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Black Crow

Heresy 207 :skinchanging

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Returning for a moment to Ser Shadrach of the shadows and his likely allegiance to the Old Gods. 

We first encounter him when Brienne is hunting for Sansa. Although we know as readers that Brienne is one of the good guys, trying to save Sansa, Ser Shadrach and the rest of the world know her as the slayer of Renly the Antler King and currently in the pay of the Lannisters.

Is he really the mercenary bounty hunter he claims to be - or Sansa's protector?

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Just a couple of quotes:

Quote

It was the summer of 1991... suddenly it just came to me, this scene, from what would ultimately be the first chapter of A Game of Thrones. It's from Bran's viewpoint; they see a man beheaded and they find some direwolf pups in the snow. It just came to me so strongly and vividly that I knew I had to write it. I sat down to write, and in, like, three days it just came right out of me, almost in the form you've read.

"Almost in the form you've read."

How much had he thought through his world at this time?  The same interview tells us:

Quote

How long did it take to do the world-building work?

Basically, I wrote about a hundred pages that summer. It all occurs at the same time with me. I don't build the world first, then write in it. I just write the story, and then put it together.

So it seems very likely that at the time he wrote this very first chapter, GRRM had not thought about anything remotely along the lines of Bloodraven, the Black Gate, etc.  

Of course it doesn't fit his world very well; his world didn't exist yet.   We can find similar problematic joints here and there in the canon, even when he had thought it out much better.  

For instance, the concept that the Andals sailed to Westeros and invaded the South... but somehow could never sail to the North to conquer it, and were instead stymied for thousands of years by Moat Cailin.  Or the idea that Winterfell sits on top of a pressurized water table that yields hot spring water flowing through the walls, yet the crypts below Winterfell are not underwater. 

It's remarkable that ASOIAF hangs together as well as it does, given his improvisational gardening style.  It must constantly be a struggle to him to conform to the narrative structure he's built -- and the more structure he creates, the bigger the struggle.

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36 minutes ago, JNR said:

Just a couple of quotes:

"Almost in the form you've read."

How much had he thought through his world at this time?  The same interview tells us:

So it seems very likely that at the time he wrote this very first chapter, GRRM had not thought about anything remotely along the lines of Bloodraven, the Black Gate, etc.  

Of course it doesn't fit his world very well; his world didn't exist yet.   We can find similar problematic joints here and there in the canon, even when he had thought it out much better.  

For instance, the concept that the Andals sailed to Westeros and invaded the South... but somehow could never sail to the North to conquer it, and were instead stymied for thousands of years by Moat Cailin.  Or the idea that Winterfell sits on top of a pressurized water table that yields hot spring water flowing through the walls, yet the crypts below Winterfell are not underwater. 

It's remarkable that ASOIAF hangs together as well as it does, given his improvisational gardening style.  It must constantly be a struggle to him to conform to the narrative structure he's built -- and the more structure he creates, the bigger the struggle.

GRRM probably knew more about what happened than he wrote when he wrote it.  He may have had in mind that a wizard sent the wolves, and the idea of the wizard later evolved into Bloodraven.

Very interesting he had a single vision with the pups and beheading,  not 2 different visions, which suggests they are related.  This doesn't mean they are related by causation - he may have been thinking about death and different characters reactions to a man and an animal dying.  But they must be related somehow. 

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49 minutes ago, JNR said:

Just a couple of quotes:

"Almost in the form you've read."

How much had he thought through his world at this time?  The same interview tells us:

So it seems very likely that at the time he wrote this very first chapter, GRRM had not thought about anything remotely along the lines of Bloodraven, the Black Gate, etc.  

Of course it doesn't fit his world very well; his world didn't exist yet.   We can find similar problematic joints here and there in the canon, even when he had thought it out much better.  

For instance, the concept that the Andals sailed to Westeros and invaded the South... but somehow could never sail to the North to conquer it, and were instead stymied for thousands of years by Moat Cailin.  Or the idea that Winterfell sits on top of a pressurized water table that yields hot spring water flowing through the walls, yet the crypts below Winterfell are not underwater. 

It's remarkable that ASOIAF hangs together as well as it does, given his improvisational gardening style.  It must constantly be a struggle to him to conform to the narrative structure he's built -- and the more structure he creates, the bigger the struggle.

I think I may have read a slightly different version of the story, but it doesn't differ materially from what I remember - or its my memory at fault.

Either way, it reinforces my quoting of the 1993 synopsis as evidence that GRRM hadn't invented the Black Gate when he wrote the chapter and that while there's more about than at first appears, the episode didn't require Gared to bring the she-wolf through the gate

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54 minutes ago, Black Crow said:

I think I may have read a slightly different version of the story, but it doesn't differ materially from what I remember - or its my memory at fault.

