When it comes to the history of HBO’s Game of Thrones and George RR Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire novel series, some fans are wise old maesters and others are know-nothing Jon Snow types. To prepare for season six we’re looking at some of the most important moments in the long, complex, and often controversial history of Westeros—and what they might tell us about events yet to come. So whether you’re as versed in the past as Maester Luwin or as clueless as Gilly in a castle for the first time, we’re calling your banner to join us on this march to the new season. Either way, be warned: there are major, major spoilers for the series in this post. You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.
The Long Night
The reason we say that the history of Westeros is controversial is because nobody started writing anything down until the Andals invaded around 6,000 BC (Before the Conquest of Aegon). There is nothing recorded from before the First Men arrived in about 12,000, or when they signed their pact with the Children of the Forest in 10,000 BC—let alone anything from the Age of Heroes that began at that time.
(Remember, these time periods are all guesses, but they are the best we have so we’ll use them).
So of course anything that took place in 8,000 BC wasn’t written down for 2,000 years. This would be like someone writing about the life of Julius Caesar for the first time—ever—today. Except in Westeros circa 8,000 BC, the most important battle of all-time took place during an event known as The Long Night, when White Walkers (in the books known as the Others) almost ended the realm of the living.
The Long Night is a curious piece of history in that we know more about it right now than anyone that lived in Westeros for 8,000 years. Yet to most of mankind the White Walkers are a myth: something people rarely believe existed, or lived so long ago they are gone from the Realm—like the Children of the Forest (oops). It’s why the kingdoms ignore the alarms of White Walkers to fight over an Iron Throne; too bad all of that bickering will mean nothing if The Long Night descends upon the Realm again.
So here’s what we know from the legends (that we can probably accept now that we, as readers and viewers, know they are very real and very dangerous): The Long Night took place during a winter that is said to have lasted an entire generation, killing kings in their castles and bringing a cold that has never been seen before or since. During this time, an army of blue-eyed, pasty milk-white beings riding dead animals and giant ice spiders—known as the Others, creatures capable of raising the dead to fight for them (these pseudo-zombies are known as Wights)—invaded Westeros and very likely the rest of the known world, given that similar stories about an army of the dead coming under the cover of a long night fill the legends of Essos, too.
In what is known as The Battle of the Dawn, the last hero (more to come on him later) managed to push back the White Walkers, who were believed to have returned to the Lands of Always Winter, a place so north of where The Wall now stands that is is unexplored and thought to be completely uninhabitable by man. Mankind was able to defeat them only after learning the White Walkers could be defeated with obsidian (a.k.a. dragonglass).
Followers of the Lord of Light, R’hllor—especially those of Asshai where Melisandre is from—believe the Others are the “cold children” of the Great Other, the god who can not be named, who battles with R’hollor for all eternity over the world. The Great Other is thought to be the god of cold, darkness, and death.
We’re going to come back to this too, because it might be way more important than you realize.
Did the long winter bring about the Others, or did their arrival bring about the long winter? No one knows, but once they were defeated, The Wall was erected (possibly with magic, a topic for our next installment) to keep them out and protect the realm of the living.
The only rumored sighting of a White Walker since they retreated after The Long Night is the legend of the Night’s King, the 13th Lord Commander (Jon was the 998th, for comparison’s sake) who was said to have fallen in love with—and bedded—a female White Walker. He then ruled as the Night’s King at the Nightfort, with her at his side, until he was defeated by an army comprised of Northmen and Wildlings.
While never spotted in the books, the Night’s King was revealed to be the White Walker from the show with the spiky head crown—the one who raised the dead at Hardhome and stared down Jon Snow. In fact, we’ve seen more about the White Walkers on the show than in the books, including how they transformed Craster’s sons into one of them at what is ostensibly their home.
Did HBO confirm the legend is real?
For almost 8,000 years they never attacked or were seen. Now they are back—and we know so much more about them (including from the books that the dead they raise as wights seem to retain some memory of who they were, rather than just being mindless zombies, which is much scarier)—what does this tell us going forward?
Azor Ahai, The Last Hero, and The Prince That Was Promised
If a solitary hero saved the world once before, will that happen again? And who is he (or she)?
The past here remains murky, because there are three legends that are all connected in some way, and they might be referring to one person, or not be related at all. But one thing is certain: history has a tendency to repeat itself in Westeros.
First, there is Azor Ahai, who carried Lightbringer, a famed sword; there’s also the legend of “the last hero” from The Long Night myth that isn’t named; and finally there’s the prophecy of the “prince that was promised,” who would save the world from darkness, a prince that would essentially be “the song of ice and fire.”
