Hello and welcome back to Red Mice At Play, it’s great to see you back in my little corner of the internet. For Spooky month 2020 we’ve been exploring the symbolism of the Brave Companions and discovered a ton of Others-associated symbolism. But, it’s Hallowe’en day Spooktacular so I need a grand finale. With no more Brave Companions to explore, I thought I’d publish this essay about Lady Stoneheart, one of the staple characters of spoopy analysis in the fandom.
Like a significant portion of the fandom, I’ve been following along with History of Westeros’ Valar Rereadis project and the Scraps and Scrolls companion podcast from Ser Joe Buckley and, after some comments in the community VRR discussions and with some priming from Joe, I noticed that there was some really interesting the chapter sequencing at the end of A Storm of Swords. Namely, that we see Lysa killed in one chapter and, in the next, Lady Stoneheart emerges in all her terrifying glory. This sequencing presented a tantalising piece of symbolism that I’m really excited to explore with you guys shortly; before we begin though, I need to introduce the idea of the Killing Word.
Ravenous Reader wrote a stunning and seminal piece of symbolic analysis titled ‘The Killing Word’ – A Re-examination of the Prologue. Ravi takes the idea of the killing word from the 1984 Dune movie (where a word can gain an almost magical power and be weaponised) and applies it to the A Game of Thrones Prologue in a variety of ways. The most important aspect for this analysis is that, after increasing tension between the Night’s Watch brothers, Will whispers a prayer to the woods, and the woods answer:
Will turned away, wordless. There was no use to argue. The wind was moving. It cut right through him. He went to the tree, a vaulting grey-green sentinel, and began to climb. Soon his hands were sticky with sap, and he was lost among the needles. Fear filled his gut like a meal he could not digest. He whispered a prayerto the nameless gods of the wood, and slipped his dirk free of its sheath. He put it between his teeth to keep both hands free for climbing. The taste of cold iron in his mouth gave him comfort.
Down below, the lordling called out suddenly, “Who goes there?” Will heard uncertainty in the challenge. He stopped climbing; he listened; he watched.
The woods gave answer: the rustle of leaves, the icy rush of the stream, a distant hoot of a snow owl.
The Others made no sound. (AGOT, Prologue)
In essence, symbolically, Will used a whispered prayer to summon the most powerful weapon of all: the Others. With that weapon, Will manages to defeat his (symbolic) rival, Ser Waymar Royce – only for that killing word to backfire upon him:
The right eye was open. The pupil burned blue. It saw.
The broken sword fell from nerveless fingers. Will closed his eyes to pray. Long, elegant hands brushed his cheek, then tightened around his throat. They were gloved in the finest moleskin and sticky with blood, yet the touch was icy cold. (AGOT, Prologue)
If you’ve not checked out this analysis before, I’d highly recommend it. We’ll be leaning quite heavily on Ravi’s conception and interpretation of the killing word motif throughout this analysis, and applying it to A Storm of Swords, Sansa VII and Epilogue.
Now, without further ado…
As a brief recap of A Storm of Swords, Sansa VII, this chapter includes snow at the Eyrie, Sansa building snow Winterfell in the Eyrie’s godswood, Littlefinger’s kiss, Lysa’s big villain confession monologue and some casual wife murdering. We’ve covered Sansa’s snow castle scene before, analysing some of the potentially interesting dawn connotations there and others have done deep dives into this scene so I won’t dwell on it too much here. Instead, we’ll enter the chapter straight into the High Hall of the Eyrie, after Sansa has been summoned.
The floors and walls of the High Hall were made of milk-white marble veined with blue. Shafts of pale daylight slanted down through narrow arched windows along the eastern wall. Between the windows were torches, mounted in high iron sconces, but none of them was lit. Her footsteps fell softly on the carpet. Outside the wind blew cold and lonely.
Amidst so much white marble even the sunlight looked chilly, somehow . . . though not half so chilly as her aunt. Lady Lysa had dressed in a gown of cream-colored velvet and a necklace of sapphires and moon-stones. Her auburn hair had been done up in a thick braid, and fell across one shoulder. She sat in the high seat watching her niece approach, her face red and puffy beneath the paint and powder.
“Will you play the coy deceiver with me?” her aunt said. “I was not speaking of Robert’s doll. I saw you kissing him.”
The High Hall seemed to grow a little colder. The walls and floor and columns might have turned to ice.(ASOS, Sansa VII)
As with the rest of the chapter, we see that winter truly appears to have the Eyrie in its grip, with cold winds buffeting the castle and pale, chilly daylight illuminating the High Hall. In particular, Lysa is fulfilling the role of ice queen, up in the high seat, wearing her blues and creams. The marble is even veined with blue, bringing up some of the blue blood imagery associated with the Others, and the marble turns to ice. All of this is priming us for some good symbolic Others action.
So, Lysa confronts Sansa with the bard there singing irritatingly and somewhat terrifyingly to mask the sounds of Lysa dragging Sansa over to the Moon Door and hanging her over the edge, when Littlefinger arrives to save the day *cue the most lackluster of hurrahs for Petyr*. To stop his wife from murdering his wardhostagepawnfake daughterfuture child bride whatever he thinks Sansa is to him, he gives Lysa the platitudes she wants to hear:
“Nor have I. We’re together, just as you always wanted, just as we always planned. Just let go of Sansa’s hair . . .”
“I know, love.” He took another step. “And I am here. All you need to do is take my hand, come on.” He held it out to her.
“Lysa,” Petyr sighed, “after all the storms we’ve suffered, you should trust me better. I swear, I shall never leave your side again, for as long as we both shall live.”
“Truly?” she asked, weeping. “Oh, truly?”
“Truly. Now unhand the girl and come give me a kiss.”
Lysa threw herself into Littlefinger’s arms, sobbing. (ASOS, Sansa VII)
These platitudes are barefaced lies, which is something that Littlefinger is known for:
It was not Robert at all; it was Littlefinger, grinning, mocking him. When he opened his mouth to speak, his lies turned to pale grey moths and took wing. (AGOT, Eddard XV)
Notably, this quote pairs Littlefinger’s lies with Littlefinger’s mockery, which is quite important in the context of the killing word motif as framed by Ravenous Reader. In her essay, she points out that an important part of the motif is the mocking and condescending tone of Waymar Royce’s commands and demonstrates how Will’s symbolic calling of the Others is a counter to that. Within the essay, Ravi even points to Littlefinger’s mockery as a core part of this motif. It seems interesting to me then that, in a very similar killing word circumstance, Littlefinger is mocking his wife by lying to her, with those lies in turn being linked to mockery. In particular, this line caught my eye:
“I swear, I shall never leave your side again, for as long as we both shall live.” (ASOS, Sansa VII)
This, to me, is particularly cruel – Littlefinger is clearly planning to off his wife at this stage so it’s a real dig that he promises to stay with her for as long as she’s alive. I can just picture him doing the troll meme face at this point – “for as long as we both shall live so like the next thirty seconds then loooool”. That language is also most commonly seen in wedding vows, so he is alluding to their (on Lysa’s part) long-awaited and yearned-for marriage and throwing that back in her face with those words. This double-speak leads us to the most cruel mockery of all:
“My sweet silly jealous wife,” he said, chuckling. “I’ve only loved one woman, I promise you.”
Lysa Arryn smiled tremulously. “Only one? Oh, Petyr, do you swear it? Only one?”
“Only Cat.” He gave her a short, sharp shove. (ASOS, Sansa VII)
This is just a bit of an unnecessary gut punch, right? So check on the mockery front. Moreover, “Only Cat” is a killing word of sorts, as this is Littlefinger’s personal cue to murder Lysa. We know from Ravi’s analysis that the killing word summons the Others (symbolically), so where are they?
And this is where the chapter sequencing becomes veeeery interesting…
Snow in autumn in the riverlands, it’s unnatural, Merrett thought gloomily. It had not been much of a snow, true; just enough to blanket the ground for a night. Most of it had started melting away as soon as the sun came up. Still, Merrett took it for a bad omen. Between rains, floods, fire, and war, they had lost two harvests and a good part of a third. An early winter would mean famine all across the riverlands. (ASOS, Epilogue)
We start the Epilogue with a continuation of the wintry transformation of Westeros, which, given the chapter preceding, I think is meant to show a symbolic throughline in the narratives of the two chapters. We then get the idea of the watchers in the woods:
Beneath the castle ruins, the lower slopes of the hill were so thickly forested that half a hundred outlaws could well have been lurking there. They could be watching me even now.Merrett glanced about, and saw nothing but gorse, bracken, thistle, sedge, and blackberry bushes between the pines and grey-green sentinels. Elsewhere skeletal elm and ash and scrub oaks choked the ground like weeds. He saw no outlaws, but that meant little. Outlaws were better at hiding than honest men. (ASOS, Epilogue)
This language sounds to me to be eerily reminiscent of the precursor to the big Others reveal in the A Game of Thrones Prologue:
A cold wind was blowing out of the north, and it made the trees rustle like living things. All day, Will had felt as though something were watching him,something cold and implacable that loved him not. Gared had felt it too. (AGOT, Prologue)
And, when Merrett finally reaches the ruins of Oldstones, the outlaws appear as if from nowhere which matches with the description of the Others in the A Game of Thrones Prologue emerging silently from the trees.
They emerged silently from the shadows, twins to the first. Three of them … four … five … Ser Waymar may have felt the cold that came with them, but he never saw them, never heard them. (AGOT, Prologue)
Merrett’s throat was dry. Bloody outlaws, always hiding in the bushes. It had been the same in the kingswood. You’d think you’d caught five of them, and ten more would spring from nowhere.
When he turned, they were all around him; an ill-favored gaggle of leathery old men and smooth-cheeked lads younger than Petyr Pimple, the lot of them clad in roughspun rags, boiled leather, and bits of dead men’s armor. (ASOS, Epilogue)
Altogether, this would suggest that the outlaws here are symbolically acting as the Others – I know, I know that’s literally the exact opposite of the outlaw essay’s conclusions, but I think there is an extenuating circumstance in this symbolic analysis.
That extenuating circumstance being the appearance of Lady Stoneheart:
The outlaws parted as she came forward, saying no word. When she lowered her hood, something tightened inside Merrett’s chest, and for a moment he could not breathe. No. No, I saw her die. She was dead for a day and night before they stripped her naked and threw her body in the river. Raymund opened her throat from ear to ear. She was dead.
Her cloak and collar hid the gash his brother’s blade had made, but her face was even worse than he remembered. The flesh had gone pudding soft in the water and turned the color of curdled milk. Half her hair was gone and the rest had turned as white and brittle as a crone’s. Beneath her ravaged scalp, her face was shredded skin and black blood where she had raked herself with her nails. But her eyes were the most terrible thing.Her eyes saw him, and they hated.
“She don’t speak,” said the big man in the yellow cloak. “You bloody bastards cut her throat too deep for that. But she remembers.” (ASOS, Epilogue)
Ok, while this is technically not her first appearance (Arya has a wolf dream of Nymeria pulling Catelyn’s corpse from the river and the Ghost of High Heart prophesied it), this is the first time we see Lady Stoneheart on page in all of her terrifying resurrected glory.
She sucked down a mouthful of the frigid air, and Varamyr had half a heartbeat to glory in the taste of it and the strength of this young body before her teeth snapped together and filled his mouth with blood. She raised her hands to his face. He tried to push them down again, but the hands would not obey, and she was clawing at his eyes.
And in the pits where her eyes had been, a pale blue light was flickering, lending her coarse features an eerie beauty they had never known in life.
She sees me. (ADWD, Prologue)
In this scene, Thistle scratches out her eyes, bites off her tongue and becomes a silenced woman and “sees” Varamyr, the man who perpetrated this atrocity upon her; just as Catelyn scratches out her eyes, becomes silenced and “sees” Merrett, a man who perpetrated the atrocity of the Red Wedding upon her. In addition to that, Stoneheart is also the supposed lover of Beric Dondarrion:
And there’s this other band, led by this woman Stoneheart… Lord Beric’s lover, according to one tale. Supposedly she was hanged by the Freys, but Dondarrion kissed her and brought her back to life, and now she cannot die, no more than he. (AFFC, Brienne V)
The notion that the Beric and Stoneheart are lovers reminds us of the tale of the Night’s King, the 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch who fell in love with “a woman glimpsed from atop the Wall”, a woman with white skin, blue eyes and skin cold as ice, who he declares his queen and who is described as his “corpse bride”. Here, Beric Dondarrion becomes the ‘lover’ of Lady Stoneheart, a corpse woman with cold blood, pale white skin and blue eyes (before clawing them out at the Red Wedding, anyway), and together they rule the symbolic Night’s Watchthe Brotherhood without Banners: this would seem to be a very strong parallel between the two stories and places Lady Stoneheart squarely in the role of Night’s Queen.
In a more general sense, Stoneheart has also co-opted the Brotherhood Without Banners for her own purposes – rather than their original purpose of protecting the smallfolk of the riverlands, they have now become instruments of Stoneheart’s revenge against the Freys. This fits with the theory that the Others were originally created as some kind of protective force and that this original purposewas subverted. In this case, Stoneheart as a Night’s Queen figure is the subverter. This parallels the original myth of the Night’s King and Queen, where the Night’s King effectively defected from the Watch and broke his vows because of the beauty of the Night’s Queen. There is a fair amount of debate about the willingness of the Night’s Queen figure in this story (much as there is a fair amount of debate about exactly how willing a sacrificial victim Nissa Nissa was), but at least one interpretation of the Night’s Queen figure is the manipulative sorceress figure, which appears to be the role that Stoneheart is playing in the Brotherhood. This Night’s Watch to Other transformation also parallels the killing word from the A Game of Thrones Prologue, as identified by Ravenous Reader: Will whispers a prayer to the woods, which symbolically brings the Others to fulfil his desires to kill Ser Waymar, thus Will betrays the Watch, and Ser Waymar’s death converts him from a defensive force (the Night’s Watch) into an attacking one (a wight in the undead army of the Others).
Yet another parallel between the Others in the A Game of Thrones Prologue and the Brotherhood in the A Storm of Swords Epilogue is that the Others figures appear to be hunting the protagonist of the chapter. In his brilliant Killing of a Ranger analysis, JoeMagician lays out a very convincing argument that the Others were tipped off to Waymar Royce’s presence and that they laid a trap for him and his men so they could kill them. In exactly the same way, Merrett is lured to Oldstones on the pretense of giving a ransom for Petyr Pimple and is captured and killed by the outlaws instead. Once again, this places the Brotherhood led by Stoneheart in the role of symbolic Others.
The only thing missing from this comparison is what happens next: in the A Game of Thrones Prologue, Will descends from the tree and is murdered by Waymar, the killing word backfiring. So, in this potential comparison, how does (symbolically) resurrecting Catelyn backfire upon Littlefinger? I’m not entirely sure, but my guess would be something to do with the Brotherhood gaining hold of Harrenhal after the Red Wedding 2.0. This would then create an interesting parallel with another witchy woman based in Harrenhal, who led a group of outlaws and broken men in the aftermath of a devastating civil war: Alys Rivers, supposedly a sorcerous queen who “used her poisons and potions to bind men to her, body and soul”. As with the women we’ve seen so far in this essay, Alys is another Night’s Queen figure, as the language describing Alys’ magic clearly parallels the myth of the Night’s King and Queen:
He brought her back to the Nightfort and proclaimed her a queen and himself her king, and with strange sorceries he bound his Sworn Brothers to his will.(ASOS, Bran IV)
So, that’s the main bit of killing word analysis I wanted to explore with you guys, but there are another couple of points in Ravi’s killing word essay which are applicable that I’ve not touched upon yet. I know you’re there thinking “blimey, she made it through an essay without mentioning weirwood trees or greenseeing”. Well, not quite…
The silence in the trees
So, I’ve glossed over the greenseeing symbolism so far to really focus in on the symbolism of the killing word and how it applies to Littlefinger, Lysa and Lady Stoneheart in the last A Storm of Sword chapters. As you can see, there are some strong parallels to be drawn between the A Game of Thrones Prologue and the sequencing of the final two A Storm of Swords chapters. Ravenous Reader also includes another two very important aspects to the killing word analysis: greenseeing and silence.
Taking the greenseeing aspect first, Ravenous identifies Will as the greenseer in the scene – Will has to climb the tree to utter the killing word i.e. Will symbolically enters the weirwoodnet. In a similar fashion, we see greenseeing symbolism all over these Storm chapters – or, more specifically, a corrupted form of greenseeing. Huge shout out here to Aemy Blackfyre and All Hail the Night’s Queen, who’ve collaborated on a brilliant essay looking at the Shade of the Evening trees as a corrupted version of weirwoods (the written version can be found on Aemy’s blog and an audio version plus panel featuring Aemy, AHTNQ, Crowfood’s Daughter and myself can be found on Aemy’s YT channel). While we won’t be talking about shade trees explicitly, they share an absolute ton of overlapping, icy symbolism, so I recommend checking that out if you haven’t seen it yet.
In Sansa’s Storm chapter, we’re primed for some corrupted greenseers in her description of the godswood at the Eyrie:
The garden had been meant for a godswood once, she knew, but the soil was too thin and stony for a weirwood to take root. A godswood without gods, as empty as me.(ASOS, Sansa VII)
A godswood without gods sounds awfully like something has gone wrong in the weirnet. In addition, godlessness is frequently associated with Others figures, such as Euron Greyjoy (“no godless man may sit the Seastone Chair!”) and the wildlings (who are called “godless savages” [ADWD, Jon XI] from “the godless wild beyond the Wall” [ADWD, Cersei II]).
This godswood scene is where Sansa builds her snow castle and Littlefinger kisses her, an act silently witnessed by Lysa. Lysa’s presence in this part of the chapter is a little odd in that she disappears and re-appears, witnessing but not participating:
Sansa saw Lady Lysa gazing down from her balcony, wrapped up in a blue velvet robe trimmed with fox fur, but when she looked again her aunt was gone.
“You’re supposed to kiss her.” Sansa glanced up at Lysa’s balcony, but it was empty now. “Your lady wife.” (ASOS, Sansa VII)
The role of Lysa as witness but not participant is very similar to the (supposed) role of the greenseers watching snippets of past events as they peer through the weirwoodnet – especially as we next see Lysa in the high seat of the Arryns:
Lady Lysa sat on the dais in a high-backed chair of carved weirwood, alone. (ASOS, Sansa VII)
That’s right – Lysa is in a weirwood throne as she’s (symbolically) peering into the shenanigans occurring in the godswood. To me, this is very evocative of Bran in his weirwood throne watching the Winterfell godswood through the eyes of the weirwood tree and quite clearly places Lysa in the role of a symbolic greenseer in this chapter. I assume that we’re going to get more of an idea of what kind of purpose the greenseers are supposed to serve in Winds, but I imagine it isn’t “spy on your husband to find out if he’s perving on adolescents”. This suggests that, symbolically, Lysa may be corrupting the powers of the weirwoodnet to serve her own ends.
In fact, to say the godswood couldn’t support a weirwood tree, the Eyrie sure does have a lot of weirwood around, with Lysa sitting in a weirwood throne and then trying to shove Sansa out of the weirwood Moon Door:
Lady Lysa pulled at Sansa’s arm. It was either walk or be dragged, so she chose to walk, halfway down the hall and between a pair of pillars, to a white weirwood door set in the marble wall. The door was firmly closed, with three heavy bronze bars to hold it in place, but Sansa could hear the wind outside worrying at its edges. When she saw the crescent moon carved in the wood, she planted her feet. “The Moon Door.” She tried to yank free. “Why are you showing me the Moon Door?” (ASOS, Sansa VII)
Doors and doorways symbolise transitional or liminal places, and symbolically they can act as a means of magical transcendence. This symbolism is even more potent when it is a door made of weirwood, given that weirwoods are a literal mechanism for magical transcendence of space and time in A Song of Ice and Fire. It is also symbolism that we see George utilise in a number of places: for example, the Black Gate under the Nightfort is a moving weirwood face which acts as a doorway under the Wall and a symbolic magical transition for Bran and companions, and the House of Black and White has doors of ebony and weirwood which symbolise Arya’s passage between the physical (Braavos) and magical (House of Black and White) realms.
And what does the weirwood Moon Door allow you to do?
Tyrion glanced at her Moon Door. Mother, I want to see him fly! (AGOT, Tyrion V)
Lord Royce of Runestone gathered forces that swept away the rebels under Jonos Arryn, penning him and his followers in the Eyrie—although this led directly to the murder of the imprisoned Lord Ronnel, when Jonos sent his brother flying out the Moon Door to his death. (TWOIAF, The Targaryen Kings: Aenys I)
The Moon Door allows you to fly, exactly the same language and metaphor that Bloodraven uses to describe greenseeing (and greenseeing adjacent) powers:
Now, Bran, the crow urged. Choose. Fly or die.(AGOT, Bran III)
“You will never walk again, Bran,” the pale lips promised, “but you will fly.” (ADWD, Bran II)
And, of course, this is exactly what Littlefinger makes Lysa do – by pushing her out of the weirwood Moon Door, he makes her fly. However, unlike Bran, Lysa does not get the same choice: fly or die. This will be the subject of a future essay (at some point, probably several years from now at my writing pace) about the choice and choosing; often the Others figures are directed or puppeted in some way, i.e. they don’t get to choose. This is most explicitly shown in the Bronn vs. Ser Vardis Egen duel, as analysed by Bronsterys. Again, this places Lysa in the role of an Other-y, Night’s Queen figure, as she does not get a choice about whether to fly or die: Littlefinger makes the decision that she will fly and die.
