Prior to season six of Game of Thrones we examined important historical events from the complex and controversial history of Westeros—anything that might tell us something about the story going forward. With the season now in full swing, we’re continuing our deep dives by looking at what we know about characters and events that are new and important to the show. However, if you think that theories and information from the books will cut you deeply, then you might want to stop now and avoid the doom of spoilers.
You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.
VALYRIAN STEEL AND THE PRICELESS SWORDS FORGED IN MAGIC
When Sam took his family’s ancestral sword in the middle of the night, he didn’t just take an heirloom of House Tarly—he took one of the most valuable items in the entire known world. He took a sword made of Valyrian steel.
Heartsbane, the name of the Tarly family sword, is certainly not the first Valyrian steel sword we’ve encountered on Game of Thrones; in the pilot, we saw Ned wield the House Stark Valyrian steel sword Ice to execute a deserter of the Night’s Watch. But following Sam’s taking of his Lord father’s sword, coupled with the fact that we know how they are one of the only two known methods of killing White Walkers, they are beginning to feel like they might be even more important as we move closer to a showdown between the living and the dead.
So in this installment of History of Thrones we’re going to look at what we know about the very special, very rare metal that might just save mankind.
Valyrian steel is so valuable in part because there is a finite amount of it left. Prior to the Doom of Valyria, the disaster that saw the annihilation of the dragonlords of the world—save for the Targaryens—the steel was made in the Valyrian Freehold (the Valyrian Empire) using dragonfire and magic spells.
It’s the magic cast right into it that also makes Valyrian steel as valuable as it is, because it is lighter, stronger, and never loses its edge. It is far superior to the steel made in even the greatest castles of Westeros. Swords made of it even look different than other weapons, with a rippled pattern created from being folded over on itself thousands of times.
The secrets of forging Valyrian steel have been lost to time, but a few weaponsmiths in Essos can reforge it, which is just what Tywin Lannister had done with Ice (we’ll come back to that).
We don’t know the specifics behind the making of Valyrian steel, or exactly the kind of magic that went into making it. But we have seen that they are capable of killing White Walkers, so it’s safe to say they contain a very powerful magic, and possibly that the use of drgaonflame to forge it plays a role in that (Sam thinks old references to dragonsteel might mean Valyrian steel).
We don’t know exactly how much of it exists in Westeros, though. In A Storm of Swords, Tyrion thinks to himself, “Valyrian steel blades were scarce and costly, yet thousands remained in the world, perhaps two hundred in the Seven Kingdoms alone,” but the number we specifically know about is far, far lower than that.
Here’s a rundown of known and lost Valyrian steel weapons of the Seven Kingdoms.
- Ice: two-handed greatsword of House Stark with a dark, smoky appearance, that was used by Ser Ilyn Payne to execute Ned. It was then melted down by Tywin Lannister to create two new Valyrian steel weapons for House Lannister
- Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper: Tywin, desperate for a Valyrian steel sword for House Lannister, had Ice made into two longswords of red and black, one for Joffrey that the king then named Widow’s Wail (which passed to Tommen after Joffrey died at the Purple Wedding), and the second for Jaime, a thicker and heavier sword than Widow’s Wail, which he christened Oathkeeper. This is the sword Jaime gave to Brienne of Tarth.
(If you are wondering why the richest family in the Seven Kingdoms didn’t already have their own Valyrian steel sword, it’s because theirs was lost by the King of the Rock, Tommen the II, when he traveled to Valyria following the Doom, but before Aegon conquered Westeros, and was never seen again. That greatsword was known as Brightroar, and an attempt to find it by Tywin’s youngest brother, Gerion Lannister, in 291 A.C., just ended up with another missing Lannister. Tywin attempted to buy other families’ Valyrian steel swords over the years, but he couldn’t name a price they’d accept, which should give you a good idea of the real value and prestige they carry.)
- Longclaw: the bastard sword (longer than a normal long sword, designed to thrust and slash) of House Mormont that was given to Jon Snow by Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. On the show we saw Jon kill a White Walker using it
- Heartsbane: greatsword (not only are they two-handed weapons, they are heavier than longswords) of House Tarly, taken by Sam
- Nightfall: longsword of House Harlaw of Ten Towers in the Iron Islands
- Red Rain: sword of House Drumm of Old Wyk on the Iron Islands (there is speculation it once belonged to House Reyne, the family Tywin Lannister wiped out that is forever remembered in the song “The Rains of Castemere).
(Lady Forlorn, the longsword of House Corbray of Heart’s Home in the Vale, was mislabeled as Valyrian steel in A World of Ice and Fire.)
Those are the only known Valyrian steel swords in Westeros, though the dagger used to try and assassinate Bran Stark was Valyrian steel, and it is believed House Celtigar of Claw Isle of the Crownlands owns a Valyrian steel axe (daaamn). A minor character from A Dance With Dragons, Caggo, has a Valyrian steel arakh.
There are other famous Valyrian steel swords we know about, but, like Brightroar of House Lannister, their whereabouts are unknown. The two most famous lost Valyrian swords once belonged to two conquering Targaryens.
Aegon the Conqueror’s bastard longsword Blackfyre was passed down to Targaryen kings, but was lost when it was given by Aegon the Unworthy to his bastard son Daemon (who took Blackfyre as his name). Daemon rebelled against the crown, and no one knows where the sword ended up, most likely in Essos. Aegon’s crown was also made with Valyrian steel.
Aegon’s sister-wife Visenya wielded the longsword Dark Sister, but its last owner was Bryden Rivers, a.k.a. Bloodraven, a.k.a. the Three-Eyed Raven (in the books at least), and no one knows where it is. There might be a very well-armed tree out there somewhere.
Then there was Lamentation of House Royce, Orphan-Maker of House Roxton, and Vigilance of House Hightower, as well as the lost Truth of the Lysene soldier Moredo Rogare.
It’s not a long list, and unless they start taking the Valyrian steel chains from maesters that study magic and occultism, they won’t be making many more either.
It’s why the awful, hate-filled Randyll Tarly will not just quietly let his son Samwell take Heartsbane. If Sam were hoping to be free of his father forever, taking the House Tarly ancestral Valyrian steel sword was the last thing he should have done.
But beyond being a sign that Sam is becoming his own man, taking Heartsbane makes sense from a practical point-of-view. Jon sent Sam to the Citadel to earn his chain so that he might learn how to fight the blue-eyed icemen and their army of the dead, so why not take a tool he already knows can do that?
Valyrian steel swords have been prestige possessions of noble houses for hundreds of years, a sign of status and respect, but the magic that made them so special in the first place make them invaluable for a totally different reason now—they might be the difference in who wins the coming war of the living and the dead. It might be time for them to make their way north as the White Walkers make their way south.
What are your favorite theories about the magic that went into forging Valyrian steel? Cut up our comments section with your best ideas. And now that we’ve covered the war element of Game of Thrones, onto the even more vicious love element:
You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.
[brightcove video_id=”4918005226001″ brightcove_account_id=”3653334524001″ brightcove_player_id=”2bfa565b-5412-4cfd-9211-6269880b8a5e”]
Featured Image: HBO