No, the White Walkers Aren’t Good Guys

The idea that the White Walkers are secretly the good guys or not the final enemy or that they built the Wall or had some sort of secret peace treaty is a theory that’s become weirdly prominent in the ASOIAF fandom; I say weirdly because not only is there basically no evidence for this theory, but the very existence of this theory requires you to dive head first into the hermeneutics of suspicion and claim that a LOT of textual evidence to the contrary is false or somehow evidence of a conspiracy.

So let’s get this one out of the way.

The White Walkers Aren’t Evil

To be fair, there’s a kernel of this based on George R.R Martin’s own words. Namely, his frequent comments to the effect of:

“The battle between Good and Evil is a theme of much of fantasy. But I think the battle between Good and Evil is fought largely within the individual human heart, by the decisions that we make. It’s not like evil dresses up in black clothing and you know, they’re really ugly. These are some of the things that Tolkien did; he made them work fabulously, but in the hands of his imitators, they become total clichés. I mean the orc-like creatures who always do dress in black and… they’re really ugly and they’ve got facial deformities or something. You can tell that if somebody’s ugly, he must be evil. …We don’t need any more Dark Lords, we don’t need any more, ‘Here are the good guys, they’re in white, there are the bad guys, they’re in black. And also, they’re really ugly, the bad guys.”

The argument extending from this is that the White Walkers would fall into this trap, and therefore there must be something else going on. I think this misinterprets GRRM’s comments and the text. After all, GRRM has gone to great lengths to make the “human heart at war with itself” a major thematic element of his work, showing us good people doing bad things and bad people doing good things, and using POVs to show us the really complicated nature of people introduced as throwing children out of windows.

But that doesn’t mean GRRM doesn’t create some genuinely evil characters. Roose and Ramsay, Joffrey, Qyburn, the Bloody Mummers, Rorge and Biter, the Mountain and his men, Amory Lorch, and so on and so on. And a bunch of these characters break “the rules” – Rorge and Biter are ugly as hell, Ramsay’s got wormy lips, the Mountain’s a giant, etc. The point is that there’s variation – most of the antagonists (Tywin, Cersei, etc.) are fully-rounded human beings with clear motivations that have nothing to do with destroying the world, and a lot of the scariest villains (Roose, Qyburn) are completely ordinary-looking people.

So it’s not a hard and fast rule that should necessarily dictate analysis, but more of a general guideline that has important exceptions.

What does this mean for the White Walkers? Well, let’s start with how GRRM describes them in his pitch memo:

“…half-forgotten demons out of legend, the inhuman Others, raise cold legions of the undead and the neverborn and prepare to ride down on the winds of winter to extinguish everything we would consider life. The only thing that stands between the Seven Kingdoms and an endless night is the Wall and a handful of men in black called the Night’s Watch.”

That would seem to be pretty conclusive – the Others are bad guys, and as GRRM goes on to say, they’re meant to be the main bad guy in the third volume of his trilogy, the big climax. But, it could be argued, GRRM’s changed his mind about a lot of things since that pitch memo. Maybe he did the same thing with the White Walkers?

The problem is that this is one case where GRRM doesn’t seem to have changed his mind – in ASOIAF, the White Walkers have raised an army of the undead, winter is coming, and they’re marching closer to the Wall. And indeed, they seem hell bent on “extinguish[ing] everything we would consider life.” In the whole of ASOIAF, we have seen White Walkers only two times: in the Prologue of AGOT where they killed a bunch of wildlings and then killed Ser Waymar Royce and (by proxy) Will; in Sam I of ASOS where he recalls the Battle at the Fist of the First Men and kills a White Walker who kills Small Paul. The common denominator here is that they’re always murdering people.

Now, some people have argued that the evidence of sentience from the Prologue means that the White Walkers aren’t evil, because they have language and therefore reasons for doing what they’re doing. This has never really made sense to me. Sentience is no bar against evil – indeed, many philosophers would argue that without sentience, you can’t really have evil because evil is making a conscious choice to do the opposite of what you know to be good – and here, we have a fully sentient people deciding to murder a bunch of people they know to be no threat to them, given the wide disparity between their fighting ability. Indeed, when you look at Ser Waymar’s duel, it becomes pretty clear that the White Walkers are getting a sadistic kick out of toying with a clearly outmatched teenager by setting up a fight he can’t win; at one point they’re literally laughing at him.

That’s all we’ve seen of the White Walkers. So what second-hand evidence do we have? Well, we see wights try to murder the Lord Commander in AGOT, we learn from Mance and Tormund that the White Walkers have also attacked the Wildlings: “They grow stronger as the days grow shorter and the nights colder. First they kill you, then they send your dead against you. The giants have not been able to stand against them, nor the Thenns, the ice river clans, the Hornfoots.” Once again, interaction with the White Walkers (indeed, not just human interaction, given the giants) is limited to murder.

The one break in this pattern is at Craster’s Keep, where we learn that:

“…It’s for the baby I have to go…If it’s a girl, that’s not so bad, she’ll grow a few years and he’ll marry her. But Nella says it’s to be a boy…he gives the boys to the gods. Come the white cold, he does, and of late it comes more often. That’s why he starting giving them sheep, even though he has a taste for mutton. Only now the sheep’s gone too. Next it will be dogs, till…”

“What gods?”

…”The cold gods,” she said. “The ones in the night. The white shadows…”

“What color are their eyes?” he asked her.

“Blue. As bright as blue stars, and as cold.” (ACOK)

This quote does a lot of work for proponents of the White Walkers Aren’t Evil and/or White Walkers Have a Pact theory. Their argument is that the White Walkers are only trying to reproduce and are therefore just following their nature and or self-preservation and/or that the Battle for the Dawn ended in a peace, where humans agreed to give human sacrifices to the White Walkers. I have never seen how this followers. To begin with, the act of White Walkers farming babies and accepting human sacrifice – so similar to the folklore of the Fair Folk stealing children – is still a hostile act, suggesting that at best humanity is cattle to them. Nor is the act of reproducing a bar against monstrous (or to use GRRM’s phrase “inhuman”) status: many classic monsters require human beings to reproduce (Bram Stoker’s Dracula all the way to James Cameron’s Aliens), but they’re still monsters.

Indeed, the setup at Craster’s Keep does not suggest a stable status quo. Craster claims that the true gods protect him, but their behavior is more like a protection racket turning up the pressure on a small business than a partnership of equals. Nor is there a sense of real communication – it’s highly doubtful the White Walkers want sheep, so more than likely the White Walkers are just showing up and Craster is guessing what they want.

Moreover, simply because something is natural doesn’t make it not inherently dangerous to humanity. Wildfires and hurricanes are natural, and yet no one would propose that human beings shouldn’t protect themselves from them because of that. Virulent diseases, from the bubonic plague to smallpox to Ebola, are all living things trying to re-produce using the human body, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous to humanity.

The White Walkers Had a Pact With Humanity

Which brings me to the topic of whether there was a pact between humans and the White Walkers that ended the Long Night, as is frequently asserted. To begin with, there’s no textual evidence at all that suggests that such a pact existed. And while absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, it’s noteworthy that, by contrast, there is copious evidence of a Pact between the First Men and the Children of the Forest.

We know what the name of the treaty was (the Pact of the Isle of Faces), we know what the terms were (Children get the forests, the First Men get the open lands, don’t touch weirwoods), and we have evidence for it being agreed to and enforced (the Isle of Faces and the Green Men, the obsidian arrowheads, etc.). There’s evidence that the Children and humanity continued to interact in a friendly fashion afterward – there’s the legends of the crannogmen interbreeding with the Children, the legend of the Last Hero seeking their help, the legend of Bran the Builder learning magic from them, the alliance between the First Men and the Children against Erreg Kinslayer, the alliance with the Warg King in the North, the negotiations with Gendel and Gorn, etc.

