This post will be another examination of themes or elements from Game of Thrones, HBO’s long-running adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. If you’re not caught up with the show, particularly if you don’t know who the White Walkers are, then this post might not be for you, should you one day want to enjoy the story unspoiled.
Still here? Great!
Craster’s baby, it’s cold outside!
It’s December, and for folks who live north of the equator that means the start of Winter.
Sure, the calendar might tell you that Winter technically starts on the solstice around December 21st and lasts until the equinox on March 21st (or thereabouts) but I’ve always considered that the season started on December 1 and promptly ended March 1, and we’ll just adhere to that informal rule here on the blog.
In Season Six of Game of Thrones, the weather-minded maesters at the Citaidel announced that Winter had come to the land of Westeros. Winter has been coming for quite a while, and the Starks finally get to say “I told you so.”
And this Winter is predicted to be a doozy. A Winter so notably wintry that the ancient Others, the White Walkers as the show likes to call them, have woken up and are on the move.
The most recent season of the show delivered some previously unknown information about the scary snowmen, which opens up new areas for discussion. For a quick recap, here are some White Walker factoids:
(Special thanks to the exemplary Cassie Wentlandt for use of her infographic detailing her observations about the mythology behind the White Walkers. If you want the original and complete infographic, just click here.)
Previously, we’ve seen an ice-crowned White Walker referred to as the Night’s King transform one of Craster’s sons into an Other, although we don’t really know if all living humans can be so casually converted into the inhuman. But the show, thanks to Bran Stark’s ability to see the past, offered a glimpse of the creation of the original Night’s King, when the Child of the Forest called Leaf (I guess that was Leaf, 8000 years ago) pushed a shard of dragonglass into the heart of a captive human.
This wizardly weaponization seemed to be the Children of the Forest’s nuclear option against the First Men, with whom the little keeblers had been fighting a losing battle. We don’t have the full details, but the reliance on White Walkers proved to be even more dangerous to the Children who eventually were pressured to broker a truce and an alliance with men against their own creations.
Brokering truces and alliances is what this post is all about.
Santa Von Clausewitz, ho ho ho…
“War is the continuation of politics, by other means”
– according to Carl Von Clausewitz. You know, that famous Prussian military strategist who gets quoted in war movies all the time.
The phrase “by other means” entertains me since the White Walkers are referred to almost exclusively as the Others in the books.
We assume that the White Walkers are heading south to engage in war, but maybe we can think about this in a broader political context. Is war inevitable with them?
The Others were created by the Children of the Forest to fight humanity, but that changed when the White Walkers apparently turned against the Children, who in desperation ended up siding with humanity. So the White Walker motivation to fight humans had originally been forced on them, and might not necessarily be part of their essential nature.
The White Walkers are certainly aggressive and dangerous, but they don’t seem to blindly want to kill and resurrect all of humanity. Or else they wouldn’t have left Craster and his wives untouched.
Face to face interactions with the Others are pretty devoid of communication (unless they communicate in horse/human body parts arranged in big mandalas and we just can’t appreciate that) but cranky Craster must have had some way to communicate with them, right?
If so, Craster might have been a good envoy between the realms of men and the frozen foster-parents of his sacrificed sons.
But Craster died in the Night’s Watch mutiny at his keep, so that’s the end of that, right? Kind of puts the chill on any possible negotiations between the Others and humans. There’s no one else that has any relationship with the White Walkers.
Or is there?
Every Mother’s Son
Craster wasn’t the only one offering up his sons to the Others.
Hold on! (I hear you shout. It’s cool, but you don’t have to shout.) You’re not suggesting that the downtrodden women at Craster’s Keep were voluntarily offering the children to the Others, are you? J’accuse! Victim blamer!
Well, I guess I might be doing just that.
I don’t have much of a case, except that in the fourth season we did see Morag, one of Craster’s widows, insist that the mutineers honor the tradition of the Keep and take out the last son of the dead polygamist wildling into the wilderness for the Others.
Morag: Hey, please take a moment from all the sexual assaulting and villain monologue-ing and take this baby boy out into the woods.
Karl Tanner: Again? I’m a monster, but this seems weird. You know, if you don’t want to raise the brat, we can always eat the kid or something.
Karl Tanner: Fine.
It’s possible that the wives of Craster weren’t baby-hating/monster-loving witches or whatever, but were so Stockholm-Syndromed that even with Craster dead, at least some of the women were keen on following the sacrificial requirements out of habit.
But they did seem pretty casual about refusing refuge with Jon Snow and his mutiny-quelling team, and suspiciously extra casual about immediately setting their home on fire.
Jon: Hey ladies, you should probably come back with us, because, you know, Mance Rayder and his vicious wildlings are on the way, and you know how those people are.
Morag: Dude, what do mean by those people? Remember where you are, and who we are!
Jon: Oh yeah, my bad. So, you’re just going to stay here?