Speaking of death, while I don’t think it is made explicit in the text (yet), I do think that most ASOIAF analysts would agree that blood sacrifices seems to be an important part of connecting to a weirwood tree and accessing the power of greenseeing (gestures at the conspicuously missing Jojen and a suspicious bowl of blood-like substance in ADWD, Bran III). Littlefinger has, in effect, performed a blood sacrifice to the weirwood tree in pushing Lysa out of the Moon Door and then, himself, gains the high seat of the Eyrie – symbolically, Littlefinger has gained access to the weirwood throne (and thus the powers of greenseeing) by killing his wife. Hey, doesn’t that sound a lot like Azor Ahai killing Nissa Nissa for a magic sword that could also be a metaphor for thepowers of greenseeing? (For what it’s worth, Varamyr does the same with Thistle in the ADWD Prologue, in another symbolic Night’s King-Night’s Queen reenactment.) However, it is a very strange version of blood sacrifice – in that no blood is shed to the weirwood and the weirwood door itself is probably not connected to the weirwood net as a whole. This makes me wonder if this could represent a kind of corrupted blood sacrifice – think of Euron (arch Night King figure) drowning Sawane Botley so as not to shed the blood of another Ironborn, of Drogo (a similar dark lord figure) crowning Viserys so as not to shed his blood in the Mother of Mountains, or of Craster abandoning his sons “to the woods” rather than killing them himself.
So, having flown, where does Lysa land? In literal terms, she has probably landed on an ice spire somewhere off the Giant’s Lance which doesn’t bode well for other flyers in similar circumstances:
Below them was only Sky and sky. Six hundred feet of sky. For a moment she found herself wondering how long it had taken her aunt to fall that distance, and what her last thought had been as the mountain rushed up to meet her.No, I mustn’t think of that. I mustn’t! (AFFC, Alayne II)
Bran looked down. 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. He saw the bones of a thousand other dreamers impaled upon their points. He was desperately afraid. (AGOT, Bran III)
In Bran’s coma dream, we see that similar imagery to Sansa’s description of her aunt’s fall has been used. The impaled on ice language makes me compare these ice spires to the weirwoods, which impale the greenseers underground (ADWD, Bran III), and so this imagery could be considered as an icy, dead, corrupted version of skinchanging/greenseeing.
As I argued above, by taking the chapter sequencing into consideration, Lady Stoneheart could also be considered as a symbolically resurrected Lysa Arryn – it seems an interesting parallel that, as Lysa was sacrificed to the weirwood moon door, Lady Stoneheart appears to us in a godswood. Even earlier than that, we see that Catelyn’s corpse is pulled from a river (ASOS,Arya XIII), alluding to another of Ravenous Reader’s excellent catches: the green sea/greensee pun. Again, this implies Lady Stoneheart as being from the weirwoodnet in a sense, thus tying her to greenseeing. However, by being pulled out of that river, she is symbolically no longer connected to the weirwoodnet; again suggesting some kind of corruption of the weirwoodnet as a whole.
Another important aspect of the killing word essay was, interestingly, silence. Ravenous Reader points out that Will’s ability to speak is frequently taken away from him in the AGOT Prologue, the killing word itself only being a whispered prayer. In addition to that, “no one could move through the woods as silent as Will” and, lo, the Others “slid forward on silent feet”. Silence also appears prevalently in the two ASOS chapters.
One example of this is Lysa’s death. Having spilled the beans, Littlefinger murders her in cold blood (see what I did there? *finger guns*). This symbolic silencing of the truth is also represented by Lysa’s silence in death:
Lysa stumbled backward, her feet slipping on the wet marble. And then she was gone. She never screamed. For the longest time there was no sound but the wind.(ASOS, Sansa VII)
Lysa is literally silent as she is killed. As I briefly mentioned further up the essay, this silenced woman motif is integral to A Song of Ice and Fire, especially around women who speak uncomfortable truths like, say, advertising that the downfall of Ned Stark was orchestrated by Littlefinger to one of the daughters of Ned Stark, and many of these silenced women appear to have Night’s Queen symbolism. The only remaining sound being the wind also invokes greenseeing imagery:
Bran listened. “It’s only the wind,” he said after a moment, uncertain. “The leaves are rustling.”
“Who do you think sends the wind, if not the gods?” (AGOT, Bran VI)
Similarly, Catelyn as Lady Stoneheart is also silent:
“She don’t speak,” said the big man in the yellow cloak. “You bloody bastards cut her throat too deep for that. But she remembers.” (ASOS, Epilogue)
Lady Catelyn’s fingers dug deep into her throat, and the words came rattling out, choked and broken, a stream as cold as ice. (AFFC, Brienne VIII)
Again, as with Lysa in death and as with the AGOT Prologue, Catelyn has been silenced. Notably, her voice becomes cold and broken, sounding like an icy stream. This is very akin to the description of the Others, who are themselves mainly silent and whose voice sounds like ice cracking on a winter lake.
All of this analysis led to some quite interesting discussion points when chatting to Bronsterys a while back that tie into the mythology of the series – which is important, as the mythology frequently references the onset and/or end of the Long Night, so finding out what happened then may provide important clues about the future of the main series (if we guess right). So, let’s break this down (with thanks to Bronsterys for bringing these ideas up). Firstly, Littlefinger and Lysa have some Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa symbolism, as he is her husband and he kills her. They also have some Bloodstone Emperor and Amethyst Empress symbolism: the Bloodstone Emperor murdered his sister, the Amethyst Empress, to become the leader of the Great Empire of the dawn; Littlefinger was raised as a ward at Riverrun, making him and Lysa are foster siblings, and he murders Lysa so he can rule the Eyrie. Secondly, the Eyrie itself is built at the top of a mountain, which is highly suggestive of being the realm of the gods – think here of Mount Olympus, home to (a lot of) the main deities of Ancient Greece. This is also reflected in the presence of a weirwood throne, with weirwood thrones primarily inhabited by greenseers, aka the old gods. Thus, when Littlefinger kills Lysa, he therefore pushes her out of the realm of the gods and into the physical world. In doing so, Lysa symbolically transforms into a vengeful revenant. This suggests that Lady Stoneheart, a blatant Night’s Queen figure, could be the physical manifestation of Nissa Nissa, whose claim to the weirwoods was wrongfully taken from her. Another potential implication is that Night’s King could be Azor Ahai who tried to resurrect his wife and something about it went wrong – recall that Littlefinger says he loved “Only Cat” when doing his Azor Ahai/Bloodstone Emperor wife/sister murder thang, and lo a resurrected Cat appears.
So, let’s sum up what appears to have happened symbolically. Littlefinger sacrifices his wife, Lysa, with a mocking killing word – “Only Cat”. In true “only death can pay for life” fashion, the death of Lysa leads swiftly to the extraordinary resurrection of Catelyn, presumably fulfilling Littlefinger’s deepest wish, signalled by his killing word. Lady Stoneheart then usurps the Brotherhood to enact her vengeance against the Freys, thus co-opting the formerly defensive force into an attacking one. All of this is deeply tied to the weirwoodnet, again reinforcing the proposed links between the Others and the weirwoodnet. This thens suggests that one interpretation of the original events of the Long Night could be the usurpation of the Nissa Nissa figure creating a physical manifestation of vengeance: the Others.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this essay, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on all things Stoneheart and cold killing words. You can comment down below or you can @ me over on Twitter: my handle is @elsmith1994. If you liked this essay, more of my essays can be found here. My good friend, Bronsterys, also has some of his essays on this blog too, and I’d highly recommend checking those out here.
CW: descriptions of sexual assault, threats of child sexual assault, mutilation, cannibalism, violence – all the good stuff :upside_down_face:
Hello again everyone and welcome to Red Mice At Play! It’s Archmaester Emma again, continuing – and ending! – our analysis of the Brave Companions with Rorge and Biter. We, unfortunately, spend a lot of time with Rorge and Biter because we meet them much, much earlier than the Bloody Mummers. So, in this essay, we’ll cover quite a bit of ground, including their travels with the Night’s Watch, their time in the sellsword company, and the aftermath of the raid on Saltpans. This does make it a bit of a longer one today so, sorry about that, but hopefully this is just extra Spooptober content for you!
So, what do we know of dear old Rorge and Biter? We do not get a reference to how they met in the novels, but according to a So Spake Martin:
Rorge owned a pot shop or bar in Flea Bottom, the really bad part of King’s Landing. Rorge would stage rat fights, and dog fights, bear cub fights, etc., and make money of these fights. At some point he found young Biter, a big ugly kid with no parents or something like that, and took him in. Rorge starting putting Biter into the fights, fighting mastiffs and bear cubs, etc. And then he said something like “And all of this led to his winning personality! So there you go, that’s the backstory for Biter that I haven’t written yet, but I might!” (SSM, Canadian Signing Tour Vancouver, Jan 13 2006)
So, Rorge adopted Biter as an orphan and trained him in dogfighting pits. To me, this fits the same pattern as Bronsterys’ amazing puppetmaster catch, where the Others appear to both puppet the wights and be puppeted by a Night’s King or Queen figure. Here Rorge is puppeting Biter, in a sense, as he has raised Biter for the sole purpose of being an attacking machine. That Rorge plucked Biter off the streets as an orphan could also be an allusion to Craster-like child sacrifice. They then somehow end up in the black cells of King’s Landing, although we don’t have an explanation of how and why they ended up there. My guess is that there could be something untoward (read: human) in the meat served at the pot shop, given how frequently this is alluded to and Biter’s penchant for, well, biting. :grimacing: But more on that later.
So, diving into the “joy” of meeting Rorge and Biter on page, they are described in typically “villain” ways – they are ugly as fuck:
Yoren had taken grown men from the dungeons as well, thieves and poachers and rapers and the like. The worst were the three he’d found in the black cells who must have scared even him, because he kept them fettered hand and foot in the back of a wagon, and vowed they’d stay in irons all the way to the Wall. One had no nose, only the hole in his face where it had been cut off, and the gross fat bald one with the pointed teeth and the weeping sores on his cheeks had eyes like nothing human. (ACOK, Arya I)
“I have friends,” Arya said.
“None I can see,” said the one without a nose. He was squat and thick, with huge hands. Black hair covered his arms and legs and chest, even his back. He reminded Arya of a drawing she had once seen in a book, of an ape from the Summer Isles. The hole in his face made it hard to look at him for long.
The bald one opened his mouth and hissed like some immense white lizard. When Arya flinched back, startled, he opened his mouth wide and waggled his tongue at her, only it was more a stump than a tongue. […]
“This man’s ill-bred companions in captivity are named Rorge”—he waved his tankard at the noseless man—”and Biter.” Biter hissed at her again, displaying a mouthful of yellowed teethfiled into points.” (ACOK, Arya II)
This is kind of the antithesis to the Others, who are written as beautiful, ethereal figures. However, Rorge and Biter’s ugliness does kind of link to the wider symbolic motifs associated with the Others. For instance, Rorge is described as noseless – indeed, this is one of the descriptions most associated with the Rorge. As we noted for Tyrion during the Battle of the Blackwater, cutting off the nose could suggest the carving of the faces in the weirwoods – the trees have their faces carved, and they are most often described as having red eyes and mouths, but they have no nose. Rorge is also a hairy man figure, with hairy men often being associated with the freezing island of Ib. (There is a ton of other symbolism associated with hairy men too, and I’d recommend checking out Crowfood’s Daughter and Darry Man for those.)
Biter also has some interesting symbolism in his description. He is like a pale, hissing lizard with sharp teeth and he is very aggressive, which sounds a lot like some kind of snake or dragon like thing. This is quite a weird description but does link to some of the mutated babies of someone like Maegor the Cruel (another shoutout to Crowfood’s Daughter here for her awesome theory on the creation of dragons and dragon’s blood). No, I’m not saying that Biter is some kind of random Targ bastard (although…), but it’s an interesting set of shared symbolism. It’s also symbolism that can be shared with the weirwoods – the roots of the weirwoods are described as snakes, and the weirwoods do have some “eating of human flesh” symbolism going on, what with their weird consumption of the greenseers on the weirwood thrones and drinking the blood of human sacrifices. The sharpened teeth could also invoke some ideas around vampirism: while we don’t see vampires in the series, we do see the idea of vampires nodded to by GRRM and this has at least partially inspired the Bolt-on theory, with the Boltons being predominantly ice-associated. Like the Boltons’ weird eyes, Biter is also described as having eyes like “nothing human”, which is a consistent theme in their description.
As we go through the series, they also acquire some quite interesting descriptions – namely, Arya thinks of them as demons:
If the Lorathi was a wizard, Rorge and Biter could be demons he called up from some hell, not men at all.(ACOK, Arya IX)
As noted in the Vargo Hoat essay, the Brave Companions have a number of associations with the Black Goat of Qohor which invokes the idea of Satan based on the Christian imagery associated with the Devil. We saw that the Black Goat was called a demon, just as Rorge and Biter are, and that Hoat was called Tywin’s “other pet hellhound”. This description was an example of an other-Other pun that seems to be used relatively frequently and, wouldn’t ya know it, it’s a pun that’s used when referring to Rorge and Biter:
Rorge and Biter were as bad as the others. (ACOK, Arya X)
Arya had not feared Septon Utt as much as she did Rorge and Biter and some of the others still at Harrenhal, but she was glad that he was dead all the same. (ASOS, Arya VII)
This other-Other pun is something that we’ve come across throughout the series, with a regularity which makes me think that this isn’t a coincidence.
For Rorge, one consistent piece of symbolism is that he is frequently associated with sexually assaulting women and girls:
Biter gave off a stench like bad cheese, so the Brave Companions made him sit down near the foot of the table where he could grunt and hiss to himself and tear his meat apart with fingers and teeth. He would sniff at Arya when she passed, but it was Rorge who scared her most. He sat up near Faithful Urswyck, but she could feel his eyes crawling over her as she went about her duties. (ACOK, Arya X)
“The Hound put the buildings to the torch and the people to the sword and rode off laughing. The women . . . you would not believe what he did to some of the women.” (AFFC, Jaime IV)
I’ve avoided putting some of the more graphic descriptions in there, but some of Rorge’s comments to Arya and Brienne are vile and the descriptions of the attack on Saltpans are horrifying. The sexual assault of women, girls and children appears to be an Others-associated trait, in that the description of these events appears to parallel the description of Varamyr’s attempt to take over Thistle, an act which has a ton of icy symbolism. As such, Rorge being so heavily associated with the sexual assault of women and girls is an important addition to his Other’s symbolism.
As more “these guys are definitely the worst” symbolism, Biter likes to eat people:
Biter sat on top of one of the dead men, holding a limp hand as he gnawed at the fingers. Bones cracked between his teeth. (ACOK, Arya IX)
Biter’s mouth tore free, full of blood and flesh. He spat, grinned, and sank his pointed teeth into her flesh again. This time he chewed and swallowed. He is eating me, she realized, but she had no strength left to fight him any longer. (AFFC, Brienne VIII)
The idea of eating human flesh is raised increasingly often in the novels, and is set to get worse during winter as scarcity abounds. However, it seems that Biter just does this for funsies. Of note here is Biter acquiring a bloody mouth by eating human flesh, which symbolically associates the weirwoods with him. In addition, I’ve not included the quote because it’s horrible to read, but there is a description of one of the raids on Saltpans where (presumably) Biter is said to have gnawed the breasts off a woman he attacked. This again brings Night’s King figure, Varamyr, to mind and his description of eating the breasts of a woman when he is in his wolf form in ADWD Prologue.
So, having gone over the symbolism of some of the individual descriptions and actions, let’s take a look at what happens to the characters over the series, and what this can tell us about the Others: namely, we’ll take a look at their escape from the burning barn, their time as Brave Companions, the raid on Saltpans and the showdown with Brienne at the Inn at the Crossroads. I’m going to save the barn scene til the end because I feel like some of Rorge and Biter’s earliest interactions with Arya provide some incredibly strong symbolism for the origins of the Others, which I feel is one of the most mysterious parts of the series (and if that’s not a tease to keep you reading, then I don’t know what is).
Their time in the Brave Companions is pretty nondescript and they blend into the background – and isn’t that an indictment of the sellsword company? In any case, Rorge and Biter are not mentioned by name particularly frequently. Rorge assists in the removal of Jaime’s hand, for instance, and we’ve been over that scene in some detail, explaining the role of the Brave Companions as Others there. Before and after removing Jaime’s hand, Roger threatens to sexually assault Brienne which we mentioned earlier as being a symbolic Others trait. In addition, Rorge is one of the characters who tries to push Vargo Hoat into killing Jaime and Brienne, when Jaime returns to Harrenhal to rescue Brienne from the bear pit.
Most of the symbolically interesting activity comes from outside their time with the Brave Companions – namely, the attack on Saltpans and the aftermath. The description of the raid on Saltpans is particularly brutal and informative:
The nearby town of Saltpans had been savagely raided by a band of outlaws, and some of the survivors claimed a roaring brute in a hound’s head helm was amongst the raiders. Supposedly he’d killed a dozen men and raped a girl of twelve. (AFFC, Cersei III)
Jaime had heard about Saltpans. By now half the realm had heard. The raid had been exceptionally savage. Women raped and mutilated, childrenbutchered in their mothers’ arms, half the town put to the torch. (AFFC, Jaime II)
“May the Seven save you, child. It’s said he leaves a trail of butcheredbabes and ravished maids behind him. The Mad Dog of Saltpans, I have heard him called. What would good folk want with such a creature?” (AFFC, Brienne V)
“Do not call it butchery,” Lady Mariya said softly. “That gives insult to honest butchers everywhere. Saltpans was the work of some fell beast in human skin.” (AFFC, Jaime IV)
At Saltpans, they had found only death and desolation. By the time Brienne and her companions were ferried over from the Quiet Isle, the survivors had fled and the dead had been given to the ground, but the corpse of the town itself remained, ashen and unburied. The air still smelled of smoke, and the cries of the seagulls floating overhead sounded almost human, like the lamentations of lost children. (AFFC, Brienne VII)
Of particular note is the wanton destruction in the raid of Saltpans. It was murder, violence and devastation of such a scale that all of Westeros appears to have heard about it and be horrified, even for the low, low bar that Tywin’s war crimes have set. It was violence for violence’s sake, mindless slaughter with no objective other than the pure enjoyment of it by some of the most evil characters in the series. Not that having an objective would make this better (looking at you, Tywin) – more that this singular destruction is highly reminiscent of the wasteland of devastation said to have been left in the wake of the Others in the first Long Night. This, again, suggests that Rorge and Biter’s raid on Saltpans provides them with much more Others symbolism.
A few details jump out to me in these descriptions. Firstly, Saltpans is routinely described as “butchery”, a word which is often associated with the Others:
The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. Swords rose and fell, all in a deathly silence. It was cold butchery. The pale blades sliced through ringmail as if it were silk. Will closed his eyes. Far beneath him, he heard their voices and laughter sharp as icicles. (AGOT, Prologue)
[Jeor Mormont when embarking on the Great Ranging] “If it happens that we’re all butchered out there, I mean for my successor to know where and how we died.” (ACOK, Jon I)
In addition, we also see that Saltpans is also associated with the death of children, as in the sacrificing of children to the Others, like Craster does. Again, this description of Rorge and Biter’s actions parallels the known actions of Others and people who worship them.
Another interesting thing to note is that the raid on Saltpans is so horrific that the humanity of the perpetrators is brought into question: “a roaring brute in a hound’s helm”, “the Mad Dog of Saltpans” and “some fell beast”. This parallels the earlier description of Biter’s eyes being “like nothing human” (ACOK, Arya II) and Rorge and Biter being called “demons called up from some hell, not men at all” (ACOK, Arya IX). Indeed, “fell beasts” is a description given to the winged creatures that the Nazgûl ride in Lord of the Rings so again clearly linking us to the idea of something pretty inherently evil.
