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Seams

Upstairs, downstairs.

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Please help to compile a list of significant steps, stairs, climbs, descents. Help is also needed to figure out the meaning of these climbs and descents. Are some characters naturally supposed to be "up" while others inhabit "down"?

Lollygag made an interesting observation about a pair of Lannister dreams: Tyrion's nightmare fear of meeting the Shrouded Lord at the top of a flight of stairs and Jaime being forced down stairs into the unfamiliar flooded cavern where he encounters his father, sister and son. Tyrion does not want to go up and ends up tumbling down the stairs; Jaime does not want to go down but is forced down by hooded figures.

Significant stairs seems like a subject that hasn't been explored (correct me if I'm wrong). The thread containing Lollygag's post is on an entirely different topic, so I felt a continuing discussion of stairs should have its own thread.

Elsewhere in this forum, I tried to compare the "climbs" of Bran and Jon with the "descents" of Sansa and Sweetrobin. Maybe also Ned's descent with Littlefinger from the Red Keep to the brothel in King's Landing where Catelyn is hiding. My thinking was that these climbs and descents were variations on the Hero's Journey pattern (although I realize that GRRM likes to subvert tropes and wouldn't wholesale adopt the same pattern for a bunch of characters). But I think the steps have a more specific meaning than just personal growth for a hero.

I have also looked at the probably pun on "step" and "sept" and even started a list of significant steps in another thread. (Maybe I just need to drop this topic - I hadn't realized how many times I've tried to sort it out already, until I started searching for old posts.) These are the steps I singled out in that link:

Quote

Bael the Bard hides with the daughter of the Stark lord in the crypt at Winterfell, and there are important stone steps leading to / from that chamber. Arya hides her sword, Needle, behind a loose stone on steps leading to a canal in Braavos. She also scrubs the steps at Harrenhal and seems to run up and down steps quite a bit. Bran seemed to avoid steps and instead climbed the outsides of walls. Theon arrives with Robb, Grey Wind and Catelyn at the stone steps at Riverrun and he lifts Catelyn by the waist so that she does not get her feet wet on the stone steps there.

But other characters have step encounters: Tyrion comes down the stone steps on the outside of the Winterfell library. (The author does not describe his climb up the steps.) Is it significant that Tyrion climbs a ladder to reach Tywin's chamber in the Tower of the Hand? Cersei's walk of shame begins at the same steps outside of the sept where Ned died.

In other places, people make journeys that do not involve steps: The House of the Undying appears to be flat from the outside - no towers and no steps. The path to the Eyrie is steep and rocky, but I don't believe there are steps along the way. Ned and Sansa are led along a secret path outside the Red Keep that avoids using steps. There are steps at the Wall, but they are used rarely and are damaged in the wildling attack. We usually see people ascend the wall using the pulley-operated cage.In important scenes in Jon, Sansa and Sam's arcs, the POV characters say to themselves, "One step and then another." Or a variation on that line. They are trying to draw on inner resolve to keep going in a difficult situation.

This passage seems particularly significant in understanding steps in ASOIAF:

Theon led the way up the stairs. I have climbed these steps a thousand times before. As a boy he would run up; descending, he would take the steps three at a time, leaping. Once he leapt right into Old Nan an knocked her to the floor. That earned him the worst thrashing he ever had at Winterfell, though it was almost tender compared to the beatings his brothers used to give him back on Pyke. He and Robb had fought many a heroic battle on these steps, slashing at one another with wooden swords. Good training, that; it brought home how hard it was to fight your way up a spiral stair against determined opposition. Ser Rodrik liked to say that one good man could hold a hundred, fighting down. [ADwD, Theon I]

Oddly, I see a potential link here between skinchanging and steps. The words GRRM uses are, "he leapt right into Old Nan." This sounds like Bran slipping into the skin of Hodor, who is associated with opening a door at the top of the crypt stairs and with hoisting his traveling companions through a "murder hole" in the Queen's Crown tower. We know that Bran was famous for climbing around Winterfell without using stairs and he is also known to readers as the guy who violates the taboo against skinchanging into human beings. Are people who leap on stairs or who skip steps similar to skinchangers? Time travelers?

Does climbing or descending stairs represent death / rebirth? Or can it represent a change in a person's identity or worldview somehow, like skinchanging?

The ups and downs of Winterfell seem particularly significant, although that perception might be influenced by the large number of POVs associated with Winterfell. This passage tells us that navigating the levels of Winterfell is hard to understand:

Bran could perch for hours among the shapeless, rain-worn gargoyles that brooded over the First Keep, watching it all: the men drilling with wood and steel in the yard, the cooks tending their vegetables in the glass garden, restless dogs running back and forth in the kennels, the silence of the godswood, the girls gossiping beside the washing well. It made him feel like he was lord of the castle, in a way even Robb would never know. It taught him Winterfell's secrets too. The builders had not even leveled the earth; there were hills and valleys behind the walls of Winterfell. There was a covered bridge that went from the fourth floor of the bell tower across to the second floor of the rookery. Bran knew about that. And he knew you could get inside the inner wall by the south gate, climb three floors and run all the way around Winterfell through a narrow tunnel in the stone, and then come out on ground level at the north gate, with a hundred feet of wall looming over you. Even Maester Luwin didn't know that, Bran was convinced. [AGoT, Bran II]

Tyrion has a memorable moment on a strange exterior set of steps at Winterfell's library tower:

‘See that you return the books to the shelves. Be gentle with the Valyrian scrolls, the parchment is very dry. Ayrmidon’s Engines of War is quite rare, and yours is the only complete copy I’ve ever seen.’ Chayle gaped at him, still half-asleep. Patiently, Tyrion repeated his instructions, then clapped the septon on the shoulder and left him to his tasks.

Outside, Tyrion swallowed a lungful of the cold morning air and began his laborious descent of the steep stone steps that corkscrewed around the exterior of the library tower. It was slow going; the steps were cut high and narrow, while his legs were short and twisted.

Back in the realm of wordplay, there we have the close juxtaposition of septon and steps. Septon Chayle will be thrown in a well when Theon arrives, and presumed drowned. However, drowning is not the same thing as dying when it is inflicted by a follower of the Drowned God. Here we have Chayle gaping like a fish and Tyrion emerging from the library and swallowing a lungful of air, as if he has just surfaced from being under water.

But maybe Winterfell's steps aren't unique or maybe they are part of a group of unique steps. I have wondered whether GRRM wants us to compare Harrenhal and the Night Fort to Winterfell. With Sam leading the way, Bran and his traveling companions descend down the well in the kitchen of the Night Fort, arriving at the secret Black Gate under the Wall. At Harrenhal, we have a number of explicit references to steps:

On the road Arya had felt like a sheep, but Harrenhal turned her into a mouse. She was grey as a mouse in her scratchy wool shift, and like a mouse she kept to the crannies and crevices and dark holes of the castle, scurrying out of the way of the mighty.

Sometimes she thought they were all mice within those thick walls, even the knights and great lords. The size of the castle made even Gregor Clegane seem small. Harrenhal covered thrice as much ground as Winterfell, and its buildings were so much larger they could scarcely be compared. . . . Walls, doors, halls, steps, everything was built to an inhuman scale that made Arya remember the stories Old Nan used to tell of the giants who lived beyond the Wall. [ACoK, Arya VII]

She spent the rest of that day scrubbing steps inside the Wailing Tower. By evenfall her hands were raw and bleeding and her arms so sore they trembled when she lugged the pail back to the cellar. . .

. . . there was always Weese.

She thought of him again the next morning, when lack of sleep made her yawn. ‘Weasel,’ Weese purred, ‘next time I see that mouth droop open, I’ll pull out your tongue and feed it to my bitch.’ He twisted her ear between his fingers to make certain she’d heard, and told her to get back to those steps, he wanted them clean down to the third landing by nightfall.

As she worked, Arya thought about the people she wanted dead. She pretended she could see their faces on the steps, and scrubbed harder to wipe them away. The Starks were at war with the Lannisters and she was a Stark, so she should kill as many Lannisters as she could, that was what you did in wars. But she didn’t think she could trust Jaqen. I should kill them myself. Whenever her father had condemned a man to death, he did the deed himself with Ice, his greatsword. ‘If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look him in the face and hear his last words,’ she’d heard him tell Robb and Jon once. [ACoK, Arya VIII]

As I've been putting together citations for this post and re-reading old threads, one new insight has struck me: there seem to be characters who can easily navigate steps - maybe only in one direction? maybe both up and down? - and who might act as guides for other characters. Ser Rodrik Cassel clearly serves that function for Robb and Theon. Old Nan and Hodor's names also seem to come up in connection with the traversing of steps. (It might also be significant that Old Nan's last son or grandson died on the Wall at Pyke during Greyjoy's Rebellion - he may have performed the role of a guide or gate-opener at that strategic wall.) Bran descends and ascends steps on Hodor's back but climbed walls without using stairways before his fall. Bran was not happy when Rickon invited the Walders into the Winterfell crypt, and it is the Walders who retrieve Theon from the Dreadfort dungeon when Ramsay decides to temporarily restore Theon/Reek to his Ironborn identity. Are the Walders special step guides like these other characters? Are all Freys step guides?

Maybe Theon is one of these step guides, too, before he becomes Reek. Here is the passage at Riverrun with Catelyn Stark:

Theon Greyjoy vaulted over the side of the boat and lifted Catelyn by the waist, setting her on a dry step above him as water lapped around his boots. [AGoT]

If he is someone who - as Theon - can move both up and down stairs and can guide others up and down stairs, that explains how he takes the lead in the first passage I cited, where he is helping the undercover washerwomen to kidnap fArya (Jeyne Poole) from Ramsay's bedchamber. It's also significant, of course, that Lady Dunstan helps him to shake off his Reek identity and recover his Theon identity by asking him to help her find and enter the Winterfell crypt:

'Somewhere beneath us are the crypts where the old Stark kings sit in darkness. My men have not been able to find the way down into them. They have been through all the undercrofts and cellars, even the dungeons, but . . .'

'The crypts cannot be accessed from the dungeons, my lady.'

'Can you show me the way down?'

'There's nothing down there but - '

'- dead Starks? Aye. And all my favorite Starks are dead, as it happens. Do you know the way or not?'

'I do.' He did not like the crypts, had never liked the crypts, but he was no stranger to them.

...

