceive of this as the distinction between the Others, who appear to represent burning ice, and the Night’s Watch, who are something like frozen fire.

This seems to match what we know of Coldhands, who we briefly mentioned earlier. Coldhands appears to be a very old member of the Night’s Watch, given that he wears faded black clothing and knows how to access the secret weirwood gate under the Nightfort. He is also physically a cold person, as Bran and Meera note during their travels north; he takes care to avoid the fire that would destroy the ice wights; and he cannot cross the Wall nor the entrance to Bloodraven’s cave, indicating he is likely to be undead. However, he also fights for the living, protecting Sam and Gilly as they escape south and leading Bran, Meera and Jojen to Bloodraven’s cave. Altogether, this would seem to suggest that, although he physically fits the icy description of the Others’ wights, he is fighting for humanity in his actions, potentially like the (likely) undead Last Hero.

Applying this to some of the broken men in the series, we see that Jaime remains a member of the Kingsguard (who usually act as symbolic Others) even after his breaking event. However, he loses some of his cynicism and tries to live up to the ideals of a true knight a little more after acquiring this broken man symbolism (YMMV on the success of this attempt, but the attempt is being made). Similarly, as Jon is killed by the Watch mutineers, his wound smokes indicating fire but “he did not feel the fourth knife, only the cold”. Again, we have this ice and fire pairing related to the Last Hero figure and, in particular, in association with a breaking event – the death (and likely future resurrection) of Jon Snow. 

So, having dealt with that caveat – that we’re talking alignment/priorities here, not (necessarily) some weird mechanism for magical transformation – I think there is a reasonable chance that this ice-to-fire pattern (or transformation or re-alignment) holds true for a lot of our broken man symbolism. Why is this relevant? Well, it would suggest that the Last Hero may have originally come from icy stock, potentially even the Others themselves. This is a hypothesis that has been put forward elsewhere, so hurray for converging symbolic analysis. This is in line with some proposals from the fandom suggesting that the Last Hero may have been the Night’s King – after all, the Last Hero is the last of a group of thirteen trekking through the wilderness, the Night’s King is the 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch… there’s potential there.

I also think this leads to some very fun wordplay tied directly to the symbolism we and others have covered in a lot of detail. Now, to set this up: 

  • The Others are associated with white, light and, most importantly, Dawn.
  • This seems counterintuitive but, as outlined in the previous essay, it makes sense when the Long Night is conceived as a dawn that does not break.
  • We’ve just (re-)learned that the Last Hero has ties to the Others.
  • This therefore means that the Last Hero is tied to Dawn.
  • As we have demonstrated this essay, the Last Hero is also a broken man
  • meaning the Last Hero is the Dawn that broke.

Cue celebratory air horn noises

The Last Hero – the founder of the Night’s Watch, the person who defeated the Others during the War for the Dawn, the hero who ended the Long Night – represents a broken dawn

And on that note, I think it’s time to close out this essay….

Conclusions

As always, we have covered a hell of a lot this essay so, time for a recap methinks – what have we learned this essay?

Firstly, we established that broken swords and broken men have a ton of overlapping symbolism, meaning there are close ties to the Last Hero archetype. We showed this, at least in part, by demonstrating that one of the key archetypal wielders of the broken sword – Beric Dondarrion – is himself a broken man. We also demonstrated that one of the key broken characters of the series – Bran the Broken – also shares all of the imagery we outlined as being associated with broken swords.

We then learned that leg, hand and castration wound imagery fit into the “broken man” constellation of symbolism, with many of the characters with these injuries having a ton of Lightbringer, greenseer and resurrection symbolism. Jaime Lannister, Jon Snow, Theon Greyjoy and Bran the Broken all have aspects (or all!) of this symbolism, suggesting that these are ubiquitous within the Last Hero archetype.

Most importantly, there seems to be some kind of realignment of priorities for the Last Hero archetype, changing them from being icy warriors of the Other-archetypes into icy warriors for life and humanity. Based on what we know of the Dawn symbolism of the Others, this led to the pun of epic proportions (if I do say so myself) that the Last Hero is the dawn who broke.

Next time, I think we’ll be building upon the idea of the Last Hero as the dawn who broke – namely, investigating the outlaws of the series and, as I teased last time, this means it’s nearly time for the broken man speech:

“Ser? My lady?” said Podrick. “Is a broken man an outlaw?”

“More or less,” Brienne answered.

Septon Meribald disagreed. “More less than more.” (AFFC, Brienne V)

See you soon!

Archmaester Aemma x

Season 8 spoilers

the-night-is-dark-and-full-of-spoilers

  • Subsection “Broken swords and broken men”: The first thing I wanted to note is that he becomes the king at the end of the series. This ties in with the idea of broken swords, at least in part, being related to monarchy, as we touched on right at the start of the broken swords essay – e.g., with the Iron Throne being made of broken swords. (Back to the essay)
  • Subsection “From ice to fire (ish)”: The show suggests that Jaime may be directly involved with the War for the Dawn, as he heads North in time for the Battle of Winterfell. YMMV on how important that tidbit is, but thought it was worth flagging given the Last Hero symbolism. (Back to the essay)

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