Melisandre thinks this prince will be Azor Ahai reborn, but that’s not what all believe. She also thought that Stannis was that prince/Azor Ahai, and based on the show that doesn’t seem to be panning out all that well.
Is Berric Dondarrion the Prince who was promised?
Now the big theory we already covered is that Jon Snow is that very prince (being the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark that would cover the “prince” aspect and the “song of ice and fire” part). Jon is/was also the only person in Westeros taking them seriously—even his own brothers in black, who know they are real, couldn’t seem to comprehend the most pressing danger to get past their hatred of the Wildlings. They killed Jon for trying to make sure the Wildlings joined them in fighting for the living, instead of becoming members in the army of the dead. Penny wise/pound of flesh foolish.
Jon being the great hero is currently muddled by him being dead, but that doesn’t have to be a barrier in Westeros, and we’re betting on him returning (though I’ve already pointed out that might not be a good thing). Of course, others still have made the claim that it could be Daenerys or Brienne of Tarth that is this so-called final savior, but nothing holds up quite so well as Jon Snow.
True to GRRM-based tragedy, though, there is also very scary prospect that the prince that was promised was actually Rhaegar Targaryen himself—something that Rhaegar himself may have actually believed. Which means that when Robert killed him, he doomed mankind to eternal darkness. Well, they are always saying there is no such thing as a happy ending!
So this is the obvious stuff: the White Walkers are real, the legends turned out to be true (and gives way more credence to the prince that was promised also being true), and—oh yeah—they can only be defeated by dragon-related things and Jon’s potential aunt just so happens to have three dragons exactly when the world needs them.
But What About the Dragons?
Dragons. Oh those dragons, full of fire (light) sure seem to be the antithesis of the Others (darkness): life vs. death, good vs. bad, the Lord of Light and man battling the Great Other and the White Walkers.
The only problem is that dragons kind of suck, too. I don’t mean they suck as a part of the story (they’re awesome), but they suck for the people in the story. Dragons have killed just as many men, if not a whole lot more, than the Others ever did. (Not to mention the followers of R’hllor also are fond of burning people alive, which is an unpleasant way to treat the living.) Dragons are death, and their “mother” can’t even control them. They are wild beasts, and though the opposite of cold, really are just the opposite side of the exact same coin.
So if you can’t control them you can’t use them, or be protected from them. Which brings us to Bran Stark.
You might remember Bran and his companions from way back in season four, when they finally reached the Three-Eyed Raven and discovered the Children of the Forest were no legend and had not died out.
Bran is a powerful warg, and as such he might be able to warg into a dragon one day and defeat the White Walkers, saving mankind. Would this make him the prince that was promised? Maybe, maybe not. His case isn’t as strong as Jon’s, since there is no debate Bran was born of Ned and Catelyn Stark. Some don’t even think the “prince” will be a man.
The show’s creators have already said that following his season five absence we will see a much more powerful Bran (equivalent to Luke’s jump in abilities from The Empire Strikes Back to Return of the Jedi), so everything—past, present, and future—will be at his disposal to learn from, and his abilities to warg could be the only thing that saves mankind from both the Others and dragons.
Maybe you think I’m being harsh on dragons and the followers of R’hollor, but Melisandre does not see Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven as heroes of the living. In her fires, she sees a vision that is 100% the two of them, and thinks they must be the champions of the Great Other. And while we may still be skeptical of the methods of the Three-Eyed Raven and the Children (hmm, that’s good paste), given that all the legends of The Long Night have more-or-less been proven true, we can trust that the Children fought them once and are not on their side (plus the Three-Eyed Raven is
almost definitely a Targaryen).
But if they are not the enemy of the White Walkers, what to make of this quote from the Three-Eyed Raven to Bran in A Dance With Dragons then?
“‘Never fear the darkness, Bran.’ The lord’s words were accompanied by a faint rustling of wood and leaf, a slight twisting of his head. “The strongest trees are rooted in the dark places of the earth. Darkness will be your cloak, your shield, your mother’s milk. Darkness will make you strong.”
Darkness is purely bad, isn’t it? No, no more than the light of R’hollor is wholly good, just like dragons can bring both salvation for mankind and death.
The Long Night happened 8,000 years ago, and it apparently was all true. Westeros appears to need a hero once more to save the realm of the living, it’s just that those that would stand beside him (or her, I hear you screaming Khaleesi fans) might be just as dangerous, and he/she will need the help of a crippled boy to fly.
Is Ser Davos Seaworth the reincarnation of Azor Ahai?
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Featured Image: HBO