The way was narrow and steep, the steps worn in the center by centuries of feet. They went single file - the serjeant with the lantern, then Theon and Lady Dustin, her other man behind them. He had always thought of the crypts as cold, and so they seemed in summer, but now as they descended the air grew warmer. Not warm, never warm, but warmer than above. Down there below the earth, it would seem, the chill was constant, unchanging.

'The bride weeps,' Lady Dustin said, as they made their way down, step by careful step. 'Our little Lady Arya.'

Take care now. Take care, take care. He put one hand on the wall. The shifting torchlight made the steps seem to move beneath his feet. 'As . . . as you say, m'lady.'

...

'My lady,' Theon broke in, 'Here we are.'

'The steps go farther down,' observed Lady Dustin.

'There are lower levels. Older. The lowest level is partly collapsed, I hear. I have never been down there.' He  pushed the door open and led them out ... [ADwD, The Turncloak]

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1 hour ago, Seams said:

rly significant in understanding steps in ASOIAF:

Theon led the way up the stairs. I have climbed these steps a thousand times before. As a boy he would run up; descending, he would take the steps three at a time, leaping.

This could be foreshadowing Theon climbs the Steps of Winterfell slowly, he was a good hostage Robb was a brother to him, it was hard going home and hard too taking WF form his adopted family to gain acceptance from his old.

Theon pretty much leaps from his hard won princes of WF into Reek in very short order and through some poor calls on his part.

I'm not into word play and the rest of it but Nan and Hodors station won't change, if they are involved in climbing/descending symbolism it makes sense for them to be step guides as you call them.

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Stairs and steps are liminal places when you think about it. They’re neither here nor there and never the point of the journey. I’m wondering if the steps are perhaps not as important as what’s at the top of the stairs and what’s at the bottom of the stairs and who is making the journey? Perhaps they aren’t significant in themselves so much as the places they’re connecting?

I've been thinking about Tyrion's and Jaime's dreams. At the time of Tyrion's dream, he wanted to be down in the dumps. He was drinking, depressed, etc and seemed to want to keep things that way so as Tyrion dreams the Shrouded Lord and Tywin are one, perhaps it's about Tyrion wishing to avoid responsibility? Jaime however had emerged from Riverrun a new man even cutting off his Lannister hair. He wanted to be his own person for the first time, yet was being drug down.

ADWD Tyrion VI

He dreamt of his lord father and the Shrouded Lord. He dreamt that they were one and the same, and when his father wrapped stone arms around him and bent to give him his grey kiss, he woke with his mouth dry and rusty with the taste of blood and his heart hammering in his chest.

 

I did notice that a lot of characters referenced above are liminal types in a way. Arya, Jon, Sam, Sansa, Theon are all bastards of a sort. Tyrion says all dwarfs are bastards in their father's eyes. Jaime will be disinherited by Tywin though there are other bastardizing symbols around him (losing his legendary sword hand which also connected him to Cersei in grabbing her heel when they were born, cutting of his hair) before this point.

8 hours ago, Seams said:

Tyrion has a memorable moment on a strange exterior set of steps at Winterfell's library tower:

‘See that you return the books to the shelves. Be gentle with the Valyrian scrolls, the parchment is very dry. Ayrmidon’s Engines of War is quite rare, and yours is the only complete copy I’ve ever seen.’ Chayle gaped at him, still half-asleep. Patiently, Tyrion repeated his instructions, then clapped the septon on the shoulder and left him to his tasks.

Outside, Tyrion swallowed a lungful of the cold morning air and began his laborious descent of the steep stone steps that corkscrewed around the exterior of the library tower. It was slow going; the steps were cut high and narrow, while his legs were short and twisted.

Back in the realm of wordplay, there we have the close juxtaposition of septon and steps. Septon Chayle will be thrown in a well when Theon arrives, and presumed drowned. However, drowning is not the same thing as dying when it is inflicted by a follower of the Drowned God. Here we have Chayle gaping like a fish and Tyrion emerging from the library and swallowing a lungful of air, as if he has just surfaced from being under water.

But maybe Winterfell's steps aren't unique or maybe they are part of a group of unique steps. I have wondered whether GRRM wants us to compare Harrenhal and the Night Fort to Winterfell. With Sam leading the way, Bran and his traveling companions descend down the well in the kitchen of the Night Fort, arriving at the secret Black Gate under the Wall. At Harrenhal, we have a number of explicit references to steps:

This seems connected to Tyrion descending the spiraling steps of the Winterfell library, Septon Chayle’s descent into a well and of course the Nightfort well. To the bolded, Arya holds her breath.

AGOT Arya III

From somewhere far below her, she heard noises. The scrape of boots, the distant sound of voices. A flickering light brushed the wall ever so faintly, and she saw that she stood at the top of a great black well, a shaft twenty feet across plunging deep into the earth. Huge stones had been set into the curving walls as steps, circling down and down, dark as the steps to hell that Old Nan used to tell them of. And something was coming up out of the darkness, out of the bowels of the earth …

Arya peered over the edge and felt the cold black breath on her face. Far below, she saw the light of a single torch, small as the flame of a candle. Two men, she made out. Their shadows writhed against the sides of the well, tall as giants. She could hear their voices, echoing up the shaft.

The other chuckled. "No less." Flames licked at the cold air. The tall shadows were almost on top of her. An instant later the man holding the torch climbed into her sight, his companion beside him. Arya crept back away from the well, dropped to her stomach, and flattened herself against the wall. She held her breath as the men reached the top of the steps.

 

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I have a proposition for up and down : considering Patchface's songs "under the sea...", I had the idea to imagine a mirror, so down is only reflection for up (and up for down) 

Here is an picture which shows perfectly what I want to say : 

https://cdn.pariscityvision.com/media/catalog/product/cache/2/image/755x433/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/m/l/ml2-01-mont-saint-michel_4.jpg

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1 hour ago, GloubieBoulga said:

I have a proposition for up and down : considering Patchface's songs "under the sea...", I had the idea to imagine a mirror, so down is only reflection for up (and up for down) 

Here is an picture which shows perfectly what I want to say : 

https://cdn.pariscityvision.com/media/catalog/product/cache/2/image/755x433/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/m/l/ml2-01-mont-saint-michel_4.jpg

Lovely image, and idea. I get the vibe of a looking glass world too.

12 hours ago, Seams said:

Please help to compile a list of significant steps, stairs, climbs, descents. Help is also needed to figure out the meaning of these climbs and descents. Are some characters naturally supposed to be "up" while others inhabit "down"?

I'm sure steps and climbs are meaningful - so many people are in danger on steps, running on steps, exhausted and in pain trying to climb the steps.

The ones that seemed most significant to me were the House of the Undying, where it is vital to choose only the 'right' door, and always climb not descend; and the Serpentine Steps (the game of thrones?) , where we see the Hound, Sansa, Tyrion and Shae (as washerwoman). Washing the steps has a flavour of Patchface watery deadliness about it.

As a starting theory, I'd say hero power is found at the top of the steps, and loss of power, even monster status at the bottom. This would be strongly connected to the name of the steps in question - e.g. Jon iirc runs up the steps of the Lord Commander's Tower, but also comes down them.

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Leng's history goes back almost as far as that of Yi Ti itself, but little and less of it is known west of the Jade Straits. There are queer ruins in the depths of the island's jungle: massive buildings, long fallen, and so overgrown that rubble remains above the surface...but underground, we are told, endless labyrinths of tunnels lead to vast chambers, and carved steps descend hundreds of feet into the earth. No man can say who might have built these cities, or when. They remain perhaps the only remnant of some vanished people. TWOIAF

In certain places, ancient carved steps and hidden tunnels and passages exist for those who know how to find them. Yet many of these paths are treacherous, and others are dead ends or traps for the unwary. - TWOIAF

Just a few extra ones for your list, lets not forget the dothraki and Jogos Nhai, based in part on people of the steppes.

14 hours ago, Seams said:

But maybe Winterfell's steps aren't unique or maybe they are part of a group of unique steps. I have wondered whether GRRM wants us to compare Harrenhal and the Night Fort to Winterfell. With Sam leading the way, Bran and his traveling companions descend down the well in the kitchen of the Night Fort, arriving at the secret Black Gate under the Wall. 

I've wondered about the comparisons between Harrenhal and Winterfell - both share notable towers, with stairs leading up to destroyed architecture, towers which each saw "dragons" at some point near a destruction event, through Balerion and Bran's vision in ACOK.

14 hours ago, Seams said:

The words GRRM uses are, "he leapt right into Old Nan." This sounds like Bran slipping into the skin of Hodor, who is associated with opening a door at the top of the crypt stairs and with hoisting his traveling companions through a "murder hole" in the Queen's Crown tower. We know that Bran was famous for climbing around Winterfell without using stairs and he is also known to readers as the guy who violates the taboo against skinchanging into human beings. Are people who leap on stairs or who skip steps similar to skinchangers? Time travelers?

Yes! How about the fact that Green Sight seem to "stare" into the past, and skinchangers are technically "staring" through another set of eyes,

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Jon's life at the Wall is just full of steps, but he climbs without steps a couple of times.

The Wall has steps on the southern side at Castle Black (like a drunken, wooden thunderbolt, iirc), but Jon also climbs the far side with the wildlings:

Quote

"Ghost," he said quietly, "on the morrow we go over. There's no steps here, no cage-and-crane, no way for me to get you to the other side. We have to part. Do you understand?"

ASOS - Jon VI

the other side - sounds like the afterlife to me. Strange that the stairs at Castle Black are a lightning bolt, which I take as a symbol of resurrection.

The second climb without steps is the mountain climb with Stonesnake:

Quote

...One step and then another, Jon told himself. One step and then another, and I will not fall.

Soon they were high enough so that looking down was best not considered. There was nothing below but yawning blackness, nothing above but moon and stars. "The mountain is your mother," Stonesnake had told him...

ACOK - Jon VI

This must be the highest climb anyone makes; no steps, but it is a close parallel to the climb to the Eyrie which does have steps: e.g. a stone is a mountain's daughter, looking down is not a good idea, and the terrifying place with nothing below but darkness.

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[Jon, describing Cersei at the Winterfell feast.] His father helped her up the steps to the dais and led her to her seat...

AGOT - Jon I

Brilliant. Ned was really helpful to Cersei when she made her move in the game of thrones.

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18 hours ago, Lollygag said:

I’m wondering if the steps are perhaps not as important as what’s at the top of the stairs and what’s at the bottom of the stairs and who is making the journey? Perhaps they aren’t significant in themselves so much as the places they’re connecting?

