Quick Analysis of Fire and Blood Excerpt

Big news for fans of ASOIAF lore: GRRM has released an excerpt from the upcoming Fire & Blood Volume I, which covers Queen Alysanne’s visit to the North.

There’s some really interesting new material here, which I think bodes well for Fire & Blood as a valuable addition to the broader corpus of lore about the world of ice and fire.

So the first thing we learn is that Jaehaerys and Alysanne’s progress to the North happened in the tenth year of Jaehaerys’ reign (58 AC). What’s particularly interesting from a historiographical perspective is that, while the presence of the ex-Poor Fellows and Warrior’s Sons in the Night’s Watch lets us know that the Reconciliation with the Faith for which Jaehaerys received his moniker had already happened, it doesn’t seem like the Kingsroad had been built (or at least hadn’t yet reached the North) yet, even though WOIAF mentions the roads before the Reconciliation.

While on some level the peace talks between Pentos and Tyrosh are a narrative contrivance to explain why Alysanne is the lone protagonist in this section of the narrative, it is a very interesting picture of the foreign relations of the early Targaryen monarchy – while Aegon intervened in the war against Volantis before becoming king and later we’ll see the Triarchy engage in a proxy war against the Targaryens and then side with the greens in the Dance, we haven’t seen Westeros in the position of the honest broker who has the power as well as the trust to “guarantee the terms of any resulting treaty.” This suggests that Westeros can be quite powerful in trans-national politics if it’s united and well-governed.

Alysanne’s visit to White Harbor has a lot of really interesting details:

  • While some think that Theomore Manderly’s comments about the smallfolk points toward him being out-of-touch, my interpretation is that Alysanne’s visit prompted smallfolk from outside the city to come see the queen and her dragon, temporarily swelling the city’s population beyond its normal levels.
  • Alysanne’s plans to use marriage alliances to help her in “binding the Seven Kingdoms closer together” both in White Harbor and Winterfell is strongly reminiscent of Queen Rhaenys’ strategy, which suggests that Alysanne based her policies as queen on her grandmother. We see the same thing with Alysanne’s “women’s court,” which follows on from Rhaenys’ reforms against wife-beating and her own attempts to end prima noctae.
  • I’m particularly curious about how the “wildling girl who had been captured by rangers north of the Wall” ended up as a foster child of a household knight of House Manderly, because that’s highly unusual behavior for all parties involved.
  • While the nickname “Scarlet Shadow” is a bit overwrought, it is very on-brand for Alysanne to have a woman as her sworn shield. As to how Jonquil Darke ended up as a sworn shield of the Queen, my guess is that Jonquil was following in the footsteps of her Darklyn kin who had been among the first Kingsguard.

And now we come to Alaric Stark, a most Stannish individual. I don’t know if we’ve ever gotten as intimate a portrait of a particularly Northern “Stark in Winterfell” without the southern influences that Ned’s children got from their mother and Ned himself got as a fosterling in the Vale. And what we get is a Stark much more of the “cold” than “hot” variety, always carefully hoarding his resources and hardening his spirit against the coming winter; at the same time, Alaric seems very much in line with the sons of Torrhen, still very touchy about anything more than a notional homage to his southron overlords, worried about the influence of the Seven spreading in the North. (No wonder Theomore Manderly’s relations with his overlord were so cool, given their very different worldviews.)

My big takeaway, though, is that Alysanne’s charm offensive casts the whole business with the New Gift in a very different light. Rather than just an imposition by a remote sovereign, here it feels like it was a real political sacrifice, that Alysanne was forfeiting a lot of the trust that had been carefully built between her and Lord Alaric through the “forced donation of property” while the memory of Torrhen’s “stolen” daughter was still fresh.

Some side notes:

  • Who are the dozen Houses of the South (a dozen in addition to the Blackwoods!) who follow the Old Gods?
  • How and when did Winterfell’s library grow from a modest collection into something that so impresses Tyrion?

