As featured on Lucifer means Lightbringer’s livestream!
Inspired by LmL’s last essay I decided to take a look at another short chapter that’s rich with symbolism, to see if too can be read backwards for hints and clues about some of the mysteries in ASOIAF. Turns out, this chapter works in the same way! I don’t want to give too much away here at the beginning, so let’s dig right in and go through this chapter from start to finish first, to get an idea of all the themes and symbolism in it.
When you read the chapter forwards, it’s all about Bran coming into his power as a greenseer. He’s powerless at the start, falling, failing, frailing, but wakes up with his third eye open in the end. The chapter starts with Bran thinking:
It seemed as though he had been falling for years.
After a quick flashback to a clay replica of himself being flung from a roof (moon destruction alert), we get a sense of his surroundings:
The ground was so far below him he could barely make it out through the grey mists that whirled around him, but he could feel how fast he was falling, and he knew what was waiting for him down there.
He’s surrounded by mists, something that immediately reminds us of the Others.The Others are the Sons of the Mist, the Milk Snakes, the Sons of the Tree, the (Ice) Moon Brothers, or pretty much any other name of a Mountains of the Moon clan you want to pick, but a more explicit comparison of the Others to the mists is made by Tormund:
Tormund turned back. “You know nothing. You killed a dead man, aye, I heard. Mance killed a hundred. A man can fight the dead, but when their masters come, when the white mists rise up … how do you fight a mist, crow? Shadows with teeth … air so cold it hurts to breathe, like a knife inside your chest … you do not know, you cannot know … can your sword cut cold?” – Jon XII, ADWD
The masters of the dead, the cold shadows, the mists. Brrr… On top of that it’s also cold and dark where Bran is falling:
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.
Cold, dark, sunless and starless? It feels like it’s been going on for years? That sounds a lot like the way everyone’s favourite toothless oracle Old Nan describes the Long Night:
“Oh, my sweet summer child,” Old Nan said quietly, “what do you know of fear? Fear is for the winter, my little lord, when the snows fall a hundred feet deep and the ice wind comes howling out of the north. Fear is for the long night, when the sun hides its face for years at a time, and little children are born and live and die all in darkness while the direwolves grow gaunt and hungry, and the white walkers move through the woods.” – Bran IV, AGOT
Bran too is afraid while falling after the three-eyed crow tells him he’s going to die for realsies. And he should be, according to Old Nan’s stories. He’s experiencing the Long Night, after all. Now that we know that Bran is in the middle of a symbolic Long Night, and he feels like that has been the case for years, let’s quickly go back to the third paragraph of this chapter that we skipped, about that clay replica of him:
Maester Luwin made a little boy of clay, baked him till he was hard and brittle, dressed him in Bran’s clothes, and flung him off a roof. Bran remembered the way he shattered. “But I never fall,” he said, falling.
Something getting baked and shattering is like a moon wandering too close the sun, getting “baked” and cracking. Especially when it’s “flung from a roof”, where the roof represents the heavens, the sky, the celestial realm. Now we have a flashback to our Long-Night-causing moon disaster, right at the start of a chapter that already sounds like the Long Night! We also know another significant figure in the series that was surrounded by the cold of the Long Night for years and broke something important:
So as cold and death filled the earth, the last hero determined to seek out the children, in the hopes that their ancient magics could win back what the armies of men had lost. He set out into the dead lands with a sword, a horse, a dog, and a dozen companions. For years he searched, until he despaired of ever finding the children of the forest in their secret cities. One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him, and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds—” – Bran IV, AGOT
Could Bran be acting out the Last Hero’s journey in this chapter? Well, let’s get back to Bran III and find out, shall we? The next thing that happens there is that Bran meets the three-eyed crow, hands him some corn and continues falling, with the ground getting closer and closer. He’s now able to distinguish certain things below:
Bran looked down. He could see mountains now, their peaks white with snow, and the silver thread of rivers in dark woods. He closed his eyes and began to cry.