This might be right. If so, it goes back to the idea of the Hero's Journey, I would think, and possibly the point made by Springwatch:

14 hours ago, Springwatch said:

As a starting theory, I'd say hero power is found at the top of the steps, and loss of power, even monster status at the bottom. This would be strongly connected to the name of the steps in question - e.g. Jon iirc runs up the steps of the Lord Commander's Tower, but also comes down them.

Maybe GRRM's unique twist is that some heroes want to go upstairs and others want to go downstairs. Others, such as Theon, seem to be able to do both. (And if there is wordplay on whores and heroes, the upstairs / downstairs resolution might answer the question, "Where do whores go?")

As I thought about this steps motif today, I kept coming back to Arya imagining each step as the face of a person she wants dead. Arya's bedtime list of people she wants dead is referred to as her "prayer." So the step / sept wordplay really comes into play here, with Arya using each step as a place of "prayer". And then she hides the sword Needle inside a step leading down to the canals. All that could fit with the idea that the steps are a transitional place, but is a sept usually a destination? People go there for a purpose such as the beheading of Ned, a wedding for Joffrey and Margaery or a funeral for Tywin. I suppose those might be moments of transition, too. Maybe your liminal idea sums it up, even if a step is a place for "religious" activity.

18 hours ago, Lollygag said:

I've been thinking about Tyrion's and Jaime's dreams. At the time of Tyrion's dream, he wanted to be down in the dumps. He was drinking, depressed, etc and seemed to want to keep things that way so as Tyrion dreams the Shrouded Lord and Tywin are one, perhaps it's about Tyrion wishing to avoid responsibility? Jaime however had emerged from Riverrun a new man even cutting off his Lannister hair. He wanted to be his own person for the first time, yet was being drug down.

...

... Jaime will be disinherited by Tywin though there are other bastardizing symbols around him (losing his legendary sword hand which also connected him to Cersei in grabbing her heel when they were born, cutting of his hair) before this point.

I seems relevant to recall Jaime slaying Aerys with his (now lost) kingslayer hand and then ascending the steps to the Iron Throne, where Ned Stark found him when he entered the great hall. The illustration of the Iron Throne in TWOIAF is supposed to be much more like what GRRM envisioned than the little throne used for the tv show, and the illustration shows a lot of steps.

Maybe the difference between Tyrion's urge to go down steps and Jaime's urge to go up steps has to do with the destiny of sitting on the Iron Throne. Both of them have done it now - Tyrion when he is the acting Hand of the King, receiving petitioners such as Aliser Thorne, asking for more recruits for the Night's Watch. Tyrion feels good about being Hand of the King, though, and he likes sitting on the throne. So maybe "fear of responsibility" is not a good match for his apparent desire to avoid going "up".

18 hours ago, Lollygag said:

This seems connected to Tyrion descending the spiraling steps of the Winterfell library, Septon Chayle’s descent into a well and of course the Nightfort well. To the bolded, Arya holds her breath.

AGOT Arya III

From somewhere far below her, she heard noises. The scrape of boots, the distant sound of voices. A flickering light brushed the wall ever so faintly, and she saw that she stood at the top of a great black well, a shaft twenty feet across plunging deep into the earth. Huge stones had been set into the curving walls as steps, circling down and down, dark as the steps to hell that Old Nan used to tell them of. And something was coming up out of the darkness, out of the bowels of the earth …

Arya peered over the edge and felt the cold black breath on her face. Far below, she saw the light of a single torch, small as the flame of a candle. Two men, she made out. Their shadows writhed against the sides of the well, tall as giants. She could hear their voices, echoing up the shaft.

The other chuckled. "No less." Flames licked at the cold air. The tall shadows were almost on top of her. An instant later the man holding the torch climbed into her sight, his companion beside him. Arya crept back away from the well, dropped to her stomach, and flattened herself against the wall. She held her breath as the men reached the top of the steps.

Very nice catch. So we have Arya observing the two men coming up out of the well at the Red Keep; Sam Tarly coming up out of the well at the Night Fort, then leading Bran and his companions down into the well; and Tyrion walking down steps outside of a tower but seeming to emerge from underwater as he makes his way down the steps. Maybe the steps outside of a tower being paired with the steps inside of a well are confirmation of @GloubieBoulga's idea of the mirror image - up and down are mirror images of each other, with more in common than one might expect.

12 hours ago, Leo of House Cartel said:

Leng's history goes back almost as far as that of Yi Ti itself, but little and less of it is known west of the Jade Straits. There are queer ruins in the depths of the island's jungle: massive buildings, long fallen, and so overgrown that rubble remains above the surface...but underground, we are told, endless labyrinths of tunnels lead to vast chambers, and carved steps descend hundreds of feet into the earth. No man can say who might have built these cities, or when. They remain perhaps the only remnant of some vanished people. TWOIAF

In certain places, ancient carved steps and hidden tunnels and passages exist for those who know how to find them. Yet many of these paths are treacherous, and others are dead ends or traps for the unwary. - TWOIAF

Just a few extra ones for your list, lets not forget the dothraki and Jogos Nhai, based in part on people of the steppes.

Those TWOIAF references are excellent. Very reminiscent of the unseen and partially collapsed lower levels of the Winterfell crypt as well as the uncharted and deadly tunnels built into Maegor's Holdfast. I'm thinking of the men lost looking in the tunnels under the Tower of the Hand after Tywin's murder.

I was also thinking about the Stepstones today. Guess I should go back and read about those islands if I am to fully understand steps.

6 hours ago, Springwatch said:

Jon's life at the Wall is just full of steps, but he climbs without steps a couple of times.

The Wall has steps on the southern side at Castle Black (like a drunken, wooden thunderbolt, iirc), but Jon also climbs the far side with the wildlings:

the other side - sounds like the afterlife to me. Strange that the stairs at Castle Black are a lightning bolt, which I take as a symbol of resurrection.

The second climb without steps is the mountain climb with Stonesnake:

This must be the highest climb anyone makes; no steps, but it is a close parallel to the climb to the Eyrie which does have steps: e.g. a stone is a mountain's daughter, looking down is not a good idea, and the terrifying place with nothing below but darkness.

This is a really good point. Jon climbing the Wall with the Free Folk is like Bran climbing the walls at Winterfell instead of using the stairs. And like Theon "flowing" over the walls of Winterfell when he invades with his Ironmen. Littlefinger gets Ned to climb down the side of Aegon's Hill  using the nearly invisible foot and handholds instead of steps. That little journey is almost like Alice following the March Hare down the rabbit hole, and Ned finds Littlefinger eating an apple when he reaches the bottom - is this like the snake in the Garden of Eden with the fruit of knowledge?

What does it mean that some journeys explicitly avoid the use of steps?

I just remembered - in addition to the situation where Jon tells Ghost that he can't come with Jon because Jon is going to climb the Wall and there are no steps, there is a scene where Bran is warging Summer, who is trapped in the gods wood with Shaggy. Bran tries to get Summer to run up the trunk of a slanted Sentinel Pine that leans up against the wall enclosing the woods, but Summer can't do it. And Theon will exit Winterfell with Jeyne without going down any steps. There has to be a deeper meaning to these step-free scenes. Does it have to do with the Moon Door at the Eyrie and making people fly?

Thanks, everyone, for your ideas so far. This is uncovering some interesting possibilities.

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More thoughts about @Lollygag's liminal theory and @Springwatch's "Heroes up / Monsters down" theory.

When Arya is being initiated into the House of Black and White, she compares her bed there to the bed at Harrenhal, where she scrubbed steps:

The dead were never hard to find. They came to the House of Black and White, prayed for an hour or a day or a year, drank sweet dark water from the pool, and stretched out on a stone bed behind one god or another. They closed their eyes, and slept, and never woke. . . .

Her bed was stone, and reminded her of Harrenhal and the bed she’d slept in when scrubbing steps for Weese. The mattress was stuffed with rags instead of straw, which made it lumpier than the one she’d had at Harrenhal, but less scratchy, too. She was allowed as many blankets as she wished; thick woolen blankets, red and green and plaid. And her cell was hers alone. She kept her treasures there: the silver fork and floppy hat and fingerless gloves given her by the sailors on the Titan’s Daughter, her dagger, boots, and belt, her small store of coins, the clothes she had been wearing . . .

And Needle.

[AFfC, Arya II]

When the waif and the Kindly Man discover the way she interacts with these possessions, the KM tells her she has to get rid of all of them if she wants to stay and be obedient to the God of Many Faces. Her thoughts indicate that she does not want to give up her true identity as Arya Stark, but she doesn't like her other options and she tells the Kindly Man she wants to stay. In other words, she is at a turning point - a liminal, transitional place that Lollygag describes. I suspect the hiding of the sword behind a loose stone in the middle of the stairs is a signal to the reader that Arya has not committed to the Faceless Men, even though she appears to be a full initiate. We KNOW she is going to go back for that sword some day, and the fact that it is in the middle of a set of steps tells us she could go up or down when she retrieves it.

The paragraph preceding the description of her bed chamber emphasizes vaults and "the lower sanctum where only the priests could go." When the Kindly Man asks her what she thinks of when she smells the soothing candles of the Faceless Men, she thinks of Winterfell but all things at ground or lower levels: the stable, the crypt, the yard, the gods wood, bread baking (presumably in the kitchen). Her current duties at the temple all seem to be on the main level, too. This implies that her decision about joining the Faceless Men will take her in the direction of the vaults and "lower sanctum" from her current location in the liminal space. Most readers would probably agree that turning a young girl into an assassin is monstrous, so Springwatch's "monsters down" notion seems borne out by this development in Arya's arc. In TWoW,

Spoiler

The Mercy chapter shows that she has a new room in a high place and has mastered many levels and bridges and steps. I wonder whether there will be an Arya POV before the Mercy chapter that tells us how she transitions from the low canals and vaults to the upper floors of Braavos?

 

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Being a monster might not be totally a bad thing - Coldhands is Bran's monster; Bran himself would be seen as a warg and a beastling by most people; and Tyrion is sometimes described as a monster. (Tyrion might go seriously bad though....) Maybe if you descend into Hades, you need some of the attributes of a monster to survive.