Indeed, there’s a decent amount of evidence showing the Children of the Forest helping humans deal with the White Walkers, even after the Long Night – “The children of the forest used to give the Night’s Watch a hundred obsidian daggers every year, during the Age of Heroes.” (AFFC) – which in itself suggests that no pact existed between the humans and the White Walkers. Likewise, the fact that Leaf and co. and the last human greenseer are being besieged by wights and fight back with magic suggests that no pact has existed between humans and the Others for a long long, time, given how old Leaf is and how comprehensive Bloodraven’s knowledge would be.

The one piece of evidence that is used to suggest a Pact is the legend of the Night’s King. The argument is that the Night’s King represented a peace deal between humanity and the White Walkers. But does the evidence support that?

The Nightfort had figured in some of Old Nan’s scariest stories. It was here that Night’s King had reigned, before his name was wiped from the memory of man…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.” A woman was his downfall; a woman glimpsed from atop the Wall, with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars. Fearing nothing, he chased her and caught her and loved her, though her skin was cold as ice, and when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well.

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. (ASOS)

There’s a number of problems with this as a pact.

  1. The fact that the Night’s King was the 13th Lord Commander and not the 1st suggests against a pact – given that the Night’s Watch was formed at the very end of the Long Night, the war would have been over for at a minimum (dividing the number of Lord Commanders against 8,000 years) 96 years by the time that the Night’s King took office. How is it that the peace deal to end the war took place a hundred years after the war ended?
  2. The fact that the Night’s King was brought down and his actions were never repeated again suggests against a pact. After all, if the pact required regular human sacrifice to allow for White Walker reproduction, and White Walkers need reinforcements at the rate they seem to at Craster’s, one-and-done in eight thousand years would not work. Likewise, this argues against the argument that humanity has recently broken the pact, if the violation took place  almost eight thousand years ago. (While we’re at it, there have been Wildlings living North of the Wall since the Wall was built, and there have been Night Watch rangers going North of the Wall since the Wall was built, so it’s not a case of recent encroachment on ceded territory)
  3. None of the details speak to an agreed-upon pact as much as a subversion by the White Walkers. The corpse queen’s seduction is personal rather than political, and we know that sex magic involves the taking of life energy (here, the soul itself), which suggests predatory intent. The fact that the Night’s King had to bind his brothers by sorcery and that both the King in the North and the wildlings, historic enemies, allied to destroy him, suggests that there was not buy-in from any of the human political communities. And finally, as I’ve said, human sacrifice is a hostile action.

The White Walkers Built the Wall

One particular thing that’s been brought up in relation to the idea of a pact with the White Walkers is the idea that as part of the Pact, the White Walkers built the Wall. The logic here is that since the White Walkers have cold magic and swords and armor made of ice, and humans couldn’t have possibly made a structure as massive as the Wall (shades of “aliens built the pyramids and also Stonehenge” there), they must have made the Wall using their ice magic.

Once again, this runs against a lot of textual evidence. Legend tells us that Brandon the Builder built the Wall, and legend explains how it was built by telling us that he learned magic from the Children of the Forest – who as we can see from the examples of the Shattering of the Arm of Dorne and the Hammer of Waters can definitely use magic on a continent-shaking level using water, and what is ice but frozen water – and that he got help from the giants. Given that we can see from the layered structure of the Wall and the Night’s Watch’s tradition of adding additional height to the Wall that it didn’t start at 700 feet tall, this no longer seems like an engineering feat beyond human capacity.

Moreover, the text raises two big problems for the idea that the White Walkers raised the Wall as a defensive move. First, if that was the case, why is it that humans have been manning the Wall on its southern side, and not White Walkers on its northern side, for eight thousand years? Secondly, if that was the case, why is it that the Wall has magic that prevents the passage of the undead, given that the undead are exclusively servants of the White Walkers? (While we’re at it, given that defensive magics are also in place at Storm’s End, another construction linked to Brandon the Builder, that’s more evidence pointing to the legends being true)

History is Written by the Winners

This phrase is used frequently by advocates of this theory, because of all the textual evidence they have to deal with – the Night’s Watch’s records of fighting the White Walkers (“Fire will dismay them, though, and they are vulnerable to obsidian,” AFFC), Dany’s vision of fighting an army “armored all in ice” while on dragonback, and above all Old Nan’s stories:

“Thousands and thousands of years ago, a winter fell that was cold and hard and endless beyond all memory of man. There came a night that lasted a generation, and kings shivered and died in their castles even as the swineherds in their hovels. Women smothered their children rather than see them starve, and cried, and felt their tears freeze on their cheeks.” Her voice and her needles fell silent, and she glanced up at Bran with pale, filmy eyes and asked, “So, child. This is the sort of story you like?…”

“In that darkness, the Others came for the first time,” she said as her needles went click click click. “They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun, and every creature with hot blood in its veins. They swept over holdfasts and cities and kingdoms, felled heroes and armies by the score, riding their pale dead horses and leading hosts of the slain. All the swords of men could not stay their advance, and even maidens and suckling babes found no pity in them. They hunted the maids through frozen forests, and fed their dead servants on the flesh of human children.”

“Now these were the days before the Andals came, and long before the women fled across the narrow sea from the cities of the Rhoyne, and the hundred kingdoms of those times were the kingdoms of the First Men, who had taken these lands from the children of the forest. Yet here and there in the fastness of the woods the children still lived in their wooden cities and hollow hills, and the faces in the trees kept watch. 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—”

Old Nan’s stories are pretty damning evidence, painting the White Walkers as omnicidal, seeking to destroy all warm-blooded life, which coincides pretty closely with GRRM’s original description. Moreover, it points away from a pact theory, as the Last Hero is in search of the Children of the Forest and their magics – which fits pretty closely with the legends of Bran the Builder who learned the language of the Children of the Forest to raise the Wall, and who formed the Night’s Watch, and indeed fits Bran’s own experience in finding the Three-Eyed Crow while being hunted by wights. The World of Ice and Fire gives us the end of the story: “Alone he finally reached the children, despite the efforts of the white walkers, and all the tales agree this was a turning point. Thanks to the children, the first men of the Night’s Watch banded together and were able to fight—and win—the Battle for the Dawn: the last battle that broke the endless winter and sent the Others fleeing to the icy north.” You couldn’t get an ending more diametrically opposed to the theory of a pact between the White Walkers and humanity.

So the argument is that all of this is false, either unreliable evidence corrupted by thousands of years, or a deliberate conspiracy (going by the destruction of records of the Night’s Watch) to turn the White Walkers into the evil bogeyman. This argument fails on two fronts.

First, if textual evidence is unreliable, we have nothing to go on either way. The same pieces of evidence cited by those in favor of the pact between humans and the White Walkers are equally unreliable and tainted as those pieces of evidence that are cited against such a pact ever existing.

Secondly, that’s not really what GRRM is about. While GRRM likes playing with unreliable narrators and contested information, the thrust of his argument isn’t necessarily that the winners write history. Rather, he argues that it’s the skeptical contrarian academics in the Citadel, the same ones who share these theorists’ beliefs that “the Others…became monstrous in the tales told thereafter…reflect[ing[ the desire of the Night’s Watch and the Starks to give themselves a more heroic identity as saviors of mankind, and not merely the beneficiaries of a struggle over dominion,” who are wrong. Contrary to what the Citadel believes, magic is back, dragons are back, Children of the Forest are real, giants are real, and the White Walkers are far more than gussied-up legend.

By contrast, it’s the Old Nans and Septon Barths of the world, the storytellers and legend-keepers, who are right about what’s going on in the world around them. And the Old Nans of the world say that the White Walkers are evil.

Conclusion

In the end, the theory falls down on both Doylist and Watsonian grounds. On a Doylist level, for it to be true would have meant that GRRM spent an enormous amount of time and energy writing pages and pages and pages of red herrings (and almost nothing in the way of actual clues), all of which is going to be completely invalidated when the M. Night Shyamalan-esque “twist!” finally is revealed. It also means that, contrary to his pitch memo, GRRM won’t have a crisis for his heroes to face in the climax of his series – indeed, in retrospect, Jon Snow, Jeor Mormont, Pyp, Grenn, Sam, Dolorous Edd, Bran, Hodor, Jojen, Meera, and Bloodraven, have all been wasting their time, and so has GRRM in trying to get the audience to invest in their struggle against an enemy that doesn’t really exist.

