The Order of the Green Men is one of the most mysterious notes in the song of ice and fire. The purpose of this thread is to explore what the order is all about. As the text provides us with very little, the exercise requires us to look beyond the pages of A Song of Ice and Fire and consider other things, like the material that might have inspired GRRM’s creation of the Order and their role in the story.
But let’s start with the books. The first we hear of the Green Men is from Catelyn, early in AGoT:
In the south, the last weirwoods had been cut down or burned out a thousand years ago, except on the Isle of Faces where the green men kept their silent watch.
Later in the same book, Maester Luwin elaborates a little and provides some context:
“Finally, the wise of both races prevailed, and the chiefs and heroes of the First Men met the greenseers and wood dancers amidst the weirwood groves of a small island in the great lake called Gods Eye.
“There they forged the Pact. The First Men were given the coast-lands, the high plains and bright meadows, the mountains and bogs, but the deep woods were to remain forever the children’s, and no more weirwoods were to be put to the axe anywhere in the realm. So the gods might bear witness to the signing, every tree on the island was given a face, and afterwards the sacred order of green men was formed to keep watch over the Isle of Faces.
“The Pact began four thousand years of friendship between men and children. In time, the First Men even put aside the gods they had brought with them, and took up the worship of the secret gods of the wood. The signing of the Pact ended the Dawn Age, and began the Age of Heroes.”
The Green Men are mentioned again in ASoS, when Meera tells Bran the tale of Howland and the KotLT:
“The lad knew the magics of the crannogs,” she continued, “but he wanted more. Our people seldom travel far from home you know. We're a small folk, and our ways seem queer to some, so the big people do not always treat us kindly. But this lad was bolder than most and one day when he had grown to manhood he decided he would leave the crannogs and visit the Isle of Faces.”
“No one visits the Isle of Faces.” objected Bran. “That's where the green men live.”
“It was the green men he meant to find. So he donned a shirt sewn with bronze scales, like mine, took up a leathern shield and a three-pronged spear, like mine, and paddled a little skin boat down the Green Fork.”
Bran closed his eyes to try and see the man in his little skin boat. In his head, the crannogman looked like Jojen, only older and stronger, and dressed like Meera.
“He passed beneath the Twins by night so the Freys would not attack him, and when he reached the Trident he climbed from the river and put his boat on his head and began to walk. It took him many a day, but finally he reached the Gods Eye, threw his boat in the lake, and paddled out to the Isle of Faces.”
“Did he meet the green men?”
“Yes,” said Meera, “But that's another story, and not for me to tell. My prince asked for knights.”
“Green men are good too.”
“They are,” she agreed, but said no more about them. “All that winter the crannogman stayed on the isle, but when spring broke he heard the wide world calling and knew the time had come to leave. His skin boat was just where he'd left it, so he said his farewells and paddled off toward shore.”
And later in the same conversation, when the KotLT appears:
“Was he green?” In Old Nan’s stories, the guardians had dark green skin and leaves instead of hair. Sometimes they had antlers too, but Bran didn’t see how the mystery knight could have worn a helm if he had antlers. “I bet the old gods sent him.”
And later still, when Bran meets Sam in the Nightfort:
“Was he green?” Bran wanted to know. “Did he have antlers?”
The fat man was confused. “The elk?”
“Coldhands,” said Bran impatiently. “The green men ride on elks, Old Nan used to say. Sometimes they have antlers too.”
But there’s not much more about the Green Men in the books, besides a little from TPatQ. They were formed when the Pact was signed, to watch over the Isle of Faces. Old Nan describes them as having dark green skin and leaves for hair, sometimes they had antlers too, and they ride on elks. Meera tells us Howland sought them out, and met them... but that’s another story, and not for her to tell. Presumably this means it is Howland’s story to tell, but is he ever going to tell it?
This is from SSM back in March, 1999:
LINDA: Will we see or hear anything of the green men on the Isle of Faces? If not, what are they like? Just a secluded order that's never bothered, and has no role in the events of the Seven Kingdoms?
GRRM: The green men and the Isle of Faces will come to the fore in later books. (Boy, it's tough to sneak anything by you guys.)
So it seems the Green Men plotline is a sleeper and they will have a role to play in the story. But to try and understand what that role might be, or at least what strand of the story they might connect with, we need to first understand the symbolism involved, as it does dovetail quite nicely with the type of events we might expect to see in the next two books.
Green Man symbolism permeates cultures around the world and across the ages, and can be found in art, sculpture, architecture and theatre. It denotes spring, re-birth, rejuvenation, and their place in the natural cycle.
The Green Man motif usually consists of a face made from, or framed by, leaves, branches, vines, and budding flowers, which evokes the description of Leaf from ADwD, as well as Old Nan’s description of the Green Men. Old Nan’s Green Men sometimes had antlers, which are also a symbol of regeneration as they can be shed and re-grown. Green Man imagery often portrays vines and branches sprouting from the ears, nostrils, mouth, cheeks, or eyes of the face, reminiscent of Bloodraven.
Green Man symbolism is often found in literature; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, A Midsummer Night’s Tale, Peter Pan, the Ents of Lord of the Rings, (and now of course ASoIaF), to name but a few.
C.G. Jung, in his comparative study of symbolism, mythology, and archetype, suggests that the Green Man rises to counter a lack in men’s attitude toward the natural order, reminding mankind of the balance that should be maintained between humanity and nature. In Westerosi parlance, that might mean too much game of thrones and not enough song of ice and fire.
So share your thoughts on the Green Men. How might they impact the story? What’s Howland Reeds angle? What about Bran, Bloodraven, Coldhands, and the CotF? What about the coming winter and the Long Night?
Thanks for reading. All opinions welcome.