Either way, it reinforces my quoting of the 1993 synopsis as evidence that GRRM hadn't invented the Black Gate when he wrote the chapter and that while there's more about than at first appears, the episode didn't require Gared to bring the she-wolf through the gate

Osha and company got through somehow and I don't think they climbed the Wall.  A small number of people can pass unseen.  I think Mance says as much.

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1 hour ago, Black Crow said:

Either way, it reinforces my quoting of the 1993 synopsis as evidence that GRRM hadn't invented the Black Gate when he wrote the chapter and that while there's more about than at first appears, the episode didn't require Gared to bring the she-wolf through the gate

It was never required for Gared to go through to get from point A to point B, the question is whether or not there's any magical significance to passing through the Black Gate (keeping in mind it's possible for Gared to have passed the Black Gate without the direwolf, for some unrelated, unrevealed purpose), as opposed to any other path, and whether GRRM had some burst of inspiration along the way that might cause him to internally re-imagine what was happening off page.

The problem with trying to prove a negative remains the same: I don't see how one can reasonably suggest that they can track GRRM's mental evolution of his world over the half decade process of writing and publishing aGoT. Presumably, the Pact, the Age of Heroes, the Conquest, and any number of things didn't exist in his head in 1991, some of those elements may not have existed in 1993, and it is possible that the Blackfyre Rebellion, Coldhands, Craster, the Golden Company, etc didn't exist as recently as 1996. Nonetheless, he has inserted them into the narrative.

The other problem is that Gared's "story," such as it is, is largely unwritten, there is no text to contradict--which means that an idea that GRRM had in 2018 can suddenly become the "official story" of Gared, a character that was killed in 1996; that's just the nature of the way GRRM writes.

Put another, we already have a fine, 'default' explanation for Gared--he got lucky, he ran to the south, he was executed, and that's the end of his story. Having already established that, it seems fair enough to then ask: what else is possible (he was purposely spared by the Others, or he was rescued by Coldhands), and why might it be important?

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3 hours ago, JNR said:

It's remarkable that ASOIAF hangs together as well as it does, given his improvisational gardening style.  It must constantly be a struggle to him to conform to the narrative structure he's built -- and the more structure he creates, the bigger the struggle.

I think it's remarkable that any ASOIAF novels get released at all; even now, after spending far longer on ASOIAF than he had ever envisioned, and knowing what sorts of problems have plagued his writing process, he still doesn't seem to be reigning in his habit of improvising new plot twists, and then going back and re-writing hundreds of pages to accommodate his latest flight of fancy.

If I'm not mistaken, as recently as 2015/2016 he was talking about some new twist he had in mind involving three or four characters, which is...very worrisome. 

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25 minutes ago, Matthew. said:

The problem with trying to prove a negative remains the same: I don't see how one can reasonably suggest that they can track GRRM's mental evolution of his world over the half decade process of writing and publishing aGoT. Presumably, the Pact, the Age of Heroes, the Conquest, and any number of things didn't exist in his head in 1991, some of those elements may not have existed in 1993, and it is possible that the Blackfyre Rebellion, Coldhands, Craster, the Golden Company, etc didn't exist as recently as 1996. Nonetheless, he has inserted them into the narrative.

That's true. However the Gorge is a version completely self contained within the first book. And it's straight forward. He has crossed the milkwater near Craster's and then went north west. The Milkwater is simply a destination we know he most likely hits on his escape. The end of the Milkwater is also the location where the Wall is passable. And (almost) straight south is Winterfell. It may not be a perfect solution (hills) but it is a very imaginery version that needs no fantasy. 

It only gets complicated once we connect Gared with the direwolf. But that is almost entirely on the direwolf and the question who,why and when did the direwolf what.  

Of course we can make other versions out of the story. Like he finds a ship that brings him to White Harbour and from there he was travelling north. 

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1 hour ago, Matthew. said:

It was never required for Gared to go through to get from point A to point B, the question is whether or not there's any magical significance to passing through the Black Gate (keeping in mind it's possible for Gared to have passed the Black Gate without the direwolf, for some unrelated, unrevealed purpose), as opposed to any other path, and whether GRRM had some burst of inspiration along the way that might cause him to internally re-imagine what was happening off page.

