History of Thrones is our series where we examine important historical events and people from the complex and controversial past of Westeros. Now that HBO has announced their first Game of Thrones spin-off pilot will take place thousands of years prior to GOT itself, during the Age of Heroes, we’re turning our third raven eye to that mythical and mysterious period that began to shape the Seven Kingdoms into what we know it as today, to see what we can learn about the story going forward. However, be warned—if you think legends reveal too much about the truth, you might consider them spoilers.
You can find all other History of Thrones entries here, including the event that started the Age of Heroes, The Pact between the First Men and the Children of the Forest, as well as the war with the army of the dead that ended it, the first Long Night.
THE IMPOSSIBLE LIFE OF GARTH GREENHAND
Of all the legendary figures from the Age of Heroes, none loom larger than Garth Greenhand. More myth than man, he is, in more ways than one, the Father of Westeros. Said by some to be the first High King of the First Men, he is credited with seeding the Realm and teaching mankind how to farm; a cornucopia of ancient houses trace their lineage back to him. But his deeds are so great they belie belief, for no man no matter how great and mighty could have accomplished everything the stories tell us he did. Unless he wasn’t a man at all, but a god among mortals who connected mankind and the ancient races who inhabited the land before them.
It’s hard to know where to begin with Garth Greenhand, who in the oldest tales was also known as Garth Greenhair and Garth the Green, because he has so many origin stories. One legend says he led the very First Men as their High King across the Arm of Dorne in the Narrow Sea, a land bridge which once connected Essos and Westeros. Another says he arrived on the shores of the future Seven Kingdoms long before any others, possibly even thousands of years earlier, and that as he traveled all across the continent he met and lived among the two ancient races who once ruled it, the Children of the Forest and the Giants (though he is often described as a massive, towering figure himself). If true that would make it impossible for him to have also lived alongside the age’s other great heroes like Bran the Builder and Lann the Clever, who came thousands of years after the First Men.
However others say he was much more than a man, that he was a deity who had green hair, green hands, and green skin–possibly with antlers sprouting from his head. The maesters would say he was merely fond of wearing green (with a crown of vines and flowers), which is how he is nearly always depicted, and time and exaggeration have turned cloth into flesh. But what do they know?
In the darkest tales, the ones rarely spoken anymore, he was a less generous god who required a blood sacrifice every harvest if his followers hoped to have a rich bounty. Some say he died with the leaves in autumn each season and was reborn in the spring, which would have made it possible for him to live for a very long time.
What all the stories say is he was a gifted gardener who transformed mankind from merely being hunters and gatherers into masters of the soil, a skill he is said to have tried in vain to teach the Giants and the Children. The Giants threw boulders at him and the Children laughed. And like a Westerosi Johnny Appleseed, Garth traveled with a canvas bag with seeds he would spread as he walked, and where he we went farms, orchards, and trees of all kinds soon blossomed. Though that wasn’t the only kind of seeding he did.
“Where he walked, farms and villages and orchards sprouted.” – Garth Greenhand #NationalFarmersDay #ASOIAF #GameofThrones pic.twitter.com/wnFpBjI1Do
— Anthony J. Pelliccio (@A_Pelliccio) October 12, 2016
Half the noble families in the Reach alone, including Houses Tyrell, Tarly, Redwyne, Florent, Hightower, Beesbury, Fossoway, and Gardner (founded by his oldest son) to name just a few, claim Garth himself as their founder. Some tales even say Bran the Builder, founder of House Stark, was a descendant of his, and that House Lannister’s Lann the Clever was possibly his bastard grandson. The singers say Garth could return a maiden’s lost fertility with only a touch, and that young girls became women with just a smile from him, and that any lady he laid with–including virgins offered up by their fathers to ensure a rich harvest–was assured to give birth to a strong baby boy or girl (maybe even two or three) nine months later.
There might be much debate about who and what he was, but everyone agrees on one thing: Garth Greenhand was busy seeding everything and everyone in Westeros.
Any of these tales would account for an amazing life, which is why it’s no surprise the maesters don’t really believe any of them. To them “Garth” was merely a petty king who led the First Men into Westeros, and in the North where the blood of the First Men still runs strongest they say the First King was someone else entirely. And even if there ever was a Garth Greenhand, it’s possible like so many other mythical figures his many deeds belong to many others, and time and poetic license have credited them all to one figure that makes for a better story.
But in a world that absolutely knew for a fact the White Walkers and Children of the Forest were merely myths, what if Garth Greenhand really was a god who did everything they say he did? Or what if thousands of years before the First Men came to Westeros a single man found himself alone on the shores of a magical land where the Children, masters of nature themselves, and the Giants, towering, larger-than-life figures, ruled. Could “Garth” have been the child of that first man and a female Giant? Or the offspring of a man and one of the Children? Or maybe there never was a child and he harnessed a special magic himself. If a red priestess can live for hundreds of years thanks to the Lord of Light, who’s to say Garth didn’t also transcend time and his mortal body with the ancient powers of the original inhabitants of Westeros?
No one looms over the founding of the Seven Kingdoms quite like this mythical figure, but when taken together all of the tales about him seem like they can’t possibly all be true, so maybe none of them are. Except that impossible stories in Westeros have a strange habit of proving true, and no one’s story is more impossible than Garth Greenhand’s.
What do you think is fact and what is fiction about Garth. Give us a hand figuring it all out by seeding our comments section below with your thoughts.