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A Theory on Sphinxes and Heroes


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Part I: A true man

Jon Snow is, for me, the most interesting mystery of ASOIAF. From AGoT 's prologue when we meet Waymar Royce, the failed hero, I always suspected that the ranger's physical resemblance to the Starks (with Jon in particular) had something to do with this story. I was wrong unfortunately :D

This theory is based on something Aemon says on his journey from the Wall to Old Town, “the sphinx is the riddle, not the riddler”, although the main evidence is in AGoT’s prologue, a text that I have been struggling with for years. In fact this is not my first theory about this topic, but I think I finally got the riddle.

In this theory that sought to understand the importance of Jon's identity, I found Lightbringer and understood what The Others are and why they behave as they do.

In Part II I’ll hopefully prove beyond a doubt what Ned’s tower dream is about, in Part III,I’ll talk about how Lightbringer was forged and where, and in part IV about Jon but mostly about The Others.

A sphinx is a monster made up of 3 parts, a human face, the body of an animal (usually a lion) and the wings of some beast (a dragon, hawk, etc). But in ASOIAF they also have an additional quality, and that is that they are always in pairs, man and woman, opposites, like fire and ice.

My theory is that there are two opposing "sphinxes", the 3 headed dragon that Rhaegar was looking for, and the WF statues.

The Crypt’s statues are a sphinx made up of 3 parts, the "likeness" (the lord or king’s face), the sword, and the wolf at his feet.

The riddle is the one that the Black Gate at the Nightfort poses: "Who are you?"

This three-part set is also depicted on the Titan of Braavos. That statue shows a fiery-eyed man wielding a broken sword. The Titan emits a deafening sound to warn that ships are approaching the city. That sound, the horn, ties him to the Night’s King legend and the “Horn of Winter”. The broken sword links him to another legend, the Long Night and the Last Hero, and the eyes to Jon (or rather to Ghost).

This theory is about heroes and what it means to be a hero.

Fair warning: this is a long theory that covers many topics and this is just an introductory part to understand parts II to IV where the theory is fully developed.

Let's start at the center of the mystery, Lyanna Stark.

The first version we have of what happened to her is that she was abducted and systematically raped by Rhaegar. That is the story that Robert tells, and possibly he is not the most objective source of information, so we tend to look for alternative explanations, and there are several.

As the story progresses, other possibilities open up, from the idea of a romantic love to a magical crusade in which Lyanna appears to be the piece of the puzzle that Rhaegar needed.

None of them are entirely satisfactory because none of them explain some important facts that I will talk about throughout this theory and mainly because they are not entirely in line with what we know about the characters, and that is the worst problem. People have motivations that are logical in their story, with their context.

The worst problem with Lyanna's disappearance for me is satisfactorily explaining what she was doing in the place where she was supposed to disappear. And there’s no explanation.

But to get to Lyanna, first I have to talk about heroes, and The Others. Let's get started.

To our knowledge, The Others appear in Westeros history 3 times:

  1. During the Long Night

  2. During the NK reign

  3. In the present

This theory will (try to) explain why.

 

A.- The Long Night & The Last Hero

When Old Nan tells the legend she says that during a particularly cold winter “The Others came for the First Time”.

According to the legend: “They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun, and every creature with hot blood in its veins.”

Also, they did something quite disturbing: “They hunted the maids through frozen forests, and fed their dead servants on the flesh of human children."

In other words, the enemy presented by this story is, at first glance, the antithesis of everything that dragons represent: iron, fire, sun, hot blood.

To think that the Others "hunted the maids through frozen forests" made me think immediately in the search for Lyanna, and the mention of "fed their dead servants on the flesh of human children" is a tremendous image of what Clegane (the now zombie) did with Rhaegar's little children and surely hundreds of other children.

In short, if we look at recent history, for Rhaegar or rather for his family, "The Others" are very similar to the Starks and the Lannisters.

The Long Night legend also introduces us to the hero, the "Last Hero," a brave man "determined to seek out the children, in the hopes that their ancient magics could win back what the armies of men had lost."

This quest for magic inevitably brings Rhaegar to mind and the prophecy he was interested in.

The legendary tale remains unfinished, so we do not know what the hero's fate is, how he finds the magic, or what it is. In the legend, the hero "despaired of ever finding the children of the forest in their secret cities."

At what point does Rhaegar despair? The truth is that we don’t know if he was desperate, but we do know that even if he was not obsessed, clearly the prophecy was something that he had in mind and he was looking for the signs (the comet, the smoke, etc).

The thing is, after Aegon's birth he tells Elia that his son already has a song, "The Song of Ice and Fire." This occurs after Harrenhal’s tournament and before Lyanna's disappearance. Then Rhaegar talks about something else, that “the dragon has three heads”.