I say descent, but these up/down ideas have got my head spinning. Jon climbs until there's nothing but the moon and stars above him  - stars are already linked to ghosts (via Dothraki) and the moon is definitely Otherish. In the same way, Sansa and co. climb above Snow and Sky to a white castle, a pure, silent place she does not belong in. Incidentally, Cat decides to be winched up in the basket (very reminiscent of the Wall's cage) - but Tyrion insists he can make the climb, which is extraordinary really, considering the problems he sometimes has with stairs. Sansa and SR both descend by the winch. The place is described like this:

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[Brynden] "... The Eyrie clings to the mountain directly above Sky, and in its cellars are six great winches with long chains to draw supplies up from below...."

[Mya] "The last part is inside the mountain. It can be a little dark, but at least you're out of the wind. This is as far as the mules can go. Past here, well it's a sort of a chimney, more like a stone ladder than proper steps, but it's not too bad. Another hour and we'll be there."

AGOT - Catelyn VI

Anyway, maybe, like Tolkein, the struggle against this enemy will be split in two, with two very different ways of fighting: up and down. Different roads meeting at the same castle, kind of thing.

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On 12/11/2017 at 4:22 AM, GloubieBoulga said:

I have a proposition for up and down : considering Patchface's songs "under the sea...", I had the idea to imagine a mirror, so down is only reflection for up (and up for down) 

Here is an picture which shows perfectly what I want to say : 

https://cdn.pariscityvision.com/media/catalog/product/cache/2/image/755x433/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/m/l/ml2-01-mont-saint-michel_4.jpg

See this tapestry LmL once showed me:

https://society6.com/product/twoworldsofdesign_tapestry?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=2016&utm_content=DPAwalltapestries&c_aid=DPAwalltapestries&coupon=PRKY3MMBRZZM#55=412

 

On 12/11/2017 at 8:29 AM, Leo of House Cartel said:

Leng's history goes back almost as far as that of Yi Ti itself, but little and less of it is known west of the Jade Straits. There are queer ruins in the depths of the island's jungle: massive buildings, long fallen, and so overgrown that rubble remains above the surface...but underground, we are told, endless labyrinths of tunnels lead to vast chambers, and carved steps descend hundreds of feet into the earth. No man can say who might have built these cities, or when. They remain perhaps the only remnant of some vanished people. TWOIAF

In certain places, ancient carved steps and hidden tunnels and passages exist for those who know how to find them. Yet many of these paths are treacherous, and others are dead ends or traps for the unwary. - TWOIAF

Just a few extra ones for your list, lets not forget the dothraki and Jogos Nhai, based in part on people of the steppes.

Love the puns you're generating here!  So it follows that the Dothraki 'Sea' is synonymous with 'steppes' and therefore symbolically with 'steps'.   It's significant that the dragons were born on the Dothraki Sea -- they are 'sea dragons'! -- emerging from the depths, as it were, and taking wing, implying that steps facilitate flight; hence the expression 'flight of stairs'. 

For the record, 'stairs' is also a wordplay on 'stars' -- the 'flight' leads to the 'stars'.  It's a 'stairway to heaven'!  Perhaps the 'stairway' or 'star-way' is the Milky Way.  And sometimes it's a flight of no return.

The other more mysterious connection -- the one I've been harping on about  -- is between swimming vs. drowning and flying vs. falling, respectively.  It's not for nothing we refer to the 'Milky' Way Galaxy using a liquid metaphor and a 'space-ship' for the vessel navigating those 'waters'; (deep-)space from a certain perspective being the ultimate sea and destination for dragons and greensea-ers, deconstructing the distinction between 'up' and 'down'. 

Talking of watery stairways, let's not forget the pivotal duel fought between Brandon and Petyr on the 'water stair' in which Petyr's reprieve at Cat's request enabled Petyr's ambition to take flight -- always at someone else's expense --starting with the new lease on life granted to him to rise from the water stair 'stronger and harder', with Brandon's concomitant downfall.  The quintessential 'madness of mercy' was not Ned sparing Cersei's children; it was Brandon sparing Petyr, symbolically in that moment Cat's child, brother and lover all in one.  Like Dany, she gives birth to the monster (Baelish) on the steps.

Spoiler

What do we have left once we abandon the lie?
Chaos.
A gaping pit waiting to swallow us all.
Chaos isn't a pit.
Chaos is a ladder.
Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again.
The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, but they refuse. They cling to the realm or the gods or love.
Illusions.
Only the ladder is real.
The climb is all there is.

  • David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, screenwriters for the episode The Climb (2013, S03E06) 

 

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I've wondered about the comparisons between Harrenhal and Winterfell - both share notable towers, with stairs leading up to destroyed architecture, towers which each saw "dragons" at some point near a destruction event, through Balerion and Bran's vision in ACOK.

'Steps leading up to destroyed architecture'...Perhaps the hubris of the one daring to 'climb the steps', or, in other words, the one who 'climbed too high', brought about his own destruction:

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A Game of Thrones - Bran II

As angry as he was, his father could not help but laugh. "You're not my son," he told Bran when they fetched him down, "you're a squirrel. So be it. If you must climb, then climb, but try not to let your mother see you."

Bran did his best, although he did not think he ever really fooled her. Since his father would not forbid it, she turned to others. Old Nan told him a story about a bad little boy who climbed too high and was struck down by lightning, and how afterward the crows came to peck out his eyes. Bran was not impressed. There were crows' nests atop the broken tower, where no one ever went but him, and sometimes he filled his pockets with corn before he climbed up there and the crows ate it right out of his hand. None of them had ever shown the slightest bit of interest in pecking out his eyes.

Later, Maester Luwin built a little pottery boy and dressed him in Bran's clothes and flung him off the wall into the yard below, to demonstrate what would happen to Bran if he fell. That had been fun, but afterward Bran just looked at the maester and said, "I'm not made of clay. And anyhow, I never fall."

The same pattern:

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A Storm of Swords - Bran IV

No, Bran thought, but he walked in this castle, where we'll sleep tonight. He did not like that notion very much at all. Night's King was only a man by light of day, Old Nan would always say, but the night was his to rule. And it's getting dark.

The Reeds decided that they would sleep in the kitchens, a stone octagon with a broken dome. It looked to offer better shelter than most of the other buildings, even though a crooked weirwood had burst up through the slate floor beside the huge central well, stretching slantwise toward the hole in the roof, its bone-white branches reaching for the sun. It was a queer kind of tree, skinnier than any other weirwood that Bran had ever seen and faceless as well, but it made him feel as if the old gods were with him here, at least.

It's a variation on the Icarus myth.

 

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Yes! How about the fact that Green Sight seem to "stare" into the past, and skinchangers are technically "staring" through another set of eyes,

That is a splendid pun!  :cheers:

Greenseeing is frequently likened to 'flying', adding further nuance to a 'flight of stairs.'

To achieve these 'great' things, a greenseer also has to break some rules, often unfortunately involving 'stepping' on other people, as the ladder to power invariably requires.  This is a reason why the serpentine steps in Harrenhal are smeared with blood, despite Arya's best efforts to 'whitewash' it; indeed, the very mortar is impregnated with blood, so climbing those steps involves very literally treading on the lives of others who have been sacrificed to facilitate ones ascension. To underscore this point, GRRM has Arya imagine the names/faces of the ones she has undertaken to erase 'written' on the steps, so that the steps represent the death sentences of those on her 'death wish list'.  Thus, 'taking steps' often involves a very deliberate act of taking steps to eradicate someone (think of Tyrion determinedly climbing up the secret steps to kill his father). 

Stairs, especially the spiral kind, which create the impression of being 'woven' into the fabric of the 'old place', represent vengeance and magic spells (what I've whimsically termed 'the killing word').  The idea of a 'wormhole' as a shortcut connecting two universes/dimensions is probably also being referenced, given the greenseer theme and GRRM's preoccupation with science fiction.  Using your wonderful stairs/stares pun, think of 'casting an evil eye' on someone, like trapping them in a net (a 'weirnet'!)

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A Dance with Dragons - Prologue

Years later he had tried to find his parents, to tell them that their Lump had become the great Varamyr Sixskins, but both of them were dead and burned. Gone into the trees and streams, gone into the rocks and earth. Gone to dirt and ashes. That was what the woods witch told his mother, the day Bump died. Lump did not want to be a clod of earth. The boy had dreamed of a day when bards would sing of his deeds and pretty girls would kiss him. When I am grown I will be the King-Beyond-the-Wall, Lump had promised himself. He never had, but he had come close. Varamyr Sixskins was a name men feared. He rode to battle on the back of a snow bear thirteen feet tall, kept three wolves and a shadowcat in thrall, and sat at the right hand of Mance Rayder. It was Mance who brought me to this place. I should not have listened. I should have slipped inside my bear and torn him to pieces.

Before Mance, Varamyr Sixskins had been a lord of sorts. He lived alone in a hall of moss and mud and hewn logs that had once been Haggon's, attended by his beasts. A dozen villages did him homage in bread and salt and cider, offering him fruit from their orchards and vegetables from their gardens. His meat he got himself. Whenever he desired a woman he sent his shadowcat to stalk her, and whatever girl he'd cast his eye upon would follow meekly to his bed. Some came weeping, aye, but still they came. Varamyr gave them his seed, took a hank of their hair to remember them by, and sent them back. From time to time, some village hero would come with spear in hand to slay the beastling and save a sister or a lover or a daughter. Those he killed, but he never harmed the women. Some he even blessed with children. Runts. Small, puny things, like Lump, and not one with the gift.

As @Pain killer Jane , the self-styled 'Mistress of the Serpentine Steps' has explained, the spiral structure of the staircase, together with the traces of blood, is a reference to the DNA helix, perhaps hinting at the 'secret knowledge of the gods' locked up in its code, the genetic basis of 'blood magic,' and the power inherent in human sacrifice.  When GRRM says 'blood calls to blood,' he is talking about a genetically programmed affinity of some kind.

PK has also given us the example of Tyrion's wedding to Sansa which can be interpreted symbolically as the naughty greenseer archetype (Tyrion) 'wedding the tree' (Sansa) by stepping on the fool/dupe (Dontos). 

In summary, some people must 'go down' (e.g. Dontos kneeling) in order for others to 'go up'  in the world (e.g. Tyrion standing on his back to claim Sansa by cloaking her):

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A Storm of Swords - Sansa III

The dwarf tugged at her a third time. Stubbornly she pressed her lips together and pretended not to notice. Someone behind them tittered. The queen, she thought, but it didn't matter. They were all laughing by then, Joffrey the loudest. "Dontos, down on your hands and knees," the king commanded. "My uncle needs a boost to climb his bride."

And so it was that her lord husband cloaked her in the colors of House Lannister whilst standing on the back of a fool.