The fell beast imagery also gives us some skinchanging symbolism, as the idea of horses (in particular, winged horses) is often linked to Yggdrasil in Norse myth and, in ASOIAF terms, greenseeing. However, by linking to the fell beast imagery in particular, this may be a clue to a corrupted form of greenseeing (check out the amazing collaborative essay that Aemy Blackfyre and All Hail the Night’s Queen wrote on Shade of the Evening trees as corrupted weirwood trees, available in written and audio form – and the YT version includes a follow up panel with Aemy, AHTNQ, Crowfood’s Daughter and moi!). These passages have an absolute ton of imagery that fits with skinchanging motifs. For instance, Rorge is wearing the Hound’s helm as he raids Saltpans, creating the idea of skinchanging a dog or hound to enact violence. *cough* Varamyr *cough* However, we also see the idea of human skinchanging in particular in these passages, most overtly from Lady Mariya Darry:
“Saltpans was the work of some fell beast in human skin.” (AFFC, Jaime IV)
In this passage, Lady Mariya is overtly discussing human skinchanging. Moreover, the Hound’s helm is so intimately tied to Sandor Clegane as a person that everyone automatically assumes that he was the one to perpetrate these atrocities, not Rorge. This again is (symbolically) suggestive of Rorge skinchanging Sandor Clegane’s body, so alluding to human skinchanging. Moreover, at this point in time, we have seen Arya leave Sandor Clegane for dead and been told by the Elder Brother that the Hound did, in fact, die:
A spasm of pain twisted his face. “Do you mean to make me beg, bitch? Do it! The gift of mercy . . . avenge your little Michael . . .”
“Mycah.” Arya stepped away from him. “You don’t deserve the gift of mercy.” (ASOS, Arya XIII)
“The Hound is dead, and in any case he never had your Sansa Stark. As for this beast who wears his helm, he will be found and hanged.” (AFFC, Brienne VI)
In which case, this means that Rorge is symbolically skinchanging a corpse – and doesn’t that sound a lot like the Others raising weighted corpses? (Also, additional beast imagery, fwiw.)
Last thing of note in this Saltpans/human skinchanging idea: by wearing the Hound’s helm, Rorge manages to deflect all of the blame, criticism and horror for this attack onto the Hound, and to avoid (in popular gossip) any criticism or accountability for his actions. As Bronsterys noted in his brilliant essay about the Others, a core aspect of this motif was avoiding accountability and keeping one’s own hands clean. As we pointed out for the Bloody Mummers as a whole, the sellsword company was employed for this purpose by Tywin – as a disavowable asset that he could eliminate whenever the political need arose to deflect blame for the war crimes committed in the Riverlands. “It wasn’t me – it was just this one group of bad apples!” Using a very different means, Rorge has achieved a very similar thing, and thus ties into this “clean hands” motif associated with the Others.
Whew, so that was a lot of particularly heavy shit. And it only gets better from here! 😀 For this bit, we’ll be going into an in-depth scene analysis of the “no chance and no choice” confrontation at the Inn at the Crossroads. As we did for the analysis with Shagwell, we will need to set the scene for this confrontation. Septon Meribald, Hyle Hunt, Brienne and Pod are wandering the riverlands, with Brienne searching for “the Stark girl” who was purportedly with the Hound.
They came upon the first corpse a mile from the crossroads.
He swung beneath the limb of a dead tree whose blackened trunk still bore the scars of the lightning that had killed it. The carrion crows had been at work on his face, and wolves had feasted on his lower legs where they dangled near the ground. (AFFC, Brienne VII)
And doesn’t that just set the loveliest of tones for Spooky Month. As usual, there is quite a lot of symbolism here, with hanged men and trees struck by lightning both having some significant greenseer symbolism. Moreover, this is carried forward with some broken man imagery:
After that, hardly a hundred yards went by without a corpse. They dangled under ash and alder, beech and birch, larch and elm, hoary old willows and stately chestnut trees. […] Broken men, she realized, dregs from a dozen armies, the leavings of the lords.
Some of the dead men had been bald and some bearded, some young and some old, some short, some tall, some fat, some thin. Swollen in death, with faces gnawed and rotten, they all looked the same. On the gallows tree, all men are brothers. Brienne had read that in a book, though she could not recall which one.
It was Hyle Hunt who finally put words to what all of them had realized. “These are the men who raided Saltpans.” (AFFC, Brienne VII)
As we touched on in the outlaws essay and has been pointed out by others, this has some really interesting symbolic connotations around greenseeing and potential links to the Night’s Watch – namely surrounding death as a transformative experience which has ties to the symbolism of the Night’s Watch as an archetype. This same imagery is employed in the description of the inn, which is variously called the River Inn, crossroads inn, orphan inn, Gallows Inn and “ghostly” in this scene – all of which have connotations associated with weirwoods and greenseeing.
We’ll skip past the evening of rest, relaxation and Hyle Hunt’s unwanted sexual/marital propositions right to when Rorge and Biter show their ugly mugs:
Beneath the patter of the rain and Dog’s barking, she could hear the faint clink of swords and mail from beneath their ragged cloaks. She counted them as they came. Two, four, six, seven. Some of them were wounded, judging from the way they rode. The last man was massive and hulking, as big as two of the others. His horse was blown and bloody, staggering beneath his weight. All the riders had their hoods up against the lashing rain, save him alone. His face was broad and hairless, maggot white, his round cheeks covered with weeping sores.
Brienne sucked in her breath and drew Oathkeeper. Too many, she thought, with a start of fear, they are too many. “Gendry,” she said in a low voice, “you’ll want a sword, and armor. These are not your friends. They’re no one’s friends.” (AFFC, Brienne VII)
The remnants of the Bloody Mummers ride up to the crossroads inn and, immediately, Brienne pinpoints Biter from the crowd. As usual, we get his distinctive maggot white skin and weeping sores, giving us the white bark and bloody weeping sap of the weirwood tree imagery. Notice too that his horse is also “blown and bloody”. Horses are tied to weirwood imagery, with Yggdrasil sometimes being interpreted as “Odin’s horse”. That the massive, ugly guy has ruined his horse is evocative of some of the imagery that we’ve seen with the Night’s King figure symbolically invading the weirwoodnet, as shown most obviously in the Dance prologue. We also see that Biter is “as big as two of the others”, so again there is the possibility of this others/Others pun being in play (although, as usual, “other” is an ubiquitous word so this may not have been intentional, etc etc).
We even see that they are described as “no one’s friend”, which immediately appears reminiscent of the Others. The symbolism of the Faceless Men is something to be explored another time, but it is noteworthy that quite a few Others-associated folks get the faceless description: Will utters a prayer to the “nameless, faceless gods of the wood” which symbolically calls the Others, the Others are later called faceless in the A Game of Thrones Prologue and, as Bronsterys noted, the Other-like knights in Septon Meribald’s broken man speech are “faceless men clad all in steel”. This suggests to me that facelessness might be an association of the Others, and thus it is noteworthy that the Bloody Mummers here are “no one’s” friend.
The boy [Gendry] came and stood beside her, his hammer in his hand.
Lightning cracked to the south as the riders swung down off their horses. For half a heartbeat darkness turned to day. An axe gleamed silvery blue, light shimmered off mail and plate, and beneath the dark hood of the lead rider Brienne glimpsed an iron snout and rows of steel teeth, snarling. (AFFC, Brienne VII)
This scene has been analysed elsewhere with one very plausible interpretation of this passage being that Gendry is holding the equivalent of Thor’s hammer and bringing the storm. However, symbolism can have multiple layers. Another interpretation here could be that the Bloody Mummers have come and brought the storm with them. That the storm comes to turn the weapons “silvery blue”, i.e. icy cold colours, may suggest that there is some icy symbolism associated with the storm. That the storm seems to arrive with the Bloody Mummers seems to parallel the cold and darkness being brought by the Others. In particular, the lightning cracks as the Mummers swing down from their horses. This suggests that it could be the lightning cracking which pairs with the Others getting off their horses – which, given the weirwood associations with both horses and lightning, has some really interesting connotations about who the Others are and how they came to be. More on this in a little bit.
In the meantime, Gendry and Brienne have the horrible revelation of who they are facing down:
Gendry saw it too. “Him.”
“Not him. His helm.” Brienne tried to keep the fear from her voice, but her mouth was dry as dust. She had a pretty good notion who wore the Hound’s helm. The children, she thought.
The door to the inn banged open. Willow stepped out into the rain, a crossbow in her hands. The girl was shouting at the riders, but a clap of thunder rolled across the yard, drowning out her words. As it faded, Brienne heard the man in the Hound’s helm say, “Loose a quarrel at me and I’ll shove that crossbow up your cunt and fuck you with it. Then I’ll pop your fucking eyes out and make you eat them.” The fury in the man’s voice drove Willow back a step, trembling.
Seven, Brienne thought again, despairing. She had no chance against seven, she knew. No chance, and no choice.
She stepped out into the rain, Oathkeeper in hand. “Leave her be. If you want to rape someone, try me.” (AFFC, Brienne VII)
I couldn’t not quote this in full, the culmination of Brienne’s arc and heroism is just too much. So, her desire to save the children is directly juxtaposed with the violent fury of Rorge, in a clear Last Hero vs. Other kind of symbolism. Brienne is also wielding Oathkeeper here, which has a ton of Lightbringer symbolism and which is a broken sword, suggestive of her fulfilling the Last Hero archetype in this moment. As I mentioned very briefly in the Hoat and Utt essays, the sexual assault of women and children is very closely connected to the violent, forced entrance to the weirwoodnet, as most clearly depicted in the Varamyr prologue. Again, this gives the Others symbolism to the Bloody Mummers.
The outlaws turned as one. Onelaughed, and another said something in a tongue Brienne did not know. The huge one with the broad white face gave a malevolent hissssssssssssssss. The man in the Hound’s helm began to laugh. “You’re even uglier than I remembered. I’d sooner rape your horse.” (AFFC, Brienne VII)
Here we get a couple of the Bloody Mummers laughing in response to Brienne, which is reminiscent of the Others’ laughter as they butcher Ser Waymar Royce. We see another (an Other?) speak in a language that Brienne doesn’t know, again like the alien language of the Others. Biter reappears hissing, so this again implies speaking in a language that humans cannot understand. Lastly, the discussion of bestiality towards the horse is yet another metaphor for the forced entrance to the weirwoodnet, given the close connection between horses and weirwoods.
“With what?” taunted Brienne. “Shagwell said they cut your manhood off when they took your nose.“
She meant it to provoke him, and it did. Bellowing curses, he came at her, his feetsending up splashes of black water as he charged. The others stood back to watch the show, as she had prayed they might. Brienne stayed as still as stone, waiting. The yard was dark, the mud slippery underfoot. Better to let him come to me. If the gods are good, he’ll slip and fall. (AFFC, Brienne VII)
This sets up a very similar dynamic to the Prologue of A Game of Thrones:
Behind him, to right, to left, all around him, the watchers stood patient, faceless, silent, the shifting patterns of their delicate armor making them all but invisible in the wood. Yet they made no move to interfere. (AGOT, Prologue)
In both cases, there is a one-on-one duel between the Other figure (Rorge/the Other) and the Night’s Watch figure (Brienne/Ser Waymar) with the others/the Others standing to watch. This is specifically called out in an other/Other pun in the Brienne chapter as “[t]he others stood back to watch”.
This also sets up a pattern that Bronsterys very clearly outlined in White and Black: Two Archetypes, which describes the Other and Night’s Watch archetypes within a duel – namely Rorge is charging forward here (a symbolic Other), while Brienne waits (a symbolic Last Hero). In the next few paragraphs, we continue to see this pattern, with Rorge charging forward and Brienne taking evasive action:
The gods were not that good, but her sword was. Five steps, four steps, now, Brienne counted, and Oathkeeper swept up to meet his rush. Steel crashed against steel as her blade bit through his rags and opened a gash in his chain mail, even as his axe came crashing down at her. She twisted aside, slashing at his chest again as she retreated.
He followed, staggering and bleeding, roaring rage. “Whore!” he boomed. “Freak! Bitch! I’ll give you to my dog to fuck, you bloody bitch!” His axe whirled in murderous arcs, a brutal black shadow that turned silver every time the lightning flashed. Brienne had no shield to catch the blows. All she could do was slide back away from him, darting this way and that as the axehead flew at her. Once the mud gave way under her heel and she almost fell, but somehow she recovered herself, though the axe grazed her left shoulder that time and left a blaze of pain in its wake. “You got the bitch!” one of the others called, and another said, “Let’s see her dance away from that one.”
Dance she did, relieved that they were watching. […]She waited, watching, moving sideways, then backwards, then sideways again, slashing now at his face, now at his legs, now at his arm. (AFFC, Brienne VII)
Those of you familiar with Bronsterys’ essay (which you should definitely check out if you haven’t yet) will notice how much of Brienne’s activity here fits with the Last Hero motif – twisting aside, retreating, darting this way and that, moving sideways and backwards – and so Rorge is defined in oppositiong to this, placing him in the role of the Other. We also see that Rorge is roaring rage (some fun alliteration, lol), just like another Other figure – the Mountain in the trial by combat against Oberyn Martell:
Ser Gregor followed, bellowing. He doesn’t use words, he just roars like an animal, Tyrion thought. (ASOS, Tyrion X)
In addition, returning to the Brienne chapter, I wanted to note some more Others puns as she is cut by Rorge – one of the Others called out comments and anOther said something else. In particular, they refer to the fight as “dancing”, which calls out Ser Waymar Royce’s “Dance with me then” line of just epic awesomeness. I also wonder if the murderous axe swings are related to myth of Mad Axe, the murderer at the Nightfort who butchered his brothers and silently wandered the hallways with nothing but the dripping blood to give away his position – with the silent butchery linked to kinslaying all occurring at the Nightfor aka the home of the Night’s King, all being symbolic Other associations.
And then Rorge gets got:
His blows came more slowly as his axe grew heavier. Brienne turned him sothe rain was in his eyes, and stepped back two quick steps. He wrenched his axe up once more, cursing, and lurched after her, one foot sliding in the mud . . .
. . . and she leapt to meet his rush, both hands on her sword hilt. His headlong charge brought him right onto her point, and Oathkeeper punched through cloth and mail and leather and more cloth, deep into his bowels and out his back, rasping as it scraped along his spine. His axe fell from limp fingers, and the two of them slammed together, Brienne’s face mashed up against the dog’s head helm. She felt the cold wet metal against her cheek. Rain ran down the steel in rivers, and when the lightning flashed again she saw pain and fear and rank disbelief through the eye slits. “Sapphires,” she whispered at him, as she gave her blade a hard twist that made him shudder. His weight sagged heavily against her, and all at once it was a corpse that she embraced, there in the black rain. She stepped back and let him fall . . . (AFFC, Brienne VII)
This again parallels the Mountain vs the Viper duel (and the Vardis Egen vs Bronn duel), with the Last Hero figure waiting out the onslaught from the Other figure until the Other tires and leaves themselves vulnerable. (Again, we have the evasion tactics from the Last Hero figure and the headlong charges from the Others, as outlined by Bronsterys.) In particular, Brienne uses the environment to turn Rorge and blind him (with rain), in exactly the same way that Oberyn turns the Mountain and blinds him (with the sun). By doing so, Brienne uses that lovely Valyrian steel sword to kill Rorge. As you may recall, Sam Tarly finds a book indicating that dragonsteel can kill an Other:
“I found one account of the Long Night that spoke of the last hero slaying Others with a blade of dragonsteel. Supposedly they could not stand against it.”
“Dragonsteel?” Jon frowned. “Valyrian steel?” (AFFC, Samwell I)
With this in mind, it seems interesting that she chooses to wield her broken sword made from Valyrian steel only against symbolic Other figures so far – Shagwell, Pyg and Timeon which we analysed previously, and now Rorge and Biter.
And just like that Brienne wins the fight. And then everything was fine and the Bloody Mummers ran away and the day was saved! Huzzah!
Oh, wait, this is A Song of Ice and Fire:
. . . and Biter crashed into her, shrieking.
He fell on her like an avalanche of wet wool and milk-white flesh, lifting her off her feet and slamming her down into the ground. She landed in a puddle with a splash that sent water up her nose and into her eyes. (AFFC, Brienne VII)
Biter is clearly affiliated with the icy symbolism here, notedly being an avalanche (so snow/ice) of milk-white flesh (like the flesh of a wight). In doing so, Biter symbolically drowns Brienne, as she breathes in and is blinded by the water. This ties into Ravenous Reader’s green sea/green sea pun, implying Brienne as being transformed into a symbolic greenseer here.
In addition, Biter appears to be acting very much like a wight and this scene appears to include several parallels to Sam Tarly vs the weighted Small Paul:
Paul’s fingers were so cold they seemed to burn. They burrowed deep into the soft flesh of Sam’s throat. (ASOS, Samwell III)
One of his hands was in her hair, pulling her head back. The other groped for her throat.(AFFC, Brienne VII)
His fumbling fingers finally found the dagger, but when he slammed it up into the wight’s belly the point skidded off the iron links, and the blade went spinning from Sam’s hand. (ASOS, Samwell III)
Oathkeeper was gone, torn from her grasp. […] My dagger. Brienne clutched at the thought, desperate. […] With him on top of her, she could not raise the blade to stab, so she drew it hard across his belly. Something warm and wet gushed between her fingers. Biter hissed again, louder than before, and let go of her throat just long enough to smash her in the face. (AFFC, Brienne VII)
He’s going to rip my head off, Sam thought in despair. His throat felt frozen, his lungs on fire. He punched and pulled at the wight’s wrists, to no avail. He kicked Paul between the legs, uselessly. The world shrank to two blue stars, a terrible crushing pain, and a cold so fierce that his tears froze over his eyes. (ASOS, Sam III)
Then he seized her head again and resumed trying to tear it off her shoulders. […] Her world was no larger than the hands at her throat and the face that loomed above her. […] Brienne’s chest was burning, and the storm was behind her eyes, blinding her. (AFFC, Brienne VII)
Altogether, this once again places Biter in the role of the Other and Brienne in the role of the Last Hero – Sam is even trying to save Gilly’s son in this scene, just as Brienne is trying to save the children at the crossroads inn.
Biter then begins to literally eat Brienne:
Biter’s mouth gaped open, impossibly wide. She saw his teeth, yellow and crooked, filed into points. When they closed on the soft meat of her cheek, she hardly felt it. She could feel herself spiraling down into the dark. I cannot die yet, she told herself, there is something I still need to do.
Biter’s mouth tore free, full of blood and flesh. He spat, grinned, and sank his pointed teeth into her flesh again. This time he chewed and swallowed. He is eating me, she realized, but she had no strength left to fight him any longer. She felt as if she were floating above herself, watching the horror as if it were happening to some other woman, to some stupid girl who thought she was a knight. It will be finished soon, she told herself. Then it will not matter if he eats me. Biter threw back his head and opened his mouth again, howling, and stuck his tongue out at her. It was sharply pointed, dripping blood, longer than any tongue should be. Sliding from his mouth, out and out and out, red and wet and glistening, it made a hideous sight, obscene. His tongue is a foot long, Brienne thought, just before the darkness took her. Why, it looks almost like a sword.(AFFC, Brienne VII)
Biter’s mouth gaping impossibly wide to eat someone is, to me, quite reminiscent of the mouths of the weirwood trees – in particular the mouth of the weirwood tree at Whitetree being a “jagged hollow” that can swallow a sheep whole, or of the mouth of the weirwood tree that serves as the Black Gate under the Wall. We also see that Biter acquires the bloody mouth symbolism of the weirwood trees. This directly connects to the idea of greenseeing being linked to cannibalism in some way (Jojen paste).
This scene is also very similar to the boss fight Dany’s final room in the House of the Undying. She too feels like she has been paralysed and she is being eaten by the Undying Ones:
All the strength had left her limbs. She could not move. Even her heart had ceased to beat. She felt a hand on her bare breast, twisting her nipple. Teeth found the soft skin of her throat. A mouth descended on one eye, licking, sucking, biting . . . (ACOK, Daenerys IV)
The Undying Ones are also tightly linked to ice symbolism, so it is interesting to see this parallel with Biter, again placing him in the role of the Other here.
Lastly, we’ll start back (heh) to when we are introduced to Rorge and Biter, to investigate the origin of the Others thing that I teased earlier. (Note, while the conclusions here are not necessarily new, I think that they are very interesting and have some very clear implications for the history of the Others.)
So, to recap, Rorge and Biter had been imprisoned in the black cells of the Red Keep, meaning that they had definitely done some terrible shit, which may or may not have been turning the entirety of Flea Bottom into cannibals. Despite clearly knowing they are the literal worst, Yoren still takes them out of the black cells to transport to the Wall, doing so by chaining them in a cart. The North (and, in particular, the Wall as a penal colony) is highly reminiscent of Tartarus, a place in the Greek underworld. Tartarus came to be known as a place of punishment in particular for those who had sinned against the (Olympian) gods, with Sisyphus and that damned boulder being one of the most well known examples. However, Tartarus was first used to house the Titans – so think Cronus, Hyperion, etc., rather than the Olympian gods, Zeus and Hera et al. The Titans were the former generation of gods, the gods who ruled before the Olympians came to power. In effect, Tartarus was used to house the old gods.
As such, imagery around greenseeing and weirwoods should be everywhere – we touched on some of the skinchanging motifs around the attack on Saltpans which tie into this idea, but there is a ton of weirwood imagery from all the way back in A Clash of Kings:
She was almost close enough to touch the wheel when Biter lurched to his feet and grabbed for her, his irons clanking and rattling. The manacles brought his hands up short, half a foot from her face. He hissed.
She hit him. Hard, right between his little eyes.