He’s still in the realm of the Others, with snowy mountains, white peaks (think of the icy spires we’ll see later in this chapter) and “silver rivers” in “dark woods”. Let’s jump back to the prologue of AGOT for a quick second for a quote that clearly link this line to the Others:
“We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. – Prologue, AGOT
The woods growing dark is a sign that the Others are coming. In another essay I’ve already linked silver to the Others, so I won’t repeat that here, but just think of their reflective armor with patterns that “ran like moonlight on water” and how the moon is often described as silver. The dark woods and icy symbols remind us that this part of Bran’s dream is still taking part during that symbolic Long Night.
The crow keeps telling Bran that he needs to fly, and that he needs to look down. By doing so Bran can “see the whole realm, and everyone in it” as George tells us. He sees Winterfell, with Robb and Hodor, and the weirwood brooding over its pool, lifting its eyes from the pool and staring at Bran. The weirwood noticing Bran is like the Old Gods acknowledging him, judging him and deciding whether to help. By the fact that he learns to fly at the end of the chapter, I assume they deemed him worthy. Or perhaps he was the last one with enough green gift to replace the last greenseer. It would give a whole new meaning to the phrase “Last Hero”, like they picked the boy with the crippled legs last in gym class.
I digress. When Bran looks east from Winterfell he sees his mother heading into a storm:
A storm was gathering ahead of them, a vast dark roaring lashed by lightning, but somehow they could not see it.
The storm his mother is heading towards represents the Others and their army of undead. At the time of writing we’re still waiting for the Winds of Winter, which is another nickname we could give to the Others. They bring the icy cold air, after all, like Tormund just told us and Old Nan describes an ice wind that comes “howling out of the north”. I have an upcoming essay dedicated all to exploring the association of the Others and wind/storms, since this is mentioned all throughout the series, but that’ll still take a while to finish. The fact that “they could not see” the storm is a meta nod to the fact that all of Westeros is ignoring the upcoming invasion of the Others into the realm.
The lightning mentioned here is also found as pale fire in the series, a form of burning cold, like the Others. It’s also associated with them through Waymar’s sword, because after it’s been struck by (the blade of) an Other, Will describes it as:
He found what was left of the sword a few feet away, the end splintered and twisted like a tree struck by lightning. – Prologue, AGOT
So, if the lightning is the Others, than “lashed by lightning” could be seen as “lashed by the Others”. And who gets lashed by the Others, you ask? The undead army full of zombies under their control, of course! Since the Others control their wights, they can be seen as their slaves, and slavers often control their slaves by whipping them. The fact that this storm getting lashed by lightning is “vast” and “dark” could hint at that a part of the army is made up of former Black Brothers of the Night’s Watch, like Small Paul, Othor, Jafer, etc., but it works without that connection too.
In the south Bran sees more of his family.
He looked south, and saw the great blue-green rush of the Trident. He saw his father pleading with the king, his face etched with grief. He saw Sansa crying herself to sleep at night, and he saw Arya watching in silence and holding her secrets hard in her heart. There were shadows all around them. One shadow was dark as ash, with the terrible face of a hound. Another was armored like the sun, golden and beautiful. Over them both loomed a giant in armor made of stone, but when he opened his visor, there was nothing inside but darkness and thick black blood.
In terms of the Long Night and Bran’s Last Hero’s journey to save the world, seeing his family and their hardships is like the companions he’s lost. Apart from Robb, Luwin and Hodor, all of his loved ones that he sees are beyond his reach (for now), lost to him. Arya’s hard heart ties in nicely with Lady Stoneheart and the roles of Mercy and Cat she’ll play later, too, for what it’s worth here.
It says “there were shadows all around them”, and a giant with “darkness and thick black blood”. The Others are referred to as “pale shadows”, so if Bran hasn’t lost his family to the Others in the darkness, symbolically it’s about to happen.
After this Bran takes a quick look further east, across to Essos, before heading North, to the Wall and beyond:
Finally he looked north. He saw the Wall shining like blue crystal, and his bastard brother Jon sleeping alone in a cold bed, his skin growing pale and hard as the memory of all warmth fled from him. And he looked past the Wall, past endless forests cloaked in snow, past the frozen shore and the great blue-white rivers of ice and the dead plains where nothing grew or lived. 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.