Morag: No, we’ll set fire to this completely serviceable shelter, including the supplies inside and so on. Then we’ll innocently chill out in this frozen forest with totally nothing at all. We got this.
Was the torching of the Keep to provide some fiery closure for the women? Or maybe to destroy evidence of ongoing Other worship? Or maybe a signal to the White Walkers that they needed resettlement support before the Other-hating Mance Rayder army showed up?
Regardless if Craster’s widows were willing supplicants of the Others or not, the White Walkers might still respect whatever arrangement that they once had with Craster. If so, it’s possible that we might see the women as living human members in the Other hierarchy (the moms club), and that they could serve as diplomatic envoys.
Morag: So, crow, we meet again.
Jon: Have we met before? All of you free folk women look alike to me.
Ygritte’s Ghost: You bastard!
Although I like the idea that Craster’s relationship with the White Walkers might still have relevance going forward as the human world and the supernatural world collide, I feel it is actually pretty unlikely for that to happen on the show. The last we saw of Craster’s widows kind of felt like… that was The Last We See of them.
But the abused spouses of Craster don’t have to be the only possible intermediaries between the White Walkers and the people of the Seven Kingdoms. Agents of the Others might already be living south of the Wall.
“But the wildlings serve crueler gods than you or I”
When Jon Snow complained to his Lord Commander about Craster’s behavior in regards to baby boys, Jeor Mormont explained that the wildlings serve cruel gods. Not just Craster. The wildlings.
The Free Folk seem to mostly be Old Gods devotees, the same faith that Jon Snow follows, so “crueler gods than you and I (serve)” implies something else than the gods worshiped by the First Men. The World of Ice and Fire has this hint:
some accounts say that there are those who worship different gods: dark gods beneath the ground in the Frostfangs, gods of snow and ice on the Frozen Shore
Dark, hidden gods beneath the mountains/frozen gods sounds like the previously dormant White Walkers, who were rumored to have been sleeping for thousands of years but have now woken up. We know that they are pretty cold.
So Craster might not be the only wildling worshipping the Others. Some of the Free Folk might have welcomed the return of the White Walkers and were spared from death and conversion. These quisling wildlngs might have avoided Mance’s call for unification and are now making their own way south as still-living humans. But some might have joined up with Mance, and are already south past the Wall, intermingled with the wildling refugees.
Mance Rayder told Jon Snow about the various groups that he had gathered to be part of his migration south. “Cannibals, giants, and moon worshipers,” Mance had said.
We’ve met the cannibal Thenns and sadly might have seen the last of the giants exterminated (hopefully there are some more, but regardless, Screw You Ramsay Bolton) but I’m interested in these moon worshipers.
The moon is associated with the night, and the Others are associated with the Long Night. That might not be much of a connection, but when I think about wildlings worshiping the moon in the cold northern nights, it just seems like White Walker worship would be part of that in some way.
People suspect that Bran Stark will accidentally let the Night’s King past the Wall because he carries a magical mark when he was touched by that monstrous monarch, but maybe Jon Snow has already provided these bogeymen some kind of access by letting in their human allies along with decent, Old Gods-fearing Free Folk. Maybe some renegade wildlings are planning on performing a diabolical kind of ritual that would aid the Others in getting past the wards of the Wall.
Yes, I know I’m sounding like a certain fear-mongering politician. The irony is not lost on me, but the Wall has practically been a constant reference point in the 2016 US election for over a year, and it’s hard to avoid comparisons.
Anyway, I’m not super-invested in the idea that some of the wildlings that Jon granted immigration status to are secretly working for the Others. Mostly because the only wildling we know by name is Tormund Giantsbane, and he seems pretty uncomplicated to be harboring secret motivations. Since we don’t know any other wildlings, it would seem a bit cheap for the show to introduce a wildling warlock/spy at this late point.
Although we do know Gilly, and it would be AWESOME if she was evil. But I’m not betting on it.
I guess I really want there to be some humans who have a relationship with the Others, so there’s a chance for some cool parley or to hear the White Walker side of the story.
Game of Thrones (and its source material A Song of Ice and Fire) is pretty dependable in providing the viewer with complicated choices, and rarely is there one side to root for and one side to root against. I’d be interested in finding out that maybe the White Walkers have a legitimate grievance, and not just that 8000 years ago the Children of the Forest sacrificed an unlucky schmuck.
I guess that could be a start.
Okay, this wraps up my current thoughts on the Others and if there’s any possibility of negotiating/treating with them. I have one more wintry-themed post planned for 2016, and then we’ll be ushering in the new year.
Where hopefully we’ll have access to The Winds of Winter in advance of Season Seven, with more information about what the Others are up to.
Stay warm, y’all.
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Most images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)
Infographic of the Children of the Forest/White Walkers/Wights breakdown is property of Cassie Wentlandt and used with her permission. Because she’s the coolest. You should follow her on Twitter (where I first saw the infographic) – she’s @BendinInTheWind
If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2016 Some Rights Reserved