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Jova Snow

A Question about Skulls

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I am talking about skulls of Bittersteel and other leaders of Golden Company that are shown to be grinning in Jon Connington's POV.  But we also have Brienne's encounter with Nimble Dick (?) and the legend of Wishpering Skulls so do you think Skull of Bittersteel can wishper as well? What would they say if they could talk? Who will be able to hear them? It is interesting none of Aegon's group seem to be interested in magical things yet they can't escape from weird encounters with a God and later the Bridge of Dreams so Wispering Skulls won't be too weird. 

 

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I haven't spent a lot of time looking at all the examples, but I think skulls and beheadings might be intended as part of the egg and egg-hatching motif that is so rich throughout the books: Tyrion in a barrel, ship hulls breaking in a storm, White Walls being torn down - all of these are also in the egg-hatching set of symbols.

Specific skulls also include the dragon skulls in the Red Keep (seen by Tyrion, Shae and Arya), Rattle Shirt's helmet made from a giant's skull, the pommel of Ser Ilyn's mysterious silver sword (used by Joffrey and Margaery at the wedding feast to cut the pigeon pie), the sigil of the Knight of Skulls and Kisses (House Lonmouth) and a vision of Melisandre. A lot of our wandering characters also see bodies whose heads are turning into skulls or are skull-like.

Each time you see a skull in the books, if you ask yourself whether something is about to be reborn (a three-stage process in ASOIAF, involving death, something magical and rebirth) you can usually find an explanation for the imminent "hatching". With the Golden Company, the leadership there has always had a goal of returning to Westeros - which would be a form of rebirth, a homecoming for exiled warriors.

The whispering heads at Dick Crabb's ancestral home represent the defeated foes of Ser Clarence Crabb and include the head of a king from Duskendale. I believe the Darklyn kings are an important focal point of the tension between the tribal kings of the first men and the subsequent Targaryen (Andal) takeover. Brienne hears the whispering from below the cliff of Crackclaw Point and this could symbolize the "hatching" of the beheaded figures who had been collected and stored by the legendary Crabb ancestor.

An interesting tangent: Ser Dontos is closely linked to the Darklyn / Duskendale story. Recall that he was going to be drowned in a barrel (= egg) of wine as punishment for showing up half-naked and drunk at Joffrey's name-day tournament. Instead, he was reborn as a fool or knight/fool hybrid (with help from Sansa and The Hound, who persuaded Joffrey). No severed head for Ser Dontos, but definitely a barrel and a rebirth.

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I'm sure that the heads of the skulls of the Golden Company would talk every bit as much as the skulls at the Whispers if you transported them to Crackclaw Point, which is to say not at all.  Erosion from wind and waves has created holes in the cliffs there which create the noises reminiscent of people whispering.  There are no talking skulls in the ruined castle of House Crabb, just an eerie sound created by wind and water.

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Tyrion and Arya have very different responses to the dragon skulls but they both sense that they are still conscious to some degree. No whispering, but they do seem to ferret out who belongs and who doesn't. Tyrion finds them beautiful and comforting. Arya not so much.

AGOT Tyrion II

He had expected to find them impressive, perhaps even frightening. He had not thought to find them beautiful. Yet they were. As black as onyx, polished smooth, so the bone seemed to shimmer in the light of his torch. They liked the fire, he sensed. He'd thrust the torch into the mouth of one of the larger skulls and made the shadows leap and dance on the wall behind him. The teeth were long, curving knives of black diamond. The flame of the torch was nothing to them; they had bathed in the heat of far greater fires. When he had moved away, Tyrion could have sworn that the beast's empty eye sockets had watched him go.

AGOT Arya III

"It's dead," she said aloud. "It's just a skull, it can't hurt me." Yet somehow the monster seemed to know she was there. She could feel its empty eyes watching her through the gloom, and there was something in that dim, cavernous room that did not love her. She edged away from the skull and backed into a second, larger than the first. For an instant she could feel its teeth digging into her shoulder, as if it wanted a bite of her flesh. Arya whirled, felt leather catch and tear as a huge fang nipped at her jerkin, and then she was running. Another skull loomed ahead, the biggest monster of all, but Arya did not even slow. She leapt over a ridge of black teeth as tall as swords, dashed through hungry jaws, and threw herself against the door.