Screaming, Biter reeled back, and then threw all his weight against his chains. The links slithered and turned and grew taut, and Arya heard the creak of old dry wood as the great iron rings strained against the floorboards of the wagon. Huge pale hands groped for her while veins bulged along Biter’s arms, but the bonds held, and finally the man collapsed backward. Blood ran from the weeping sores on his cheeks. (ACOK, Arya II)
This is a really interesting description to me. The old dry wood heavily suggests to me something of the weirwood trees, with the weirwood trees often being incredibly ancient and being the home of the old gods. The weirwoods even have a theme of imprisonment, as they are frequently associated with mazes and labyrinths, and the labyrinth of Greek myth was created to imprison the Minotaur. In turn, the Minotaur is a horned monster, with horned folks being associated with greenseeing and linked to the Others. With Rorge and Biter being associated with the Others, this suggests that the Others are (or were) caged within the weirwoodnet in a sense – Biter even ends up with a bloody, weeping face in this scene, like the bloody, weeping faces of the weirwood trees. This ties in to a lot of previous discussions that the Others are closely connected to the weirwoodnet – based on this symbolism, it seems like one interpretation of these events is that the Others may have been imprisoned in the weirwoodnet.
But, as with all good imprisoned villains, they need to stage a jail break:
Rushing through the barn doors was like running into a furnace. The air was swirling with smoke, the back wall a sheet of fire ground to roof. Their horses and donkeys were kicking and rearing and screaming. The poor animals, Arya thought. Then she saw the wagon, and the three men manacled to its bed. Biter was flinging himself against the chains, blood running down his arms from where the irons clasped his wrists. Rorge screamed curses, kicking at the wood. “Boy!” called Jaqen H’ghar. “Sweet boy!”
The wagon jumped and moved a half foot when Biter threw himself against his chains again. Jaqen saw her, but it was too hard to breathe, let alone talk. She threw the axe into the wagon. Rorge caught it and lifted it over his head, rivers of sooty sweat pouring down his noseless face. Arya was running, coughing. She heard the steel crash through the old wood, and again, again. An instant later came a crack as loud as thunder, and the bottom of the wagon came ripping loose in an explosion of splinters. (ACOK, Arya IV)
We’ve explored this scene before as have others. Notably, this scene shares an absolute ton of imagery with Drogo’s pyre and the birth of the dragons. For example, we see that there is a large crack like thunder that unleashes three monsters into the world. We know that Drogo’s pyre is symbolically a scene of Lightbringer forging meaning that the burning of the barn is also a symbolic Lightbringer forging scene. There is also ample evidence that Lightbringer can be a reference to the weirwood trees, with the moment that the weirwoods are ‘set on fire’ being the moment when they can be used by human greenseers.
Now, I was sceptical at first too but this pattern of one Other transforming or releasing other Others does appear elsewhere as well. As usual, we’ll return to the AGOT Prologue for another example, this one being more of an example of releasing the Others. So, Ser Waymar Royce duels one Other and it has been noted that this is a bit of a weird quirk – why did only one Other step forward? I think this could be another imprisonment motif:
Behind him, to right, to left, all around him, the watchers stood patient, faceless, silent, the shifting patterns of their delicate armor making them all but invisible in the wood. Yet they made no move to interfere. (AGOT, Prologue)
Here we have the watchers in the trees, depicting the Others stuck in the weirwoodnet, just as Rorge and Biter (and Jaqen, fwiw) are stuck within the cage. In the duel, the Other kills Waymar and:
A scream echoed through the forest night, and the longsword shivered into a hundred brittle pieces, the shards scattering like a rain of needles. Royce went to his knees, shrieking, and covered his eyes. Blood welled between his fingers.
The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. Swords rose and fell, all in a deathly silence. It was cold butchery. The pale blades sliced through ringmail as if it were silk. Will closed his eyes. Far beneath him, he heard their voices and laughter sharp as icicles. (AGOT, Prologue)
Again, we have someone being killed by an Other leading to the Others moving forward to commit “cold butchery”.
In a similar way, we see Daenerys symbolically free the imprisoned warlocks in the House of the Undying. The House of the Undying has a ton of maze or labyrinth kind of symbolism and is associated with its own version of a magical tree, the Shade of the Evening tree – this ties into the weirwood as prison motif.
Another example of this comes in ACOK, Catelyn IV, we see Renly murdered within his tent, which has been described as an Others transformation event elsewhere. This tent is a “magical castle, alive with emerald light”, and it is set on fire – so check for the magical weirwood trees. In killing Renly, his army turns into a deathly army, surrounded by mists and morning ghosts – so check for “army transforms into Others” symbolism. This transformation is precipitated by Stannis, a Night’s King figure, sending a shadow assassin. So, not prisoners, but symbolically we do see an Other figure kill create the weirwood!Lightbringer and transform/create the Others. Stannis then uses this Other-like army to attack King’s Landing, so he is using them as a weapon.
So, returning to Jaqen, Rorge and Biter, we should therefore see them being used as a weapon by the person who released them.
“The Red God has his due, sweet girl, and only death may pay for life. This girl took three that were his. This girl must give three in their places. Speak the names, and a man will do the rest.” (ACOK, Arya VII)
Arya leaned close and whispered, “Chiswyck,” right in Jaqen’s ear. (ACOK, Arya VII)
“I have a message.” Arya eyed the serving girl uncertainly. When she did not seem likely to go away, she leaned in until her mouth was almost touching his ear. “Weese,” she whispered. (ACOK, Arya VIII)
Now, I don’t want to go into the symbolism of Arya and Jaqen’s relationship here (in part because that would rely on Faceless Men analysis which I haven’t done yet, but fwiw they seem to be Other-y to me) but the idea of someone releasing the prisoners from their chains to use them as a weapon is very similar to (though not exactly the same as) the idea of the role of the Others transforming into this attacking force.
In effect, this is what Arya does with Jaqen, using him as her weapon against the Lannisters. In doing so, she displays a significant number of vengeful greenseer symbols, by practicing swordwork in the “kingdom of the leaves”:
Arya climbed. Up in the kingdom of the leaves, she unsheathed and for a time forgot them all, Ser Amory and the Mummers and her father’s men alike, losing herself in the feel of rough wood beneath the soles of her feet and the swish of sword through air. A broken branch became Joffrey. She struck at it until it fell away. The queen and Ser Ilyn and Ser Meryn and the Hound were only leaves, but she killed them all as well, slashing them to wet green ribbons. (ACOK, Arya IX)
The idea of a vengeful greenseer would appear to tie into exactly what the Others represent – more on this in an upcoming Lady Stoneheart analysis.
Importantly for the Rorge and Biter analysis, they also get involved in Arya’s killing spree/weaponisation:
Then she heard the ugly sound of Rorge’s voice. “Cook,” he shouted. “We’ll take your bloody broth.” Arya let go of the spoon in dismay. I never told him to bring them. Rorge wore his iron helmet, with the nasal that half hid his missing nose. Jaqen and Biter followed him into the kitchen. (ACOK, Arya IX)
Again, this symbolically points to an Others motif, that is being released and used as weapons for someone else – namely the person who released them. This suggests to me that Arya becomes an Other like figure for this section of her story – for her actions she is, in effect, exiled to the other side of the Narrow sea to induct herself into an assassination cult that (at least symbolically) skinchanges humans. I don’t think she’ll stay this way, fwiw: much like Jaime, Bran, Jon and all the other characters we’ve explored in the Cripples, Bastards and Broken things series, Arya will experience some kind of breaking event to become the “Good Other”/”broken dawn” figure. This would presumably make her the figure to take down the Faceless Men, a theory which Aziz mentioned in the AFFC Valar Rereadis podcast.
Well, it has been a long one today. As with all of the other characters analysed so far, we’ve seen a ton of connections between Rorge and Biter and the symbolism of the Others. We’ve also taken a much broader look at some other types of symbolism, such as the symbolism of the Faceless Men and characters like Arya, Brienne and Daenerys have popped up today as well. Most importantly, we’ve seen this interesting idea of the Others as imprisoned within the weirwood net and being released to be used as weapons by someone else.
And that’s it for the Brave Companions! I hope that you’ve enjoyed our journey with them – er, maybe “enjoy” is the wrong word, but you know what I mean. Now, some of you are probably looking at your calendar like “kk, cool, but this isn’t Halloween, you’ve finished October a bit early Emma”. Well, I have some exciting news – Spooptober fest on the blog will be finished with a Lysa Arryn and Lady Stoneheart shaped essay, exploring the symbolic relationship between the final two chapters of A Storm of Swords.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the analysis of the Brave Companions or on any of my other essays. You can comment down below or find me over on Twitter as @elsmith1994. If you like Others symbolism, you’ll love Bronsterys’ essays, which you can find here, and you can subscribe to the blog using the box on the right hand side of your screen.
Hello again everyone, and welcome to Red Mice at Play. We’re continuing our analysis of the Bloody Mummers by taking a closer look at Qyburn. Like any storied band of adventuring characters, you need to have a healer in the party – but, as with everything about the Brave Companions, they managed to hire basically the most evil healer ever to have existed.
However, we’re not explicitly aware of how evil Qyburn is for quite a while, except with the implication that he’s associated with the Brave Companions. Instead, Qyburn is introduced to us as a warm, fatherly figure:
In the maester’s chambers beneath the rookery, a grey-haired, fatherly man named Qyburn sucked in his breath when he cut away the linen from the stump of Jaime’s hand. (ASOS, Jaime IV)
“My lord.” Qyburn knelt beside him, his fatherly face all crinkly with concern. “What is it? I heard you cry out.” (ASOS, Jaime VI)
Qyburn was old, but his hair still had more ash than snow in it, and the laugh lines around his mouth made him look like some little girl’s favorite grandfather. A rather shabby grandfather, though. The collar of his robe was frayed, and one sleeve had been torn and badly sewn. “I must beg Your Grace’s pardon for my appearance,” he said. (AFFC, Cersei II)
This humble appearance however does still contain clues to the Other symbolism that we’ve consistently found throughout the character analyses of the Bloody Mummers. For starters, he is depicted as having ash and snow in his hair, introducing those colder elements to his appearance. In addition, he is described as having “bold blue eyes” (AFFC, Cersei I). The blue eyes remind us of the cold blue star eyes of the Others, so check one for cold symbolism there. In addition, his eyes are described as “bold”, introducing the brave-but-not-really-Other vs. craven-but-not-really-Night’s Watch distinction that we touched on in the very first essay in this series.
After ingratiating himself into Cersei’s circle in King’s Landing, he manages to go on a shopping spree and get himself some resplendent new robes:
He had garbed himself in something very like maester’s robes, but white instead of grey, immaculate as the cloaks of the Kingsguard. Whorls of gold decorated his hem, sleeves, and stiff high collar, and a golden sash was tied about his waist. (AFFC, Cersei IV)
These long white robes are explicitly linked to the colouring of the Kingsguard, who frequently represent the Others. As such, for Qyburn to be directly linked to them in this way is very suggestive of him having the same Other-like associations. In addition, we see that these robes are decorated with “whorls” of gold. The gold decorations introduce the gold/cold pun (e.g. “hands of gold are always cold”)and suggests even more Others symbolism from Qyburn’s appearance.
So, that’s what Qyburn looks like for most of the time we see him. His appearance and the general friendliness of his disposition are quite incongruous with where we are introduced to him – in the pay of Vargo Hoat. This discrepancy is actively called out to us in the dialogue:
Qyburn did not look a monster, Jaime thought. He was spare and soft-spoken, with warm brown eyes. “How does a maester come to ride with the Brave Companions?”
“The Citadel took my chain.” (ASOS, Jaime IV)
Qyburn neatly dodges the question of why he lost his chain, but it is something that has been whispered about since his first appearance on page:
Though he wore maester’s robes, there was no chain about his neck; it was whispered that he had lost it for dabbling in necromancy. (ACOK, Arya X)
“I hate this lot worse. Ser Amory was fighting for his lord, but the Mummers are sellswords and turncloaks. Half of them can’t even speak the Common Tongue. Septon Utt likes little boys, Qyburn does black magic, and your friend Biter eats people.” (ACOK, Arya X)
“Tend to him?” She laughed. “Let Ser Ilyn tend to him.”
“If that is Your Grace’s wish,” Qyburn said, “but this poison . . . it would be useful to know more about it, would it not? Send a knight to slay a knight and an archer to kill an archer, the smallfolk often say. To combat the black arts . . .” He did not finish the thought, but only smiled at her. (AFFC, Cersei II)
Black magic, black sorcery, and necromancy – my oh my. The “black arts” are most frequently associated with evil places, such as Asshai and (more importantly for an analysis of the Brave Companions) Qohor. We touched on the symbolism of Qohor in the Vargo Hoat essay, but to reiterate, Qohor has a lot of Other-y associations – one of which is black magic and necromancy. As such, it is interesting to see Qyburn, practitioner of black magic and necromancy, be introduced to us under the banner of a Qohorik god. The necromantic magic that Qyburn practises is probably the most important in our analysis here, given that the Others are most known for raising the wights.
Despite it being obviously evil to murder people in the pursuit of science, Qyburn just doesn’t seem to get it and is really quite bitter about being stripped of his chain:
“Why did the Citadel take your chain?”
“The archmaesters are all craven at heart. The grey sheep, Marwyn calls them. I was as skilled a healer as Ebrose, but aspired to surpass him. For hundreds of years the men of the Citadel have opened the bodies of the dead, to study the nature of life. I wished to understand the nature of death, so I opened the bodies of the living. For that crime the grey sheep shamed me and forced me into exile . . . but I understand the nature of life and death better than any man in Oldtown.” (AFFC, Cersei II)
This bitterness theme is one that we frequently come across in our analysis of characters who represent the Others, so it’s noteworthy that it crops up again here with respect to Qyburn. We also see that Qyburn views the maesters as “craven” and frames himself and his scientific pursuits as in opposition to them (i.e. brave), giving us another iteration of the brave-but-not-really-Other/craven-but-not-really-Last Hero dichotomy.
What Qyburn does on page gets increasingly disturbing – but at first, to go along with the friendly father figure act, we see Qyburn primarily in his role as healer at first.
With a bowl and a sharp blade, Qyburn cleaned the stump while Jaime gulped down strongwine, spilling it all over himself in the process. His left hand did not seem to know how to find his mouth, but there was something to be said for that. The smell of wine in his sodden beard helped disguise the stench of pus.
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. (AFFC, Jaime IV)
We’ve analysed this scene in a bit of detail as a part of the Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things series, when we covered Jaime’s hand loss as his breaking event/Last Hero transformation. In particular, we noted that there are a significant number of parallels to the forging of Lightbringer, such as the three poundings of the fist as an echo of the three forgings of Lightbringer and the bloody mouth as a link to the weirwood!Lightbringer. What we didn’t mention was Qyburn’s role in that scene. Given that this scene depicts a symbolic forging of Lightbringer, this suggests that Qyburn is in the role of the forger of Lightbringer who appears most frequently to be a symbolic Other figure. Indeed, we see some things that back this up. For instance, Qyburn tries to give Jaime the milk of the poppy, which has been identified as an ice-associated item – after all, dying from the cold is like “sinking into a sea of warm milk” (AGOT, Prologue), so there’s a milk-cold association. He also tries to leech Jaime of the bad blood, with leeches primarily appearing to have ice associations given their associations to Roose Bolton (arch Night’s King figure) and Chett (another Other figure).
When in place at King’s Landing, Qyburn increasingly ingratiates himself into Cersei’s circle and she becomes ever more reliant on him. This is, in my view, an interesting spin on the Night’s King/Night’s Queen relationship. Cersei acquires increasing amounts of Night’s Queen type symbolism: for example, being described as a beautiful corpse (AFFC, Jaime II), just as the Night’s Queen is called a beautiful woman and a corpse queen. Qyburn cannot hold lands or titles, much like the Night’s Watch:
“You all know Lord Qyburn, I am sure.”
Grand Maester Pycelle did not disappoint her. “Lord Qyburn?” he managed, purpling. “Your Grace, this . . . a maester swears sacred vows, to hold no lands or lordships . . .”
“Your Citadel took away his chain,” Cersei reminded him. “If he is not a maester, he cannot be held to a maester’s vows. We called the eunuch lord as well, you may recall.” (AFFC, Cersei IV)
In turn, he makes himself useful to Cersei and she frequently thinks on how his loyalty is useful to her. Early in A Feast for Crows, Qyburn becomes Master of Whisperers in Cersei’s Small Council. She thinks:
Varys had all of us believing he was irreplaceable. What fools we were. Once the queen let it become known that Qyburn had taken the eunuch’s place, the usual vermin had wasted no time in making themselves known to him, to trade their whispers for a few coins. It was the silver all along, not the Spider. Qyburn will serve us just as well. (AFFC, Cersei IV)
So, Qyburn is replacing Varys, a man who also has a ton of icy symbolism by wandering around in purple most of the time, being a master of disguise and a mummer, orchestrating an invasion by armies from across the sea and by stealing children to mutilate and turn into his weapons. Notably, Qyburn is here compared to Varys earlier too – “We called the eunuch lord as well”. This creates some association between Varys, a symbolically icy character, and Qyburn, who is also associated with the Others by virtue of his association with the Bloody Mummers amongst some of the other (lol) things we’ll get into today. However, Qyburn performs his role with “silver”, with silver being a cold-associated colour. This again suggests Qyburn as utilising the cold to perform his role on the council.
At his first Small Council meeting, Qyburn takes the opportunity to suggest an assassination plot against the newly elected Lord Commander Snow. This could suggest that Qyburn is working to undermine the Night’s Watch, and thus places him in the role of an Other. Come to think of it, this plot is rather like the theory that the Others planted the Night’s Watch wights close to the Wall in A Game of Thrones specifically so they could try to infiltrate the Watch and assassinate the Lord Commander, Jeor Mormont. In terms of the dynamic of Cersei and Qyburn’s relationship, it is suggestive of a Night’s King figure using the Night’s Queen figure for his own ends. This is a very similar dynamic to Lysa Arryn and Littlefinger’s relationship as well, both of whom have a ton of icy symbolism.
As a part of his studies, Qyburn needs a regular supply of victims to torture subjects to conduct research:
“For the puppeteers, the axe.”
“There are four. Perhaps Your Grace might allow me two of them for mine own purposes. A woman would be especially . . .”
“I gave you Senelle,” the queen said sharply.
“Alas. The poor girl is quite . . . exhausted.”
Cersei did not like to think about that. The girl had come with her unsuspecting, thinking she was along to serve and pour. Even when Qyburn clapped the chain around her wrist, she had not seemed to understand. The memory still made the queen queasy. The cells were bitter cold. Even the torches shivered. And that foul thing screaming in the darkness . . . “Yes, you may take a woman. Two, if it please you. But first I will have names.” (AFFC, Cersei V)
We see that he is working in “the bitter cold” where “[e]ven the torches shivered”, reinforcing the Others symbolism associated with Qyburn. In particular, “bitter cold” is a phrase particularly used when the Others appear in ASOS, Prologue and Sam I, and with clear examples of Long Night symbolism, such as the aftermath of the death of Lysa in AFFC, Sansa I. Returning to Qyburn, the “foul thing” that Cersei speaks of isn’t described in detail – I presume this is the un-Gregor WIP, but I could be wrong. In particular, this description speaks to corruption, a theme also consistently associated with the Others (e.g. the theory that the Shade of the Evening trees are corrupted versions of weirwoods). In addition, the need for women in Qyburn’s “research” is an interesting (and horrible) one and could speak to the idea broached by the Faceless Men:
“Women bring life into the world. We bring the gift of death. No one can do both.” (AFFC, Arya II)
Given Qyburn’s research is to do with the space between life and death, it’s interesting that he requires women for his necromancy. That the women he requests are specifically “puppeteers” is especially interesting as Bronsterys has clearly shown that the puppet motif is associated with the Others, and a female puppeteer would therefore be the Night’s Queen. Altogether, this very suggestive of the importance of the role of the Night’s Queen potentially as a progenitor of the Others, an idea explored by All Hail the Night’s Queen amongst others, and it reinforces the “Qyburn as Other or Night’s King” symbolism.
Somehow, using sciences or magics unknown, Qyburn manages to resurrect Ser Gregor Clegane introduce an entirely new person to court:
“Someone splendid,” she agreed. “Someone so young and swift and strong that Tommen will forget all about Ser Loras. A bit of gallantry would not be amiss, but his head should not be full of foolish notions. Do you know of such a man?”
“Alas, no,” said Qyburn. “I had another sort of champion in mind. What he lacks in gallantry he will give you tenfold in devotion. He will protect your son, kill your enemies, and keep your secrets, and no living man will be able to withstand him.”