Finally, let’s talk about the Night’s Watch and the Wall. First of all, we get a much better picture of the decline of the Night’s Watch, which had eight hundred men at Castle Black alone. Second, it makes a lot of sense that the surplus Poor Fellows and Warrior’s Sons (presumably those in the armies of Ser Joffrey Doggett, given that the army of Wat the Hewer was massacred at Bitterbridge and the army of Ser Horys Hill burned at the Greak Fork) ended up at the Night’s Watch after the Reconciliation. After all, by joining the Faith Militant they had already sworn an oath not that different from that of the black brothers, and thus had no lands, titles, or wives to lose any more. With peace at hand in the South, they were unlikely to find employment as household knights or guardsmen; at least the Night’s Watch would feed, house and clothe them.

But the thing everyone is talking about is how the Wall affected Silverwing. I think it rather unlikely that Silverwing was responding to an ice dragon or the Great Other, that seems a bit intense for what was a relatively calm period in Northern history. My guess is that, just as the Wall inteferes with the bond between a warg and their linked animal, such that a warg on one side of the Wall can’t sense their companion on the other, the Wall also interferes with the relationship between a dragon and their rider.

Whether this means the Wall has to come down, that I’m less sure about. Discuss!

45 thoughts on “Quick Analysis of Fire and Blood Excerpt

  1. Brett says:

    I think the Wall has to come down, to get those big fantasy stakes. Putting a giant magic ice wall up explicitly as a protection against the Others, only for it not to fall down would be really anti-climactic (this is also why I think the Others will get as far as the Riverlands even if the final confrontation happens at a besieged Winterfell).

    As for Silverwing, put me in the camp that thinks it sensed . . . something off in the North, possibly the rising influence of the Others. I tend to think that the Others started slowly returning in power after the destruction of Valyria, though.

    My guess is that, just as the Wall inteferes with the bond between a warg and their linked animal, such that a warg on one side of the Wall can’t sense their companion on the other, the Wall also interferes with the relationship between a dragon and their rider.

    Was Jon unable to unwittingly warg into Ghost when they were on opposite sides of the Wall?

    • Brett says:

      By “rising influence of the Others”, I mean “Silverwing possibly sensed the searching gaze of the Great Other or Others looking southward Sauron’s style and recoiled, turning back across the Wall”.

    • The wall has to come down just on basic rules of drama.

      The excerpt was nice but I can’t see myself buying anything until an actual next book comes out. Maybe once the kindle version is down to a buck or two.

    • medrawt says:

      I tend to think that the Others started slowly returning in power after the destruction of Valyria, though.

      I started thinking about this as a possibility the other day when in the most recent Chapter discussion we were talking about whether Mance’s search for the Horn of Joramun could’ve had something to do with the rise of the Others – I didn’t think so, and one of the reasons is I think it’s probably the case that the Others have been “stirring” for a lot longer than Mance was with the Free Folk. So there’s something tempting about the idea that when Fire Magic drastically waned, Ice Magic was able to make a resurgence.

      I just don’t think we know enough about the behind the curtains operation of magic in the world to know if that’s really a plausible notion. We have a notion that magic had dwindled in the world, but was re-kindled when Dany births the dragons, but is that really true, or is it only true of one particular magical axis (affecting not only overt fire magic but the glass candles of the Citadel and the sorcerers of Qarth)? The Others were already active. The magic of the Old Gods was operational, and the enchantments of the Wall and Storm’s End seem to have been functional. Maggy (in Lannisport, but from Essos, if that puts her outside the Old Gods magical nexus) told a true prophecy to young Cersei.

      Ice and Fire implies both Targaryen + Stark AND (Dragons and/or R’hllor) + Others – are we wrong to think there’s an equivalence between these juxtapositions? It implies a relation between the magic of the Old Gods and the magic of the Others that I believe the show has doubled down on but I’m not sure it makes sense otherwise. On the metaphysical level, is there a “restore balance to the Force” type puzzle here?

      • I dunno whether there’s a good enough early “hook” for the Others, personally.

        Post-Night’s King, the only thing that would fit for me is when Bloodraven disappears in 252, which is probably when he became a greenseer and started looking for dreamers.

        And if dragons are the key, than SIlverwing doesn’t work because that was when there was the maximum number of dragons post-Doom.

    • I think the Wall comes down for meta reasons; I’m less convinced that the reason it has to come down so that dragons can pass it.

      Eh. I think there’s not enough info about when the Others wake up to know for sure.

      Jon couldn’t sense Ghost until he went to the godswood north of the Wall at the end of ASOS, remember?