Likewise, Bran 'mounts' Hodor the fool -- veritably, the victim -- in the equation.

Mounting the weirwood throne has a remarkable resemblance to ascending the Iron Throne, again with the implication that stepping on other people is required in order to realise ones ambitions:

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A Clash of Kings - Tyrion VI

The Iron Throne of Aegon the Conqueror was a tangle of nasty barbs and jagged metal teeth waiting for any fool who tried to sit too comfortably, and the steps made his stunted legs cramp as he climbed up to it, all too aware of what an absurd spectacle he must be. Yet there was one thing to be said for it. It was high.

 

On 12/10/2017 at 5:48 PM, Seams said:

Please help to compile a list of significant steps, stairs, climbs, descents. Help is also needed to figure out the meaning of these climbs and descents. Are some characters naturally supposed to be "up" while others inhabit "down"?

 

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A Storm of Swords - Daenerys III

"Remember. To go north, you must journey south. To reach the west, you must go east. To go forward you must go back, and to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow."

And --

'To go up, you must go down.' ;)

Every flight begins with a fall... (A Game of Thrones - Bran III)

I'm reminded of @Wizz-The-Smith's 'Hollow Hills-Greenseer' theory.  If you think of it, a 'hollow hill' is almost an oxymoron, seeming to convey the impression of 'depth' (descent into hollow caves) and 'height' (climbing a hill) at once (the same dialectic can be found in the dizzying image of Ned climbing up to Tobho Mott's forge atop the hill, the heavenly refuge of magic described as a cavernous hell).

As I've suggested above, it's interesting to observe that people tend to go up and down in tandem with each other.  The movement is more accurately described as reciprocal.  Jon and Bran's movements show this pattern.  In AGOT Cat gives us that curious line directed at Jon, 'It should have been you,' when Bran falls, implying that Bran and Jon share 'opposite' fates in a way, one child being exchanged -- sacrificed, to be exact -- in lieu of another, echoing the 'baby-swapping' 'changeling' theme that keeps cropping up. 

Bran fell down, and fell into a coma; Jon left for the Wall (going north = going up).  Then, when Jon is going south = going down, Bran is now going in the opposite direction, with their paths crossing at Queenscrown.  Upon reaching the Wall, Bran echoes Cat's line when he says enviously, 'It should be me [climbing up the Wall]', whereas just before it had been Jon climbing the Wall, almost as if he's 'switched places' with Bran the intrepid climber we knew at the beginning of the story.  Bran must content himself with going under the Wall, while Jon goes over it.

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A Storm of Swords - Bran IV

"Something," said Meera, and for once she was adamant.

It should be me. Bran raised his head to look up at the Wall, and imagined himself climbing inch by inch, squirming his fingers into cracks in the ice and kicking footholds with his toes. That made him smile in spite of everything, the dreams and the wildlings and Jon and everything. He had climbed the walls of Winterfell when he was little, and all the towers too, but none of them had been so high, and they were only stone. The Wall could look like stone, all grey and pitted, but then the clouds would break and the sun would hit it differently, and all at once it would transform, and stand there white and blue and glittering. It was the end of the world, Old Nan always said. On the other side were monsters and giants and ghouls, but they could not pass so long as the Wall stood strong. I want to stand on top with Meera, Bran thought. I want to stand on top and see.

But he was a broken boy with useless legs, so all he could do was watch from below as Meera went up in his stead.

This passage also introduces the notion of creating ones own steps, instead of walking in the footsteps of someone who has preceded one:  'squirming his fingers into cracks in the ice and kicking footholds with his toes'.  For GRRM, such original step-making is an act of the imagination:  'Bran raised his head to look up at the Wall, and imagined himself climbing inch by inch...'

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This passage seems particularly significant in understanding steps in ASOIAF:

Theon led the way up the stairs. I have climbed these steps a thousand times before. As a boy he would run up; descending, he would take the steps three at a time, leaping. Once he leapt right into Old Nan an knocked her to the floor. That earned him the worst thrashing he ever had at Winterfell, though it was almost tender compared to the beatings his brothers used to give him back on Pyke. He and Robb had fought many a heroic battle on these steps, slashing at one another with wooden swords. Good training, that; it brought home how hard it was to fight your way up a spiral stair against determined opposition. Ser Rodrik liked to say that one good man could hold a hundred, fighting down. [ADwD, Theon I]

Oddly, I see a potential link here between skinchanging and steps. The words GRRM uses are, "he leapt right into Old Nan." This sounds like Bran slipping into the skin of Hodor, who is associated with opening a door at the top of the crypt stairs and with hoisting his traveling companions through a "murder hole" in the Queen's Crown tower. We know that Bran was famous for climbing around Winterfell without using stairs and he is also known to readers as the guy who violates the taboo against skinchanging into human beings. Are people who leap on stairs or who skip steps similar to skinchangers? Time travelers?

Does climbing or descending stairs represent death / rebirth? Or can it represent a change in a person's identity or worldview somehow, like skinchanging?

Yes.  All of the above.

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The ups and downs of Winterfell seem particularly significant, although that perception might be influenced by the large number of POVs associated with Winterfell. This passage tells us that navigating the levels of Winterfell is hard to understand:

Bran could perch for hours among the shapeless, rain-worn gargoyles that brooded over the First Keep, watching it all: the men drilling with wood and steel in the yard, the cooks tending their vegetables in the glass garden, restless dogs running back and forth in the kennels, the silence of the godswood, the girls gossiping beside the washing well. It made him feel like he was lord of the castle, in a way even Robb would never know. It taught him Winterfell's secrets too. The builders had not even leveled the earth; there were hills and valleys behind the walls of Winterfell. There was a covered bridge that went from the fourth floor of the bell tower across to the second floor of the rookery. Bran knew about that. And he knew you could get inside the inner wall by the south gate, climb three floors and run all the way around Winterfell through a narrow tunnel in the stone, and then come out on ground level at the north gate, with a hundred feet of wall looming over you. Even Maester Luwin didn't know that, Bran was convinced. [AGoT, Bran II]

 

Going from the fourth floor to the second floor would entail going up or down without taking the stairs!  (wish we knew what the 'rookery' and 'bell tower' signified...)

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Tyrion has a memorable moment on a strange exterior set of steps at Winterfell's library tower:

‘See that you return the books to the shelves. Be gentle with the Valyrian scrolls, the parchment is very dry. Ayrmidon’s Engines of War is quite rare, and yours is the only complete copy I’ve ever seen.’ Chayle gaped at him, still half-asleep. Patiently, Tyrion repeated his instructions, then clapped the septon on the shoulder and left him to his tasks.

Outside, Tyrion swallowed a lungful of the cold morning air and began his laborious descent of the steep stone steps that corkscrewed around the exterior of the library tower. It was slow going; the steps were cut high and narrow, while his legs were short and twisted.

Back in the realm of wordplay, there we have the close juxtaposition of septon and steps. Septon Chayle will be thrown in a well when Theon arrives, and presumed drowned. However, drowning is not the same thing as dying when it is inflicted by a follower of the Drowned God. Here we have Chayle gaping like a fish and Tyrion emerging from the library and swallowing a lungful of air, as if he has just surfaced from being under water.

But maybe Winterfell's steps aren't unique or maybe they are part of a group of unique steps. I have wondered whether GRRM wants us to compare Harrenhal and the Night Fort to Winterfell. With Sam leading the way, Bran and his traveling companions descend down the well in the kitchen of the Night Fort, arriving at the secret Black Gate under the Wall. At Harrenhal, we have a number of explicit references to steps:

On the road Arya had felt like a sheep, but Harrenhal turned her into a mouse. She was grey as a mouse in her scratchy wool shift, and like a mouse she kept to the crannies and crevices and dark holes of the castle, scurrying out of the way of the mighty.

Sometimes she thought they were all mice within those thick walls, even the knights and great lords. The size of the castle made even Gregor Clegane seem small. Harrenhal covered thrice as much ground as Winterfell, and its buildings were so much larger they could scarcely be compared. . . . Walls, doors, halls, steps, everything was built to an inhuman scale that made Arya remember the stories Old Nan used to tell of the giants who lived beyond the Wall. [ACoK, Arya VII]

She spent the rest of that day scrubbing steps inside the Wailing Tower. By evenfall her hands were raw and bleeding and her arms so sore they trembled when she lugged the pail back to the cellar. . .

. . . there was always Weese.

She thought of him again the next morning, when lack of sleep made her yawn. ‘Weasel,’ Weese purred, ‘next time I see that mouth droop open, I’ll pull out your tongue and feed it to my bitch.’ He twisted her ear between his fingers to make certain she’d heard, and told her to get back to those steps, he wanted them clean down to the third landing by nightfall.

As she worked, Arya thought about the people she wanted dead. She pretended she could see their faces on the steps, and scrubbed harder to wipe them away. The Starks were at war with the Lannisters and she was a Stark, so she should kill as many Lannisters as she could, that was what you did in wars. But she didn’t think she could trust Jaqen. I should kill them myself. Whenever her father had condemned a man to death, he did the deed himself with Ice, his greatsword. ‘If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look him in the face and hear his last words,’ she’d heard him tell Robb and Jon once. [ACoK, Arya VIII]

As I've been putting together citations for this post and re-reading old threads, one new insight has struck me: there seem to be characters who can easily navigate steps - maybe only in one direction? maybe both up and down? - and who might act as guides for other characters. Ser Rodrik Cassel clearly serves that function for Robb and Theon. Old Nan and Hodor's names also seem to come up in connection with the traversing of steps. (It might also be significant that Old Nan's last son or grandson died on the Wall at Pyke during Greyjoy's Rebellion - he may have performed the role of a guide or gate-opener at that strategic wall.) Bran descends and ascends steps on Hodor's back but climbed walls without using stairways before his fall. Bran was not happy when Rickon invited the Walders into the Winterfell crypt, and it is the Walders who retrieve Theon from the Dreadfort dungeon when Ramsay decides to temporarily restore Theon/Reek to his Ironborn identity. Are the Walders special step guides like these other characters? Are all Freys step guides?