 

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2 hours ago, Lollygag said:

AGOT Arya III

"It's dead," she said aloud. "It's just a skull, it can't hurt me." Yet somehow the monster seemed to know she was there. She could feel its empty eyes watching her through the gloom, and there was something in that dim, cavernous room that did not love her. She edged away from the skull and backed into a second, larger than the first. For an instant she could feel its teeth digging into her shoulder, as if it wanted a bite of her flesh. Arya whirled, felt leather catch and tear as a huge fang nipped at her jerkin, and then she was running. Another skull loomed ahead, the biggest monster of all, but Arya did not even slow. She leapt over a ridge of black teeth as tall as swords, dashed through hungry jaws, and threw herself against the door.  

You know, in my earlier comment, I almost put in a paragraph about the exposed jaw of The Hound's skull, visible in the burned part of his face, and its relationship to Biter biting Brienne's cheek and eating part of her flesh. I hadn't read this Arya passage for quite awhile, but this is clearly related to Brienne losing her cheek to a monster that bites her flesh.

It's also clearly an echo of Sansa surrounded by the three Strangers in an early POV in AGOT:

Quote

At first Sansa did not notice the third stranger. He did not kneel with the others. He stood to one side, beside their horses, a gaunt grim man who watched the proceedings in silence. His face was pockmarked and beardless, with deepset eyes and hollow cheeks. Though he was not an old man, only a few wisps of hair remained to him, sprouting above his ears, but those he had grown long as a woman's. His armor was iron-grey chainmail over layers of boiled leather, plain and unadorned, and it spoke of age and hard use. Above his right shoulder the stained leather hilt of the blade strapped to his back was visible; a two-handed greatsword, too long to be worn at his side.

"The king is gone hunting, but I know he will be pleased to see you when he returns," the queen was saying to the two knights who knelt before her, but Sansa could not take her eyes off the third man. He seemed to feel the weight of her gaze. Slowly he turned his head. Lady growled. A terror as overwhelming as anything Sansa Stark had ever felt filled her suddenly. She stepped backward and bumped into someone.

Strong hands grasped her by the shoulders, and for a moment Sansa thought it was her father, but when she turned, it was the burned face of Sandor Clegane looking down at her, his mouth twisted in a terrible mockery of a smile. "You are shaking, girl," he said, his voice rasping. "Do I frighten you so much?"
He did, and had since she had first laid eyes on the ruin that fire had made of his face, though it seemed to her now that he was not half so terrifying as the other. Still, Sansa wrenched away from him, and the Hound laughed, and Lady moved between them, rumbling a warning. Sansa dropped to her knees to wrap her arms around the wolf. They were all gathered around gaping, she could feel their eyes on her, and here and there she heard muttered comments and titters of laughter.

(Sansa I, I believe, AGOT)

Arya is caught between two dragon skulls that want to eat her flesh; Sansa is caught between Ser Ilyn and Sandor Clegane, both men with skull-like aspects. Arya jumps over "a ridge of black teeth as tall as swords" in a third skull - "the biggest monster of all" - to get away. Sansa, by contrast, embraces a direwolf, often described as a big monster, and feels safe. Joffrey, her sweet prince, then intervenes and tells everyone to back off. (Joffrey is later described by Sansa as a monster.) 

On the Brienne comparison: she is bitten by Biter and barely survives with help from a sweet prince (?), Gendry. But she gets out of the frying pan and into the fire, soon being hung by the neck. Who is the person holding the rope? The Knight of Skulls and Kisses, Lem Lemoncloak / Richard Lonmouth. And Lem is wearing the Hound's helmet when he pulls the rope.

So Lem is a symbolic Hound and may represent one of the "skulls". But who is Brienne's traveling companion? Why it's Podrick Payne, nephew of Ser Ilyn. So we have the same pairing of skull people that we saw in Sansa's early POV. But why?

Just to complicate things, I recently linked Sansa's latest would-be-betrothed, Harold Hardyng, to dragon teeth through the Hardyng House sigil, which is red and white diamonds. So I am delighted if this skull analysis gives us another insight into Sansa's future: Arya leaps over a row of dragon teeth to get away from the dragon skulls. Will Sansa "leap over" Harold Hardyng and find she can escape from the latest round of encircling skull monsters in her story?