On a Watsonian level, it means that Jon Snow has wasted his life, that his death was for nothing. Likewise, everything that Mance Rayder and his followers sought to accomplish, as well as Qhorin Halfhand and every man of the Night’s Watch who died on the Fist of the First Men or trying to keep the Wall intact, was for naught. The doomed bravery of Ser Waymar, Will’s bold decision to try to inform Castle Black, and Gared’s dying words, meant nothing.

That’s not subversion or deconstruction, that’s pure literary nihilism. And if there’s one thing George R.R Martin isn’t, it’s a nihilist, Lebowksi.

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78 thoughts on “No, the White Walkers Aren’t Good Guys

  1. David Hunt says:

    Wow. That’s great. I totally agree with your premise and almost everything you said. Two points

    Although the time of Night’s King is definitely too far after the end of the War for the Dawn for his action to be the formation of some peace treaty, him being 13th Lord Commander, I suspect that the length of Command was less than average in the beginning. The Others were clearly still active in his time and thus I think it reasonable to assume they were active during the time of the earlier Commanders. I’m guessing that attrition was more pronounced in those early days. I’d cut the time in half to about 50 years as a W.A.G. Granted, the first Lord Commander could have been some legendary figure that ruled for a hundred years, but I don’t recall ever reading that about the Watch.

    Second, I don’t think that what’s going on at Craster’s when we see it is a good indicator of what’s been typical before. Gilly mentions that the Others have been coming more often. I think they’re “gearing up” for their big push south. Whether the sacrifices are meant to increase their ranks directly as the Show indicated or whether their current members get a “power up” out the sacrifices, I think upping the rate is war preparation.

    • Ben Cass says:

      This is all speculation, but I can imagine a longer average length of command in the beginning.

      In the immediate aftermath of the Long Night, the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch was likely the highest military command position in Westeros. They commanded a huge force. They built and manned dozens of fortresses along The Wall. So, I think it follows that the commanders back then were probably elected closer to the peak of their abilities (think people like Tywin or Ned). They’d be middle-aged and battle-hardened.

      Later on, as it became apparent that The Others were “gone”, the Lord Commander position switched to being more of a title of prestige and seniority. That opens the door to older (and less competent) commanders. On average, people who are going to die with less years in office. They became a little more like politicians and less like generals.

  2. Steven Xue says:

    Great analysis on the role of the White Walkers as the ultimate villains of the series. Although this does call into question whether dragons and the religion of R’hllor are the misunderstood “bad guys” trying to destroy evil?

    A lot of the fandom seem to believe that the Battle for Dawn won’t become another war between good and evil but rather the forces of Ice and Fire are struggling for dominance over each other, and that neither the Others nor the dragons are the good guys but rather pawns fighting on different sides with different interests.

    What’s your take on that?

    • Grant says:

      Dragons so far have just been motivated by either their self interest (e.g. eating things) or loyalty to their riders.

      It’s possible that R’hllor (if it exists) has some hold on them but it could also be that they’re just some kind of manifestation of magic.

      • Space Oddity says:

        I personally suspect that R’hllor, the Drowned God, the Many-Faced God et al (and possibly even the Seven) are flawed human attempts to understand the mystic forces of Planetos turning vague impersonal things whose motives are inscrutable (if they are even existent–this may be an attempt to essentially give mystical “weather patterns” sentience) into comprehensible beings that can be bargained with and have an understandable agenda, including a great apocalyptic struggle that the followers are (of course) taking part in.

        • Grant says:

          That raises questions about things like what the voice was that Varys heard in his childhood, which admittedly could be a complete lie on his part but at this time I’m not willing to assume.

        • Weeeeelllll, there’s ‘something’ backing up R’hllorism. Thoros ain’t resurrecting Beric with CPR & while she’s a shitty interpreter, Mel can definitely get glimpses of the future. We can debate the existential motivations of each metaphysical faction, but at least some of the Planetos religions are based on sentient powers, not just people lacking scientific knowledge interpreting eclipses.

          • Space Oddity says:

            Yes, there’s a MYSTIC FORCE backing up R’hllorism. But whether it’s a sentient deity named R’hllor engaged in a struggle with an equally sentient opposite number or just fire magic in general is… less obvious.

    • Andrew says:

      That view is taken by the Targaryens and likely other Valyrians, along with the R’hllorists. The Others are inexplicably connected with ice, being the root of their magic, as opposed to the Valyrians and R’hllorists who are connected with fire which is the root of their magic. So, naturally they assumed it was a confrontation between the forces of ice and fire with ice=evil and fire=good.

      However, I think that is a mistaken interpretation. I think more along the lines of the Reeds in this exchange:
      “Up and down,” Meera would sigh sometimes as they walked, “then down and up. Then up and down again. I hate these stupid mountains of yours, Prince Bran.”
      “Yesterday you said you loved them.”
      “Oh, I do. My lord father told me about mountains, but I never saw one till now. I love them more than I can say.”
      Bran made a face at her. “But you just said you hated them.”
      “Why can’t it be both?” Meera reached up to pinch his nose.
      “Because they’re different,” he insisted. “Like night and day, or ice and fire.”
      “If ice can burn,” said Jojen in his solemn voice, “then love and hate can mate. Mountain or marsh, it makes no matter. The land is one.”
      “One,” his sister agreed, “but over wrinkled.”

      We have seen Aegon I’s sons being on opposite ends of the spectrum who both end up being terrible kings for the realm and House Targaryen. We have also seen darkness being used by BR for greenseeing and light used by Melisandre for dealing with the Long Night 2.0.

      Thus, I tend to feel that rather than “the song of ice and fire” being the triumph of fire over ice, or one extreme over the other, it is about a balance between opposites. Taoists, Buddhists and many other Eastern philosophies stress that harmony can be achieved through balance between extremes rather sticking to one extreme. I think the prophecy implies the War for Dawn (ice) and, possibly the War of of Five Kings (fire with Cersei being connected with wildfire often, and fire also being used extensively by all forces involved) will be won by the balance between ice and fire:my guess, Jon.

  3. Winnie says:

    Personally I look on the White Walkers as a sort of allegory for overreaching problems like Global Warming or Tsunamis. They’re not ‘evil’ per se or malevolent in origin but they are by definition going to be devastating to humanity.

    And congrats on hitting five grand.

  4. Sean C. says:

    Sort of a corollary to the theories about there being a treaty, a lot of those theories also incorporate the idea that “there must always be a Stark in Winterfell” is some sort of literal provision of this treaty — because for some reason the Others care about tha. You’d be amazed how much mileage this theory has gotten even though (even if you accede both to the idea that such a provision exists and that in the last 8000 years there has never been a time when all people named Stark were elsewhere) the Others were already on the move at the start of the series and the earliest point where Winterfell was Stark-less was late into ACOK.

  5. Space Oddity says:

    Like so many fandom theories, this baby shows how confirmation bias can really make you miss the forest for the trees. (Of course, my own personal list of popular fandom theories that do this is, I will admit, rather broad.) Honestly, things like this make you prefer honest crack-theories, where the proposer admits that they are are just throwing crazy ideas out there…

  6. medrawt says:

    This sort of thing is why I’ve started bucking so hard against the conversational trope that ASOIAF is in the business of “subverting” “traditional” fantasy. Obviously, in some respects, it does – and you use the term fairly reasonably. But a lot of stuff that I would label: “choosing to not do the most thoughtlessly obvious and cliched thing” gets interpreted as “boldly subverting cliche!” and feeds into this idea that we’re reading an epic story where all the conventions of Dragonlance and are turned on their head!

    When, actually, we’re reading a story following the adventures of a series of children, scions of a royal line so ancient it is believed to have begun flourishing thousands of years before written history, interwoven inextricably with legend and folklore. These children, as a virtue of their birthright, have access to magical powers, activated through a bond with the living sigil of their house. Their noble, loving father/father-figure is unjustly executed, they are scattered and separated from each other, they undergo very different adventures bringing them to very different places from which they may hope to use the powers within them and the powers they’ve acquired along the way to restore their family and save the realm.