The problem with trying to prove a negative remains the same: I don't see how one can reasonably suggest that they can track GRRM's mental evolution of his world over the half decade process of writing and publishing aGoT. Presumably, the Pact, the Age of Heroes, the Conquest, and any number of things didn't exist in his head in 1991, some of those elements may not have existed in 1993, and it is possible that the Blackfyre Rebellion, Coldhands, Craster, the Golden Company, etc didn't exist as recently as 1996. Nonetheless, he has inserted them into the narrative.

The other problem is that Gared's "story," such as it is, is largely unwritten, there is no text to contradict--which means that an idea that GRRM had in 2018 can suddenly become the "official story" of Gared, a character that was killed in 1996; that's just the nature of the way GRRM writes.

Put another, we already have a fine, 'default' explanation for Gared--he got lucky, he ran to the south, he was executed, and that's the end of his story. Having already established that, it seems fair enough to then ask: what else is possible (he was purposely spared by the Others, or he was rescued by Coldhands), and why might it be important?

All things are possible, but this whole argument is built on air.

Gared and the she-wolf both started off somewhere beyond the Wall before dying close to each other near Winterfell at roughly the same time.

Is there a significance to this? - possibly verging on probably given GRRM's teaser but as yet we can only speculate. Did they come through the Black Gate? Probably not given the way GRRM dashed off the chapter in an untouched garden - on the evidence of the synopsis that particular seed had probably never been planted, let alone cultivated

Once again, I'm not proposing or trying to support a theory, but rather pointing out that one particular theory which only exists in heresy and which has no supporting evidence in text, is very unlikely.

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2 hours ago, LynnS said:

Osha and company got through somehow and I don't think they climbed the Wall.  A small number of people can pass unseen.  I think Mance says as much.

Yes, and once again The Gorge/Shadow Tower seems the most likely. Had Osha climbed the Wall she would justifiably boasted of it, while coming through the Black Gate would have been even more remarkable - literally. There would be some mention or hint of it in the text and since there aint its reasonable to suppose that the crossing was unremarkable.

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1 hour ago, Matthew. said:

I think it's remarkable that any ASOIAF novels get released at all; even now, after spending far longer on ASOIAF than he had ever envisioned, and knowing what sorts of problems have plagued his writing process, he still doesn't seem to be reigning in his habit of improvising new plot twists, and then going back and re-writing hundreds of pages to accommodate his latest flight of fancy.

If I'm not mistaken, as recently as 2015/2016 he was talking about some new twist he had in mind involving three or four characters, which is...very worrisome. 

I don't recall exactly what he said but you're not mistaken.

A "twist" at this stage is probably something less than game-changing, but looking at the saga as a whole; had he mapped it out [plus the ending] per the 1993 synopsis and stuck to it we might have seen it finished by the turn of the last century, but from the very outset he has stressed how he is a gardener and aint tied by a pre-determined script. We know how much the story as so far written differs from the synopsis. Some of it is still recognisable and we can see how some of the early ideas have evolved, but that 1993 synopsis was written 25 years ago which is a big chunk out of anybody's life and its not just a script but how one thinks and sees the world that can change over quarter of a century. Something that seemed a good idea back then may be viewed rather differently now, and in short the outcomes and ending he's working towards now may not be what he envisaged when he first wrote of the dead direwolf in the forest.

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1 hour ago, Black Crow said:

All things are possible, but this whole argument is built on air.

It is not an argument, it's a "what if" that acknowledges up front that simpler, more likely explanations exist. Considering multiple interpretations, ranging from more likely to less likely, is not done at the expense of the more likely interpretations.

This, in theory, should not be an unusual premise, as it is the same approach that might cause someone to ask whether or not an antler wound came as the result of a bad encounter with a stag, or an encounter with someone with an antler bone dagger--the same approach that might cause someone to ask whether there's a connection between six white walkers and six direwolves pups in a story where skinchanging exists.

In any case, I am not asking an entirely random "what if," it is a "what if" spawned from the content of ASOS, wherein we learn that there is an undead ranger north of the Wall, who rescues a man of the Night's Watch and brings him to a magical door that only a man of the Night's Watch can open. If one man of the NW can be rescued for seemingly transactional purposes, so might another.

While I am not a fan of "Bloodraven has masterminded everything" theories, I also don't buy that he spent 50 inactive years waiting for Bran. That might be wholly unrelated to the prologue, but I would assume there is some story there that is waiting to be told--Coldhands' story, Benjen's fate, the ascent of the Others happening on BR's 'watch' as greenseer, etc.

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GRRM has said he had an idea how the series ends when he wrote the first book.  So the Black Gate, Bloodraven,  the Pact, Craster, and anyone or anything else could have been in his head from the beginning if it is important enough to the story. 