The interpretation that most of us do, (basically because it is the interpretation that Dany does) is that he needed another son, another "head" to recreate the original trio of conquerors. But in the same way that we don't know what the legendary LH was looking for, we don't know exactly what Rhaegar was looking for either.

On the other hand, we tend to overlook that in addition to Lyanna's coronation, another event occurred in Harrenhal that was determinant, and that is Jaime’s appointment as Kingsguard.

The legend ends with the hero completely alone, carrying a broken sword and surrounded by enemies who “came silent on his trail”.

In this theory, I am going to follow the hero's trail.

 

B. The Night’s King

Like the Last Hero, the Lord Commander is an unknown hero, but they also share another interesting peculiarity, the NK of the legend is the 13th man that led the NW, while the LH leaves on his mission accompanied by 12 men, being him, obviously hero number 13.

Unlike the LH, the NK is remembered as a villain who defied the power of WF.

The legends of the LH and the NK also share a common setting, the Wall, the construction created (apparently) to stop The Others. The NW seems inspired by the LH and the NK was, of course, part of the NW.

The oldest castle on the Wall is the Nightfort, the setting for the story of the NK. In that place is the "Black Gate" (which is actually white), a magical door that opens when correctly answering the question: WHO ARE YOU?

The correct answer, which must come from a brother of the NW who has pronounced his vows (and who is not a corpse) is:

“I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men.”

So, the answer to "Who are you?" is to BE the vow, it is to follow the "trail" left by the LH.

Following that trail, we are going to find the sphinxes.

But the NW oath has two parts, the part that opens the door is the second part. The first part includes a series of prohibitions, and that is the part that we are interested in examining to understand the NK.

“I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post.”

Once we know the story of the NK and the existence of the Black Gate (which has existed since the wall existed), it becomes clear that the first part of the oath was added later and that what the brothers of the NW swear is basically not to become the NK while becoming a hero.

All the points of the oath seem inspired by things the NK did that should not be repeated.

But in addition, there is another aspect to consider and that has to do with The Others. According to legend, after his fall, it was discovered that the LC made sacrifices to The Others. Old Nan never explains what those sacrifaces are about, but it is clear that it is some kind of "help".

The courtship that the NK makes, going in search (or chase) of the woman he loves, is identical to the ritual of "marriage" of the wildlings, and of course, the idea of a "fearless warrior" who kidnaps a woman makes one think of Bael's story.

Let us pause for a moment on the woman, the “corpse queen” who caused the hero’s fall.

The story goes that the NK “loved her though her skin was cold as ice”. This immediately brings to mind the part of the NW oath “the fire that burns against the cold”. The nickname "corpse queen" and the description of the woman suggest that she was dead, which, obviously, leads to Lyanna.

It turns out that the 3-time crowned queen, Lyanna Stark, shares several things with this legend and the heroes of this story.

  1. Lyanna is crowned "Queen of Beauty" by Rhaegar in Harrenhal

  2. On Cersei's wedding night, Robert calls his wife "Lyanna". That night Cersei became queen instead of Lyanna

  3. Ned makes her a statue in the crypt, a statue that she shouldn’t have because that honor is traditionally reserved for the Lords and Kings.

Calling her "corpse queen" and "cold as ice," also makes you think about something Ned says to Robert about Lyanna: "you saw her beauty, but not the iron underneath."

I'll get back to Lyanna and her iron later.

Jaime, like the NK of the legend, broke - almost - all his vows, mostly with his own sister. His most notable act, which is to kill Aerys to prevent him from killing Tywin while destroying the entire city, is unknown (win no glory).

So Jaime is an interesting parallel to the NK, just as Rhaegar seems to be like LH.

These parallels will make sense later, I promise. Now let's talk about the last legendary hero, Bael.

 

C. Bael the Wild

For reasons not entirely clear, Lord Stark “wanted Bael's head” and when Bael found out, he vowed to teach the Lord a lesson.

This is the starting point of the song and obviously there is a great similarity to recent history, Rhaegar allegedly wanted Lyanna's "head" and that leads him to abduct her or escape with her or whatever he was trying to do.

The prince's gesture is very badly received by the very annoyed Brandon Stark and as a consequence, upon learning of his sister's disappearance, he goes like wildfire to KL to yell at the prince “come out and die”.

Jon hears this story on the other side of the Wall and up to that point, apart from Ygritte herself, the only wildling he knew was Craster, the NW 'friend'. Craster cannot bear to be called a bastard, which he obviously is, and is involved in two very unpleasant practices, incest and the sacrifice of his children. Issues in which we can also draw parallels with Prince Rheagar unfortunately.