    Is it a lot more complicated than that? Of course. But really. Tell me that doesn’t sound like it could be from the pen of the author of The Umpteenth MacGuffin of Shannarra.

    • Yeah, the “GRRM Subverts Fantasy Tropes Less than You Think” essay has made me very careful about those kind of claims.

      • medrawt says:

        Do you have a link for that essay?

        I admit that I get a bit prickly about this because 80% of the time, the phrase is followed up with some reference to LOTR, and then I turn into a sentient LOTR-defense system; but I read a bunch of terrible epichigh fantasy as a kid, I’ve read a lot of “first volumes of popular and/or recommended epichigh fantasy series” as an adult that I couldn’t stomach continuing to another volume, and I have a hard time seeing what any of it has to do with Tolkien except on the most superficial level. And the thing that sets ASOIAF apart from most of the mostly bad epichigh fantasy stuff I’ve read is, well, that it’s a lot better, in several dimensions, but relative to this topic it’s more that it’s not lazy about its choices, vs. always making the “least expected” or “most subversive” choice – which I think would be a pretty hacky way to work.

    • Jim B says:

      On a related note, I also think that many fans exaggerate the extent to which GRRM engages in elaborate plotting to facilitate “shocking plot twists,” the implication of which is always that “therefore, my convoluted fan theory is correct or at least plausible.” I think that’s part of the rationale behind the “White Walkers aren’t the bad guys” theory — what could be more shocking than to learn that the scary evil menace looming over the entire series isn’t actually an evil menace?

      GRRM actually plays pretty fair with the reader. I’m sure everyone’s heard the story of how GRRM “tested” Benioff and Weiss by asking them who Jon Snow’s mother was, they got it right, and that gave him comfort that they were the right people to produce the series. Well, Jon’s parentage is one of the central mysteries of the series, set up in the very first chapter, and kept unresolved for five books now, and yet GRRM apparently considered it quite reasonable to expect a serious reader to get the right answer. All the clues were there, and the right answer isn’t some out-of-left-field “shocking” twist, like “Jon is actually the offspring of Benjen Stark and Joanna Lannister.”

      That’s not to say that every reader anticipates every plot development; I’ve certainly been surprised by a few. But in retrospect, the foreshadowing was almost always there. And I think that’s the distinction — GRRM is fine with readers thinking “I didn’t see that coming,” as long as it’s followed by the thought “but I really should have!”

  7. Punning Pundit says:

    Agreeing with you so completely so often makes me very suspicious of my own thought process and independence of analysis.

    Rather than devote more energy into thinking, however, I will choose to interpret your post as: CLEGANEBOWL CONFIRMED!!

  8. artihcus022 says:

    People generally have this idea of the Dark Lord that’s quite different from Tolkien. In Lord of the Rings, Sauron’s not really a character, we don’t see him nor do we actually see him be evil unlike other Dark Lords. He’s just there in the background and the real conflict and struggle is Frodo and Gollum with the Ring. Later fantasies actually started the trend of the Dark Lord being Wizard Hitler or Wizard Tyrant or something because they, contra Tolkien, applied real world tyranny to their characters to spice up the fantasy.

    So I feel that GRRM’s White Walkers are a more developed version of that. The White Walkers represent winter, death, they are a force of malign nature personalized into an army of ice. The fact that they are all white with blue eyes and in the books kind of beautiful and ethereal is a 180 degree from the Orcs and Uruks. My feeling about the White Walkers is that they are beyond humanity. To them good and evil are human emotions and they are far above that. So calling the white walkers “evil” or “good” is not very different from calling an earthquake or a meteor shower “evil” and “good” or…calling Moby-Dick, the White Whale, good or evil.

    For me the White Walkers are an apocalyptic force, they bring about great many changes. Like the first time the White Walkers came you had the Night’s Watch, you had the Wall, you had a worldwide change. This time when they return they will obviously bring a new age with them. So they must be defeated but at the same time it doesn’t mean that there won’t be some good that comes out at the end of it.

    • jazzbumpa says:

      @ artihcus022

      I’m in almost total disagreement.

      Sauron is totally off-stage, but that doesn’t mean he’s not an evil force. There’s a lot of back story involving Sauron, Westerness and the Elves. Clearly he is exactly the kind of evil wizard tyrant you are claiming that he is not; seeking world domination, as was Melkor before him.

      Your version of the White Walkers deprives them of sentience and purpose. But we see in the prologue to the first book that they are both sentient and cruel. Their negotiations with Craster further diminish your claim.

      Certainly they are agents of change. But they are motivated and purposeful, while natural phenomena are random and indiffferent.

      Cheers!
      JzB

      • Punning Pundit says:

        In The Silmarillion, Saruon may have had motivations, back story and the like. In Lord of the Rings, he’s off stage. That may feel like a niggle, but compare what readers of the Song of Ice and Fire know of Bloodraven to what readers of the Dunk and Egg books and the World of Ice and Fire book know about the same man.

  9. Nihilists?! Fuck me… I mean say what you will about the tenets of R’hllorism, at least it’s an ethos!

  10. priddy says:

    Great essay, Steven. I personally believe that the Others aka. The White Walkers are Children of the Forest who turned to the Dark Side. My belief is based on the fact that the events known as “The Long Night” and “The Battle for The Dawn” seemed to have happened after the Children and the First Men made peace. I believe that an extremist faction of Children didn’t want to co-exist with the invaders, who had burned their homes and slaughtered their friends and family. Due to their continued hatred and bloodlust (and presumably evil magic), they eventually devolved into twisted enemies of all living things and far different in shape and size from their smaller cousins. Yes, the Children of the Forest, who we have meet in ADWD appear to go quietly into the night, but who says that goes for all. Remember, if the stories concerning the “Arm of Dorne” and “The Hammer of Water” are true, then “Those who sing the song of the earth” are capable of great aggression.
    Speaking of stories, the last hero was only able to defeat the Others after he found the Children. This means he must have learned something important from them. Why would the Children have inside knowledge about the White Walkers, if they had not once been kin. Even the name “The Others” could support my theory. Is it suppoesed to differentiate the enemy from mankind, or perhaps from the Children of the Forest, as in “The other Children of the Forest, who didn’t agree to the peace treaty.”
    Plus, no matter how much George Martin denies it, the Children are essential elves – although more fairytale than Tolkien – and the habit of the Others to steal babies, reminds me too much of the changeling myth and the Unseelie Court.

    • Lann says:

      Also in LOTR the Orcs were originally Elves.

      • priddy says:

        Good point! To be fair, if Melisandre is correct that “The Others” are servants of “The Great Other”, their name propably means to signify their devotion to him. Still, they could be Children of the Forest who swore allegiance and sold their souls to him (it?). I’m just saying that the White Walkers had to come from somewhere.
        (BTW, The Great Other and the White Walkers, another great band name) (;

  11. Andy says:

    I agree with all your major points Stephen, but would like to ask you two questions: 1) Do you believe that the Others have a more complex and possibly nuanced motivation than an endless winter undead wonderland? 2) Have your ever read the GRRM short story “Guardians”? The existence of that Tuf Voyaging story, which begins with a planet facing a existential monstrous threat and then pivots into something much more interesting, seems to be a strong argument that GRRM is capable of flipping the script in very similar circumstances.

      • Space Oddity says:

        I have and the twist there is, in fact, properly foreshadowed. In this case, we’ve had nothing to hint that the Others don’t want to set up a cruel ‘kill most of them, and parasitically live off the few that remain’ empire.

        Which makes the White Walkers close to mystic ice Nazis, when you think about it.

  12. ecr56 says:

    You have some very good points. And I really like your posts, but I have to disagree here.