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On 29/03/2018 at 3:25 AM, Black Crow said:

As to the timing it was Gared's capture and execution which drew the Starks out that day, but if the object was to prevent the delivery it could have been accomplished more effectively by killing the helpless pups as well - just to make sure.

True - but it also seems reasonable to assume that if you kill a pregnant animal, the pups won't still be born later on or if they are, they'll never make it. The killer could have thought it unnecessary to cut out the pups from the dead mother and kill them individually. 

But of course we'll most likely never know. It's what makes this chapter intriguing and frustrating at the same time. 

On 29/03/2018 at 11:27 AM, Matthew. said:

I'd always assumed that when people raised the prospect of the mother being killed with an antler bone dagger, it wasn't just to ensure the pups would be helpless, but because the killing itself was a ritual sacrifice.

To revisit an observation on a prior page, the skinchanger magic is already 'working' (for lack of a better word) when the pups are discovered, at least for Jon, as he can 'hear' Ghost calling for him--Jon is already magically sensitive to Ghost, before an emotional bond has formed between the two, before Ghost has even been seen. Presumably, the Starks have spent years around Winterfell's kennel, horses, etc. without accidentally forming a skinchanger bond, unlike Varamyr, whose first bond is by accident. Now, these aren't family pets per se, but it may be notable that all six Starks are skinchangers, and all of their gifts appear to have awakened at the same time.

None of that necessarily matters, as GRRM clearly wanted the return and discovery of magic to be experienced in-world with a sense of wonder and terror, so it serves GRRM's storytelling purposes for the Starks' skinchanging to manifest the way it did, without there being any underlying conspiracy.
 

For Jon, I agree, it seems the bond formed as soon as he was near Ghost. However, I'm not convinced that this is true for the other Starks. From what I can tell, Bran's gift awoke after his flying dream, when he woke up from his coma. Arya's awoke along the Kingsroad, IIRC - after the comet appeared in the sky. And she only dreamed she was Nymeria; she couldn't communicate with her or control her (probably due to lack of training).  There is no evidence that Sansa ever once saw through the eyes of her wolf, and we simply can't know about Robb or Rickon since they don't have POVs. 

 

On 29/03/2018 at 2:39 PM, Feather Crystal said:

Think about Ghost's appearance and Jon's status as a bastard. Bloodraven has white hair and a red eye, and he's a Targaryen bastard - and a Great Bastard at that. Furthermore Bloodraven is very much an Odin-type character connected to both ravens and wolves. Bloodraven may have been looking for Bran, and if the looping history wheel is a real thing, then Brans's place on the wheel is to fulfill the role of all the Brandons throughout history. But it's Jon that seems to be closer to fulfilling the role of Odin.

As The Fattest Leach makes clear in her thread, right now Jon "knows nothing", but maybe its because he  hasn't lost his eye yet? When he was attacked by the eagle the blood from the wound filled one eye, and for a time he thought he lost it, but The Fattest Leach asserts that Jon was looking or examining his First Men's blood, and afterward his viewpoint is changed.

The appearance of Ghost along with Mormont's raven connects Jon to Bloodraven/Odin, and that direwolf may even be Bloodraven in animal form himself.

I agree, and would note that he is also a Crow of the NW. 

Interesting thought on Ghost being BR somehow - I have wondered before if the pups were "planted" where they were for the purpose of getting Ghost into the Stark family. A trojan wolf, smuggled into Winterfell disguised as a gift from the Old Gods.

 

23 hours ago, Brad Stark said:

Could Ghost have been meant for Bran?  

Perhaps, but I prefer the notion that Jon was meant to be the greenseer instead of Bran. Rickon has green dreams (he was in the crypts before Bran in AGOT after Ned dies and they don't know yet) and he has the direwolf with green eyes. If red eyes mark the greenseer, then either Bran has the wrong wolf or BR has the wrong Stark. 

As has already been pointed out by others, we have several examples (GOHH, BR, Euron) of red eyes being linked to greenseers. Not to mention we are flat-out told this by Leaf, who has no reason to lie about this. It's the Sealord's Cat: everything about Bran being in that cave is wrong; BR tells him he is not the 3EC, which means someone else helped recruit him there, and George practically waves the rule "red eyes = greenseer" in our faces yet Bran has blue eyes. Something is going on with these wolves and eye colors for sure. 

It's also weird that Ghost likes Melisandre. She burns weirwoods for crying out loud! But they do both have red eyes ... 

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What if Bran and Jon are both new Greenseers being recruited by old Greenseers at war with each other?  Whoever sent the wolves claimed Jon so BR took the next strongest to stand against him.