Maybe Theon is one of these step guides, too, before he becomes Reek. Here is the passage at Riverrun with Catelyn Stark:

Theon Greyjoy vaulted over the side of the boat and lifted Catelyn by the waist, setting her on a dry step above him as water lapped around his boots. [AGoT]

 

The word 'vaulted' is an interesting one, equivocally conveying a descent and/or ascent.  GRRM uses it elsewhere to describe the 'vaulting grey-green sentinels'...and Bran skinchanging Summer attempts to use the sentinel to 'vault' over the Wall of Winterfell which is configured, especially in that particular chapter and at that time in Bran's arc, as a prison or tomb, i.e. underground 'vault'!  A tree is therefore potentially a magical tool used like a vaulting pole to hoist one up into the starry realm, the steps or stairs or rungs on the ladder in that case representing the act of 'climbing the world tree' in order to retrieve divine, arcane knowledge (think of Sleipnir-Yggdrasil).  If the means of ascent/descent is viewed as the spine of the tree, it functions bidirectionally, just like the spinal cord of the nervous system containing ascending as well as descending fibers conveying messages back and forth.  Again, GRRM is talking about the power of the imagination.

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If he is someone who - as Theon - can move both up and down stairs and can guide others up and down stairs, that explains how he takes the lead in the first passage I cited, where he is helping the undercover washerwomen to kidnap fArya (Jeyne Poole) from Ramsay's bedchamber. It's also significant, of course, that Lady Dunstan helps him to shake off his Reek identity and recover his Theon identity by asking him to help her find and enter the Winterfell crypt:

'Somewhere beneath us are the crypts where the old Stark kings sit in darkness. My men have not been able to find the way down into them. They have been through all the undercrofts and cellars, even the dungeons, but . . .'

'The crypts cannot be accessed from the dungeons, my lady.'

'Can you show me the way down?'

'There's nothing down there but - '

'- dead Starks? Aye. And all my favorite Starks are dead, as it happens. Do you know the way or not?'

'I do.' He did not like the crypts, had never liked the crypts, but he was no stranger to them.

...

The way was narrow and steep, the steps worn in the center by centuries of feet. They went single file - the serjeant with the lantern, then Theon and Lady Dustin, her other man behind them. He had always thought of the crypts as cold, and so they seemed in summer, but now as they descended the air grew warmer. Not warm, never warm, but warmer than above. Down there below the earth, it would seem, the chill was constant, unchanging.

'The bride weeps,' Lady Dustin said, as they made their way down, step by careful step. 'Our little Lady Arya.'

Take care now. Take care, take care. He put one hand on the wall. The shifting torchlight made the steps seem to move beneath his feet. 'As . . . as you say, m'lady.'

...

'My lady,' Theon broke in, 'Here we are.'

'The steps go farther down,' observed Lady Dustin.

'There are lower levels. Older. The lowest level is partly collapsed, I hear. I have never been down there.' He  pushed the door open and led them out ... [ADwD, The Turncloak]

'The steps go farther down...'  ain't that just classic GRRM for you -- metawise, in his work there is always a further level of meaning to uncover and he is always 'a step ahead' of the reader!

On 12/11/2017 at 2:12 AM, Lollygag said:

Stairs and steps are liminal places when you think about it. They’re neither here nor there and never the point of the journey. I’m wondering if the steps are perhaps not as important as what’s at the top of the stairs and what’s at the bottom of the stairs and who is making the journey? Perhaps they aren’t significant in themselves so much as the places they’re connecting?

I think the most important thing is that they often represent a secret passage -- or 'shortcut', if you like -- known only to an elite few, e.g. the 'secret steps' into the Tower of the Hand, used by Varys/Tyrion to smuggle in whores, as well as subsequently by Tyrion himself to murder his father and former lover:

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A Storm of Swords - Tyrion II

When the candle burned out, Tyrion disentangled himself and lit another. Then he made a round of the walls, tapping on each in turn, searching for the hidden door. Shae sat with her legs drawn up and her arms wrapped around them, watching him. Finally she said, "They're under the bed. The secret steps."

He looked at her, incredulous. "The bed? The bed is solid stone. It weighs half a ton."

"There's a place where Varys pushes, and it floats right up. I asked him how, and he said it was magic."

"Yes." Tyrion had to grin. "A counterweight spell."

 

Quote

A Storm of Swords - Tyrion XI

A light appeared ahead of them, too dim to be daylight, and grew as they hurried toward it. After a while he could see it was an arched doorway, closed off by another iron gate. Varys produced a key. They stepped through into a small round chamber. Five other doors opened off the room, each barred in iron. There was an opening in the ceiling as well, and a series of rungs set in the wall below, leading upward. An ornate brazier stood to one side, fashioned in the shape of a dragon's head. The coals in the beast's yawning mouth had burnt down to embers, but they still glowed with a sullen orange light. Dim as it was, the light was welcome after the blackness of the tunnel.

The juncture was otherwise empty, but on the floor was a mosaic of a three-headed dragon wrought in red and black tiles. Something niggled at Tyrion for a moment. Then it came to him. This is the place Shae told me of, when Varys first led her to my bed. "We are below the Tower of the Hand."

"Yes." Frozen hinges screamed in protest as Varys pulled open a long-closed door. Flakes of rust drifted to the floor. "This will take us out to the river."

Tyrion walked slowly to the ladder, ran his hand across the lowest rung. "This will take me up to my bedchamber."

 “Your lord father’s bedchamber now.”

    He looked up the shaft. “How far must I climb?”

    “My lord, you are too weak for such follies, and there is besides no time. We must go.”

    “I have business above. How far?”

    “Two hundred and thirty rungs, but whatever you intend—”

    “Two hundred and thirty rungs, and then?”

    “The tunnel to the left, but hear me—”

    “How far along to the bedchamber?” Tyrion lifted a foot to the lowest rung of the ladder.

    “No more than sixty feet. Keep one hand on the wall as you go. You will feel the doors. The bedchamber is the third.” He sighed. “This is folly, my lord. Your brother has given you your life back. Would you cast it away, and mine with it?”

    “Varys, the only thing I value less than my life just now is yours. Wait for me here.” He turned his back on the eunuch and began to climb, counting silently as he went.

    Rung by rung, he ascended into darkness. At first he could see the dim outline of each rung as he grasped it, and the rough grey texture of the stone behind, but as he climbed the black grew thicker. Thirteen fourteen fifteen sixteen. By thirty, his arms trembled with the strain of pulling. He paused a moment to catch his breath and glanced down. A circle of faint light shone far below, half obscured by his own feet. Tyrion resumed his ascent. Thirty-nine forty forty-one. By fifty, his legs burned. The ladder was endless, numbing. Sixty-eight sixty-nine seventy. By eighty, his back was a dull agony. Yet still he climbed. He could not have said why. One thirteen one fourteen one fifteen.

    At two hundred and thirty, the shaft was black as pitch, but he could feel the warm air flowing from the tunnel to his left, like the breath of some great beast. He poked about awkwardly with a foot and edged off the ladder. The tunnel was even more cramped than the shaft. Any man of normal size would have had to crawl on hands and knees, but Tyrion was short enough to walk upright. At last, a place made for dwarfs. His boots scuffed softly against the stone. He walked slowly, counting steps, feeling for gaps in the walls. Soon he began to hear voices, muffled and indistinct at first, then clearer. He listened more closely. Two of his father’s guardsmen were joking about the Imp’s whore, saying how sweet it would be to fuck her, and how bad she must want a real cock in place of the dwarf’s stunted little thing. “Most like it’s got a crook in it,” said Lum. That led him into a discussion of how Tyrion would die on the morrow. “He’ll weep like a woman and beg for mercy, you’ll see,” Lum insisted. Lester figured he’d face the axe brave as a lion, being a Lannister, and he was willing to bet his new boots on it. “Ah, shit in your boots,” said Lum, “you know they’d never fit these feet o’mine. Tell you what, if I win you can scour my bloody mail for a fortnight.”

    For the space of a few feet, Tyrion could hear every word of their haggling, but when he moved on, the voices faded quickly. Small wonder Varys did not want me to climb the bloody ladder, Tyrion thought, smiling in the dark. Little birds indeed.

 

Compare:

Quote

A Clash of Kings - Arya VII

One of the soldiers laughed. "The Footmen, girl. Toes of the Goat. Lord Tywin's Bloody Mummers."

"Pease for wits. You get her flayed, you can scrub the bloody steps," said Weese.

 

Quote



    He came to the third door and fumbled about for a long time before his fingers brushed a small iron hook set between two stones. When he pulled down on it, there was a soft rumble that sounded loud as an avalanche in the stillness, and a square of dull orange light opened a foot to his left.

    The hearth! He almost laughed. The fireplace was full of hot ash, and a black log with a hot orange heart burning within. He edged past gingerly, taking quick steps so as not to burn his boots, the warm cinders crunching softly under his heels. When he found himself in what had once been his bedchamber, he stood a long moment, breathing the silence. Had his father heard? Would he reach for his sword, raise the hue and cry?

Note all the fire imagery.  'Taking the steps' is 'playing with fire'...like the naughty boy who climbed too high and was struck by lightning...

In terms of your 'heroes up, monsters below' theory, @Springwatch, would you say Tyrion is playing a monster or hero here, as he completes the climb, steps in the fire, and pauses about to murder his kin?

P.S.  What is the significance of the number '230'...GRRM refers to it a couple of times, as if it might be a clue to something?

Quote

 “M’lord?” a woman’s voice called.

    That might have hurt me once, when I still felt pain. The first step was the hardest. When he reached the bed Tyrion pulled the draperies aside and there she was, turning toward him with a sleepy smile on her lips. It died when she saw him. 

'When all the smiles died...'

 

Quote

I've been thinking about Tyrion's and Jaime's dreams. At the time of Tyrion's dream, he wanted to be down in the dumps. He was drinking, depressed, etc and seemed to want to keep things that way so as Tyrion dreams the Shrouded Lord and Tywin are one, perhaps it's about Tyrion wishing to avoid responsibility? Jaime however had emerged from Riverrun a new man even cutting off his Lannister hair. He wanted to be his own person for the first time, yet was being drug down.

ADWD Tyrion VI

He dreamt of his lord father and the Shrouded Lord. He dreamt that they were one and the same, and when his father wrapped stone arms around him and bent to give him his grey kiss, he woke with his mouth dry and rusty with the taste of blood and his heart hammering in his chest.

I did notice that a lot of characters referenced above are liminal types in a way. Arya, Jon, Sam, Sansa, Theon are all bastards of a sort. Tyrion says all dwarfs are bastards in their father's eyes. Jaime will be disinherited by Tywin though there are other bastardizing symbols around him (losing his legendary sword hand which also connected him to Cersei in grabbing her heel when they were born, cutting of his hair) before this point.