Back to the song. Bael comes to WF on a winter night with a false identity, "Sygerrik" which in the Old Tongue means "deceiver" and spends the night singing for the Lord. He is so good at singing that the Lord offers him to name his reward, "all I want is a flower" says the bard, "the fairest flower that blooms in the gardens of Winterfell". The next morning, the Lord realizes that the bard had disappeared and had taken his daughter.

On the maiden's bed, Lord Stark finds the flower that Bael had received as a reward, resting on the place where the woman's head had rested.

This is where things get interesting. Obviously, the flower and the disappearance are clear references to Lyanna's disappearance and the crown of winter roses she receives in Harrenhal. But there are some details that are not so obvious:

  • The flower appears on the maiden's pillow, so the girl was sleeping when Bael took her. That makes you think of the NW vow "the horn that wakes the sleepers" and of course, the Horn of Winter.

  • The flower, as I said, is a reference to Lyanna and Harrenhal. But unlike the flower in the song, that is placed where a crown is supposed to be (on the head), Rhaegar places the crown on Lyanna's lap. As we know, that is the place where the WF statues have their swords. The purpose of the sword is to "keep the vengeful spirit" in the crypt, basically, to keep it dead.

  • The flower on the pillow, or rather on the head, made me think of the song that the Ghost of High Heart asks for, as payment for her prophetic dreams. The song she asks for is “Jenny's song”. Jenny's song goes like this: "High in the Halls of the Kings who are gone*, Jenny would dance with her ghosts.*" That bit that I highlighted is key to understanding Lyanna’s mystery.

Let's start with the Horn. The NW oath speaks of a "horn that wakes the sleepers" and the NK legend mentions that Joramun helps the Stark of Winterfell to defeat the NK. It is never clearly specified how Joramun uses the horn, but there are some details in the story that help to understand what it is.

Jon remembers a legend that says that the horn "woke giants". When Viserys gets violent with Dany, he tells her that it's her fault because she "woke the dragon." Melisandre talks all the time about awakening stone dragons, and generally, that involves killing someone. So, clearly, the horn awakens something large and possibly violent.

In Bael's song, the flower fulfills the function of a horn, it is a warning, it is Bael announcing “I took her”. In the same way, it is crowning Lyanna in Harrenhal which makes Rhaegar the only suspect. And of course, that was the point.

In other words, the "Horn of Winter" is a power, which has to do with waking up, with opening our eyes, with realizing something that we had in front of our eyes all the time.

We had the horn of winter in front of our eyes ALL the time. The first step to uncover what really happened, is to talk about Jon’s dad.

 

That is what I’ll talk about in Part II.

Thanks a lot for reading this first part of the theory! It get’s better, I promise.

Sorry for any grammar or spelling mistakes, but English is not my first language.

 

Edited by northern_amnesia
Added Link to Part II
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I'm invested in what you're trying to tell with this. A lot of things feel incomplete or out of place, I hope the later threads you plan will help that out. 

Other than that, I believe in the Night's King being the actual Last Hero (just like you, I assume, based on the connections you made), I tend to believe he was mischaracterized/wasn't understood by the people of his age or something, and the present Last Hero figure will have to fix that in some way, and achieve what the Night's King couldn't. What really doesn't fit with this is how Old Nan presents the Others. That they hunt maidens (specifically) and their dead servants eat little children (specifically) seems to be made up horror story by commoners who try to scare their children or just simply terrorize anyone anyone by telling how the Others focus on the purest natured humans, on children and maidens. Usually that's what every horroe story tells, I like not to give too much credit to that part of the story. 

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On 10/15/2021 at 8:09 AM, Daeron the Daring said:

I'm invested in what you're trying to tell with this. A lot of things feel incomplete or out of place, I hope the later threads you plan will help that out. 

Other than that, I believe in the Night's King being the actual Last Hero (just like you, I assume, based on the connections you made), I tend to believe he was mischaracterized/wasn't understood by the people of his age or something, and the present Last Hero figure will have to fix that in some way, and achieve what the Night's King couldn't. What really doesn't fit with this is how Old Nan presents the Others. That they hunt maidens (specifically) and their dead servants eat little children (specifically) seems to be made up horror story by commoners who try to scare their children or just simply terrorize anyone anyone by telling how the Others focus on the purest natured humans, on children and maidens. Usually that's what every horroe story tells, I like not to give too much credit to that part of the story. 

Hi! thanks so much for your comment, and yes! Is incomplete because is just the ground work of the theory, I just posted Part II, in case you are interested. 

As for the Others, they are part of this theory and as you say, I also believe that the hunting and the babies part is just a misunderstanding, or rather, something that their enemies say. Every story has two sides, and I think that's exactly what's happening here.

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