He sees his brother, a member of the Night’s Watch, die. Or something close to dying, at least. Another companion gone. When he looks into the Heart of Winter he sees terrible things:
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.
Still falling, still failing to fly, he sees a landscape of blue-white spires of ice with people (“dreamers”) impaled on them.
Firstly, these blue-white icy spires are similar to the swords of the Others, with their pale blue colouring and icy symbolism. I’ve talked about that at length before, as have others (no pun intended), so no need to repeat that. Waymar, a failed Last Hero figure, dies through the swords of the Others, and here Last Hero figure Bran is about to die because of a similar type of icy spike as Waymar did.
Secondly, however, we also know of another type of object that loves to impale dreamers: weirwood roots! Think of Bloodraven and the other seers in his network of caves being impaled on the weirwood roots, like Odin on his tree. To me this line about icy spires in the heart of winter sounds a lot like an icy version of the weirwood net! We’ve also theorized before that there is a division in the weirwood net between a domain for the Others and a domain for the greenseers, kind of like the Wall is in the “real” world, and this is just another clue to that.
Everything Bran describes between the Wall and the Heart of Winter is the domain of the Others, a place mankind should stay out of. “Forests cloaked in snow” again tells us about trees (weirwoods) turned into ice, like the icy spires could actually be frozen weirwoods. Who knows, if LmL’s moon meteor theory is right, then a magical moon meteor landing inside of a grove of weirwoods could have turned part of the weirwood net and its associated greenseers into the Others!
Bran sees “great blue-white rivers of ice and the dead plains where nothing grew or lived”. The blue-white colouring is a trademark of the Others, with their pale blue swords, their lightning associations and pale-skinned slave-wights with burning blue eyes. Since they control the dead, their domain should hold plains where nothing grows or lived. This takes me back to the idea that the Wall was built by the Others to keep mankind out of their frozen domain up north.
So, after Bran is scared shitless of this icy danger, he remembers his father’s words to him about being brave and flies. And as he does so, he clears away the darkness:
Wings unseen drank the wind and filled and pulled him upward. The terrible needles of ice receded below him. The sky opened up above.
He did it, he ended the symbolic Last Night in this coma dream of his! The sky opens up, meaning the darkness is ending and the ice recedes. He then wakes up in Winterfell to find a serving woman dropping a basin of water and his wolf leaping onto his bed.
A pair of yellow eyes looked into his own, shining like the sun.
“His name is Summer,” he said.
Summer and the sun are here, the winter and its darkness is gone. Last Hero Bran has saved the day.
In the forward direction, this chapter is all about Bran as a Last Hero figure. It starts with him in a Long Night scenario, surrounded by mists and darkness. Falling. Failing. After travelling south, east, west, a long hero’s journey that feels like lasting for years, during which he sees loss, grief, hardship and apparent death for his loved ones, he heads north into the Heart of Winter. When all seems lost and he appears to crash into the ground, just before he’s defeated and impaled on the icy spires of the Others like Waymar was, he gets help from a greenseer and flies. He opens his third eye and wakes up, ending the night, to find Summer has arrived.
Basically, Bran the Last Hero has used the magic of the Children of the Forest and the greenseers to end the night and declare Summer. But what will happen when we press reverse and play all of this backwards? We find a whole nother story. Check it out.
When we press the rewind button at the end of this chapter, the order and the direction of the events will change direction. Up becomes down, life becomes death and gaining becomes losing. To quickly summarize what happened in the forwards reading:
- Bran is surrounded by darkness and mists, representing the Long Night;
- Bran has a meet-and-feed with a greenseer (three-eyed crow);
- Bran sees (“travels”) all across the realm, sees Jon die, symbolically loses his companions;
- Bran travels to the Heart of Winter;
- Bran learns to fly;
- Bran opens his eyes, ends the night and finds Summer.
Instead of coming into his powers, when we read the chapter backwards we see Bran losing his touch with the old gods. Instead of changing the Long Night into Summer, he now loses Summer and ends up in the darkness of the Long Night. Instead of travelling towards the Heart of Winter, he now starts his journey from that cold, dead place.