This seems connected to Tyrion descending the spiraling steps of the Winterfell library, Septon Chayle’s descent into a well and of course the Nightfort well. To the bolded, Arya holds her breath.

AGOT Arya III

 

From somewhere far below her, she heard noises. The scrape of boots, the distant sound of voices. A flickering light brushed the wall ever so faintly, and she saw that she stood at the top of a great black well, a shaft twenty feet across plunging deep into the earth. Huge stones had been set into the curving walls as steps, circling down and down, dark as the steps to hell that Old Nan used to tell them of. And something was coming up out of the darkness, out of the bowels of the earth …

Arya peered over the edge and felt the cold black breath on her face. Far below, she saw the light of a single torch, small as the flame of a candle. Two men, she made out. Their shadows writhed against the sides of the well, tall as giants. She could hear their voices, echoing up the shaft.

The other chuckled. "No less." Flames licked at the cold air. The tall shadows were almost on top of her. An instant later the man holding the torch climbed into her sight, his companion beside him. Arya crept back away from the well, dropped to her stomach, and flattened herself against the wall. She held her breath as the men reached the top of the steps.

I like the well/drowning connection to the magical stairs; it goes well (:P) with my green sea/see pun.  Regarding taking the plunge and holding ones breath, what's your take on all the breathlessness and voicelessness that goes on in the AGOT Prologue?

On 12/11/2017 at 6:15 AM, Springwatch said:

Lovely image, and idea. I get the vibe of a looking glass world too.

I'm sure steps and climbs are meaningful - so many people are in danger on steps, running on steps, exhausted and in pain trying to climb the steps.

The ones that seemed most significant to me were the House of the Undying, where it is vital to choose only the 'right' door, and always climb not descend; and the Serpentine Steps (the game of thrones?) , where we see the Hound, Sansa, Tyrion and Shae (as washerwoman). Washing the steps has a flavour of Patchface watery deadliness about it.

As a starting theory, I'd say hero power is found at the top of the steps, and loss of power, even monster status at the bottom. This would be strongly connected to the name of the steps in question - e.g. Jon iirc runs up the steps of the Lord Commander's Tower, but also comes down them.

Taking the door to the right has been compared by Seams to reading a book (turning pages left to right for left-to-right readers).  Additionally, as PK Jane has suggested, the serpentine steps refer to the DNA double helix, which is a 'right-handed' helix.  This is basically the same thing as 'reading' the genetic information encoded on the 'stairs,' with the base pairs representing the rungs of the ladder or steps of the stairs.  'Going up' or climbing the ladder would represent the acquisition of knowledge, while 'going down' would represent bringing back that knowledge successfully to the world -- manifesting ones power.  On the other hand, 'going down' could equally result in the acquisition of knowledge (e.g. Bran's descent into Bloodraven's cavern for 'Greenseeing 101'...despite being a greenseeing prodigy...). 

Perhaps whether one goes 'up' or 'down' doesn't matter as much as 'reading' the information and ultimately leaving with the knowledge before it destroys you.  Making a getaway after the theft!  Returning intact; landing safely.  A prime example would be Tyrion leaving the Winterfell library destined to be burnt having taken an important book with him.  Perhaps we're putting too much emphasis on the way he used the stairs; the important thing is that he left with a chosen book, and to ascertain the nature and significance of that book.  Some people are just better readers than others, according to GRRM ; they learn how to 'walk the patternmaker's maze' he has devised, without losing themselves. 

Moreover, reading -- 'cracking the code'...or 'unlocking the door' -- has something to do with theft.  For example, using the 'secret steps,' Tyrion 'steals' into the Tower of the Hand, 'stealing' a glimpse of the forbidden knowledge of Tywin and Shae's 'stolen kisses' (akin to Bran, whom Jaime later accuses of 'spying', climbing up the tower to gaze on the forbidden knowledge of the twins' incest), and threatening to 'steal the lives' of two people along with the terrible knowledge.

 

He rode through the streets of the city,
down from his hill on high,
O'er the wynds and the steps and the cobbles,
he rode to a woman's sigh.
For she was his secret treasure,
she was his shame and his bliss.
And a chain and a keep are nothing,
compared to a woman's kiss

 

For hands of gold are always cold, but a woman's hands are warm...
 
 

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On 10/12/2017 at 10:48 PM, Seams said:

As I've been putting together citations for this post and re-reading old threads, one new insight has struck me: there seem to be characters who can easily navigate steps - maybe only in one direction? maybe both up and down? - and who might act as guides for other characters.

Tyrion needed help from Bronn one time (after his Blackwater injuries):

Quote

When Pod and he reached the serpentine steps, however, Tyrion could only gape at them in dismay. I will never climb those by myself, he confessed to himself. Swallowing his dignity, he asked Bronn to carry him, hoping against hope that at this hour there would be no-one to see and smile, no-one to tell the tale of the dwarf being carried up the steps like a babe in arms.

ASOS

This is a two-stage journey, next are the steps to his father's solar:

Quote

The way was up more steps, but this time he climbed under his own power, with one hand on Pod's shoulder. Bronn opened the door for him.

ASOS

Those serpentine steps must be extra difficult. This journey doesn't sound like anything we've seen in the game of thrones, but might point to some future struggle. In fact Tyrion makes a couple of jokes in this chapter about being raised from the dead - so perhaps he's in the dead zone of winter in the north.

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Bran descends and ascends steps on Hodor's back but climbed walls without using stairways before his fall.

Bran is always going to be complicated, but I thought it was interesting that Hodor refused to go down into the crypts that time they found Rickon there. Bran even thinks to himself that Dancer couldn't manage the steps - so we have both the 'horses' unable to make it down there. Bran goes with Osha and Luwin, but Summer stays on the steps and won't go further until the attack by Shaggydog.

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On 11/12/2017 at 0:16 AM, elder brother jonothor dar said:

This could be foreshadowing Theon climbs the Steps of Winterfell slowly, he was a good hostage Robb was a brother to him, it was hard going home and hard too taking WF form his adopted family to gain acceptance from his old.

Theon pretty much leaps from his hard won princes of WF into Reek in very short order and through some poor calls on his part.

This is pretty much how I think of it. Compare with Robb:

Quote

[Bran] ... his brother Robb burst into the room, breathless from his dash up the tower steps...

AGOT

Robb, like Theon, climbs to power at double quick speed. Unlike Theon, he ends up breathless i.e. not breathing, i.e. dead.

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On 14/12/2017 at 2:11 AM, ravenous reader said:
Quote

Note all the fire imagery.  'Taking the steps' is 'playing with fire'...like the naughty boy who climbed too high and was struck by lightning...

In terms of your 'heroes up, monsters below' theory, @Springwatch, would you say Tyrion is playing a monster or hero here, as he completes the climb, steps in the fire, and pauses about to murder his kin?

 

This topic is absolutely immense, I'm still thinking about it.

Fire on the steps might be a repeated theme; it's certainly a big part of Jon's battle against the wildlings. It might also have something to do with Dany's fires to light, and with the fire Catelyn lit, and the fire Sansa lit, and many others. Maybe each is setting the world on fire, in different ways, large and small.

I'm still thinking about Winterfell's library tower, and that amazing way that it's the inverse of those terrible wells with the steps to the bottom. This tower feels like the most important tower of all, not merely because it's the twin and opposite of the descent into the underworld, but also because its books contain histories, biographies and studies of nature - in other words, all the world is there, and the world has been set on fire.

Tyrion accidentally saved a couple of books from the fire, very like a hero, and yet he gets more monster imagery than anyone else: 'monkey demon', 'gargoyle' etc. I think he's always going to be divided, not knowing if he's going to be monster or hero.

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On 12/15/2017 at 1:12 PM, Springwatch said:

Tyrion needed help from Bronn one time (after his Blackwater injuries):

This is a two-stage journey, next are the steps to his father's solar:

Those serpentine steps must be extra difficult. This journey doesn't sound like anything we've seen in the game of thrones, but might point to some future struggle. In fact Tyrion makes a couple of jokes in this chapter about being raised from the dead - so perhaps he's in the dead zone of winter in the north.

Bran is always going to be complicated, but I thought it was interesting that Hodor refused to go down into the crypts that time they found Rickon there. Bran even thinks to himself that Dancer couldn't manage the steps - so we have both the 'horses' unable to make it down there. Bran goes with Osha and Luwin, but Summer stays on the steps and won't go further until the attack by Shaggydog.

I had completely forgotten this step journey of Tyrion's. It does seem like a hero's journey metaphor: Bronn initially carries him, similar to Bronn serving as his champion in the trial by combat at the Eyrie. Tyrion gains strength in the second part of his "journey", relying on his squire for some help and letting Bronn open the door. In the run-up to his trial for Joffrey's death, Tyrion does show new strengths as acting Hand of the King and organizer of the defense of King's Landing during the Battle of the Blackwater. He gets some help from Pod and Bronn during that period, but he also contributes his own strengths and advances his own interests.

Interesting that there are only two stages to the steps, though, as Tyrion continues his journey of personal growth in Essos. Maybe there is more than one kind of journey - steps are different from say, ladders. The ladder to the secret door in the fireplace in the Tower of the Hand could be a third stage and a metaphor for the Essos interlude of Tyrion's story. (I do see Penny and the ship called The Selaesori Qhoran as strongly linked to Tywin. So climbing a ladder to kill Tywin could be like going to Essos to be present for the scuttling of The Selaesori Qhoran.)

But I may be looking at too narrow a selection of step encounters in Tyrion's POVs. The Winterfell library steps are unique to his narrative, as you point out. And his visit to the Wild Fire stockpile of the alchemists seems worth examining. Timmet son of Timmet declines to go down into the underground storage area with Tyrion. If all of the up / down stairway journey are sections of Tyrion's journey as a hero, these could represent chapters we haven't yet seen or finer distinctions are required to match them to known events in his story. (Or maybe they don't match up at all when examined together.)

I hadn't previously considered the Hodor / Bronn parallel in terms of carrying people up steps. Very nice catch!

I wonder whether Oberyn Martell's trip to see Tyrion in the dungeon includes step references that align with step references in relationship to Bronn? This might be a clue that Tyrion's two champions play a role in Tyrion's ability to climb stairs, metaphorically speaking. Of course, Oberyn apparently fails in his role as a champion for Tyrion.

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On 14/12/2017 at 2:11 AM, ravenous reader said:

Hey Reader, my apologies for the late reply. That's a pretty cool website btw, the design on that tapestry looks great!