    You’re using legends as evidence! The Broken Arm of Dorne shows the CotF helped Brandon build the Wall? I’m sorry, but I’m not gonna believe everything I read. GRRM made the UnKiss happen on purpose to show us we shouldn’t believe everything we read. Might as well believe Tormund has half bear children… OId Nan is cool and all, but she also said ‘crows are all liars’. I’m gonna believe that too? The Pact gave the deep woods to the CotF, but Deepwood Motte exists (the Andals didn’t take the North, so the CotF living in the North should still be in the forests), as Preston Jacobs claims. The Long Night supposedly happened before the Andal invasion, but the CotF were already pretty difficult to find for the Last Hero. My point is you’re using legends as evidence to show the Others are evil, but they’re just legends. I don’t think George wants us to believe there were gods trying to destroy castles during Durran Godsgrief’s life, even though that’s what the legends say.

    You did a pretty good job convincing me legends suggest the Others are evil, but that doesn’t mean they are. And about their actions as far as we’ve seen (laughing while they kill Ser Waymar Royce), some of Robb’s men seem pretty evil, according to the Riverlanders. But that doesn’t mean the Northmen are evil.

    • somniture says:

      First of all, you are using legends as evidence against using legends for evidence (the Pact, the Last Hero’s difficulty finding CotF).

      Second, we do not have to make a totally binary decision about whether or not to believe everything from a particular source.

      And as far as the Others, they kill people, raise them as their undead slaves, and send them to slaughter their own families and friends. That’s evil, and it’s not just a legend, because we directly observe it.

      • ecr56 says:

        I don’t get what you have against my using legends as evidence against using legends for evidence. If I find a contradiction in a story, it suggests you probably shouldn’t believe everything this story claims.

        And about binary decision, my point is there are contradictions in the legends. And so it isn’t a good idea to use them to draw radical conclusions.

        And I disagree with your last paragraph. We know some of them kill people and use them as soldiers. I think that’s all we know. Sure, they don’t seem to be as honorable as Ned, but they have nothing on Ramsay, as far as we know. It’s a series by GRRM, the guy who made you care about a guy who threw a child out of the window, so I’m not gonna name them evil. Just as I’m not gonna name the Dornish evil for killing Daeron under a peace banner. Just as I’m not gonna name Lord Manderly evil for deceiving the Freys and making pies out of them and feeding them to people.

        • pavan says:

          The thing is that this essay has textual evidence at least in the form of legends.The theory itself has none.
          Your last point is addressed in the essay too. There do exist purely evil characters in the novels. What else would you call Roose, Ramsay and Joffrey?

  13. jreinatl says:

    I wonder if GRRM realizes that the fandom is starting to eat itself while waiting for new material? “White Walkers are the real heroes” seems to be to be the nadir of ASOIAF theorizing.

  14. athelas6 says:

    Excellent. You are expert at detailed clarification of facts. I agree with your conclusions. They are such a well written and well conceived force of evil. That is what strikes me as being “good” about them. Their introduction in the Prologue of AGoT is a fantastic read. I felt the cold and their arrogant taunting. They are eerily mesmerizing but I’d definitely be heeding the warnings if I were in Westeros, lol.

    I’ve seen your guest appearances on the Blackfyre episodes for History of Westeros. I really enjoyed them. I’ll try to make a small donation to your project soon. I support them and Radio Westeros when I can.

  15. Faber says:

    I know this isn’t really your focus, Steve, but any theories on the origins/motives of the Others?

    I think it’s safe to assume they are not a natural “race”, and were all once human.

    • Well, as far as origins, I think they’re ice demons – a malevolent supernatural species, albeit one capable of reproducing with humanity.

      As for motives, I think they want to wipe out all warm-blooded life.

  16. […] begin with, this is a clear sign that the non-non-evil White Walkers have been menacing the wildlings for some time, long enough for the wildlings to have developed […]

  17. Shane says:

    The trouble with this analysis is that it it requires the assumption that ‘everything we would consider life’ is good.

    the possibility exists that GRRM is telling a tale in which everything we would consider life is bad for the planet in ASoIaF – ie: humans. The magical creatures like Others and CotF are custodians of a better, more magical world that the humans broke.

    There is textual evidence to support this if we consider the giants song, which speaks of a much better natural environment in Westeros before humanity invaded.

    Also, such an ending is not nihilistic, it’s just anti-humanist. Nihilism does not have to revolve around humanity – are humans good or bad for the Earth? If we accept we a bad for it, then our continued existence on it must be nihilistic to a naturalist, or environmentalist. I think this is the tale that ASoIaF is ultimately trying to tell – get over yourself and your human sense of importance, there are more important things than you and your species.

    • Problem with that is that the Others warred and war against the Children and the Giants. If the natural environment is better -which is a Tolkienism I’m not sure GRRM agrees with – it’s not one the Others are a part of.

      • Shane says:

        Interesting that you draw the similarity to Tolkien. I am sure that, in may ways, ASoIaF is a flip-side to the LotRs, as intended by GRRM.

        GRRM did state early on that ASoIaF asks the question of what happens 1000s of years into Aragorn’s rule. What kind of tax policy do the humans invent and so on.

        Part of this question would also be what happens to the Hobbits and Elves? They retreat into the West, right? But, as the human population keeps expanding, what happens to them? They would slowly be forced further and further to the corners of their world.

        I think the CotF are GRRMs Hobbits and the Others are his Elves, basically good creatures, in touch with the natural and magical environment, that have been forced away by human expansion. But, as magic returns to the world (shown by proximity to the comet) these creatures see a chance for a final push back. These are distinct from dragons, which I think are basically human sorcery created war machines in ASoIaF.

        History is written by the victors, never forget. Old Nan is reciting the victors history. I think a more real history will become apparent when Sam gets to old town. I think his characters entire purpose is to work it out for the reader/viewer.

        If I’m wrong, we’ll know next season.

        • “Basically good.” Come on, the man himself says they’re “half-forgotten demons” who intend to “extinguish everything we would call life.”

          And in case you’ve noticed, the semi-immortal Children of the Forest are fighting against the Others.

          • Shane says:

            Ra’s al Ghul wasn’t entirely wrong. What Batman never worked out was that the true villain was Gotham. Gotham bred both himself and the villains, like the Joker – Batman’s world would likely have been better off without Gotham.

            Gotham is exactly the same as the Iron Throne in AsoIaF, or the One Ring in Tolkien’s universe – that inhuman literary device which all the drama and evil revolves around, that really has to be destroyed for the narrative to conclude.

        • Shane says:

          Are the Children really fighting the Others? Really? We just don’t know – it’s still fairly obscure.

          The children co-exist on the Others territory without being forced to head south like the humans.

          Imagine this, the Wall was built not to keep the Others away from humanity – because, let’s be reasonable, why would an ice wall be built to stop Ice mages – but it was built to try and keep humanity out of the magical beings last reserve. The Nights Watch (and perhaps even the Starks) original purpose was to protect what is North of the Wall from people, but it has been forgotten.

          Sorry, I put my Ra’s al Ghul, response in the wrong place 🙂 Point being, ASoIaF ins’t the kind of story where the hero ultimately wins, like Batman, it’s the kind of story in which the hero will gain more by realizing the path they are on is wrong. GRRM has promised bittersweet and a bittersweet ending is one in which the goal is changed/lost and something greater is learned – ie: The IT is recognized to be evil, the goal is recognized to be flawed.

          The last Nolan Batman film did essentially have a bittersweet ending – Batman gave up on Gotham to save himself and live a happy life with Catwoman, which made Alfred happy because Alfred knew all along that Gotham was un-savable. Trouble is, Nolan can’t really direct emotional drama, his ideas are great but his storytelling lacks humanity and his characters lack personality, so though the ending was there, it didn’t gel correctly.

          • The Children are hiding underneath the earth and surrounded by living corpses who attack everything who come by, and they set these corpses on fire.

            That’s on top of the stories about the Long Night and the Last Hero, the fact that the Children sent the Night’s Watch dragonglass weapons regularly,
            etc.

            The Wall was not built to keep humans out. First, the wildlings have been living North of the Wall since the Wall went up. Second, the rangers can go North of the Wall without the Wall doing anything. Third, we’re explicitly told that the Wall doesn’t let wights through.