“So you say. Words are wind. When the hour is ripe, you may produce this paragon of yours and we will see if he is all that you have promised.” (AFFC, Cersei VII)
“My queen, your champion stands ready. There is no man in all the Seven Kingdoms who can hope to stand against him. If you will only give the command . . .” (AFFC, Cersei X)
Cersei never saw where Qyburn came from, but suddenly he was there beside them, scrambling to keep up with her champion‘s long strides. “Your Grace,” he said, “it is so good to have you back. May I have the honor of presenting our newest member of the Kingsguard? This is Ser Robert Strong.” (ADWD, Cersei II)
Ser Robert Strong is immediately inducted into the Kingsguard to champion Cersei in her upcoming trial by battle, thus giving him all of the Others-associated symbolism of the Kingsguard. In addition, he has taken a vow of silence, reminding us of the Others who are almost silent (except when cackling as they butcher a member of the Night’s Watch, but we’ve not had much of a chance of un-Gregor to laugh yet). The turn of phrase used twice to describe the knight – “no [living] man shall withstand him” – is a particularly interesting one, as it is used by Melisandre to describe Azor Ahai. This Azor Ahai symbolism is reinforced as Qyburn is specifically noted to wear a blacksmith’s leather apron during his experiments:
Down here in the dungeons, Qyburn wore roughspun wool and a blacksmith’s leather apron. (AFFC, Cersei IX)
So, Qyburn’s experiments are, in effect, a symbolic forging of Lightbringer, just as his healing of Jaime was also a symbolic forging of Lightbringer. The leather apron is also suggestive of skinchanging – Qyburn is literally wearing the skin of an animal, after all. That he is wearing this apron while performing gruesome human experiments could be indicative of human skinchanging in particular, as was suggested by Urswyck’s ragged leather cloak, with human skinchanging being a hallmark of a Night’s King or Other figure (yep, I’m mentioning Varamyr again, but honestly, the symbolism in that scene is so clear that I can’t not mention it).
As others in the fandom have noted, Qyburn is written very much in the vein of Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein – a genius studying the line between life and death, ostracised by his scientific community for gross ethical misconduct (y’know, that teensy ethical issue of murder). The novel’s full title is Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, which introduces some very interesting symbolism to Qyburn’s character. For those of you who aren’t aware, Prometheus is a Titan from Greek mythology who stole fire from the gods to give to mankind; Frankenstein, as a modern Prometheus, steals the secrets of life and death from God to become a creator himself. The idea of stealing the fire of the gods is super prevalent in A Song of Ice and Fire and is directly associated with Azor Ahai characters – and we’ve just pointed out that Qyburn fulfils this Azor Ahai as Other-y bad guy symbolic archetype. This suggests that, by becoming a Westerosi Prometheus, Qyburn is also fulfilling the role of Azor Ahai, the Night’s King.
And that’s the Other-y symbolism that I’ve got for Qyburn – what do you think of the scientific necromancer? I’d love to hear your thoughts either in the comments below or by finding me on Twitter under the handle @elsmith1994. If you liked this essay, the rest of the Brave Companions series can be found here and more of my essays can be found here. I mentioned Bronsterys a bit today and you can find his essays here.
See you all again next week as we finish up our analysis of the Brave Companions with Rorge and Biter!
Hello again everyone and welcome to Red Mice At Play. It’s me, Archmaester Emma, taking you on a tour of the symbolism of the Brave Companions, because it’s 2020 and it feels like analysing the worst characters in A Song of Ice and Fire really fits with the zeitgeist.
Yet another “wonderful” (/s) trio of characters in the Brave Companions are Shagwell the Fool, Timeon the Dornishman and Pyg. These guys have a couple of assists in some scenes, like threatening to rape Brienne, forcing Jaime to kneel for his maiming, and naming Jaime and Brienne the lovers after Jaime loses his hand. However, we’ll be focussing on their death scenes in A Feast for Crows, because at least then we don’t have to bear them for too long.
To set the scene, Brienne, Pod and Dick Crabb (the true hero of A Song of Ice and Fire, s/o the 2019 A Song of Madness tournament) have been travelling along the coast up to Crackclaw Point, aiming for the castle called The Whispers, to find a fool waiting in a smugglers’ cove. Brienne hopes to find Dontos and Sansa, but instead meets some of the remnants of the Bloody Mummers.
As with many of the scenes we analyse, this chapter is redolent with greenseeing imagery. Notably, on the way to the castle, the trio need to find their way through the bogs of Crackclaw Point, which reminds us of the crannogmen, who live in the bogs around the Neck. The crannogmen are depicted as being closer to the greenseeing magics of Westeros, according to Jojen Reed:
“We live closer to the green in our bogs and crannogs, and we remember.” (ADWD, Bran III)
As Maester Merry notes, the wet wild is very much connected to the magic of greenseeing, so it’s interesting that Dick, Brienne and Pod need to pass through a region of the wet wild to access the Whispers. They then need to pass through a forest, again a direct connection to greenseeing:
The going was much slower in the woods. Brienne prodded her mare through the green gloom, weaving in and out amongst the trees. It would be very easy to get lost here, she realized. Every way she looked appeared the same. The very air seemed grey and green and still. Pine boughs scratchedagainst her arms and scraped noisily against her newly painted shield. The eerie stillness grated on her more with every passing hour. (AFFC, Brienne IV)
Again, this sounds a lot like entering a place of green magics, with the air being “green gloom” and “grey and green and still”. Brienne’s thought that they could get lost here is a shout out to the maze or labyrinth connotations of the weirwoodnet. Then, for the extra redundant greenseeing symbolism, they arrive at a castle called The Whispers, which itself is a greenseer codeword:
The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. A pale sun rose and set and rose again. 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.
[…] 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. (ADWD, Bran III)
The Whispers itself gets its names from all of the undead heads that are kept beneath the castle, to give advice to local hero, Ser Clarence Crabb. This reminds me of the room of half-dead greenseers that Bran comes across in the caves under the weirwood tree.
Most of them looked dead to him, but as he crossed in front of them their eyes would open and follow the light of his torch, and one of them opened and closed a wrinkled mouth as if he were trying to speak. (ADWD, Bran III)
Entrance to the castle occurs via a gate with a screaming hinge:
The postern door resisted for a moment, then jerked open, its hinges screaming protest. The sound made the hairs on the back of Brienne’s neck stand up. She drew her sword. Even in mail and boiled leather, she felt naked. (AFFC, Brienne IV)
As has been mentioned before, gates and doorways frequently symbolise the passage between the physical and spiritual realms and are often tied to weirwoods in A Song of Ice and Fire, given that weirwoods are one of the mechanisms for achieving this kind of magical transcendence. The hinges screaming has been linked to the idea of Nissa Nissa’s cry of anguish and ecstasy by others in the fandom, and in particular with the idea of entering the weirnet forcibly. This forced entry to the weirwoods is a notably Night’s King thing, as shown in the horror of Varamyr’s actions towards Thistle in the A Dance with Dragons prologue. While this would appear to place Brienne et al. uncomfortably close to the Others-spectrum of events, I think this is mitigated (a teensy bit) as they are just following the path cut by the Bloody Mummers:
“There has to be a postern gate.”
They found it on the north side of the castle, half-hidden behind a huge blackberry bramble. The berries had all been picked, and half the bush had been hacked down to cut a path to the door. The sight of the broken branches filled Brienne with disquiet. “Someone’s been through here, and recently.” (AFFC, Brienne IV)
This again places the Bloody Mummers in the role of the first breakers (they break the branches, and hack a path to the door to force it open) and therefore in the role of symbolic Others. (There’s probably also some commentary on the Night’s Watch figures also following in the footsteps of these crimes to reach the symbolic Others, along the lines of “war makes monsters of us all”, but I’ll save that for another day.)
As expected off the back of this “entering the weirnet” symbolism, we see the lovely little godswood:
The yard was all weeds and pine needles. Soldier pines were everywhere, drawn up in solemn ranks. In their midst was a pale stranger; a slender young weirwood with a trunk as white as a cloistered maid. Dark red leaves sprouted from its reaching branches. Beyond was the emptiness of sky and sea where the wall had collapsed . . . (AFFC, Brienne IV)
Moving swiftly on from thecollapsedWall in the setting of a symbolic Night’s Watch vs. Others showdown, we can see that this scene appears to symbolise Brienne, Pod and Nimble Dick going on a quest into the weirwoodnet. I’m currently pitching the Bloody Mummers as the Others, so this would place Brienne, Pod and Dick in the role of the Night’s Watch. With this in mind, it’s interesting to see how closely the description of the forest surrounding the Whispers is to the Haunted Forest north of the Wall. To revisit Brienne’s description of the forest:
The going was much slower in the woods. Brienne prodded her mare through thegreen gloom, weaving in and out amongst the trees.It would be very easy to get lost here, she realized. Every way she looked appeared the same. The very air seemed grey and green and still. Pine boughs scratched against her arms and scraped noisily against her newly painted shield. The eerie stillness grated on her more with every passing hour.
It bothered Nimble Dick as well. Late that day, as dusk was coming on,he tried to sing. “A bear there was, a bear, a bear, all black and brown, and covered with hair,” he sang, his voice as scratchy as a pair of woolen breeches. The pines drank his song,as they drank the wind and rain. After a little while he stopped.
“It’s bad here,” Podrick said. “This is a bad place.”
Brienne felt the same, but it would not serve to admit it.“A pine wood is a gloomy place, but in the end it’s just a wood. There’s naught here that we need fear.”(AFFC, Brienne IV)
We have our trio of heroes wandering slowly through the forest as night falls:
Twilight deepened. The cloudless sky turned a deep purple, the color of an old bruise, then faded to black. The stars began to come out. A half-moon rose. Will was grateful for the light.
“We can make a better pace than this, surely,” Royce said when the moon was full risen. (AGOT, Prologue)
The trees are depicted as being alive and antagonistic to the trio of interlopers:
Will threaded their way through a thicket, then started up the slope to the low ridge where he had found his vantage point under a sentinel tree. Under the thin crust of snow, the ground was damp and muddy, slick footing, with rocks and hidden roots to trip you up. Will made no sound as he climbed. Behind him, he heard the soft metallic slither of the lordling’s ringmail, the rustle of leaves, and muttered curses as reaching branches grabbed at his longsword and tugged on his splendid sable cloak.(AGOT, Prologue)
The leader of the trio is depicted as being overconfident in the face of the forest:
“There’s something wrong here,” Gared muttered.
The young knight gave him a disdainful smile. “Is there?”
“Can’t you feel it?” Gared asked. “Listen to the darkness.”
Will could feel it. Four years in the Night’s Watch, and he had never been so afraid. What was it?
“Wind. Trees rustling. A wolf. Which sound is it that unmans you so, Gared?” (AGOT, Prologue)
That these two treks through the forest appear to parallel one another quite nicely leads us to another parallel – the Others arrive at the end of the Prologue, and the Bloody Mummers appear at the end of Brienne’s journey to the Whispers.
A shadow emerged from the dark of the wood. […]
They emerged silently from the shadows, twins to the first. Three of them … four … five …
[…] The Other slid forward on silent feet.
[…] Far beneath him, he heard their voices and laughter sharp as icicles. (AGOT, Prologue)
Brienne saw a sapling sway. From the bushesslid a man, so caked with dirt that he looked as if he had sprouted from the earth. A broken sword was in his hand, but it was his face that gave her pause, the small eyes and wide flat nostrils.
She knew that nose. She knew those eyes. Pyg, his friends had called him.
Everything seemed to happen in a heartbeat. A second man slipped over the lip of the well, making no more noise than a snake might make slithering across a pile of wet leaves. He wore an iron halfhelm wrapped in stained red silk, and had a short, thick throwing spear in hand. Brienne knew him too. From behind her came a rustling as a head poked down through the red leaves. Crabb was standing underneath the weirwood. He looked up and saw the face. “Here,” he called to Brienne. “It’s your fool.”
“Dick,” she called urgently, “to me.”
Shagwell dropped from the weirwood,braying laughter. He was garbed in motley, but so faded and stained that it showed more brown than grey or pink. In place of a jester’s flail he had a triple morningstar, three spiked balls chained to a wooden haft. (AFFC, Brienne IV)
Here, the Bloody Mummers appear silently amongst the trees at first, until they laugh – just as the Others slid forward on silent feet and their laughter was sharp as icicles. Notably, the language here – Crabb standing underneath the weirwood and seeing the face – makes it sound like Shagwell is the face the weirwood tree. This fits in with the idea that the Others have some kind of greenseer power or heritage, potentially being the originalgreenseers. I also notice how Pyg is described as being caked in dirt and looking like he’s sprouted from the earth – this could fit in with the idea of the Others as some kind of icy golem figure, as outlined by All Hail the Night’s Queen in this short video.
There is an interesting a piece of wordplay around laughter and Slaughter, which is likely to tie into this – in the Prologue of A Game of Thrones, the Others emerge from the trees, their icy laughter echoing around the forest as they commit cold butchery by killing Waymar Royce. In this case, laughing Shagwell emerges from the weirwood tree to kill Nimble Dick Crabb:
He swung it [the morningstar] hard and low, and one of Crabb’s knees exploded in a spray of blood and bone. “That’s funny,” Shagwell crowed as Dick fell. The sword she’d given him went flying from his hand and vanished in the weeds. He writhed on the ground, screaming and clutching at the ruins of his knee. “Oh, look,” said Shagwell, “it’s Smuggler Dick, the one who made the map for us. Did you come all this way to give us back our gold?”
“Please,” Dick whimpered, “please don’t, my leg . . .”
“Does it hurt? I can make it stop.”
“Leave him be,” said Brienne.
“DON’T!” shrieked Dick, lifting bloody hands to shield his head. Shagwell whirled the spiked ball once around his head and brought it down in the middle of Crabb’s face. (AFFC, Brienne IV)
As in the Prologue, the victim ends up on the floor clutching his injury – Nimble Dick and his knee and Ser Waymar and his eye. Notably, Dick acquires a bunch of weirwood tree descriptions – a spray of blood and bone is exactly how the weirwood branches are described in ADWD Jon III, and he acquires the bloody hands like the leaves of a weirwood tree. Of course, this is happening right in front of a weirwoods tree meaning that, in effect, this is a blood sacrifice to the trees, like Bran saw in his weirwood vision. Altogether, this places Nimble Dick on the side of the Night’s Watch so this would places Shagwell in the role of the Others. (As a side note, Nimble Dick has some broken man symbolism here, what with his leg wound and him being a deserter.)
From here on out, the direct comparisons between this chapter and the Prologue of A Game of Thrones seem to end, but the Bloody Mummers/Others symbolism just keeps rolling. For instance, after Dick is killed by Shagwell, the Mummers try to distract Brienne with some tales of what happened to them after Brienne left Harrenhal and with (what else) threats of rape. Specifically, Brienne says Timeon is trying to “lull” her with his voice, which implies a connection to sleep. This may seem like an odd word to pick out, but my good friend Bronsterys has noted sleep is frequently associated with the Others archetype and wakefulness with the Night’s Watch archetype – after all, the Night’s Watch are horn that wakes the sleepers, so they are symbolically antagonistic to sleep in some sense. Of particular note, one of the Lord Commanders of the Watch who oversaw a wildling breach of the Wall was called “Sleepy Jack Musgood”, placing Sleepy Jack in the role of a Night’s King figure, a Lord Commander of the Watch on the side of the Others. With this in mind, it is quite interesting to me that GRRM uses “lull” in particular to describe the Bloody Mummers distraction of Brienne, and may indicate a connection to the Others, symbolically. As an added bonus, Sleepy Jack used to be known as Jolly Jack – and here we have a man with a fool weaponising sleep. *thinking face emoji*
Brienne doesn’t fall for this lullaby, and instead makes a choice:
“We will.” Timeon smiled. “Once you’ve fucked the lot of us. We’ll pay you like a proper whore. A silver for each fuck. Or else we’ll take the gold and rape you anyway, and do you like the Mountain did Lord Vargo. What’s your choice?”
“This.” Brienne threw herself toward Pyg.
He jerked his broken blade up to protect his face, but as he went high she went low. Oathkeeper bit through leather, wool, skin, and muscle, into the sellsword’s thigh. Pyg cut back wildly as his leg went out from under him. His broken sword scraped against her chain mail before he landed on his back. Brienne stabbed him through the throat, gave the blade a hard turn, and slid it out, whirling just as Timeon’s spear came flashing past her face. I did not flinch, she thought, as blood ran red down her cheek. Did you see, Ser Goodwin? She hardly felt the cut. (AFFC, Brienne IV)
Heck yeah, Brienne, git ‘em! As I’m sure you’ll notice, Brienne is wielding Oathkeeper against the Mummers, a broken-and-reforged sword. Importantly, she starts to give out the broken man wounds, namely the thigh wound (a symbolic castration) before the throat wound like cutting someone’s throat sacrificially before the heart tree. Pyg is even wielding a broken sword himself, so this could be an Others-to-Last Hero style transformation here, or it could just be a “killing the Others” thing – I’m not entirely sure. We then have Brienne’s face being cut by Timeon’s spear, which reminds us of the face carving of the weirwood trees and potentially bloody tears (which is again a weirwood reference). Fittingly, after cutting Brienne’s face, Timeon is also killed:
He was better than Pyg, but he had only a short throwing spear, and she had a Valyrian steel blade. Oathkeeper was alive in her hands. She had never been so quick. The blade became a grey blur. He wounded her in the shoulder as she came at him, but she slashed off his ear and half his cheek, hacked the head off his spear, and put a foot of rippled steel into his belly through the links of the chain mail byrnie he was wearing.
Timeon was still trying to fight as she pulled her blade from him, its fullers running red with blood. He clawed at his belt and came up with a dagger, so Brienne cut his hand off. That one was for Jaime. “Mother have mercy,” the Dornishman gasped, the blood bubbling from his mouthand spurting from his wrist. “Finish it. Send me back to Dorne, you bloody bitch.”
She did. (AFFC, Brienne IV)
Again, Brienne is doling out the broken man wounds, this time taking Timeon’s hand and reminding us of another man left broken after the loss of his hand. He also acquires the bloody hand (technically, a bloody stump, I guess) and the bloody mouth symbolism, which is again weirwood symbolism.
Shagwell then begs for mercy:
“I yield,” the fool cried, “I yield. You mustn’t hurt sweet Shagwell, I’m too droll to die.”
“You are no better than the rest of them. You have robbed and raped and murdered.”
“Oh, I have, I have, I shan’t deny it . . . but I’m amusing, with all my japes and capers. I make men laugh.”
“And women weep.” (AFFC, Brienne IV)
This language brings to mind Nissa Nissa’s cry of anguish and ecstasy when Azor Ahai killed her, which is reiterated when Shagwell loses the world’s worst game of “rock, paper, scissors”:
Shagwell had a jagged chunk of rock clutched in one hand. Brienne had her dagger up her sleeve.
A dagger will beat a rock almost every time.
She knocked aside his arm and punched the steel into his bowels. “Laugh,” she snarled at him. He moaned instead. “Laugh,” she repeated, grabbing his throat with one hand and stabbing at his belly with the other. “Laugh!” She kept saying it, over and over, until her hand was red up to the wrist and the stink of the fool’s dying was like to choke her. But Shagwell never laughed. The sobs that Brienne heard were all her own. When she realized that, she threw down her knife and shuddered. (AFFC, Brienne IV)
Again, we have the laughter and the weeping language, reminiscent of the anguish and ecstasy line from the tale of Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa. That Shagwell notably doesn’t laugh may suggest that this is an end to the slaughter, given the laughter/slaughter pun, thus suggesting an end to their Others symbolism. Prior to his death, Shagwell dug a grave for Nimble Dick with his bare hands which left them “bloody and blistered” – so again, weirwood symbolism. Brienne, in stabbing Shagwell, gains some bloody hand symbolism – which could suggest some kind of “she who passes the sentence should swing the sword” kinda thing, which aligns with Ned Stark’s view of justice and appears to be more Last Hero-aligned (for more on this, check out Bronsterys’ excellent essay here).
And so ends this little trio of awfulness, as Pod and Brienne quietly bury Dick Crabb and give him his gold:
By the time they were done the moon was rising. Brienne rubbed the dirt from her hands and tossed two dragons down into the grave.
“Why did you do that, my lady? Ser?” asked Pod.
“It was the reward I promised him for finding me the fool.”
Laughter sounded from behind them. She ripped Oathkeeper from her sheath and whirled, expecting more Bloody Mummers . . . but it was only Hyle Hunt atop the crumbling wall, his legs crossed. “If there are brothels down in hell, the wretch will thank you,” the knight called down. “Elsewise, that’s a waste of good gold.”
“I keep my promises.” (AFFC, Brienne IV)
This fits in with the oathkeeper vs. oathbreaker motif that I’m looking to explore more in the upcoming Broken Words essay, as a part of the Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things series. For now, I just wanted to note that Oathkeeper is, itself, a broken sword and there’s this really interesting tension between people who are trying to keep to their vows but need to break their vows in order to do so – thinking here of Jon’s fake defection to the wildlings in order to protect the Watch and gather intelligence requires him to break some of his Night’s Watch vows (e.g. killing Qhorin and falling in love with Ygritte) and to other people (e.g. by leaving Ygritte to keep his Night’s Watch vows). This is, I think, going to become a much more prominent part of Brienne’s storyline in Winds, what with her being confronted by Stoneheart and attempting to keep her vows to Catelyn and Jaime.