      • Brett says:

        I don’t think it needs to come down so dragons can pass it, either. Regardless of its effect on blocking warging, Jon was able to take Ghost north of the Wall with him.

        That’s what makes the behavior of Silverwing strange to me – that she couldn’t take the dragon north of the Wall without the dragon balking and turning back. As I said in my follow-up, I think that was a case of a magically sensitive creature sensing the gaze of the Great Other looking southward, and turning back in fear. Jaeherys didn’t have that same problem later on because the Great Other had temporarily pulled back into hiding.

        Eh. I think there’s not enough info about when the Others wake up to know for sure.

        It’s speculative for certain. If we’re assuming that Barth is Right and the dragons were created with fire magic (possibly as a weapon against the Others in case the Long Night returned), then I could see the Great Other turning its gaze southward again once they were virtually wiped out, and then moving southward in seriousness once the final dragons were dead. They seem to be spreading southward slowly but carefully.

        • Steven Xue says:

          Yeah I second this. The fact that the Others had remained dormant for the last 8,000 years, only to now make their presence known not long after the the last dragons had been snuffed out cannot be a coincidence.

          I have once considered the possibility of them having a hand in the Doom and then the demise of the Targaryen dragons. Lets face it their timing is just way too perfect for them to not have done something to contribute to the extinction of dragons and the weakening of fire magic.

          • geezwhizz says:

            I actually think the “last dragons had been snuffed out” probably was the Tragedy of Summerhall. There were quite a few Targaryen bloodlines descended from Aegon I – while only one member at a time got to sit on the Iron Throne and passed it down the male line, Summerhall was probably the biggest event wiping out the dragon’s blood, as it were. Dany’s got a lot of dragon’s blood but she’s one person in a small nuclear family of Targaryens (not counting her distant cousins with varying degrees of diluted dragon’s blood) with but two known (to the fandom) survivors.

      • Sergio Arturo Rodriguez Apolinar says:

        C’mon. We all know is zombie-Viseryon bringing the Wall down with its ice-fire 😉

  2. Andrew Mumford says:

    1.”When Her Grace suggested that she would be pleased to help arrange marriages for his sons to the daughters of great southern lords, Lord Stark refused brusquely. ‘We keep the old gods in the North,’ he told the queen. ‘When my boys take a wife, they will wed before a heart tree, not in some southron sept.'”

    I’m guessing the memory of Ronnel Arryn is still fresh in his mind, who was killed along with his half-Stark sons. I don’t know if anything was said about Lady Arryn nee Stark.

    2. Maybe a dragon simply couldn’t pass the Wall anymore than an Other could, it repels magical creatures of a certain degree? Or the dragon could feel the barrier like an invisible fence?

    3. Funny, Aegon descends from both cities through his likely father Illyrio (Pentos) and his maternal ancestor, Daemon I’s wife, Rohanne (Tyrosh).

    4. Is this the first time the Manderlys hosted a tourney, or have they hosted tourneys in the past and still do?

    5. “One of the fighters (though no knight) was revealed to be a woman, a wildling girl who had been captured by rangers north of the Wall and given to one of Lord Manderly’s household knights to foster. Delighted by the girl’s daring, Alysanne summoned her own sworn shield, Jonquil Darke, and the wildling and the Scarlet Shadow dueled spear against sword whilst the northmen roared in approval.”

    Why was she fostered at White Harbor? Was she the daughter of some important wildling leader beyond the Wall?

    It also brings to mind a Northern girl at a tourney who impressed a Targaryen.

    • 1. Yep I see the same thing.

      2. I’m not sure there’s enough evidence for that.

      3. Possibly, possibly.

      4. I think the Manderlys brought them north with them from the Reach.

      5. Yeah, that’s very odd. I mean, I get the idea that her gender would preclude her from joining the Night’s Watch as Mance did, but there seems to be a missing step.

  3. Grant says:

    On the Old God worshipers, if the Blackwoods could (for the most part) safely keep to the Old Gods, I’d guess that at least some other RIverlands houses used to follow them* and we know that, somehow, the Stormlands managed to endure in the old ways.

    *And it suggests that the attempts to forcibly convert pre-Ironborn Riverlands were even more ill-advised than we thought, no wonder they needed the Faith Militant to even try it.