            I’m sorry, but this whole theory goes 100% against the text.

          • somniture says:

            If this theory is correct, the castles of the Night’s Watch should be defensible from the south, in order to be able to prevent/deter a human army from passing beyond the Wall. But they’re not.

      • Shane says:

        Oh, sorry, as for GRRM not thinking a natural environment is better – IRL, he loves wolves. He has a wildlife fund. I’m pretty sure the man is a naturalist, first and foremost. I’m pretty sure that the fame, fortune and human contact that comes with GoTs popularity isn’t really something he adores.

        • First and foremost? I don’t think so. Yes, he likes wolves. But he’s not Ra’s al Ghul, and that”s what the White Walkers represent.

          • Shane says:

            Well, if ASoIaF does conclude with Others being some evil threat which the humans unite to save the world from, it will be an ending which is a standard below the rest of the storytelling. Less thought provoking, less morally relative and less imaginative. Such an ending would be a let down and the masses would forget the saga within months.

            If it does have a more divisive ending, the popularity of the saga will go on and on.

          • Entirely disagree. If the Others are secretly the good guys all along, that’s M. Night Shamalyan twist for the sake of it.

            Moral relativism and profundity are not the same thing.

  18. Jangley says:

    Nice essay but I have to disagree, the story of ASOIAF seems different to many generic fantasy stories and ideas, and it would seem strange for a malevolent horde to show up somewhere (most likely) in the middle to end of the 6th book just to murder everyone and everything while not doing much in terms of many of the stories we’ve been reading inbetween. Whats more ASOIAF seems to show us that war only brings more suffering even when its just. Look at Robb Starks war to avenge his father, Dany’s war against slavers and Stannis’s war to do his duty as king. None of them end how they’re supposed to- good doesn’t beat evil and save the day (and quite often GRRM tries to show us that in his world good and evil are relative anyway), and these wars have just led to more suffering and bloodshed. How would a war for the dawn be any different? Thousands on both sides would suffer and die, theres no evidence that the ‘good’ side would win, and even if they did would they pursue the White Walkers to complete destruction, massacring even the baby WW who have just been converted or leave them to invade another 8000 or so years? It’s a known fact that GRRM is a pacifist and he probably will show that (and has shown that) in his work.

    People have mentioned The Lord of the Rings further up in the comment section and it’s clear that TLOTR and ASOIAF are told very differently. TLOTR has clear boundaries of good and evil in both the Gods and the character’s in the series (yes there are exceptions but ultimately it is a story of good vs Evil). It also has these forces actively working in conflict with each other throughout the series, with the characters we follow trying to rid the land of evil. Salron, although not physically present, is present throughout the whole series through will and his servants, trying to stop our heroes from destroying the ring and and also trying gain dominion over Middle Earth. The premise is set up from book one, and we read about the characters struggle to vanquish evil from the realm all throughout the trilogy. ASOIAF is very different, we read about the WW at the start and they are presented as bad, but for 5 books they are barely present. Yes they make appearances and their presence is always there, but we have spent 5 books reading about conflict that is completely seperate from them. These conflicts seem to show that there are no clear cut lines of good and evil like in TLOTR, good characters seem to turn bad and bad characters seem to turn good with all shades of grey inbetween. There is evil existing in humanity that is just as bad as the evil the WW are presented to be that needs to be dealt with for there to be peace, it is not the eventual force of good that it is in TLOTRs, it commits massacres, rape, slavery and betrayal and has the capacity to be incredibily malevolent.

    Now for the WW to just rock up presumably somewhere in book 6 of 7 just to massacre everyone with no intention other than to wipe out all life for no reason, when we have just spent 5 books reading about human conflicts from many different view points with a range of characters who go from good to evil and everywhere in between, seems like it would not do the story justice. Whats more what would happen if they did? what would be this force of ultimate good that would counter this force of ultimate evil? Would Dany (who seems to be embracing her family’s words of ‘Fire and Blood’ at the end of book 5) rock up and save the day with her dragons, presumably forgiving the Starks, Lannisters, Tullys and Baratheons for murdering her family? Would all the warring houses just forgive each other and live in peace after the WW had been defeated? would slavery end in Essos? Whats more who would sit on the Iron Throne, would Dany give way to Jon (if he is R=L=J) or be his bride? Would Aegon (if hes real) get to sit on it? Or would the Lannisters and Baratheons stick to their claims to the IT? Obviously none of us know the answers to these questions yet, but my point is that ASOIAF is a lot more complicated than good versus evil, there are shades of grey and subjective view points on the greater conflicts. It has been a story of struggle, war and death purely at mans own doing, with the IT being the main source of this conflict. The WW maybe a force of pure evil, or even a force of nature that just works its way down Westeros, but even if it was and was defeated evil would still exist in the world. Hopefully there is a greater point to them and their motives, as it would seem strange in a story where there is so much grey and subjectivity to just have a murderous horde rock up at the end that has been seperate to so much of the story and conflict we have read so far just to kill everybody. The story wouldn’t feel complete if these conflicts that are seperate from the WW were all just resloved once they show up and are defeated, and the world lives in peace forever after they are gone. ASOIAF does seem like that kind of story.

  19. metacod says:

    Some people argue that the White Walkers being evil would contradict the ‘gray and gray morality’ of the series. I think these people are ignoring that the series has plenty of examples of characters who are unambiguously evil. Ramsay Snow, Gregor Clegane and his followers, Craster, and plenty of smaller or largely offscreen characters (Rorge and Biter, the slaveowners in Essos). What we’ve seen of Euron also suggests a lack of moral ambiguity. I acknowledge that it’s a step up to have a species (for lack of a better word) that is inimical to life, but it’s not like GRRM is unwilling to have villains that nobody would root for.

  20. James says:

    I think everyone misses the fact that the Others being disastrous to human beings does not make them “evil.” Evil means that they actively desire to cause pain and suffering. Look at Lord of the Rings: Sauron and all the villains seem to simply desire “darkness and suffering” and whatnot. The Others, however, are a group of being who appear to simply be acting in their own self interest. They thrive in an environment of extreme cold, with no sunlight, and can use the dead as slaves. They now have the opportunity to expand and thrive, it just so happens that doing that means the death of just about all humans. This is much different than villains who just want death for no reason. The Others goals are really no different than what humans did to the Children of the Forest, it’s just that now humans are on the receiving end. Furthermore, from a story perspective, using the Others as the third act villain serves an important narrative function. It presents a situation in which all humans, that have previously been acting against one another, are forced to work together or die. This is a unique scenario that we have not seen in the story so far, thus providing fresh story ideas and potential for characters to either adapt and grow or perish. When you think about it like this, the Others being “evil” is actually the most logical and interesting thing the books could do, as it places our established characters into an alien situation. With regard to GRRM’s comments about not needing another dark lord, I’d also argue that he has already accomplished his goal of not making a story about good vs evil. We have 5 books that is almost nothing but a story about the internal conflicts of layered characters. To now place them in a situation where they face a demonic threat beyond their ability to understand is not making a story about good vs evil, but a story about those same layered characters now struggling to find a way to survive. I personally can’t wait for that part of the story. No fantasy series has ever presented this kind of buildup to a situation like this. Other series all basically start with our heroes fighting to stop the “darkness” which inherently makes them “good.” This series is instead creating a large cast of well rounded characters with tons of depth, allowing us to intimately know them with 5 books worth of their lives, then plunging them into a situation that is classic fantasy in a war against the Others. GRRM is all about subverting classic fantasy tropes rather than ignoring or destroying them. If what I just described isn’t the ultimate subversion of fantasy tropes then I don’t what is. I say bravo to Martin if he goes this route.

    • 1. Ur-Text calls them evil.
      2. They don’t just hate humans. All warm-blooded life. Remember the bear!

      • James says:

        “1. Ur-Text calls them evil.” – Not quite sure what that means, maybe you could expand on that?