While we’re talking about Brienne, I wanted to note that, throughout this essay, I’ve spoken about her doling out the broken men wounds which I’ve previously spent a significant amount of time indicating is quite an Other-y thing to do. Interestingly, and this is something I’ll probably get to in a broken woman kind of essay, Brienne does share some characteristics with Night’s Queen figures – she’s pale with blue eyes, she’s renowned as “a beauty” (yes, sarcastically, but it means that we do get the kind of beautiful woman symbolism that the Night’s Queen has), she’s closely linked to sapphires and she has a warrior woman vibe like a few of the other Night’s Queen figures (e.g. Morna Whitemask, Val, Pretty Meris). However, she does seem to be more of a Last Hero character in her protection of children, e.g. by taking Pod under her wing, and by protecting the children at the Inn of the Crossroads (which we’ll be covering next week), and by consistently associating herself with the Last Hero-esque broken characters to take down the Other figure. As such, I wonder if her ice associations are equivalent to some of the ice-to-fire(ish) transformations we saw in the broken men essay e.g. with Jaime doing a lot of icy Night’s King things and then becoming a Last Hero after his breaking event. This could then point to the broken man in turn breaking others (lol) to free them from whatever yoke is tying them to the Others.
Welp, that one was a bit longer today! I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip to The Whispers in Crackclaw Point, final resting place of Shagwell, Pyg, Timeon and Nimble Dick Crabb. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this essay, especially as there appears to be some interesting symbolism and a lot up for debate in this scene imo. You can either post a comment down under the essay or you can hit me up on Twitter with the handle @elsmith1994. If you enjoyed this essay, then you might enjoy more of my essays and you’ll love Bronsterys’ amazing essays too. You can subscribe to the blog by popping your email into a box over on the right hand side of your screen, or follow me on Twitter (although I tend to RT a ton of political crap, so fair warning on that 😉 ).
See you soon and stay safe and well out there folx! ❤
Hello again everyone and welcome to Red Mice At Play again. It’s October 2020 and, in our analysis of literally the worst humans ever, we continue with a faith-based theme this weekend by focusing on Septon Utt, warrior priest.
As a member of the Faith, Septon Utt shares the same icy symbolism of the Faith which would again suggest that Utt (and by extension the Brave Companions) are symbolically Others. This is something we alluded to in the Urswyck analysis too. As a warrior priest specifically, this could tie into the idea of the Warrior’s Sons, who have an organisational sigil of a crystal sword – like the Others and their ice swords like shards of crystal.
Septon Utt is also a murderous paedophile who preys upon small boys – I wish I didn’t have to mention that, but I kinda do because that seems to be a symbolic parallel to something that the Others themselves do. After all, Craster sacrifices his baby boys to the Others, and it doesn’t seem likely that those kids survive (in human form) for very long after that.
We get less screen time with the septon than with many members of the Bloody Mummers (thank the gods), so there’s only really one scene to explore: that of the Brotherhood Without Banners catching Utt and presiding over a trial with him.
The scene opens with the Brotherhood without Banners opening fire on a sept which Septon Utt and the Bloody Mummers are occupying. This scene has a ton of “onset of the Long Night” or “War for the Dawn” imagery:
The man on the roof was the first to die. He was crouched down by the chimney two hundred yards away, no more than a vague shadow in the predawn gloom, but as the sky began to lighten he stirred, stretched, and stood. Anguy’s arrow took him in the chest. He tumbled bonelessly down the steep slate pitch, and fell in front of the septry door.
The eastern horizon glowed gold and pink, and overhead a half moon peeked out through low scuttling clouds. The wind blew cold, and Arya could hear the rush of water and the creak of the mill’s great wooden waterwheel. There was a smell of rain in the dawn air, but no drops were falling yet. (ASOS, Arya VII)
The Brotherhood eventually find Septon Utt in the cellar, hiding under the stairs. To me, this is reminiscent of some of the powerful magics of the series occurring in underground in the hollow hills of the series, e.g. Bran opening his third eye, Beric Dondarrion dueling Sandor Clegane and Bran going into the caves under the weirwood tree to become a greenseer. Symbolically, this suggests that Septon Utt may be some kind of greenseer figure – indeed, as a priest, Utt is an avatar of the gods in a sense. Moreover the leader of the Faith, the High Septon, has a weirwood staff (AFFC, Cersei II), suggesting a further (symbolic) connection with ice symbolism and greenseeing.
Septon Utt’s potential greenseer connection seems to be reinforced by the septon’s description of himself as a “weak reed”. In my Tobho Mott essay, I briefly mentioned how “reed” could be connected to greenseeing. After all, House Reed in the Neck is intimately tied to the green magics of the series, with Howland visiting the Isle of Faces before the series starts and Jojen experiencing greendreams and being sent to educate Bran in his early skinchanging period. Moreover, reeds are found at the boundary of the water, which reminds us of Ravenous Reader’s greensee/green sea pun, and speaks to the liminal realm, the in between places of high magic (according to most mythologies).
“I have sinned,” the septon wailed. “I know, I know. Forgive me, Father. Oh, grievously have I sinned.”
Arya remembered Septon Utt from her time at Harrenhal. Shagwell the Fool said he always wept and prayed for forgiveness after he’d killed his latest boy.
Various of the outlaws came forward to tell of things the Brave Companions had done; towns and villages sacked, crops burned, women raped and murdered, men maimed and tortured. A few spoke of the boys that Septon Utt had carried off. The septon wept and prayed through it all. “I am a weak reed,” he told Lord Beric. “I pray to the Warrior for strength, but the gods made me weak. Have mercy on my weakness. The boys, the sweet boys . . . I never mean to hurt them . . .” (ASOS, Arya VII)
Tears and weeping are frequently associated with ice-affiliated symbols – think, for instance, of the icy Wall that weeps or of Alyssa’s Tears in the Vale, a region dripping with ice symbolism, or of the Tears of Lys delivered by Lysa to her husband, who confessed to the crime while sobbing (ASOS, Sansa VII). As such, it seems telling that Septon Utt cries while confessing to his crimes.
Thankfully, we see the outlaws deliver some kind of justice to Septon Utt and his cronies:
Septon Utt soon dangled beneath a tall elm, swinging slowly by the neck, as naked as his name day. The other Brave Companions followed one by one. A few fought, kicking and struggling as the noose was tightened round their throats. One of the crossbowmen kept shouting, “I soldier, I soldier,” in a thick Myrish accent. Another offered to lead his captors to gold; a third told them what a good outlaw he would make.
Come morning, Septon Utt still swung beneath the tree, but the brown brothers were out in the rain with spades, digging shallow graves for the other dead. (ASOS, Arya VII)
As with many of the other symbolic Other characters we see in the series, they end up dead in a manner that appears to represent becoming a symbolic greenseer – in this case, Utt and the other Mummers are hanged, an allusion to Odin pinning himself on Yggdrasil to spy the runes. Moreover, as I’ve highlighted here, there are references to the Brave Companions as being “other”, which could be an “other”/”Other” pun again (although the usual other-is-an-ubiquitous-word caveat applies). Notice too how one of the soldiers is specifically called out as Myrish – making him a Myrman… A merman… Under the green sea/greensee? Ok, I’ll see myself out (but it’s a pun that’s in the Battle of the Blackwater too, just sayin’).
This gallows tree gets a very particular description:
A mummer tree, Arya thought as she watched them dangle, their pale skins painted a sullen red by the flames of the burning septry. Already the crows were coming, appearing out of nowhere. She heard them croaking and cackling at one another, and wondered what they were saying. Arya had not feared Septon Utt as much as she did Rorge and Biter and some of the others still at Harrenhal, but she was glad that he was dead all the same. (ASOS, Arya VII)
Mummery is, of course, the act of disguising oneself and acting – symbolically, this acts a lot like skinchanging, as Bronsterys has noted. For this to be a mummer tree suggests that it is a tree of skinchangers and that just sounds like a description of a weirwood tree to me. It’s even got a pale skin and is painted red by the flames, giving us the red and white colouring of the weirwood tree (which has leaves like “a blaze of flame” in A Clash of Kings, Theon V), and is accompanied by crows that talk to each other (reminding us of, for instance, Bran the greenseer learning to skinchange ravens).
After a quick Google search, I also learned that a mummer tree is a Christmas tradition in Newfoundland, Ireland and the UK (although not the parts I’ve ever been in, I have to say), involving little puppet decoration things being hung on a Christmas tree. One of the important implications that Bronsterys drew out in his last essay is the close connection between greenseers and puppetry – it seems quite interesting that this mummer tree gets a mention while the Other figure is hanged on the tree, knowing that symbolic Others frequently act as puppets or surrogates.
So, all in all, we have a weeping septon, who commits atrocities including stealing the life of young boys, and the septon and his crew lose a battle at dawn against the symbolic Night’s Watch. To me, that all seems to indicate the Other-y symbolism of the Brave Companions.
Interestingly, this is the same chapter in which it is explicitly revealed that Thoros of Myr is resurrecting Beric Dondarrion and we get the iconic (for my Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things series) line:
“Might be your Smith can mend a broken sword, but can he heal a broken man?” (ASOS, Arya VII)
I somehow doubt that it’s a coincidence that the dude with the flaming sword is revealed to be a resurrected broken man in the same chapter that the Brotherhood does some serious Night’s Watch fighting the Others symbolism.
So it’s another short one today, which I hope you’ve enjoyed. Over the next few weekends, we’ll be taking some deeper dives than Utt and Urswyck and I look forward to sharing those with you! (I’m very excited about the Rorge and Biter essay, in particular, and can’t wait to share that with you guys.) In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you think – you can comment in the box below or find me on Twitter with the handle @elsmith1994. If you enjoyed this essay, I have more Brave Companions essays here, a full list of my essays can be found here and the work of the wonderful Bronsterys can be found here. You can also subscribe to the blog by entering your email in the box on the right and never miss a post.
Hello again everyone, welcome back to Red Mice at Play. It’s still spoopy season and so we’ll be continuing with our saga of analysing the literal worst human beings in A Song of Ice and Fire: the Brave Companions. In particular, their second in command, known as Urswyck the Faithful.
One of the more prominent scenes involving the Brave Companions is their appearance at the end of Jaime and Brienne’s duel and, subsequently, they cut off Jaime’s hand. Jaime and Brienne’s duel is not only one of the most erotic scenes of the novel (seriously, have you read that thing? *fans self*), but it is also an excellent piece of Long Night symbolism: they are fighting in the stream, which involves Ravenous Reader’s amazing green sea/green see pun, and thus suggests some greenseer symbolism; Jaime’s sword cuts Brienne’s thigh so he is symbolically taking her maidenhead, so we can see the prominent sex and swordplay motif; Jaime pins Brienne against a tree in a symbolic reference to the sacrifice of Nissa Nissa. As expected, we see this kind of “start of the Long night symbolism” and, bam! Others appear – this case in the symbolic form of the Bloody Mummers.
As is quickly becoming par for the course with this blog, we see a fair few parallels to the A Game of Thrones Prologue. One example is that both Jaime and Will symbolically call for the Others. In Will’s case, we have the following description:
He [Will] whispered a prayer to the nameless gods of the wood, and slipped his dirk free of its sheath. He put it between his teeth to keep both hands free for climbing. The taste of cold iron in his mouth gave him comfort.
Down below, the lordling called out suddenly, “Who goes there?” Will heard uncertainty in the challenge. He stopped climbing; he listened; he watched.
The woods gave answer: the rustle of leaves, the icy rush of the stream, a distant hoot of a snow owl.
The Others made no sound. (AGOT, Prologue)
As Ravenous Reader has described in her seminal Killing Word essay, Will whispers a prayer to the woods, which answer with the Others. Importantly, Will at this moment in time has symbolically entered the tree by climbing it upon Waymar’s command, so he has become a symbolic greenseer.
In a very similar vein:
Grunting, she came at him, blade whirling, and suddenly it was Jaime struggling to keep steel from skin. One of her slashes raked across his brow, and blood ran down into his right eye.The Others take her, and Riverrun as well! (ASOS, Jaime III)
Brienne cuts him above the brow, which symbolically implies Jaime losing one of his eyes – this is an allusion to Odin, who sacrifices his eye to acquire metaphysical power. A lot of Odin and Norse mythology appears to be reflected in the symbolism around greenseeing, so Jaime symbolically losing an eye here would seem to reflect him becoming a greenseer figure. In that moment, when Jaime (symbolically) becomes one of the gods, he then prays for the Others. Lo, the Others Brave Companions appear:
She let him go, and he went down with a splash.
And the woods rang with coarse laughter.
These were not the outlaws who had killed Ser Cleos, Jaime realized suddenly. The scum of the earth surrounded them: swarthy Dornishmen and blond Lyseni, Dothraki with bells in their braids, hairy Ibbenese, coal-black Summer Islanders in feathered cloaks. He knew them. The Brave Companions.(ASOS, Jaime III)
Jaime calls for the Others, and the Brave Companions appear from the woods; this is akin to Will’s prayer to the nameless, faceless gods of the wood leading to the Others emerging from the woods, suggesting a symbolic parallel between the Brave Companions and the Others. In addition, the coarse laughter of the Brave Companions would seem to be reminiscent of the Others’ “laughter sharp as icicles” (AGOT, Prologue). Altogether, this would appear to place the Brave Companions in the role of symbolic Other of this scene.
This scene culminates in the Brave Companions maiming Jaime and cutting off his sword hand. We previously identified Jaime’s maiming as his breaking event, as the loss of his hand appears to be the catalyst for Jaime’s transformation into the apparent Last Hero archetype and, after losing his hand, Jaime acquires the “broken” symbolism we’ve been discussing recently. As we have seen in some of the other essays, the Other-archetype appears to be the one who initiates the “breaking event” of the Last Hero: the Other breaks Ser Waymar’s sword; Ser Arthur Dayne breaks the Smiling Knight’s sword; Ramsay Bolton castrates Theon; pre-broken Jaime throws Bran from the window; and so on and so forth. With this in mind, it is interesting to note that the Bloody Mummers are the ones who “break” Jaime. Indeed, the description of the arakh that maims Jaime is described as turning the sunlight silver, and it comes “shivering” down to cut off Jaime’s hand. This, to me, is suggestive of the arakh turning the sunlight cold, and being cold itself, symbolically invoking the idea of the ice swords of the Others themselves. Altogether, I think that this shows that the Brave Companions appear to be acting in the role of symbolic Other in A Storm of Swords, Jaime III.
One of the Bloody Mummers who gets the most coverage in this chapter is Urswyck the Faithful, who has a ton of Others symbolism as well, it seems. For starters, the Faith has a ton of icy symbolism – for instance, the crystal at the heart of the religion is like the icy crystalline Wall and the Others’ ice sword like a shard of crystal – so Urswyck being nicknamed “the Faithful” seems to suggest a link to some icy symbolism.
In addition, a lot of the descriptions of Urswyck appears to show him as a symbolic Other – namely, he is a cadaver with blue blood:
Brienne found her voice. “I have a hundred stags—”
A cadaverous man in a tattered leather cloak said, “We’ll take that for a start, m’lady.”
“Who commands here?” Jaime demanded loudly.
“I have that honor, Ser Jaime.” The cadaver’s eyes were rimmed in red, his hair thin and dry. Dark blue veins could be seen through the pallid skin of his hands and face. “Urswyck I am. Called Urswyck the Faithful.”
“Urswyck! A word!”
The cadaverous sellsword in the ragged leather cloak reined up a moment, then fell in beside him. (ASOS, Jaime III)
Being a cadaver symbolically suggests Urswyck as a wighted corpse of some description and Urswyck’s “pallid skin” would appear to match the “flesh gone white as snow” description of the wights (ADWD, Prologue). In addition, Urswyck is described as having dark blue veins, which may be a reference to the blue blood of the Others (ASOS, Sam III).
In a more roundabout piece of symbolism, Urswyck’s leather cloak would appear to be a symbolic reference to skinchanging as Urswyck is literally wearing another skin as a cloak. Moreover, one of the prominent examples of people wearing skins as cloaks is the Boltons, who allegedly flay the skins of their enemies and wear that skin as a cloak; this could suggest that Urswyck symbolises a skinchanger of humans, in particular. Given that the Boltons are symbolically acting as Others in most scenes, this potential parallel between Urswyck and the Boltons would also lend further credence to the Brave Companions acting as symbolic Others.
In a continuation of the parallels between the Others in the AGOT, Prologue and the Brave Companions here, we see the following:
“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. “I have heard enough, Kingslayer. I would have to be a great fool indeed to believe the promises of an oathbreaker like you.” (ASOS, Jaime III)
Urswyck slaps Jaime “lazily” with “sheer casual insolence“, just as the Others’ parry was “almost lazy” at the end of the duel with Ser Waymar Royce. This once again creates a parallel between the Brave Companions and the Others. Importantly, Jaime realises that Urswyck does not fear him, which is extremely reminiscent of the Night’s King “who knew no fear” and reinforces these Other-like connections.
Urswyck is also linked (loosely) to trees:
Urswyck’s chuckle was papery dry. (ASOS, Jaime III)
Having a papery voice could be an allusion to trees, or speaking with the voice of the trees, which may be important given that the Others themselves appear from the trees. In a similar way, the Undyng Ones in Qarth (who themselves are Other-y greenseer figures). That it is Urswyck’s laugh which is papery may again be an allusion to the Others’ icy laughter.
Urswyck also notes that he has killed his wife:
“Ser Urswyck,” the man said, savoring the sound. “How proud my dear wife would be to hear it. If only I hadn’t killed her.” (ASOS, Jaime VII)
This is very suggestive to me of some kind of Azor Ahai action, what with Azor Ahai killing Nissa Nissa and all that. Moreover, there are some strong connections between Azor Ahai and the Night’s King, most notably Stannis who wield Lightbringer but insists on doing Other-y things like kinslaying and (presumably, relatively soon) child sacrifice.
The cherry on the cake for me is that Urswyck is literally called an Other:
“If you know me, Urswyck, you know you’ll have your reward. A Lannister always pays his debts. As for the wench, she’s highborn, and worth a good ransom.”
The other cocked his head. “Is it so? How fortunate.” (ASOS, Jaime III)
As I say every time I mention this, “other” is an ubiquitous word in the English language, so not every instance of the word “other” is a pun on “Other”. However, as we’ve covered so far and as we’ll cover in future, there is a ton of symbolism that would appear to suggest that the Brave Companions are symbolic Others, so it would make sense for one of the leaders of the group to be labelled with “the other” in a punny sense.
Urswyck is one of the few members of the Brave Companions who has not died yet – we last learned that Urswyck had headed down to Oldtown with a few other members of the company. They haven’t yet popped up, but we are likely to see a significant amount of bloodletting in that region, likely culminating with arch-Night’s King figure Euron Greyjoy invading the town in some Eldritch horror style. We know that George loves to layer his writing to get as many different examples of the same symbolism in one space as possible, so it seems likely to me that these remnants of the symbolic Others/Bloody Mummers will appear in and around Oldtown at roughly the same time.
So that’s it for today – a much shorter essay than usual, given that Urswyck isn’t really a feature of most of interactions with the Brave Companions. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this quick trip through Urswyck’s chapter and reminiscing over the joys of Jaime’s breaking event. I’d love to hear your thoughts, which you can share via the comment box below or by finding me on Twitter @elsmith1994. You can find more of my essays in here, you can find some of John’s excellent work here, and you can subscribe to the blog using the box on the right hand side.
Hello again everyone, and welcome to the next instalment of the Not-So-Brave Companions, published for your delectation in Spooptober 2020.
As the leader of the ‘merry band’ of evil ne’er do wells, Vargo Hoat has a number of symbolic descriptions that adds to this proposed “Brave Companions are symbolic Others” theory. One of these is that he is introduced looking a wee bit like an Other:
At their head was a man stick-thin and very tall, with a drawn emaciated face made even longer by the ropy black beard that grew from his pointed chin nearly to his waist. (ACOK, Arya VII)
A shadow emerged from the dark of the wood. It stood in front of Royce. Tall, it was, and gaunt and hard as old bones, with flesh pale as milk. (AGOT, Prologue)
Both Hoat and the Others are depicted as tall, thin and gaunt, so there appears to be an overlap in the physical descriptions of the two which could suggest a deeper symbolic connection.
While that isn’t exactly a clincher, it does establish to me that it exploring this connection could yield some results and, what do we find, but that Vargo Hoat enjoys lopping off the feet and hands of people who defy him:
“It won’t be no beating, oh, no. I won’t lay a finger on you. I’ll just save you for the Qohorik, yes I will, I’ll save you for the Crippler. Vargo Hoat his name is, and when he gets back he’ll cut off your feet.” (ACOK, Arya VIII)
Others called them Bloody Mummers (though never to their faces), and sometimes the Footmen, for Lord Vargo’s habit of cutting off the hands and feet of men who displeased him. (ASOS, Arya I)
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)
As we explored in the Broken boys and broken men essay, these kinds of injuries often symbolise the “breaking event”, or the event that catalyses a Last Hero style transformation. More importantly for this analysis, the symbolic Others are often the ones who dole out those breaking events. As such, for Vargo Hoat to be named as the person who orchestrates these maimings, it gives him a strong tie to the symbolism of the Others.