On 14/12/2017 at 2:11 AM, ravenous reader said:

Love the puns you're generating here!  So it follows that the Dothraki 'Sea' is synonymous with 'steppes' and therefore symbolically with 'steps'.   It's significant that the dragons were born on the Dothraki Sea -- they are 'sea dragons'! -- emerging from the depths, as it were, and taking wing, implying that steps facilitate flight; hence the expression 'flight of stairs'. 

For the record, 'stairs' is also a wordplay on 'stars' -- the 'flight' leads to the 'stars'.  It's a 'stairway to heaven'!  Perhaps the 'stairway' or 'star-way' is the Milky Way.  And sometimes it's a flight of no return.

The other more mysterious connection -- the one I've been harping on about  -- is between swimming vs. drowning and flying vs. falling, respectively.  It's not for nothing we refer to the 'Milky' Way Galaxy using a liquid metaphor and a 'space-ship' for the vessel navigating those 'waters'; (deep-)space from a certain perspective being the ultimate sea and destination for dragons and greensea-ers, deconstructing the distinction between 'up' and 'down'. 

Talking of watery stairways, let's not forget the pivotal duel fought between Brandon and Petyr on the 'water stair' in which Petyr's reprieve at Cat's request enabled Petyr's ambition to take flight -- always at someone else's expense --starting with the new lease on life granted to him to rise from the water stair 'stronger and harder', with Brandon's concomitant downfall.  The quintessential 'madness of mercy' was not Ned sparing Cersei's children; it was Brandon sparing Petyr, symbolically in that moment Cat's child, brother and lover all in one.  Like Dany, she gives birth to the monster (Baelish) on the steps.

Sea-dragons and Greensea-ers  B)

Loved that section on cosmic entities and the liquid metaphors surrounding them. very nice! I wonder what might happen should the dragons or seers reach their ultimate destination?

Fine comparison between Petyr and Cersei's encounters with the brothers Stark, as well as the "monsters" birthed on the watery stairs and Dothraki steppes - much trouble emerging from step based locations, trouble which could have been avoided.

Petyr rising from the water "stronger and harder" certainly gives pause - in a way he fits the Davos/Auron/Patchface motif of suffering a serious downfall near a body of water followed by "breaching the surface" and going through an empowering change. It also brings to mind Balon Greyjoy's kneeling to Robert, only to come up again with blade in hand a decade later.

LF as Cat's child, lover and brother is another nice touch, and certainly helps add another coat of humanity to Brandon - we already know the man cared greatly for his blood family, judging by the "come out and die" madness, but sparing Petyr out of compassion for Cat does add a rather heartwarming wrinkle to a character who isn't often viewed as the most chivalrous , in a kind of "don't worry, little sister" way.

On 14/12/2017 at 2:11 AM, ravenous reader said:

 the Icarus myth

I think we see numerous characters from both Harenhal and Winterfell who somewhat adhere to the Icarus archetype.

Ned, Sansa, Jon, Robb, Bran, Cat, have all gone from being gifted with high positions to each having a hand in causing their own descent. They all ignored several warnings from their own various versions of Daedalus, such as Bran being warned not to climb by his mother and Luwin, Sansa's opinion of the Lannisters not changing after Arya's attack of Joffrey/Lady's death; and of course, all the warnings Ned recieved before and during his time as HOTK such as the dead direwolf  and Renly's offer of friendship.

Black Harren might have became the most powerful King in Westeros had he not been burned, high in his tower. He castle certainly could be looked at as a potential escape for his people from the harsh Iron Islands terrain that had governered their lives, similar to Icarus and his father departing from the Labyrinth - big walls, fertile soil and a trade friendly central location could have utterly reshaped the Iron Born way of life over the next few generations, one could perhaps look at Black Harren's mighty castle really could have been the wings which lifted the Iron Born from their grim confines.

On 14/12/2017 at 2:11 AM, ravenous reader said:

 

That is a splendid pun!  :cheers:

Greenseeing is frequently likened to 'flying', adding further nuance to a 'flight of stairs.'

To achieve these 'great' things, a greenseer also has to break some rules, often unfortunately involving 'stepping' on other people, as the ladder to power invariably requires.  This is a reason why the serpentine steps in Harrenhal are smeared with blood, despite Arya's best efforts to 'whitewash' it; indeed, the very mortar is impregnated with blood, so climbing those steps involves very literally treading on the lives of others who have been sacrificed to facilitate ones ascension. To underscore this point, GRRM has Arya imagine the names/faces of the ones she has undertaken to erase 'written' on the steps, so that the steps represent the death sentences of those on her 'death wish list'.  Thus, 'taking steps' often involves a very deliberate act of taking steps to eradicate someone (think of Tyrion determinedly climbing up the secret steps to kill his father). 

Stairs, especially the spiral kind, which create the impression of being 'woven' into the fabric of the 'old place', represent vengeance and magic spells (what I've whimsically termed 'the killing word').  The idea of a 'wormhole' as a shortcut connecting two universes/dimensions is probably also being referenced, given the greenseer theme and GRRM's preoccupation with science fiction.  Using your wonderful stairs/stares pun, think of 'casting an evil eye' on someone, like trapping them in a net (a 'weirnet'!)

Thank you! :D

Going by this logic can we also include the Iron Throne as a staircase stained with blood? The Conqueror's high chair certainly seems to be more steps than seating area and is often described as having a mind of it's own - deeming Joff and Rhaenyra "unworthy" and according to some "killing Maegor". Casting an evil eye indeed, the IT, (as well as the formerly present dragon skulls) do seem to scrutinise whoever is assembled in the area.

If we look at a mountain as a form of stairs then we certainly see many blood stained, "old place" examples around Planetos.

  • The Mother of Mountains and "womb of the world", where Dany eats the horse heart 
  • The Frostfangs - home to the violent Thenns, who's culture could be described as "woven into the fabric of the old place"
  • The Bone Mountains - "The bones of men, the bones of horses, the bones of giants and camels and oxen, of every sort of beast and bird and monster, all can be found amongst these savage peaks" - this mountain range also contains underground sections, fitting nicely with the upstairs downstairs aspect.
On 14/12/2017 at 2:11 AM, ravenous reader said:

As @Pain killer Jane , the self-styled 'Mistress of the Serpentine Steps' has explained, the spiral structure of the staircase, together with the traces of blood, is a reference to the DNA helix, perhaps hinting at the 'secret knowledge of the gods' locked up in its code, the genetic basis of 'blood magic,' and the power inherent in human sacrifice.  When GRRM says 'blood calls to blood,' he is talking about a genetically programmed affinity of some kind

Props to Jane for that helix bit, I'll be paying close attention to serpentine steps in the future.

The serpentine steps of the Red Keep would most likely have been built by Maegor's ill fated team of construction workers, their subsequent deaths serving as a vivid examples of "bloody, secret knowledge".

 

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What I find interesting (and I hope not too off-topic here) is the repeated idea of the stones of a castle or building or the wall that is linked to blood and history. Just like architecture in real life, the structures themselves are standing moment in time and they have their own tale to tell, as they were built with blood.

The World book even opens with this concept:

The World of Ice and Fire - Preface

It is said with truth that every building is constructed stone by stone, and the same may be said of knowledge, extracted and compiled by many learned men, each of whom builds upon the works of those who preceded him. What one of them does not know is known to another, and little remains truly unknown if one seeks far enough.
 
Anyway, I just wanted to pop in real quickly to add a tiny voice to this great thread. I love topics like this.

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I don't think this has been mention but I apologize if this is already covered:

Quote

A Clash of Kings - Daenerys IV

"When you enter, you will find yourself in a room with four doors: the one you have come through and three others. Take the door to your right. Each time, the door to your right. If you should come upon a stairwell, climb. Never go down, and never take any door but the first door to your right."

"The door to my right," Dany repeated. "I understand. And when I leave, the opposite?"

"By no means," Pyat Pree said. "Leaving and coming, it is the same. Always up. Always the door to your right. Other doors may open to you. Within, you will see many things that disturb you. Visions of loveliness and visions of horror, wonders and terrors. Sights and sounds of days gone by and days to come and days that never were. Dwellers and servitors may speak to you as you go. Answer or ignore them as you choose, but enter no room until you reach the audience chamber."

Always ascending and taking the door to the right in a circular pattern upwards.

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A Clash of Kings - Daenerys IV

"He has a song," the man replied. "He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire." He looked up when he said it and his eyes met Dany's, and it seemed as if he saw her standing there beyond the door. "There must be one more," he said, though whether he was speaking to her or the woman in the bed she could not say. "The dragon has three heads." He went to the window seat, picked up a harp, and ran his fingers lightly over its silvery strings. Sweet sadness filled the room as man and wife and babe faded like the morning mist, only the music lingering behind to speed her on her way.

It seemed as though she walked for another hour before the long hall finally ended in a steep stone stair, descending into darkness. Every door, open or closed, had been to her left. Dany looked back behind her. The torches were going out, she realized with a start of fear. Perhaps twenty still burned. Thirty at most. One more guttered out even as she watched, and the darkness came a little farther down the hall, creeping toward her. And as she listened it seemed as if she heard something else coming, shuffling and dragging itself slowly along the faded carpet. Terror filled her. She could not go back and she was afraid to stay here, but how could she go on? There was no door on her right, and the steps went down, not up.

Yet another torch went out as she stood pondering, and the sounds grew faintly louder. Drogon's long neck snaked out and he opened his mouth to scream, steam rising from between his teeth. He hears it too. Dany turned to the blank wall once more, but there was nothing. Could there be a secret door, a door I cannot see? Another torch went out. Another. The first door on the right, he said, always the first door on the right. The first door on the right . . .

A Clash of Kings - Daenerys IV

Dany left him behind, entering a stairwell. She began to climb. Before long her legs were aching. She recalled that the House of the Undying Ones had seemed to have no towers.

Finally the stair opened. To her right, a set of wide wooden doors had been thrown open. They were fashioned of ebony and weirwood, the black and white grains swirling and twisting in strange interwoven patterns. They were very beautiful, yet somehow frightening. The blood of the dragon must not be afraid. Dany said a quick prayer, begging the Warrior for courage and the Dothraki horse god for strength. She made herself walk forward.

What is significant about Dany's journey through the HoU are the number of doors she passes through.  She refuses to look back at what follows her and I have the notion that she is a Janus figure:

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Janus ) is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways,[1] passages, and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past.

 

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