        “2. They don’t just hate humans. All warm-blooded life. Remember the bear!” – I focus on humans because it’s a human story, about humans and written from the perspective of humans, but you are correct. In fact, this actually strengthens my argument that while the Others are evil from a human perspective they are not evil from a neutral perspective. If the Others were the canned villains of classic fantasy then their focus would be on causing human suffering, but instead they treat all warm blooded life exactly the same. Further proof that the Others are really just doing what’s in their best interest, exactly the same as thing that humans do.

        • 1. The Ur-Text can be found here:
          https://racefortheironthrone.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/quick-analysis-of-the-ur-text/

          2. I don’t think it strengthens your argument at all. The Others are omnicidal – humans, Children of the Forest, giants, bears, etc. They are hostis viti generis.

          I also don’t agree that causing suffering is necessary for villainy.

          • James says:

            In practice the Others are definitely evil, that much really cannot be argued and I think we agree on that. But there seems to be this belief amongst the fandom that the Others being evil somehow violates GRRMs comments about “no more dark lords.” There are theories all over the place trying to put a twist on the Others to make them something completely different than what they seem to be. All I am saying is that, even if the Others are exactly what they seem to be (malevolent demons, and I think they are what they seem to be), Martin has already succeeded at creating a villain that does not fit the dark lord fantasy trope. The Others are omnicidal, no doubt, but what is the difference between what the Others are currently doing and what mankind did to the Children of the Forest? Didn’t mankind drive them from their homes and cut down most of their special magic trees? Does that mean that mankind is evil? Even if you think it does, this again proves my point that Martin has already created a story that does not fit the Good vs Evil fantasy trope, because that would be Evil vs Evil (not that I think that’s the case.) I think we can both agree the Others are horrible, foul beings that absolutely serve the purpose of being the end of all things good and happy – but that doesn’t make them “dark lords,” it just makes them the villains. They seem to me to be less of a personification of evil as much as they are a force of nature. They are ice. Ice kills. The definition of evil in my dictionary is “profoundly immoral and malevolent.” The Others certainly qualify for being malevolent, but I don’t see how they qualify as immoral. They are immoral from the perspective of human morality, but I imagine they operate within their own moral code. As Martin himself states “They are strange, beautiful… inhuman, elegant, dangerous.” They are not the ugly, black clad “dark lords” Martin dislikes. They are beautiful, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t worst thing to ever happen to warm blooded life in Westeros and beyond. That, right there, is the “dark lord” trope subverted, there is no need to have a twist with the Others as “good guys all along.” They are already deeper than the standard dark lords of fantasy.

  21. […] Well, that was eventful. I still think I’m right about the White Walkers – this version has some major sequencing problems, like the War between the First Men and the […]

  22. Margot Man says:

    I believe that the White Walkers are “The good guys.” I believe that Melisandre and the Lord of Light are far and away the most threatening forces to humans, not to mention Melisandre pretty and the Lord of Light is the Lord of Light, not lord of dark, so that goes with what GRRM was saying about good and evil cliches. Also, Jon Snow is purely good, so it would be fun to stick the most honorable character with the enemy for a while just for kicks. Obviously, Jon will realize this, just as he did with the wildlings, and he will unite with the White Walkers. The White Walkers murder and steal babies because they are raising an army to fight the Lord of Light. This is also in the title of the books. A Song of Fire and Ice. Fire, the Lord of Light, Ice, the White Walkers. The Lord of Light is bad, bad, bad, why else would he have his own evil them music!?!?!

  23. Yep. Agree with all this. As I once put in a post to Poor Quentyn “Martin is still writing fantasy which contains utterly evil beings. The Others are the ultimate evil, representing what needs to be fought, similar to society’s ills, which it is the ultimate duty of a hero to fight.”

    And I’m not too sure about that idea they were a weapon by the Children that got out of hand. That doesn’t fit. After all you can have totally evil races in fantasy. I know Tolkien worked hard to justify the Orcs and gave them a rather tragic backstory… but I think the Others are more like Balrogs. In Middle-Earth the Balrogs are basically Fallen Angels who have taken this form. The Others seem to be evil fairies, the Unseelie Court to the Seelie Court of the Children. They are not of Summer’s Courts but Winter’s courts. They want to lock Westeros in a Land of Always Winter but never Hogwatch Night. The Others might remain mysterious but there’s something to be liked in keeping the villains mysterious. Even Tolkien kept the origins of Ungoliant, the Spider equivalent of a Black Hole, secret. We might not know what dark, Morgoth-esque power stirs at the Curtain of Light, spawning them off.

    From the start the Others are established as evil, killing someone and laughing about it. And let’s not forget “The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. Swords rose and fell, all in a deathly silence. It was cold butchery. The pale blades sliced through ringmail as if it were silk. Will closed his eyes. Far beneath him, he heard their voices
    and laughter sharp as icicles.”

    They enjoy killing, not in the service of a cause, but for their amusement. They don’t see it as a heavy burden to protect themselves, they enjoy being the monsters. They are a supernatural version of the evil oppressors we have seen.

    Jorah Mormont, the Slaver and Tyrant, not seeing other peoples’ bodies as theirs. He is the early stage of an Other.

    The laughing Renly, not caring about the misery he causes because he can laugh and enjoy himself. Even the amiable Mace Tyrell, power-hungry and willing to allow starvation and misery for his own ends… They are the early stages of an Other.

    Littlefinger, with his eyes on others bodies, with his lack of concern over the Kingdoms he has ruined, over the thousands he has brought about the deaths of. He is like an Other.

    Ramsay, hunting down people to flay. He’s like the Others. His cold-eyed father, who tyrannizes the North, may not be a disguised Other… but thematically he is the same, with similar Sociopathic cruelty. The Boltons perverse enjoyment of misery is like the Others.

    Tywin, who sees the smallfolk as something to trample on, who sees all non-Lannisters as worth far less then Lannisters, Tywin, the man who is shit masquerading as gold… he is like an Other, as he leaves Westeros in ruins, a feast for the crows. His henchmen Gregor and Amory, who ride round committing atrocities, they are like Others. Cersei with her similar contempt for those below her, and her sadistic son Joffrey, who sees his power as everyone is mine to torment… they are like Others.

    Aerys, with his burning of people, giving them to fire rather then ice, but with a similar principle. His kin, such as the Cruel Maegor, and Aegon IV, who saw other people’s bodies as his to use, no matter their consent. Aerion Brightflame, as he inflicted his cruelties on others. They are like Others.

    Old Valyria, with its unnaturally beautiful people and magic… that was a Land of Always Fire, of monsters who engaged in enormous Metropolis-esque enslavement, sacrificing many to keep their power. They are Fire Others, and themselves died in fire.

    The Slavers of Slavers’ Boy, not Kind, Wise or Great…but a society which practices enormous levels of enslavement. They are the people Dany has fought against. They are like Others.

    The Ironborn and their horrible culture, with their racism towards the Greenlanders, and their enslavement of people. Balon Greyjoy’s brutality. The thuggish Victarion, who embodies this culture. They are like Others.

    Harren the Black, who tyrannized his Kingdom and squeezed it to built his monstrous ego trip, the equivalent of Metropolis’ Tower of Babel, and who died himself in fire with his House accursed by the Riverlands… he is like an Other.

    The monstrous Euron Greyjoy, the ultimate feasting crow… he wants to be an Other. Like the Ironborn he looks down on others, and is even willing to destroy his people to ascend to godhood. Euron knows Valyria and he wants to make that society for the whole world.

    The Others are more terrible then all those villains combined. They not only kill you, they leave you their eternal slave. Stannis, knowing that a King protects his people, knows it’s the duty of the hero to fight them, that the Others transcend all other threats, that the Wildlings must be saved from the enemy to all life, as they are human, while the Others are not. The Others embody all the evil that Stannis wants to fight against. Even as the Blackfyres land again in Westeros Bloodraven, who took terrible means to stop this foe, does not concern himself, knowing how terrible the true enemy is, looking at the White Walkers over the Blackfyres.