As we touched on a little in the last Brave Companions essay, Hoat also seems to go out of his way to seek out the most Night’s King-y leaders of the War of Five Kings, first following Tywin Lannister, who has a ton of dark lord vibes and then Roose Bolton, with his cold, ice eyes.
“Thank you for that wisdom, Your Grace,” Lord Tywin said, with a courtesy so cold it was like to freeze their ears off.(ASOS, Tyrion VI)
There was an agelessness about him, a stillness; on Roose Bolton’s face, rage and joy looked much the same. All he and Ramsay had in common were their eyes. His eyes are ice. (ADWD, Reek II)
In both cases, the Lannisters and Boltons stand opposed to the Starks, who seem self-evidently placed to be Last Hero figures. By serving such obviously Other-y figures, Hoat and the Brave Companions appear to acquire Others symbolism themselves.
In his time as leader and in his interactions with Jaime and Brienne in particular, Hoat is seduced by the idea of sapphires:
He shouted, “SAPPHIRES,” as loudly as he could.
Cursing, Rorge kicked at his stump again. Jaime howled. I never knew there was such agony in the world, was the last thing he remembered thinking. It was hard to say how long he was gone, but when the pain spit him out, Urswyck was there, and Vargo Hoat himself. “Thee’th not to be touched,” the goat screamed, spraying spittle all over Zollo. “Thee hath to be a maid, you foolth! Thee’th worth a bag of thapphireth!” And from then on, every night Hoat put guards on them, to protect them from his own. (ASOS, Jaime IV)
This makes sense in the context of the Others, who are associated with sapphires, e.g. the Night’s Watch wights having sapphire eyes in death:
“Othor,” announced Ser Jaremy Rykker, “beyond a doubt. And this one was Jafer Flowers.” He turned the corpse over with his foot, and the dead white face stared up at the overcast sky with blue, blue eyes.
[…] Yet his eyes were still open. They stared up at the sky, blue as sapphires. (AGOT, Jon VII)
Hoat’s obsession with the sapphires could therefore be a link between Vargo Hoat and the Others, and his insistence on using Brienne to access them could evoke something of the Night’s King chasing his cold, blue-eyed corpse bride and sacrificing to the Others.
Jaime notes upon his leaving Harrenhal that Vargo Hoat will try to rape Brienne (and some TW in the following quote):
The lie spared you awhile, wench. Be grateful for that much. “If her maidenhead’s as hard as the rest of her, the goat will break his cock off trying to get in,” he jested. Brienne was tough enough to survive a few rapes, Jaime judged, though if she resisted too vigorously Vargo Hoat might start lopping off her hands and feet. And if he does, why should I care? I might still have a hand if she had let me have my cousin’s sword without getting stupid. He had almost taken off her leg himself with that first stroke of his, but after that she had given him more than he wanted. Hoat may not know how freakish strong she is. He had best be careful, or she’ll snap that skinny neck of his, and wouldn’t that be sweet?(ASOS, Jaime VI)
It’s a bit of a tangent, but the sexual assault of women in the series often generates some Night’s King/Night’s Queen symbolism: think (or, preferably, don’t think) of Ramsay Bolton and Jeyne Poole’s marriage, or of Pia being assaulted by the Mountain’s men. There’s also a connotation of Night’s Queen type figures castrating their husbands or the men who assault them:
Last night in his dream he had been in bed with her [the miller’s wife] once again, but this time she had teeth above and below, and she tore out his throat even as she was gnawing off his manhood.(ACOK, Theon V)
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)
In each of these scenes, the Night’s Queen figure symbolically castrates the Night’s King figure at the moment of copulation – just as Jaime jokes that Brienne will do to Vargo. This once again places Vargo in the role of Night’s King and thus ensures that he is symbolically tied to the Others. And, as foreshadowed by Jaime, Brienne does indeed attack Vargo when he tries to assault her:
“Your thee-mooth bit oth my ear. Thmall wonder her father will not ranthom thuch a freak.” (ASOS, Jaime VI)
Brienne bit off Vargo’s ear, ultimately giving him the wound that kills him. Again this ties into the mythology of the Night’s King: “a woman was his downfall” and all that.
Vargo doesn’t have long for the road at this point after he’s lost his ear, but we don’t get to see his final moments. Instead we get snippets and descriptions like this:
“In the hall of kings, the goat sits alone and fevered as the great dog descends on him.” (ASOS, Arya VIII)
“This was your goat’s work. Vargo Hoat, the Lord of Harrenhal!”
Lord Tywin looked away, disgusted. “No longer. Ser Gregor’s taken the castle. The sellswords deserted their erstwhile captain almost to a man, and some of Lady Whent’s old people opened a postern gate. Clegane found Hoat sitting alone in the Hall of a Hundred Hearths, half-mad with pain and fever from a wound that festered. His ear, I’m told.” […]
Jaime’s smile curdled. “What about his Brave Companions?”
“The few who stayed at Harrenhal are dead. The others scattered. They’ll make for ports, I’ll warrant, or try and lose themselves in the woods.” (ASOS, Jaime VII)
Vargo sits in Harrenhal, which is described as “the hall of kings” – this could invoke the idea of a Night’s King figure, especially with Harrenhal being builf for Harren Hoare, as in hoarfrost. The half-mad with fever and pain idea reminds us of Varamyr, who is another Night’s King figure.
Ok, so the last part of the Jaime quote isn’t really about Vargo Hoat per se but it does have some really fun Bloody Mummers-as-Others symbolism that I didn’t capture last time. Notice how Tywin literally describes them as “others” which is one of those really fun potential others-Others puns that GRRM seems to like to use. In addition they are heading for the ports i.e. the sea (so alluding to Ravenous Reader’s green sea/greensee pun) or they want to “lose themselves in the woods”, like the opposite of the way the Others come from the trees in the AGOT Prologue. Altogether, this would appear to support the hypothesis that the Bloody Mummers are symbolising the Others, and continues to add to the evidence the Others are in some way connected to the weirwoods.
Lastly, Vargo Hoat hails from the Free City of Qohor, which has a… not brilliant reputation:
In folklore, even as far as Westeros, Qohor is sometimes known as the City of Sorcerers, for it is widely believed that the dark arts are practiced here even to this day. Divination, bloodmagic, and necromancy are whispered of, though such reports can seldom be proved. One truth remains undisputed, however: The dark god of Qohor, the deity known as the Black Goat, demands daily blood sacrifice. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Qohor)
Welp, that’s not good. I mean, this is basically reads as the Western version of Asshai – nicknamed the City of Sorcerors, its inhabitants supposedly practise divination, blood magic and necromancy. Given that necromancy is kinda the Others thing, this would seem to associate Qohor with the Others symbolically, and thus our Qohorik characters like Vargo Hoat.
This also means that we need to take a bit of a closer look at Qohor and boy, oh boy, is there a ton of Others symbolism there. (Okay, we don’t need to but I want to, and it’s juicy symbolism for Halloween season, so I present it here for your delectation and delight.) For starters, Qohor derives its name from the Forest of Qohor which is described as follows:
Qohor stands on the river Qhoyne on the western edge of the vast, dark, primordial forest to which she gives her name, the greatest wood in all of Essos. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Qohor)
This language invokes the forests of fairy tales, hiding evil monsters, and it is portrayed as such in The World of Ice and Fire, an unmapped and mysterious place:
The vast forest has never been fully explored, according to the maps and scrolls at the Citadel, and it likely conceals many mysteries and wondersat its heart. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Qohor)
This parallels some of the descriptions we get about another very scary, unknown northerly forest:
He was a veteran of a hundred rangings by now, and the endless dark wilderness that the southron called the haunted forest had no more terrors for him.
Until tonight. Something was different tonight. There was an edge to this darkness that made his hackles rise. (AGOT, Prologue)
From up here Tyrion could see it, the dark trees looming beyond the stretch of open ground, like a second wall built parallel to the first, a wall of night. Few axes had ever swung in that black wood, where even the moonlight could not penetrate the ancient tangle of root and thorn and grasping limb. Out there the trees grew huge, and the rangers said they seemed to brood and knew not men. It was small wonder the Night’s Watch named it the haunted forest. (AGOT, Tyrion III)
Yep, that’s the haunted forest beyond the Wall and yet another mention of the AGOT Prologue (I will move past that chapter at some point, promise). The haunted forest is another northern forest, like the Forest of Qohor, and it is home to the Others. In both cases, the forests have a hidden and mysterious heart: the heart of the Forest of Qohor isn’t described, but we do see the heart hidden by the haunted forest:
He looked deep into the heart of winter, and then he cried out, afraid, and the heat of his tears burned on his cheeks. (AGOT, Bran III)
So, that would create another icy parallel for the Forest of Qohor).
In another line of symbolism, we see that Qohor (the city and the forest) has some gateway connotations:
For half a moon, they rode through the Forest of Qohor, where the leaves made a golden canopy high above them, and the trunks of the trees were as wide as city gates. (AGOT, Daenerys III)
Qohor is also famed as the gateway to the east, where trading caravans bound for Vaes Dothrak and the fabled lands beyond the Bones are outfitted and provisioned before heading into the gloom of the forest, the desolation that was Sarnor, and the vastness of the Dothraki sea. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Qohor)
Gateways often symbolise the transition between the physical and spiritual realms in IRL mythology, a link which is most frequently manifested in A Song of Ice and Fire by the weirwood trees. As such, this suggests that the forest of Qohor contains some greenseer symbolism – especially as the forest leads to the Dothraki sea, which is a metaphor for the weirwoodnet (again, Ravenous Reader’s ubiquitous green sea/greensee pun makes an appearance). This greenseer symbolism is reinforced by one of Qohor’s main exports being furs and pelts from animals in the forest, thus suggesting skinchanging. In addition, the canopy of the trees is depicted as golden, reminding us of the myth of Rowan Gold-tree, which I’ve previously identified as a potential weirwood symbol.
The city of Qohor is also one of the only places that has retained the memory of how to reforge Valyrian steel. In fact, one of the only other Qohorik characters in the series, Tobho Mott, reforges Ice into Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper. As I noted in my Tobho Mott essay, he has a ton of Other symbolism, including a massive sapphire on a necklace (hearkening back to Vargo Hoat’s obsession with sapphires which we mentioned earlier). Given the Lightbringer symbolism of Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper, I floated the idea that this may take us to the odd place that the Others were involved in the forging of Lightbringer but I kinda dismissed it at the time. However, in the broken series, we’ve consistently seen the symbolic Other be the breakers of the series and, in doing so, accidentally forge the Last Hero – I therefore think that Tobho Mott being an icy figure who forged symbolic Lightbringer is actually very much in line with what we’ve come to expect, and again places the Qohorik guy in the role of an Other.
Another reason why Qohor appears to be a place heavily associated with the Others is that it is manned by the Unsullied. The Unsullied are slave eunuchs, which reminds us of the slave-like aspect of the wights (and potentially the Others) – think here of Bronsterys’ amazing puppet connection to the Others. The Unsullied also drink something called the “wine of courage”, which makes them fearless in battle, kinda like the Night’s King who “knew no fear”. That Qohor is using these slave soldiers in battle again suggests that they have some very Other-like symbolism.
We also see an odd tale from Qohor from just after the Doom of Valyria:
The histories of Qohor likewise claim that a visiting dragonlord, Aurion, raised forces from the Qohorik colonists and proclaimed himself the first Emperor ofValyria. He flew away on the back of his great dragon, with thirty thousand men following behind afoot, to lay claim to what remained of Valyria and to reestablish the Freehold. But neither Emperor Aurion nor his host were ever seen again. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Qohor)
This throwaway tale reminded me a lot of Euron Crow’s Eye: Euron claims to have sailed to Valyria, he’s aiming to become the next dragonlord (and/or god) and he has a phenomenal amount of Night’s King symbolism. This Emperor Aurion fellow emerging from Qohor seems to have aimed for something similar and he even has a similar name to Euron, suggesting that once again we have a random Qohor-associated character who has some parallels to a Night’s King (i.e. symbolically icy) character.
Lastly, the Black Goat itself is highly suggestive of the Others. Within The World of Ice and Fire we learn that the Black Goat is considered as a demon by some:
Since that time, those two Free Cities have been more often allies than enemies, though it is known that the bearded priests of Norvos regard the Black Goat of Qohor as a demon, with an especially vile and treacherous nature. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Qohor)
This demon requires child sacrifice like Night’s King figure, Craster, practised and like other Night’s King figure, Stannis Baratheon, presumably will practise:
The dark god of Qohor, the deity known as the Black Goat, demands daily blood sacrifice. Calves, bullocks, and horses are the animals most often brought before the Black Goat’s altars, but on holy days condemned criminals go beneath the knives of his cowled priests, and in times of danger and crisis it is written that the high nobles of the city offer up their own children to placate the god, that he might defend the city. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Qohor)
The Black Goat is even mentioned in the same breath as the Lion of Night from YiTish legend:
“In Qohor he is the Black Goat, in Yi Ti the Lion of Night, in Westeros the Stranger.” (AFFC, Cat of the Canals)
In the annals of the Further East, it was the Blood Betrayal, as his [the Bloodstone Emperor’s] usurpation is named, that ushered in the age of darkness called the Long Night. Despairing of the evil that had been unleashed on earth, the Maiden-Made-of-Light turned her back upon the world, and the Lion of Night came forth in all his wroth to punish the wickedness of men. (TWOIAF, The Bones and Beyond: Yi Ti)
By mentioning the Black Goat in the same breath as the Lion of Night, a god associated with the Long Night, an association is created between the Black Goat and the Long Night and thus the Others.
So, that was a long tangent into Qohorik symbolism, but I think it is an important one, given that Vargo is one of the only Qohorik characters in the series and he is symbolising the Others. In fact, Vargo Hoat takes the Black Goat of Qohor as his banner and, in the manner of most sigils, this transfers that (pretty evil, Other-y) symbolism onto him (and, by extension, the rest of the Bloody Mummers). Hoat is also referred to as “the goat” on multiple occasions, again directly tying him to the Black Goat of Qohor and all of the Other-y symbolism that entails. The idea of the black goat also draws upon the real world imagery of Satan, reinforcing the association of evil and sin onto the Qohorik. This kind of imagery is reinforced when Vargo Hoat is described like this:
Tyrion smelled Gregor Clegane’s work, or that of Ser Amory Lorch or his father’s other pet hellhound, the Qohorik. (ACOK, Tyrion IV)
Hello – his father’s Other pet hellhound? Wowzer, that’s a loaded sentence, and continues to tie in to all of the other (heh) imagery we’ve been tracking in this essay.
So, altogether, I think this demonstrably places Vargo Hoat in the role of a symbolic Other in the series – but, what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the evil goat – you can comment down below or find me on Twitter as @elsmith1994. If you enjoyed this essay and would like to check out some more, you can find my essays on the Archmaester Emma tab in the menu and you can find John aka Bronsterys’ amazing essays in the above menu as well. If you never want to miss another essay (from me or John), sign up using the email sign up box somewhere on the right of your screen.
See you next weekend to explore more of the symbolism behind these evil SOBs.
Hello everyone and welcome to Red Mice at Play. As I mentioned in the introduction page for this series of mini-(for me)-essays, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the symbolism of the Brave Companions. In this essay, we’ll be taking a quick look at the symbolism of the sellsword company as a whole.
For starters, the Brave Companions are hired by Lord Tywin to perform his grand chevauchée across the Riverlands, meaning that they are effectively puppets of (or surrogates for) Lord Tywin:
“Unleash Ser Gregor and send him before us with his reavers. Send forth Vargo Hoat and his freeriders as well, and Ser Amory Lorch. Each is to have three hundred horse. Tell them I want to see the riverlands afire from the Gods Eye to the Red Fork.” (AGOT, Tyrion IX)
This is a core part of the Others symbolic motifs, as Bronsterys has brilliantly analysed in Others Kill for Them – he noticed that, in most of the duels in ASOIAF, there is an archetypal Other and and archetypal Night’s Watch figure and the Others figure is often commanded directly by the Night’s King or Night’s Queen figure. So here, we have Tywin (very much a dark lord figure, complete with ice eyes, according to Tyrion) commanding the destruction of the riverlands by Vargo Hoat and his men, much like a Night’s King figure commanding the Others. Once Hoat defects from the Lannisters to the Starks, he is commanded by Roose Bolton, who also has ice eyes and a ton of Night’s King symbolism.
In addition, an important aspect of this surrogate symbolism is the role of the surrogate/puppet figure to ensure the commander/puppeteer retains their “clean hands”. A prime example of this, as Bronsterys noted, comes when Littlefinger (another Night’s King figure) gives his evil villain monologue detailing exactly how he manipulated others into acting for him, summarised as:
He tilted his chin back and squeezed the blood orange, so the juice ran down into his mouth. “I love the juice but I loathe the sticky fingers,” he complained, wiping his hands. “Clean hands, Sansa. Whatever you do, make certain your hands are clean.” (ASOS, Sansa VI)
The Bloody Mummers do exactly this for Tywin Lannister – they burn their way through the Riverlands but they are disavowable assets, sellswords that Tywin can dismiss or kill at will, as happens in Storm.
“The realm is best rid of these Brave Companions. I have commanded Ser Gregor to put the castle to the sword.”
Gregor Clegane. It appeared as if his lord father meant to mine the Mountain for every last nugget of ore before turning him over to Dornish justice. (ASOS, Tyrion VI)
Indeed, this sort of surrogate/puppet symbolism is retained in their myriad of names and the sellswords go by a fair few names: the Brave Companions and the Bloody Mummers appear most frequently but the Footmen and the Toes of the Goat are also mentioned. The Footmen is the most obvious of the names to tie into Bronsterys’ surrogate kind of symbolism – after all, footmen are liveried servants of the lords in big houses (think Thomas Barrow in Downton Abbey) so there’s that kind of “do as commanded” similarity to the Others-as-surrogates motif here. Footmen can also refer to infantry soldiers, which again gives the idea of someone being commanded by another, like the Others with the wights. In addition to the surrogate motif, the name “The Footmen” comes from the propensity of the Bloody Mummers to go around cutting the hands and feet off of prisoners. As we noted in the “Broken boys and broken men” essay, many of the hand and feet injuries are associated with Last Hero archetypal figures and these injuries are frequently caused by symbolic Others. This suggests that the Bloody Mummers could be considered symbolic Others, which is something we found when we briefly discussed Jaime as a broken man and will be discussed in more detail in our analysis of Urswyck.
Bronsterys also made the stunning connection that mummery is another version of this kind of ‘surrogacy’ idea, as mummers act according to direction in a play. Moreover, the actors are pretending to be other people, which symbolically represents the blame being shifted to another person – keeping those hands clean. (And mummery is definitely connected to the clean hands thing because we literally see a play called “The Bloody Hand” in one of the Winds spoiler chapters.) The Bloody Mummers are, self-evidently, connected to mummery, they are bloody and they are being directed by Tywin. We also see a theme of mistaken identity appear, which ties into this kind of mummery motif: less so for Shagwell, who is mistaken for Dontos Hollard, but definitely so for Rorge who is using the Hound’s helm to shift blame for his atrocities onto Sandor Clegane.
The name ‘Toes of the Goat’ is only mentioned once offhand to Arya in Clash, and it’s a bit of a hard one to place, so let me know if you’ve got better ideas than this. As we’ll discuss in more detail when analysing Vargo Hoat, there is strong imagery of the Devil connotation, with the banner of the Bloody Mummers showing a black goat with bloody red horns. The Toes of the Goat therefore suggests to me some kind of unnatural offspring of the Devil, maybe. The name also reminds me of “the fiery fingers”, members of the Fiery Hand of R’hllor. The Fiery Hand are a group of slave soldiers who defend the Red Temple in Volantis, so Tyrion nicknames each member a “finger” – a fingers/toes parallel, perhaps? If so, this slave soldier connotation could be an example of the surrogate symbolism, with the Bloody Mummers acting on behalf of Tywin and then Roose. While the “temperature” of the symbolism is different – with the Others being icy and the Fiery Hand being fiery (obviously) – there is a ton of overlap in the symbolism behind mythical figures such as Azor Ahai (the ultimate fire guy) and the Night’s King (the ultimate ice guy). Stannis is one of the prime examples of this, named Azor Ahi reborn wielding Lightbringer while also having icy eyes, establishing himself at the Nightfort and making shadowy abominations with a pale magic lady. As such, I don’t think it’s too much of a problem necessarily that the Toes/Fingers parallel relies on a comparison of my proposed Others characters to the R’hllor’s soldiers.
So, we’ve covered the puppetry/surrogate symbolism, but where did I get the coward symbolism from? This relies on a bit of tricksy inverse symbolism around cowardice and bravery.