Edited by Seams

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19 hours ago, Seams said:

I haven't spent a lot of time looking at all the examples, but I think skulls and beheadings might be intended as part of the egg and egg-hatching motif that is so rich throughout the books: Tyrion in a barrel, ship hulls breaking in a storm, White Walls being torn down - all of these are also in the egg-hatching set of symbols.

Specific skulls also include the dragon skulls in the Red Keep (seen by Tyrion, Shae and Arya), Rattle Shirt's helmet made from a giant's skull, the pommel of Ser Ilyn's mysterious silver sword (used by Joffrey and Margaery at the wedding feast to cut the pigeon pie), the sigil of the Knight of Skulls and Kisses (House Lonmouth) and a vision of Melisandre. A lot of our wandering characters also see bodies whose heads are turning into skulls or are skull-like.

Each time you see a skull in the books, if you ask yourself whether something is about to be reborn (a three-stage process in ASOIAF, involving death, something magical and rebirth) you can usually find an explanation for the imminent "hatching". With the Golden Company, the leadership there has always had a goal of returning to Westeros - which would be a form of rebirth, a homecoming for exiled warriors.

The whispering heads at Dick Crabb's ancestral home represent the defeated foes of Ser Clarence Crabb and include the head of a king from Duskendale. I believe the Darklyn kings are an important focal point of the tension between the tribal kings of the first men and the subsequent Targaryen (Andal) takeover. Brienne hears the whispering from below the cliff of Crackclaw Point and this could symbolize the "hatching" of the beheaded figures who had been collected and stored by the legendary Crabb ancestor.

An interesting tangent: Ser Dontos is closely linked to the Darklyn / Duskendale story. Recall that he was going to be drowned in a barrel (= egg) of wine as punishment for showing up half-naked and drunk at Joffrey's name-day tournament. Instead, he was reborn as a fool or knight/fool hybrid (with help from Sansa and The Hound, who persuaded Joffrey). No severed head for Ser Dontos, but definitely a barrel and a rebirth.

Thank you for the great response! Maybe I should have a reread focusing on skulls? Never knew how significant they could be. Do you think Melisandre's vision is about Richard Lonmouth (?) 

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9 hours ago, Jova Snow said:

Thank you for the great response! Maybe I should have a reread focusing on skulls? Never knew how significant they could be. Do you think Melisandre's vision is about Richard Lonmouth (?) 

Melisandre on Patchface: "That creature is dangerous. Many a time I have glimpsed him in my flames. Sometimes there are skulls about him, and his lips are red with blood."

(ADwD)

Show me Stannis, Lord, she prayed. Show me your king, your instrument.

Visions danced before her, gold and scarlet, flickering, forming and melting and dissolving into one another, shapes strange and terrifying and seductive. She saw the eyeless faces again, staring out at her from sockets weeping blood. Then the towers by the sea, crumbling as the dark tide came sweeping over them, rising from the depths. Shadows in the shape of skulls, skulls that turned to mist, bodies locked together in lust, writhing and rolling and clawing. Through curtains of fire great winged shadows wheeled against a hard blue sky.

(ADwD)

Snowflakes swirled from a dark sky and ashes rose to meet them, the grey and the white whirling around each other as flaming arrows arced above a wooden wall and dead things shambled silent through the cold, beneath a great grey cliff where fires burned inside a hundred caves.

Then the wind rose and the white mist came sweeping in, impossibly cold, and one by one the fires went out. Afterward only the skulls remained.

Death, thought Melisandre. The skulls are death.

The flames crackled softly, and in their crackling she heard the whispered name Jon Snow. His long face floated before her, limned in tongues of red and orange, appearing and disappearing again, a shadow half-seen behind a fluttering curtain. Now he was a man, now a wolf, now a man again. But the skulls were here as well, the skulls were all around. Melisandre had seen this danger before, had tried to warn the boy of it. Enemies all around him, daggers in the dark. He would not listen.

(ADwD)

Melisandre sees a lot of skulls. I assume the Knight of Skulls and Kisses is consistent with other uses of skulls as symbols, but I don't know that Melisandre is picturing Richard Lonmouth, necessarily. Long ago, I remember wondering whether Patchface was a symbolic King Robert, with his antler helmet and his resurrection after drowning. (Robert is "reborn" as Lord of Storm's End when his father drowns, and Robert also says he felt alive fighting for the Iron Throne and dead after achieving it.) But I just saw an interesting comparison of Patchface and Renly, who also wore an antler helmet.