In reverse we start with Summer and his warmth, when all is well during the daytime in Winterfell, but then Summer and his eyes that “shine like the sun” disappear from (Bran’s) view. A serving woman shatters a water basin in a room high in one of Winterfell’s towers and Bran closes his eyes to sleep, like the start of the night. Wait, something shattering in a tower at the start of the night? That sounds a lot like the moon shattering in the sky and causing the Long Night, right? The tops of towers are often symbolic of the celestial realm, so it would fit. The water basin could represent the swamps at the Neck, or the Arm of Dorne that shattered and splashed water (tsunami’s) everywhere.
To be fair, if we were consistent in reversing the events, this would actually have to be a shattered water basin getting mended in the hands of the serving woman. If the basin represents the moon, which we see reflected on bodies of water quite often throughout the series, this could represent the resurrection of moon goddess Nissa Nissa, but I somehow like the first explanation better.
Anyway, now that Bran is asleep, he’s flying with his third eye open, right from the start of this symbolic Long Night. All throughout Bran’s arch flying is the equivalent of obtaining greenseeing abilities. Think of the line “You will never walk again, Bran, […] but you will fly”. So here we have a greenseer at the start of the Long Night, basically going into the weirwood net and into his greendreams with his regular eyes closed and his third eye open. And while the moment where Bran learns how to fly in the forwards version should equate to forgetting how to fly in this backwards reading, that doesn’t mean he leaves the net or loses this abilities here. When played in reverse, Bran is actually falling up, which already looks like flying, but is also something they tend do under the sea, as Patchface describes:
Patchface sprawled half on top of him, motley fool’s face pressed close to his own. He had lost his tin helm with its antlers and bells. “Under the sea, you fall up,” he declared. “I know, I know, oh, oh, oh.” Giggling, the fool rolled off, bounded to his feet, and did a little dance. – Prologue, ACOK
Thanks to Ravenous Reader’s brilliant under-the-see wordplay, we know that this “under the sea” is actually describing the weirwood net. Upward-falling Bran is still in there, still in the see that is the weirwood net! I’ve theorized somewhere that that creepy fool is actually talking from the perspective of the Others, so it would make sense if Bran would now be inhabiting a part of the weirwood net that belongs to the Others. And indeed, Bran’s upward fall start from the Heart of Winter, surrounded by those icy spires that could be frozen weirwoods, with thousands of other dreamers impaled on them like icy weirwood roots. In this dream we learn that this place lies “beyond the curtain of light at the end of the world”, so this enforces the idea that there is a division between the Heart of Winter and the rest.
We actually see the same idea at the end of the chapter, as he wakes up:
The crow opened its beak and cawed at him, a shrill scream of fear, and the grey mists shuddered and swirled around him and ripped away like a veil, and he saw that the crow was really a woman…
When reading this part forwards, it’s Bran ripping away that curtain of light, that veil of tears between life and death. He becomes an immortal greenseer through the weirwood net, wings spread and third eye open. In reverse, he puts it into place, like he is the one to divide the weirwood net into the part of the greenseers and the part of the Others. It could have well happened through the sacrifice of Nissa Nissa, since there is a “shrill scream of fear” and a shudder at the same time. Shuddering is something we see in other places related to Nissa Nissa and her scream of agony and ecstasy.
The red priestess shuddered. Blood trickled down her thigh, black and smoking. The fire was inside her, an agony, an ecstasy, filling her, searing her, transforming her. – Melisandre I, ADWD
I don’t assume the servants at Winterfell hate Bran, so the serving woman uttering that initial scream of fear in Bran III is most likely ecstatic that he’s awake again, as she quickly runs away to tell the rest of the castle. This would mean she’s afraid and ecstatic in rapid succession, for what it’s worth.
So, to summarize what we’ve seen so far: we see a greenseer entering or creating a frozen part of the weirwood net and starting the Long Night. The first Other, perhaps? Let’s see what happens next as we travel further backwards into this chapter.