Bran thought about it. “Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?” “That is the only time a man can be brave,” his father told him. (AGOT, Bran I)
As this iconic Ned line shows, the feeling of fear (typically associated with cowardice, especially in Westeros) is actually a prerequisite for bravery. This fits a few of our Last Hero archetypes – Samwell Tarly, for example, is a self-professed coward and yet he is the only living Night’s Watch man to have killed an Other and he constantly places himself in harm way to protect Gilly and Monster. Similarly, Bronsterys noted that the Last Hero figure consistently takes evasive action in the Last Hero vs. Other archetypal duels, and they are often labelled a craven or coward for this.
So, if the Last Hero archetype is someone who appears craven but is actually brave, then the flipside to that would be that the people who appear brave are really craven and these people are likely to be symbolic Others. Think here of the tale of the Night’s King:
The gathering gloom put Bran in mind of another of Old Nan’s stories, the tale of Night’s King. He had been the thirteenth man to lead the Night’s Watch, she said; a warrior who knew no fear. “And that was the fault in him,” she would add, “for all men must know fear.” (ASOS, Bran IV)
While we would typically think of fearlessness as being brave, it contrasts with the Ned quote above – after all, if you never know fear, then you never have an opportunity to be brave by overcoming that fear. This description of the Night’s King, who worshipped the Others, appears brave and yet cannot be, as he does not know fear.
So, the “Brave” Companions may not live up to their name and… well, how much bravery does it take to spend the entire war campaign ransacking villages and brutalising peasants?
She had heard Rorge laughing over Lord Vargo’s way of finding traitors. All he did was return to places he had visited before under Lord Tywin’s banner and seize those who had helped him. Many had been bought with Lannister silver, so the Mummers often returned with bags of coin as well as baskets of heads. (ACOK, Arya X)
In addition to that, they still clearly fear Jaime Lannister, even after they remove his sword hand and he’s sick and hallucinating from fever:
Weak as he was, they always bound him to a tree. It gave him some cold consolation to know that they feared him that much, even now. (ASOS, Jaime IV)
And, when their betrayal finally catches up to them, they flee Harrenhal and leave their commander to his fate:
“Ser Gregor’s taken the castle. The sellswords deserted their erstwhile captain almost to a man, and some of Lady Whent’s old people opened a postern gate. Clegane found Hoat sitting alone in the Hall of a Hundred Hearths, half-mad with pain and fever from a wound that festered. His ear, I’m told.” (ASOS, Jaime VII)
All in all, the Brave Companions don’t look so very brave after all, which fits this inverse, oppositional symbolism we frequently see with the Others and the Last Hero.
Finally, the Brave Companions are an Essosi sellsword band, meaning that they have come from across the Narrow Sea. There are a number of theories that suggest the Others may have come from the trees aka the weirwood network, which ties in with Ravenous Reader’s fantabulous greensee/green sea pun – much like the Others, the Brave Companions are invaders from across the see/sea. Indeed, there are a number of invaders who come from across the Narrow Sea who have this kind of icy Other symbolism, such as the invasion of the Andals who have enough ice symbolism that entire theories have developed around whether the Andals were in fact the Others. Another example is the Second Blackfyre Rebellion, as it takes place in a white marble castle, invoking the idea of a snowy, icy castle like the Eyrie; and the leader of the rebellion, Daemon II, is pretending to be a singer, invoking the idea of mummery (tying into Bronsterys’ surrogates idea) and icy bard symbolism.
So, I think that covers just about everything I wanted to mention about the Brave Companions for now, and I hope that I’ve convinced you that they have a significant amount of Others symbolism in their characterisation. From here on out, we’ll be looking at the Mummers individually, which will involve taking one or two key scenes for each of the characters and breaking that down in detail. While this essay has primarily been about establishing the Brave Companions as Others figures, I hope that we will be able learn something new about the Others themselves by going over some of these scenes with a fine-toothed comb.
If you enjoyed this essay or have any comments and feedback, I’d love if you could let me know in the comments section or on Twitter. If this is the first you’ve seen of this blog, you can find more of my work here and you can find Bronsterys’ awesome work here. You can also subscribe to the blog using a box somewhere on the right of your screen so you never miss an essay, and you can follow us both on Twitter: my handle is @ELSmith1994 and Bronsterys is @bronst6.
Did you ever notice that the White Walkers and their wights are opposed by the people who “take the black” and live in Castle Black? We can learn plenty about A Song of Ice and Fire from that simple starting point.
II. The Other and the Last Hero
The first book begins with a fight between white and black: A White Walker duels a Night’s Watch brother named Waymar Royce. Here’s how Waymar is described: “He wore black leather boots, black woolen pants, black moleskin gloves, and a fine supple coat of gleaming black ringmail over layers of black wool and boiled leather.”
Beginnings are important, and the color symbolism is emphasized heavily, so I believe that George R.R. Martin is using it to tell us something. Fortunately, George gives us a way to decode his message: In duels throughout the books, he gives one combatant a consistent set of traits (ones George associates with the color white and with the Others) and the opposing combatant a consistent set of conflicting traits (ones George associates with the color black and with those who oppose the Others). My guess is that this is George’s way of expressing negative and positive value judgments, respectively, about those traits; but you can judge for yourself when I show you the patterns.
As I go through the examples, I’m going to label the anti-Other archetype — the one associated with the color black — the Last Hero archetype. The Last Hero is the ancient character who fights the Others to end the Long Night.
III. The fights
Let me call your attention to six fights. There are many, many more examples, but these six are more than enough to make the point. They are:
Ser Vardis Egen vs. Bronn (A Game of Thrones, Catelyn VII)
This fight takes place in the Eyrie and is Tyrion’s first trial by combat.
Ser Gregor Clegane vs. Oberyn Martell (A Storm of Swords, Tyrion X)
This fight takes place in King’s Landing and is Tyrion’s second trial by combat.
Ser Meryn Trant vs. Syrio Forel (A Game of Thrones, Arya IV)
This fight takes place in the Red Keep, as the Lannister men hunt down Arya when Joffrey takes the Iron Throne after Robert’s death.
Ser Jorah Mormont vs. Qotho (A Game of Thrones, Daenerys VIII)
This fight takes place in the Dothraki Sea, while Mirri Maz Duur is performing her blood-magic ritual to “save” Khal Drogo’s life.
Oznak zo Pahl vs. Strong Belwas (A Storm of Swords, Daenerys V)
This fight takes place outside the city of Meereen, just after Dany’s forces arrive at the gates and before those forces infiltrate and take the city.
Knights vs. Broken Man (A Feast for Crows, Brienne V)
This is described by Septon Meribald in his famous Broken Man speech.
IV. The first category: colors themselves
When Bronn fights Ser Vardis, Bronn is described this way: “coal-black hair,” “coarse black beard,” “a shirt of black oiled ringmail,” and “discs of black iron [that] were sewn into the fingers of his gloves.” Bronn is unambiguously embodying the black-color archetype — the Last Hero archetype that Waymar also embodied.
That means Ser Vardis, who is fighting Bronn — just as the Other fought Waymar — should embody the white-color archetype of the Others. And indeed, Ser Vardis is wearing “cream-and-blue.” The Others famously have very blue eyes as well as blue blood, so blue is second only to white itself as the color most associated with them. Since Bronn’s black symbolism is laid on so thick, George eases up slightly on the color symbolism with Vardis, using “cream” as a more subtle way of representing white. Still, the point is clear: By giving Bronn the color black four times over and then giving Vardis the colors cream and blue, George leaves no doubt that Bronn is the Last Hero figure and Vardis is the Other figure.
When Ser Meryn Trant fights Syrio Forel, Ser Meryn gets called a “white knight.” This marks Meryn as the Other archetype and marks Syrio, by virtue of being Meryn’s opponent, as the Last Hero archetype. Similarly, Ser Jorah Mormont — like his fellow knights Ser Vardis and Ser Meryn in their fights — gets associated with the color white by being called a “milk man” while fighting Qotho. And Oznak zo Pahl, while fighting Belwas, gets called “Meereen’s pink and white hero.” In Septon Meribald’s Broken Man speech, neither side in the fight is given a color; but for what it’s worth, the first thing Meribald’s protagonist does after becoming a Broken Man is to “steal away in the black of night.”
So, characters in these fights are marked either as Other figures by being associated with the color white, or else as Last Hero figures by being associated with the color black. But I hope you don’t believe me yet, because the evidence I just gave isn’t conclusive. Think of how obvious it would be if one fighter always wore black and their opponent always wore white! Starting with the next section, you’ll see how clear George makes this when he moves to non-color symbols.
V. The second category: knighthood
None of the Last Hero figures are knights at the time of these fights: not Bronn, not Oberyn, not Syrio, not Qotho, not Belwas, and not the Broken Man. By contrast, virtually all of the Other figures are knights: Ser Vardis, Ser Gregor, Ser Meryn, Ser Jorah, and the attacking “knights” in Meribald’s Broken Man speech. The only exception is Oznak zo Pahl, who is an Other figure like the knights but can’t literally be a knight himself because he’s Meereeneese rather than Westerosi. George solves that problem niftily by saying this during Oznak’s fight: “Oznak zo Pahl charged … the way a Westerosi knight might ride at an opponent in a tilt.” So this line of symbolism is as clear as it could possibly be: The Other figures are knights, and the Last Hero figures aren’t.
VI. The third category: armor
Let’s review. The Other types are Ser Vardis, Ser Meryn, Ser Gregor, Ser Jorah, Oznak zo Pahl, and the knights in the Broken Man speech. The Last Hero types are Bronn, Syrio, Oberyn, Qotho, Belwas, and the Broken Man. In almost every case, the Other type is associated with the color white and/or the Last Hero type is associated with the color black. And in every case, the Other type is a knight (or expressly analogized to a knight during the fight) and the Last Hero type isn’t.
Now consider the armor that each type wears. We’ll start with the Other figures, who are heavily armored. “Ser Vardis Egen was steel from head to heel, encased in heavy plate armor over mail and padded surcoat.” Ser Meryn wore “armor head to foot, legs, throat, and hands sheathed in metal.” Ser Gregor “wore heavy plate over chainmail,” “a flat-topped greathelm was bolted to his gorget,” and even his hands were “clad in gauntlets of lobstered steel.” Ser Jorah “was clad in chainmail, with gauntlets and greaves of lobstered steel and a heavy gorget around his throat.” Oznak was “armored” (unlike his opponent, as we’ll see below). And finally, the knights in the Broken Man speech were “clad all in steel.”
The Last Hero figures are, as usual, exactly the opposite. “Bronn was so lightly armored he looked almost naked beside the knight.” Syrio wore only “a leather vest” with just “a wooden sword in his hand.” Belwas similarly “wore no armor but his studded leather vest.” Oberyn too “was lightly armored” and “clad in supple leather.” We don’t get a description of Qotho during the fight, but we don’t need one because we know the Dothraki don’t wear armor. And the Broken Men are famously poorly armed: They are “poorly shod and poorly clad, . . . ofttimes with no better arms than a sickle or a sharpened hoe, or a maul they made for themselves by lashing a stone to a stick with strips of hide”; and “their shoes fall to pieces from the marching, their clothes are torn and rotting.”
So once again, the symbols line up very clearly: Every single one of the Other figures is heavily armored, whereas every single one of the Last Hero figures is not.
VII. The fourth category: charging vs. evading
The Other figures charge forward at their foes, whereas the Last Hero figures evade those charges, often by moving backward or spinning to the side.
Oznak “charged”; Gregor “charged headlong” and “made a ponderous charge”; one of Meryn’s helpers “charged” at Syrio; and when the knights attack the Broken Man, “the iron thunder of their charge seems to fill the world.” Similarly, Ser Vardis “drove forward” and “pressed forward”; “Gregor stumbled forward”; “Ser Meryn advanced”; and three of Meryn’s men “started forward.” To find yet more words to express the same theme, George tells us: “Ser Vardis was coming hard at Bronn”; “the knight came after” Bronn; Ser Gregor “came on”; the knights “come down” on the Broken Man; and Ser Jorah “came on.”
What do the Last Hero types do? Bronn “scrambled backward,” “jerked back,” and “backed off”; Oberyn “backstepped,” and “kept … darting back,” and his “retreat became a headlong backward flight”; Syrio “backed away” and then “backed away” again; and the Broken Man “turns and runs.” (Note also the black-color-associated Night’s Watch brother Gared who says the very first line of the whole story: “We should start back.”) But there is more than one alternative to going forward: The Last Hero types also move to the side. Bronn “sidestepped”; Belwas “spun sideways”; Oberyn “slid sideways,” “threw himself sideways,” “skipped aside,” and his spear “slid aside”; and Syrio presented “only his side to the foe.” Along the same lines, Bronn slammed “aside” Vardis’s weapon, just as Belwas “knocked the point of the lance aside.”
The Last Hero types also move quickly. Bronn “was quicker” and was “quick as a cat”; Oberyn made “good use of … his quickness”; Qotho’s “arakh moved so fast” and his “slashes came so fast”; and Syrio was so “blindingly fast” — “his stick a blur” — that “Arya had never seen a man move as fast.”
These guys also slide, spin, and move so gracefully as to look like dancers. Bronn “slid around him”; Oberyn “slid” and “spun away”; Belwas “spun”; Qotho “spungraceful as a dancer” and “danced backward”; and Syrio “danced away.”
VIII.Supplemental category #1: vision
By now, I hope you’ll agree with me that George has set up two archetypes that he pits against each other in these fights: a white-color-associated “Other” archetype in the form of a heavily armored knight who charges forward, and a black-color associated Last Hero archetype in the form of a lightly armored non-knight who moves lithely backward and sideways. There really isn’t any ambiguity about it.
Before I say what I think this all means, let me note two additional features of these archetypes that don’t come up quite as uniformly but that I think are definitely present and important.
The first involves vision. We are told once that Ser Vardis’s visor had only “a narrow slit for vision,” and then again that in the fight with Bronn, “the slit visor of his helm narrowed his vision.” Similarly, we are told once that the Mountain’s greathelm had “a narrow slit for vision,” and then again that in the fight with Oberyn, “the Mountain’s helm had a narrow eyeslit, severely limiting his vision,” such that “Clegane is losing sight of him.” The knights who attack the Broken Man are “faceless,” suggesting their armor covers their faces. And Ser Meryn had “eyes hidden behind his high white helm” (notice the color white) after he had “lowered the visor of his helm.”
To bolster this point, I’ll go beyond the fights to mention a line that I believe to be a pun from elsewhere in the books. Jaime tells Brienne: “True knights see worse every time they ride to war” (A Storm of Swords, Jaime I). On the surface, Jaime is saying that the knights encounter acts that are even more immoral than the one Brienne has just witnessed, but I believe that George is using wordplay to make a point. Since Jaime is invoking several words associated with the Other archetype — knights, war, and riding (as we’ll see in the next section) — it stands to reason that his sentence here would also invoke the repeated symbolism of the Other archetype’s bad vision (as detailed in the previous paragraph of this essay). The more these knights go to war, the more Other-ish they become, and the “worse” they “see.”
IX. Supplemental category #2: looking down on people
Although the Last Hero figures are sometimes naturally taller than the Other figures — Bronn “stood half a hand taller than his foe” and Belwas is gigantic — there’s a repeated theme of the Other figures being artificially higher up, such that they look down on their Last Hero opponents, usually because they’re on horseback.
“As massive as he was, the eunuch [Belwas] looked small beside the hero [Oznak zo Pahl] on his horse.” In the Broken Man speech, the knights “come down” on the Broken Man. Ser Meryn was “in his high white helm.” And early in the Prologue, Waymar Royce — when he is still referred to as a “knight” and has not yet transformed, by virtue of fighting the Other, into “a man of the Night’s Watch” (and is therefore still exhibiting characteristics of the Others and not yet those of the Last Hero) — is described like this: “the knighttowered above Will and Gared” due to the size of his warhorse.
X. What does it all mean?
George creates two archetypes — one white, one black — and gives them each a set of traits. Why? My guess is that it lets George tell us his views about those traits. He links Other figures with characteristics he wants to criticize, while linking Last Hero figures with characteristics he wants to applaud.
The hard part is knowing which good and bad traits are being symbolized by things like knighthood, armor, charging forward, gracefully moving backward or sideways, etc. Here we can only guess from what we know about George and from the apparent themes of the story, and your guess is as good as mine. Still, in this last section of my essay, I’ll tell you what I think.
Let’s start with knighthood. Think of Brienne of Tarth, who is famously not a knight but who embodies all the virtues that knights are supposed to have. The point is that the virtues themselves are the important thing, not the title. As Maester Luwin says, “A man’s worth is not marked by a ser before his name” (AGOT, Bran VI). That’s why Sandor Clegane chose not to be a knight: He rejected the hypocrisy of all the people who were supposed to be honorable but actually behaved dishonorably — the most extreme example of all being his brother, the monstrously evil knight Gregor Clegane.
What about the traits associated with armor and movement? Taken together, they paint a fairly clear picture. The Other types are rigid in their armor, seeing only straight ahead and moving only forward. They are powerful but inflexible. By contrast, the Last Hero figures are freed by their lack of armor to move gracefully in multiple directions, spinning and dancing backward and to the side. I have to think George is endorsing flexibility.
Consider the dialogue between Jaime Lannister and Meryn Trant, where Jaime criticizes Meryn for brutalizing Sansa Stark (A Storm of Swords, Jaime VIII). Meryn replies that he did as Joffrey ordered, and Jaime says, “Henceforth you will temper that obedience.” When Meryn replies, “Are you telling us not to obey the king?”, Jaime says this: “The king is eight. Our first duty is to protect him, which includes protecting him from himself. Use that ugly thing you keep inside your helm. If Tommen wants you to saddle his horse, obey him. If he tells you to kill his horse, come to me.” In my opinion, George is strongly endorsing Jaime’s approach here and rejecting Meryn’s. Rigid, inflexible obedience to a ruler is being criticized, just as George negatively depicts the white knights of the Kingsguard (definite Other figures, as many have said) standing idly by while the Mad King once burned two Starks alive. By contrast, thinking — using that ugly thing inside your helm — is praised. George wants us to use common sense and wisdom rather than to rely on rote rules or to defer automatically to authority.
George also seems to prize vision in the sense that it lets people see the truth. Recall one of the first things we ever learn about Jon Snow, from the first chapter of A Game of Thrones (Bran I): “Jon’s eyes were a grey so dark they seemed almost black, but there was little they did not see.” Just as the Other archetypes get linked with narrow and poor vision, Jon here gets linked with the anti-Other color of black and the anti-Other quality of good vision. And of course the point is not literal — who cares if Jon can spot a rabbit at fifty yards? — but rather concerns seeing things as they really are and separating truth from falsehood. This same theme gets repeated with another Last Hero figure, Syrio Forel, who tells Arya that he became the First Sword of Braavos because he “saw what was there” rather than what he expected to see or wanted to see or was told to see: “The seeing, the true seeing, that is the heart of it…. The eyes see true. Look with your eyes.… Then comes the thinking, afterward, and in that way knowing the truth.” So seeing things as they truly are, and then thinking with judgment and common sense and open-mindedness, is being praised in contrast with rigid, blind obedience to rules or dogma or superiors’ commands.
Finally, it’s not hard to imagine why looking down on people — as the Other figures tend to do as they ride arrogantly on their (literal and figurative) high horses — would be a negative trait in George’s view. George’s story seems to reject hierarchy, especially hierarchy based on birth and other irrelevant characteristics. Characters who think they’re better than their peers are usually depicted unsympathetically, although they sometimes learn from that mistake and expunge that flaw, as Jon Snow did after he joined the Night’s Watch and initially looked down on his brothers before befriending and helping them.
* * *
It’s remarkable that in so many different scenes from different books, one combatant is a heavily armored knight who charges forward from on high with narrow vision and is associated with the color white; whereas his opponent is a lithe, fast, lightly armored non-knight who retreats and spins aside and is associated with the color black. All of that happens again, and again, and again. I’ve told you my guess as to why that is — George is endorsing a set of character traits represented by the latter group of symbols — but I encourage you to reach your own conclusions and share them with the fandom and with me in the comments below or on Twitter at @bronst6. As always, the joy in analyzing these books is doing it together.
(Featured artwork titled “Dance with me” by Sanrixian, on Twitter as @sanrixian – visit her shop here.)
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 Tyrionandableism). 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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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 andtowched 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.
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, implyinghis greenseer poweris 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.
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 thesethreeessays), 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 breastsas 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)
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.
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 bathhousehad 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 tubwith 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.
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. Buthe broke that vowas well. Donal Noye held him down, while Clydas helped guide the maester’s hand. Jon did not move, except topound 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 screamthen, 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.
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 – veryfertile, 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.
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)
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 treesand 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. Thenight 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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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 chilledhim. (ASOS, Jaime III)
During this fight, there is a lot of Azor Ahai/Nissa Nissa symbolism, including but not limited to the sex and swordplaymotif (“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 lazilyacross the face. The sheer casual insolence of itwas 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 shiveringdown, 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 burnedand 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 fatalerror 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 youas 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.
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 thefandom 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 thereforemeans 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….
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 isthe 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
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)