    • AGOT Catelyn IX suggests that House Blackwood is the only Riverlands House to keep the Old Gods, since they’re the only ones in the godswood with all of the Northern lords.

      • Steven Xue says:

        Do you think the Royces could potentially be Old Gods worshipers? They at least identify as First Men and seem to be very proud of that heritage. Then again knighthood seems to be a huge tradition in their family, which normally requires one to hold to the worship of the Seven in order to qualify.

  4. fjallstrom says:

    On the library, my impression was that Tyrion was impressed by rare books in it, not the size of it. But I could be wrong.

  5. artihcus022 says:

    We have had Stannis Baratheon, Stannis Targaryen (Maekar), Stannis Stark (Alaric), I wonder if we’ll get Stannis Lannister or Stannis Martell?

    You mentioned historiography. Surely the interesting thing is the fact that Gyldayn was maester at Summerhall, during the reigns of Maekar and Egg, and maybe Aerys I, i.e. the entire Blackfyre rebellion. How would that contemporary reality infect his histories? Like while he isn’t pro-smallfolk, there’s a lot of mention of smallfolk activity and agitation in his histories. And a lot of interest in digging up Targaryen relations with old houses, and foreign policy.

    I can’t imagine a Targaryen court historian in the reign of say, Viserys I, printing that bit about Alysanne’s dragon being afraid of going to the Wall or confessing that she saved face in front of the Night’s Watch by hiding how she lost control. At that time Targaryens would project strength and would never entertain allowing one jot about them losing or being worried about not controlling their dragon. And Egg’s ascension via Great Council virtually means that all GCs in the past are now given binding precedent. The fact that Bloodraven was hand despite being a bastard while hunting down the blackfyres has a bit in the entire Addam Velaryon, dragonseeds, and the Two Betrayers bit.

    • Hedrigal says:

      I also think that Aemon being a Maester probably positively impacted Eggs opinion of the profession generally, and might have spurred on a more open attitude to criticism from maesters of the Targaryens in history.

    • A Stannis for all seasons, you might say.

      Good point, re Gyldane. Certainly if you were going to get any mention of the smallfolk it would be in the court of Aegon V.

    • JG says:

      Isn’t Tywin kind of a dark mirror Lannister version of Stannis?

      • artihcus022 says:

        Tywin is his own archetype, as is apparent in how Jon Con wants to emulate his principle of “war crimes brah”.

        There isn’t a lot of similarities between them. Tywin is more conservative than Stannis is. He is also a ruthless aristocrat with a pathological hatred for the smallfolk, and he’s corrupt, maybe not personally, but he enables corruption around him. I can’t imagine Stannis employing someone like Pycelle or Gregor Clegane. Stannis is closer to Tyrion, the second son disliked by everyone around him, whereas that was never Tywin’s story. And of course both Tyrion and Stannis are derived from Richard III anyway.

        • Mitch says:

          Yes, very much here for shooting down Tywin = dark mirror Stannis. The key difference is that Tywin has no real guiding principal besides seeking power and severely punishing any slights to his honor.

          Tywin enables/employs the corrupt (Pycelle, Slynt) or war-crime commiters (Gregor Clegane, The Brave Companions) where it suits his needs. Stannis cuts the fingers off his otherwise allies because they broke the law before helping him.

          Say what you will about the severity of his methods, but Stannis does indeed have an ethos.

  6. drjay says:

    A Jonquil reference is very Sansa.

  7. lluewhyn says:

    I’ll have to come back and review this post once I get my hands on the full book. I have yet to read WOIAF, so my knowledge of the history is pretty ignorant and limited to ASOIAF and AKOT7K. I’ll look forward to getting the book. Too bad I’ll miss all of the great discussions by that time. 😦

  8. Abbey Battle says:

    I can’t seem to get a look at that preview (freakin’ Tumblr) which makes this one even MORE of a Teaser! (to the point where “Taunter” might be more appropriate).