Now that he has started the Long Night, it’s time for Bran to invade the realms of men, and we see him travel to the Wall, east to Essos, south to Trident, etc., instead of north like we did in the forwards reading. That’s pretty much the invasion of the Others, since there are legends about the Long Night all across Planetos.
His first stop is the Wall, where he sees his brother Jon. Though we don’t really see Bran losing all of his companions in his forward Last Hero journey, we do see him lose a Brother of the Night’s Watch when his brother Jon’s body seems to die. Well, what’s the reverse of having your companions die? Having them resurrected, of course! So in reverse order we would see the cold corpse of Jon Snow coming back to life at the Wall.
Wait, resurrected corpses of Night’s Watchmen at the Wall? First of all, that sounds a lot like Othor and Jafer, another two wights at the Wall, who were under control of the Others and attacked the living. Stretching this idea a bit, we could suggest that a resurrected Jon in this case is symbolically like a wight too, bound to the Others. Remember, we are reading this backwards for symbolism, I’m not saying Jon will be like this in Winds when it comes out in 2125. All of this is starting to sound a lot like a certain historical figure we know that also enslaved the Night’s Watch, worshipped the Others and loved corpses:
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. For thirteen years they had ruled, Night’s King and his corpse queen, till finally the Stark of Winterfell and Joramun of the wildlings had joined to free the Watch from bondage. After his fall, when it was found he had been sacrificing to the Others, all records of Night’s King had been destroyed, his very name forbidden. – Bran IV ASOS
So I would like to suggest that Bran’s backward dream is actually the story about Night’s King and the rise of the Others! The first half of the backwards reading was all about the Others coming from the weirwood net and travelling south to the Wall. I’d like to show that with the clues from this second half, we can hang the Night’s King archetype on backwards-Bran too!
This could be interpreted in two ways, I reckon. First, we could picture Night’s King as an Other himself, travelling down from the Heart of Winter and taking control of the Night’s Watch, binding them to his will (dead or not) and using them to invade the rest of the world. I tend to lean more towards a second option. Here the Others come south towards the Wall, where they seduce the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch to join their cause (like the story Old Nan tells us) and then use him and his men (probably dead) to further that cause. In terms of symbolism we can say that Night’s King then becomes equivalent to the Others, and so would Bran. After all, we’re talking about symbolism and archetypes, not actual physical people per se. In the last part of this essay I’m going to do just that, combining both the invading Other symbolism and the Night’s King symbolism onto Bran.
From the Wall backwards-Bran travels east and south where he sees people fleeing from the lightning storm that is the Others and the invasion. The ship his mother is on is now travelling away from that storm, instead towards it, since everything gets reversed. The Long Night is now in full effect, people running from the Others.
Next up are the two lines about the weirwood in the Winterfell godswood. In reverse we get the weirwood staring at Bran and then averting its eyes and staring back at its own reflection. The weirwood averting its eyes from Bran could be an acknowledgement of him abandoning the Old Gods, and vice versa. As a matter of fact, it could tell us that Bran has left the original weirwood net, that it’s been closed off behind him and he’s now become a full Other.
A similar thing would have happened to Night’s King. As a brother of the Watch he would have sworn his oaths to the weirwoods, would have worshipped the Old Gods. Upon his defeat we are told that they found out he was actually worshipping to the Others, to the icy mists, meaning he would have forsaken the trees. Abandoned his gods, like Bran does here. And like the Bloodstone Emperor did, I might add.
And while we’re back here at Winterfell, we see his brother Robb practicing with real steel and Hodor the simple giant carrying an anvil. Remember what Old Nan said about the defeat of the Night’s King? Night’s King was a Stark, defeated by another Stark. The Stark of Winterfell and the brother to the Night’s King to be precise. What if Robb is symbolizing this here, practicing with real steel (dragonsteel?) to defeat Night’s King? He’s the only Stark we see in actual Winterfell in this dream, and he’s Bran’s brother, so he’d definitely fit the bill.