    It we’re making comparisons to other (heh) genres are the Others the nihilism of Morgoth, wanting to destroy everything out of spite? Or are they Sauron wanting to just order their world to their will? Are they the Daleks, hating all other (heh again) life, and wanting to destroy all not like them? Though again I doubt weapon that got out of hand. If we’re making Pratchett comparisons are they like the Auditors, the ultimate evil embodiment of order, who hate life just for existing?

    For the real world the White Walkers are like Uber-White Supremacists, who don’t care about those they don’t see as like them, and see them as fit to be oppressed. They are the selfish elites that abuse their power to torment, and see other people’s bodies as theirs. They are the Hostile Invaders, the ones the actual refugees are being forced to flee from.

    At the end of the day the Others are evil embodied. The Others are those who delight in oppression. They are Tyrants. They are Eldritch Slavers. They want a future where it is just them stamping on the face of a corpse forever. Where it is just a cold dead world, akin to Cocytus, with no life, no intelligence but theirs.

    And again, we’ve already done the misunderstood people with the Wildlings. It would just be repeating the storyline.

    ASOIAF is not just sneering and trying to throw away the fantasy tropes. It’s doing something better then deconstruction, it’s engaging in reconstruction. Jon Snow reconstructs the Fantasy Hero trope, so when he finally defeats the Others it will mean something. He will have made the choice and saved the world. The Others are beyond all the previous threats, the final boss for the heroes to defeat, not just a battle over who sits the Iron Throne, but a battle to save all humanity. The Iron Throne looks set to be destroyed but what matters is that Westeros itself is saved. The White Walkers rule of Westeros would just be destruction.

    So yeh, the White Walkers aren’t good guys.

  24. That reminds me, I should read Lords and Ladies at some point. The Fairies there basically seem to be White Walkers… or Others. Emmett does like quoting that passage about them.

    • Sort of? But they’re also Oberon and Titania with the rounded-off edges resharpened.

      • Though Shakespeare was making his fairies much more pleasant, hence why they say they don’t fear Church Bells, to show though mischievous they are not malicious. Like Disney Peter Pan compared to Once Upon A Time Peter Pan.

        And eventually we get to Iolanthe, in which the fairies are very idealized. But it has political satire so its enjoyable.

        Come to think of it the Fairies in Torchwood are quite traditional fairies. They can take a fair form but are very powerful and very dangerous.

  25. […] once again, lest anyone come forward with any tinfoil theories about a broken pact or man encroaching on the […]

  26. LadyKnitsALot says:

    Few things.

    1. The aliens DID build the pyramids. Haven’t you read the works of Dr Daniel Jackson? 😉

    2. I’m starting to wonder whether the whole “pact between the Last Hero and the Others” is actually a pact between the Last Hero and the Children of the Forest who broke off from the other COTF and created the Others. The pact was that the rogue COTF would contain their horrific creations, so long as humanity stayed south.

    I dunno. I’m just spitballing, trying to work out how to reconcile the simplistic version of the creation of the Others from the show, with what longer, more nuanced version GRRM might give us in the books. Because the show ignored the whole Pact of Children + First Men entirely, creating the Others as a weapon against the invasion of First Men. Based on what we know (which, admittedly, may not be accurate) the First Men lived for some centuries in harmony with the Children before the coming of the Andals and the Long Night which was “some time” (decades? centuries?) after the Andals arrived.

    I’m increasingly leaning towards this scenario:

    * First Men invade the Children’s lands – Children fight back (smashing the arm of Dorne etc.)

    * Pact of Children and First Men reached – both sides are required to provide people to serve as the Green Men to guard the Isle of Faces. This community evolves into a hybrid human species – the origins of crannogmen perhaps? (This would explain why Howland Reed is the only person described to have been to the Isle of Faces and met the Green Men at all – the crannogs, their descendants, are the only people who believe they exist. It also provides an explanation to the COTF-life but not COTF Ghost of High Heart who came with Jenny of Oldstones to Summerhall.)

    * Things go ok for a while, then the Andals show up

    * History is wrong: the Others arrived after the Andals appeared, because some of the Children created the Others as a weapon against what they perceived to be Men breaking the Pact (not aware or not caring that the Andals and the First Men were not the same people.) Alternative: something something founding of Valyria.

    * The Last Hero (a Stark) goes North to the Land of Always Winter to bargain with the rogue Children on behalf of humanity. This legend is somehow turned into the story of Azor Ahai in Essos.

    * Something happens, and the Others pull back. Did their creators agree to cease the conflict? How did the peaceful Children deal with the rogue Children who nearly wiped out every living thing?

  27. Jangley says:

    *Spoilers from season 7
    *Spoilers from ‘In the House of the Worm
    *Spoilers from ‘Guardians’

    It seems after 7 sessions there are still many unanswered questions about the White Walkers and, although the show told us how they were created, it doesn’t really go into any detail as to the process of that- It shows us that the WW were created by the Children of the Forest to combat men by shoving dragon glass into a man’s heart, but doesn’t actually explain in detail the ritual behind it, or what it actually did to the man when it turned him into a WW. Its clear that you’re absolutely right – the WW aren’t the ‘good guys’, but are we sure that they are a force of absolute evil in ASOIAF or is there more to them?

    Personally I feel that the show won’t go into anywhere near as much detail as the book, they might even end it with no explaination at all, although I feel this would make it feel a bit 2 dimensional and cheap. However, theres an amazing essay out there somewhere (that I can’t seem to find) that compares the wall to a metaphorical magic mirror.

    The essay basically argues the wall reflects the bad aspects of humanity. as more vengence, bloodshed and death happen throughout our story, the WW grow in numbers and become a bigger threat, reflecting back the worst aspects of humanity towards people. It could be construed that when the COTF pushed the dragonglass into that guy’s heart, they took away the warmth that gives people good aspects of humanity (love,kindless ext.), and tapped into all the bad parts of humanity. This might be an explaination as to what the COTF did when they created the WW, and would result in them being ‘evil’.

    However there are 2 other stories that GRRM has written- In The House of the Worm and Guardians, that have similiar themes to ASOIAF, but give twists to ‘bad guys’ that are similar to the WW in ASOIAF.

    In ‘In the House of the Worm’, people are at war with creatures that live below. Both sides kill and eat each other and the creatures below are attacking more and more frequently as time goes on. To cut a long story short, the perceived enemy is actually starving and being attacked by giant worms below them, resulting in them desperatly attacking the people in the story. When the main character sees this, he tells the people and they start trying to live in harmony with the other creatures.

    In ‘Guardians’, people are being attacked by creatures from the ocean. To cut another long story short, it turns out the people were eating physic creatures that live in the sea, these creatures were making the attacking creatures to defend themselves. The people then agree to stop eating the physic creatures and they are no longer attacked.

    Both of these stories have a perceived evil ‘other’. Something different that is attacking people in the story, and it both of the stories there is a a different motivation behind those ‘others’ than what we initially believe- that they are evil creatures hell bent on attacking people. Once this is realised the story is resolved.

    Maybe there is a motivation to the WW similar to this, but we just haven’t learnt about it yet. It would certainly fit in with GRRM’s style of writing. It would also probably result in the WW not being viewed as ‘evil’. If it did, personally I think it would be a much more interesting ending to ‘the bad guys turn up at the end of s7, kill loads of people indiscriminately and then are stopped’.

    Who knows, maybe they are an absolute evil that will be stopped at the end of the story, but it wouldn’t really resolve the story we’ve followed for 7 (8) seasons and 5 (7) books. We’ve had huge stories about the problems of human nature- people have massacred each other over differences, power and vengence. Even if they did a Watchmen style ending and united humanity against an external threat, it still hasn’t solved those problems- people will still kill, rape and commit genocide long after the WW have gone, and our main characters will still be caught in a power struggle for the Iron Throne. If they did give the WW motivations other than ‘kill everyone because dragon glass to the heart made them’, it would add another layer to the story instead of making it become a 2 dimensional us V them story.

    Anyway enough waffling, we’ll have to wait and see xD.

  28. […] ensayo fue publicado por Steveattewell en Race for the Iron Throne el […]

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