    • Abbey Battle says:

      HAH! Finally managed to read over this teaser and my eagerness to read FIRE & BLOOD has somehow managed to double AND redouble; it’s delightful to see the Golden Age of the Seven Kingdoms first-hand and get glimpse the Good Queen & the Wise King going about their business (I’m also intrigued to find a Wildling child raised so far South of the Wall; I wonder if she was originally brought to White Harbour in the train of some “Guest Crusader” lending aid to the Watch or if she was sent so far South for the sake of making sure she would not be mistreated by those closer to her more rapacious kin?).

  9. Wat Barleycorn says:

    2. Maybe a dragon simply couldn’t pass the Wall anymore than an Other could, it repels magical creatures of a certain degree? Or the dragon could feel the barrier like an invisible fence?

    I lean towards this. I think it’s less the creatures beyond the wall and more the wall working as it was designed. It’s a wall. Erected to keep the Others and their magic on one side of it, forever. And it’s a wall, not a one-way barrier. So, by the same token, magical creatures in the South can’t cross to the North. That’s why wargs get cut off, the magic bounces off the wall. And dragons and Coldhands, being creatures of magic, cannot cross the wall–even though physically nothing is stopping them.. That’s why Alysanne’s dragon balked, not because it was regaining its wildness but because like a dog hitting a sonic barrier, it was being stopped by a force its rider could not see. Wall magic.

    What’s interesting to me is that Bran & Bloodraven seem to be the exceptions. It seems like their magic can cross the wall? Bloodraven reaching out to Bran, Bran’s vision of the ice lands beyond the wall, Bran talking to Theon at the wedding? The weirwood network is somehow wired through the wall?

    • lluewhyn says:

      Weaker example, but Mel is standing on the wall when she casts magic missile at Orell beyond it.

      • Doremus says:

        Was she? I don’t think it’s stated explicitly, but I always assumed she was accompanying Stannis’ troops on the north side?

      • Dunno if it’s Magic Missile, exactly. The description is a bit closer to Sacred Flame or maybe Hellish Rebuke.

        • lluewhyn says:

          I *knew* I’d get someone to respond to this. Too many pedants here (me included). 🙂

          Sacred Flame is much closer, but doesn’t have the same iconic status as Magic Missile. Isn’t it conceptually like a minor version of Flame Strike, as in fire (radiance) is coming down from above you and you can try to dodge it? I think Hellish Rebuke is too different based on how it’s working. I think the 3e spell Combust is closest, although it would need to be a ranged version. For 5e, I think it would be Polymorph, as in she’s telling the DM she wants to change Orell from an Eagle to an Eagle that’s on fire.

          • Wadege says:

            There’s a specific mention I think that the flame is coming from inside the Eagle, not from any other direction, so whatever that translates to.

          • lluewhyn says:

            For some reason, I seem to remember the eagle just suddenly bursting into flame, but searching for the passage, it seems a bit unclear. I would lean towards it being spontaneous combustion or coming from inside, as there is no mention of any projectile launching towards it.

            “Varamyr fell, writhing, and the ‘cat was screaming too . . . and high, high in the eastern sky, against the wall of cloud, Jon saw the eagle burning. For a heartbeat it flamed brighter than a star, wreathed in red and gold and orange, its wings beating wildly at the air as if it could fly from the pain. “

        • Abbey Battle says:

          Maester Steven, at this point we know that you not only attended Nerd School but are actually serving as its current Headmaster – at this point we’ll have to start referring to you as “Archmaester” and I’m worried that we’ll have to start up a subscription to purchase that Ring, Rod & Mask! (-;

    • godot123 says:

      But we saw Dany fly her dragons over the Wa… just kidding; I am not taking anything the show did post Season 4 as cannon.

  10. […] We also knew about Aegon’s progresses, but we now have a more complete list, and it’s a good mix of the various parts of the kingdom, which makes sense. I’m surprised as hell that he visited the North six times and Winterfell once, which does make the Alysanne visit a bit less special. […]

  11. […] implications in that Walton’s death (going three-on-one against giants, no less!) makes Alaric the Stark in Winterfell. Moreover, the added context helps to explain why Alaric was so standoffish with Alyssa, since […]

  12. […] and now we get the explanation for why Jonquil Darke is the queen’s sword shield. I know that from a Doylist perspective this custom had to be abandoned in order for the Sack of […]

  13. […] move from there to the bit from this chapter that was excerpted ahead of time; you can read what I talked about there, but I’ll add in some context as it comes […]

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