Melisandre says she is ancient, and I think this vision (and, perhaps, her confusion in interpreting it) is a result of her having lived variations on the same events over and over again - like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (or the Flying Dutchman or The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner). She thinks skulls represent death, which seems like a reasonable belief. Maybe she is unaware that death is just the first step in the three-part process of rebirth and that death/skulls always lead to rebirth. Or maybe she wants to stop the cycle, somehow.

Melisandre likes fire and the shadows cast by fires. She tells Jon Snow that he casts a giant shadow against the Wall, and she seems to like him and his direwolf. She sees the skulls as the enemy of Jon Snow, apparently. It might be the case that Richard Lonmouth or the pro-Renly or pro-Robert people represented by skulls would be anti-Jon Snow. If Lem Lemoncloak is Richard Lonmouth (and I think he is), I think most readers have assumed that he would be helpful to whoever is shown to be Rhaegar's son. So this skull thing may be an interesting hint about a future dynamic between Jon Snow and these skull-associated characters. Maybe Richard Lonmouth won't fall into the pro-Jon Snow faction. Maybe he will recognize Young Griff / Aegon or maybe he has transferred all his loyalty to the Brotherhood Without Banners, which appears to have switched loyalty from Robert to Lady Stoneheart.

Edited by Seams

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On 11/6/2018 at 11:54 AM, Seams said:

You know, in my earlier comment, I almost put in a paragraph about the exposed jaw of The Hound's skull, visible in the burned part of his face, and its relationship to Biter biting Brienne's cheek and eating part of her flesh. I hadn't read this Arya passage for quite awhile, but this is clearly related to Brienne losing her cheek to a monster that bites her flesh.

It's also clearly an echo of Sansa surrounded by the three Strangers in an early POV in AGOT:

Arya is caught between two dragon skulls that want to eat her flesh; Sansa is caught between Ser Ilyn and Sandor Clegane, both men with skull-like aspects. Arya jumps over "a ridge of black teeth as tall as swords" in a third skull - "the biggest monster of all" - to get away. Sansa, by contrast, embraces a direwolf, often described as a big monster, and feels safe. Joffrey, her sweet prince, then intervenes and tells everyone to back off. (Joffrey is later described by Sansa as a monster.) 

On the Brienne comparison: she is bitten by Biter and barely survives with help from a sweet prince (?), Gendry. But she gets out of the frying pan and into the fire, soon being hung by the neck. Who is the person holding the rope? The Knight of Skulls and Kisses, Lem Lemoncloak / Richard Lonmouth. And Lem is wearing the Hound's helmet when he pulls the rope.

So Lem is a symbolic Hound and may represent one of the "skulls". But who is Brienne's traveling companion? Why it's Podrick Payne, nephew of Ser Ilyn. So we have the same pairing of skull people that we saw in Sansa's early POV. But why?

Just to complicate things, I recently linked Sansa's latest would-be-betrothed, Harold Hardyng, to dragon teeth through the Hardyng House sigil, which is red and white diamonds. So I am delighted if this skull analysis gives us another insight into Sansa's future: Arya leaps over a row of dragon teeth to get away from the dragon skulls. Will Sansa "leap over" Harold Hardyng and find she can escape from the latest round of encircling skull monsters in her story?

Very interesting, Seams.  The Brienne example was the most clear to me because I saw her journey through the Riverlands as a journey through the Wasteland, or the underworld, on her way to meet Hel (Lady Stoneheart), who is of course guarded by hellhounds, Biter and Lem in Hounds clothing, but Brienne barely survives the attack.

Ilyn Payne most clearly is the executioner/death as symbol, and I wonder what it means that Brienne has brought his relative with her? It could mean anything, of course, but I think it means death for someone other than Brienne.  It's kind of creepy, too, that Ilyn Payne executed Ned, and now here's his relative to face the merciless widow.  Widow's Wail.  Too many symbols packed in here.

Regarding Arya and her own trip to the underworld under the Red Keep, I found it interesting that the role of Hel for her is taken by Varys/Illyrio, her guide is a cat, Balerion, and the watchdogs are dragon skulls.  And when she emerges the dragons are friendlier.  

Will Varys/Illyrio prove personal demons to Arya, or was that just to show us that these two snakes at the foundations of the Red Keep were responsible for its disruption, they're the devils in the foundations.