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3 hours ago, Brad Stark said:

What if Bran and Jon are both new Greenseers being recruited by old Greenseers at war with each other?  Whoever sent the wolves claimed Jon so BR took the next strongest to stand against him.

Who knows, but if we accept the premise that the story begins with the game of thrones in Westeros, starting off with the local families, then comes the second Targaryen invasion and finally the horror from the North, I very much doubt that there is room for a further bout of infighting between different members of a faction which has only just stepped on to the stage and whose motives are so uncertain.

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8 hours ago, Brad Stark said:

GRRM has said he had an idea how the series ends when he wrote the first book.  So the Black Gate, Bloodraven,  the Pact, Craster, and anyone or anything else could have been in his head from the beginning if it is important enough to the story. 

Again, all things are possible and some more likely than others. 

To put them into the order in which they appear:

The Pact:

Comes in very early with both Maester Luwin's history lesson and the backstory/intro to the Hedge Knight stuff. I think that whatever the outcome the series-end will centre to an extent around the relationship between men and tree-huggers, so putting down an early marker would make sense, even if its ultimately a deceptive story

Craster:

Again it could be an early idea and I think that the true significance will become apparent later in demonstrating a human origin for the walkers

The Black Gate:

Don't think that its going to turn out to be that significant; the wardrobe is a useful plot device for getting the Scooby Gang to the other side of the Wall and the Land of Always Winter/Dark Narnia, but I'm more inclined to see it as an improvisation rather than something planned from the beginning. As I've been saying it doesn't feature in the synopsis and taking the synopsis as a whole what's striking about it is that GRRM has sketched out a plan that involves those three elements of the game of thrones, the Targaryen invasion [with dragons] and then the Others invasion from the north but he's done little or nothing about the magic.

Bloodraven:

Again, I'm not so sure that he's so important as some people would like; he's a vehicle which allows GRRM to explain and facilitate things, but not so significant in his own right. [If there is an inversion involved, he is the Ice sorceror to balance Mel's Fire sorceror] As a character therefore I think that he [and Mel?] have been created to fill a purpose, rather than existing from the beginning.

 

 

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I agree that this has been a story of men abusing magic against the Children of the Forest. Some men chose to align themselves with the Children, like the Starks, and their apparent teamwork to defeat the Others implies that whatever lies north of the Wall is a shared enemy. It also seems clear that the Targaryens were aligned with the Children. The evidence is their timed arrival to punish Harren the Black for cutting down the forests of weirwoods to build Harrenhal. If my deduces prove true, then the resurgence of the white walkers is not due to the Children.

While it would seem Dany is poised to be a savior, we have Euron via Victarion running interference. The mummer's show intimates that Euron will ally himself with Cersei (rock wife) who is of Andal descent...another enemy of the Children, so the broad strokes imply that Euron is allied with the Others, and is poised to invade Westeros.

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13 hours ago, MaesterSam said:

For Jon, I agree, it seems the bond formed as soon as he was near Ghost. However, I'm not convinced that this is true for the other Starks. From what I can tell, Bran's gift awoke after his flying dream, when he woke up from his coma. Arya's awoke along the Kingsroad, IIRC - after the comet appeared in the sky. And she only dreamed she was Nymeria; she couldn't communicate with her or control her (probably due to lack of training).  There is no evidence that Sansa ever once saw through the eyes of her wolf, and we simply can't know about Robb or Rickon since they don't have POVs. 

GRRM has, to some extent, touched upon this:

http://www.westeros.org/Citadel/SSM/Entry/Quite_a_Few_Questions

 

Quote

Are all the Stark children wargs/skin changers with their wolves?

To a greater or lesser degree, yes, but the amount of control varies widely.

Yes I know that Lady is dead, but assuming they were all alive and all the children as well, would all the wolves have bonded to the kids as Bran and Summer did?

Bran and Summer are somewhat of a special case.

Sansa's a tough case, but I think Rickon and Robb's relationships with their wolves are strongly implied by the text.

 

7 hours ago, Black Crow said:

Again, all things are possible and some more likely than others. 

An approach to determining what is likely to be important based on how old the idea is seems a highly unreliable guide with GRRM, where his improvisations often supersede his plans.

For example, there's nothing in aGoT to indicate that the Blackfyre Rebellion or the Great Bastards existed in his 'head canon' at that point in time; nonetheless, Bloodraven is Bran's teacher, and the Golden Company is invading Westeros. Dunk and Egg is intruding upon ASOIAF, and a lot of that is probably improvisation, but it tells us nothing of plot relevance.

It seems far more reasonable to suggest that if something made its way into the published story, it might be important.

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