The Stark of old was joined by Joramun, a wildling from north of the Wall, and together they would have sandwiched Night’s King at the Wall. George describes this battle technique in more places and refers to it as “the hammer and the anvil”. And who do we see carrying an anvil in Bran’s vision? Hodor, the simple giant. I realize it’s a bit of a stretch, but giants live north of the Wall and join Mance’s army of wildlings in the main storyline too, so we could count Hodor “the simple giant” as a wildling. Even Joramun’s horn is featured somewhat, in the form of the bronze tube Maester Luwin uses when he’s playing the part of a starry lookout.
I see a lot of similarities between the story of the Last Hero receiving help from the Children of the Forest to defeat the Others, and the Stark of Winterfell getting help from the wildlings from north of the Wall to defeat Night’s King. In both cases a Stark (pretty sure the Last Hero was a Stark too) gets help from creatures that (nowadays at least) live North of the Wall, to defeat creatures with icy death symbolism and with people tied to their will. For all we know it’s the same story told in different ways, evolving throughout the ages.
After losing touch with the old gods and losing sight of Winterfell, Bran keeps on falling up until he also loses sight of the three-eyed crow, the last greenseer and his absolute last line to the weirwoods. He is surrounded by mists and darkness. It’s almost like that theory about Euron being a former protegé of the three-eyed crow that has turned to the Dark Side, right?
I’ve mentioned before in another essay that I think the Others coming out of the weirwood net are like a defense mechanism gone haywire and I’m probably not the only one to think this. The weirwood turning away from Bran in this reverse reading supports that, the Others have lost their touch with the greenseers and have become the enemy of all living things, including the trees. The help the Last Hero receives from the Children of the Forest to defeat them sounds like creators trying to right their own wrong. And yes, I believe the Children are (partly) responsible for the creation of the Others, in one way or anOther. The phrase “white walkers of the woods” is to me pretty clear about the Others have their origin in the same type of magic as the Children, the greenseers and their trees.
We’re almost at the start! Old Nan tells us that the Night’s King is a man without fear:
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.” – Bran IV, ASOS
As we reach the beginning of the chapter, we reach the point where – in the forwards version – Bran still thinks it’s a dream. He tells the crow that he’ll “wake up when [he hits] the ground”, showing us he’s not afraid. Later, when he sees the Heart of Winter and is told he’ll die when he hits the ground, he does get afraid. So in the backwards reading, Bran actually loses that fear, give him another trait of the Night’s King archetype!
To inverse some of the important items from the list at the beginning of this section:
- Bran loses Summer, starts his night by closing his eyes;
- Bran flies, starting from the Heart of Winter;
- Bran sees Jon coming back to life at the Wall;
- Bran loses touch with the old gods, the weirwood en the greenseers, becomes unafraid;
- Bran is surrounded by darkness and mists, the Long Night.
This is pretty much the story of a person causing the Long Night as he goes into the weirwood net, corrupting it and losing touch with the original inhabitants and intents of that net. Of a person then invading the realms of men with icy mists and resurrected corpses, bringing cold and darkness.
Who that person could be? Perhaps it’s that Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai we love to talk about, who might have started the weirwood net by sacrificing Nissa Nissa. Who might have corrupted that same net by following her in, perhaps splitting off a section that turned to ice, sprouting forth a resurrected corpse queen N-ice-a N-ice-a that helped enslave the Night’s Watch. I guess we’ll have to keep digging and hope we’ll ever find definitive answers.
Lastly I would like to say that it would actually fit that a part of Bran symbolically represents Night’s King, since according to Old Nan Night’s King was a Stark named Brandon, who sleeps in the same room as Bran is dreaming this dream in in this chapter! And Old Nan’s word is truth, of course.
He was a Stark, the brother of the man who brought him down.” She always pinched Bran on the nose then, he would never forget it. “He was a Stark of Winterfell, and who can say? Mayhaps his name was Brandon. Mayhaps he slept in this very bed in this very room.” – Bran IV, ASOS
Now that we’re all the way back at the beginning of the chapter, when there is “no sun, no stars”, only cold darkness, Bran has become the Night’s King, ready to rule his Long Night.
Night’s King was only a man by light of day, Old Nan would always say, but the night was his to rule. And it’s getting dark. – Bran IV, ASOS