And they're guarded by dragons as hellhounds suggesting one or both are dragons?

Regarding Sansa, the Hel in that scenario should be Ilyn Payne, who will shortly behead her father, but in fact he is paired with Sandor as Hound, so we're introduced to two hellhounds before the real devil or demon of Hel arrives, Joffrey, responsible for the deaths of Ned and Lady.

And just like Arys's dragons becoming friendlier, the hellhounds can sometimes be tamed, as in the Hound.

Have you looked at open mouths or maws as entrances to underworlds/other worlds, because of your gatekeeper symbolism?  I'm sure I'm not the first to notice that going through doors described as mouths take people to an Other World.  Arya goes through a dragon's mouth, Dany goes through an actual mouth door on her way to the Undying, the Black Gate is a mouth.

In Norse myth, the original meaning of frost, fire and stone giants is "devourers". When these trips begin in a mouthlike portal, I think we're given a clue to a character's trip to an otherworld. But it won't be the same death or evil entity they encounter on the other side, but according to location and the character him or herself.

You know, this might have some predictive strength.  Whenever we see two hellhound types paired by skulls or just hound symbolism, we should look to see who comes next, the real enemy revealed for the character undergoing an underworld parallel trip.

Back to skulls - along with death, of course, they are also a symbol of Asgard (made from Ymir's skull) so divinity and immortality.  I think you are right that in dreams or visions they might be a portent of death but also resurrection.

But they also can serve semi-independent roles too.  Those skulls reminded me of Heart of Darkness in Bittersteels's case.  The skulls serve as warning, barrier, and entrance into another world - here there be monsters.  Just like the hellhounds, but on solider ground symbolically.

In the Whispering Skull scenario, I think It's a reference to Mimir and Bran the Blessed, but I'd have to read it again as I'm not sure this one fits the others.

 

Edited by Lady Barbrey

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On 11/6/2018 at 3:59 AM, Jova Snow said:

I am talking about skulls of Bittersteel and other leaders of Golden Company that are shown to be grinning in Jon Connington's POV.  But we also have Brienne's encounter with Nimble Dick (?) and the legend of Wishpering Skulls so do you think Skull of Bittersteel can wishper as well? What would they say if they could talk? Who will be able to hear them? It is interesting none of Aegon's group seem to be interested in magical things yet they can't escape from weird encounters with a God and later the Bridge of Dreams so Wispering Skulls won't be too weird. 

 

Skull used in one context will not necessarily have the same meaning in another totally different setting.  The GC just used theirs as a macabre kind of mascot.  

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On 11/6/2018 at 5:49 PM, Lollygag said:

Tyrion and Arya have very different responses to the dragon skulls but they both sense that they are still conscious to some degree. No whispering, but they do seem to ferret out who belongs and who doesn't. Tyrion finds them beautiful and comforting. Arya not so much.

AGOT Tyrion II

 

He had expected to find them impressive, perhaps even frightening. He had not thought to find them beautiful. Yet they were. As black as onyx, polished smooth, so the bone seemed to shimmer in the light of his torch. They liked the fire, he sensed. He'd thrust the torch into the mouth of one of the larger skulls and made the shadows leap and dance on the wall behind him. The teeth were long, curving knives of black diamond. The flame of the torch was nothing to them; they had bathed in the heat of far greater fires. When he had moved away, Tyrion could have sworn that the beast's empty eye sockets had watched him go.

 

AGOT Arya III

 

"It's dead," she said aloud. "It's just a skull, it can't hurt me." Yet somehow the monster seemed to know she was there. She could feel its empty eyes watching her through the gloom, and there was something in that dim, cavernous room that did not love her. She edged away from the skull and backed into a second, larger than the first. For an instant she could feel its teeth digging into her shoulder, as if it wanted a bite of her flesh. Arya whirled, felt leather catch and tear as a huge fang nipped at her jerkin, and then she was running. Another skull loomed ahead, the biggest monster of all, but Arya did not even slow. She leapt over a ridge of black teeth as tall as swords, dashed through hungry jaws, and threw herself against the door.

 

 

 

That's not the only encounter Arya has with the dragon skulls. Why not post both passages? 

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8 hours ago, a black swan said:

That's not the only encounter Arya has with the dragon skulls. Why not post both passages? 

Because I only recall one incident with the skulls.

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