Ask the Maester: Answers to Questions about Game of Thrones season 4 finale - s4e10 - about "The Children" and the Three Eyed Crow
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Game of Thrones!
Stashed in: Best of GoT
Lots of good back story about the Children of the Forest, yo:
Right about when Bran, Hodor, and what’s left of the Wonder Twins (peace be upon you, Jojen) were scampering into the hollow beneath the great weirwood, somewhere far, far north of the Wall, I realized how totally insane it is that this story is the biggest hit for HBO since The Sopranos. It feels like nerd final victory. The season finale featured a heroin-chic child-elf hurling magical fireballs at rampaging Castlevania skeletons.
It’s kind of the go-to observation that George R.R. Martin’s main achievement, in terms of reinventing the fantasy genre, has been the way his story has so ruthlessly subverted the genre’s tropes and applied shades of gray to where we’re used to only black and white. Tolkien never tried to get us to empathize with an orc, after all. I agree with this to an extent; just considering the finale, Brienne’s attempt to rescue Arya is a perfect example (Brienne is the Knight in Shining Armor, trying to rescue Arya from a situation that she knows nothing about). But underneath all the pseudo-historical medieval realism and self-aware deconstructions of well-worn fantasy structures, this is ultimately a story about dragons, ice zombies, magic elf children, and sorcery. Martin doesn’t so much subvert the tropes as bury them deep in the narrative, under a layer of sex, blood, and fire.
As the film critic Danny Bowes tweeted at me the other night, “Civilians are watching this … Holy shit.” Like 18 million civilians a week. Holy shit.
Let’s get to the questions.
Andrews asks, “Could you explain the little girl throwing fireballs? And who is the old guy in the tree?”
When the first humans — known as the First Men — arrived in Westeros from Essos, some 12,000 or so years ago, they found the continent already inhabited by a mysterious race of creatures that they came to call the Children of the Forest. In the books, the Children are described as unambiguously elven, with large, golden cat’s eyes; brown skin, freckled with pale spots; three black-clawed fingers plus opposable thumb; and large ears.
The initial contacts between the First Men and the Children were, unsurprisingly, marked by misunderstanding and violence.
The Children’s religion is best described as a form of magical animism. They worshiped places in the forest, streams, stones, and, most importantly, the weirwood trees. Legend has it that it was the Children who carved the ghostly faces into the white bark of the weirwood trees, the better to stand watch over the woods. The First Men, though, were disturbed by the faces of the weirwood trees, mostly because they are legit creepy looking. Coming upon them as they cleared the pristine woods to build their halls and castles, the First Men cut down the trees to use as firewood. I mean, that’s just what you do with wood, and how were they to know? As you can imagine, the Children considered cooking hot dogs over the burning bodies of their gods to be a brutal, sacrilegious affront, and thus began the war between the Children and the First Men, which spanned some 2,000 years. The Children have a deep connection with nature, which we can refer to broadly as magic, and they used this magic to destroy the Arm of Dorne, a land bridge linking Westeros to Essos that was the main route of First Men migration. I’m picturing thousand of little heroin elves throwing massed hadouken fireballs.
The destruction of the Arm of Dorne didn’t stem the tide of the First Men, however. Bigger and stronger than the Children, and fighting with bronze weapons from horseback (an animal never before seen in Westeros), the First Men slowly turned the tide of the war. Pushed farther and farther north, the Children, after apparently seizing Moat Cailin, attempted unsuccessfully to flood the Neck in order to break the continent in two.
Eventually — you know, after thousands of years of pointless warfare — cooler heads prevailed and a peace treaty, called “The Pact,” was agreed upon, ushering in the Age of Heroes. When the White Walkers first appeared, it was probably the Children who discovered their weakness to obsidian and, together with the First Men, drove the ice zombies back into the Lands of Always Winter. Over time, the First Men took the old gods of the weirwoods for their own, while the Children faded from view and were thought to be either extinct or the stuff of legend. But, as it turns out, the Children were just hanging out with all the other weird animals and magic hippie freaks North of the Wall.
Now, the old guy in the tree is a much longer and much, much more complicated story. In fact, even if you’ve read the five canonical books, the Three-Eyed Crow’s identity is still pretty tough to figure out, the only real clue being a brief mention of his “1,000 eyes and one” catchphrase almost as a throwaway in Book 4. Most of what we know about the Three-Eyed Crow comes from two of the prequel books — “The Hedge Knight” and “The Sworn Sword” — and those books can be a little tricky to find in non–graphic novel format. So show watchers should be confused as to who he is simply because I’m sure there are some book readers out there who don’t know, either.
The Three-Eyed Crow’s born name is Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers; he is the bastard son of King Aegon IV Targaryen (Maester Aemon’s great-grandfather), who reigned more than a century before the events of the show, and Melissa Blackwood, one of Aegon’s many highborn mistresses. Aegon IV was basically Robert Baratheon with the legitimacy of the Targaryen regime behind him; nicknamed “Aegon the Unworthy,” he was one of the worst kings in Westerosi history — which is crazy because, like, low bar — and ruled the Seven Kingdoms like an erection wearing a crown. Despite being married (to his sister, Naerys, as per Targaryen custom), he took numerous mistresses, paraded them openly through court, and basically gave zero fucks.
From King Aegon’s profligate loins sprang the seeds of open warfare. On his deathbed, the king legitimized all of his bastards, from the ones born of dalliances with tavern wenches and whores to those from highborn mistresses, the so-called “great bastards.” The ill-advised mass legitimization, along with his earlier decision to give the fabled Valyrian sword of Aegon the Conqueror — traditionally passed from king to king — to his great bastard Daemon Blackfyre instead of his trueborn heir Daeron (who later became King Daeron II Targaryen), created an environment of growing antagonism between the root-and-stem Targaryens and the Blackfyre offshoot of the family. And, so, about 10 years into King Daeron II Targaryen’s reign, the Blackfyre Rebellion broke out.
It was during the Blackfyre Rebellion that Brynden Rivers made his reputation, both for good and for ill. Though a great bastard, he stayed loyal to King Daeron, playing a key role in winning the war when his archers cut down the usurper Daemon Blackfyre and his sons during the Battle of the Redgrass Field. Good news, bad news: He won the war, but it cost him his eye and he would forever be marked a kinslayer for offing his half-brother.
After the war, Bloodraven became Hand of the King under the first, non-crazy, King Aerys. During Aerys’s reign, it was an open secret throughout the Seven Kingdoms that Brynden Rivers actually ran Westeros, and gradually the whispers about him grew darker, into rumors of spies and sorcery and dark magic. A common saying at the time was, “How many eyes does Bloodraven have? A thousand eyes, and one.”
Eventually running afoul of Aerys’s successor, King Maekar I — who is Maester Aemon’s father — Bloodraven spent an unknown amount of time in the black cells under the Red Keep (future home to Ned Stark and Tyrion Lannister) before being freed to accompany Aemon on his trip to the Wall. It’s there that fake history loses track of him, until Bran & Co. find him hooked up to the weirwood roots under a hill in the far distant north some 70 years later.
What does Bloodraven/the Three-Eyed Crow/Brynden Rivers want with Bran? We shall see.
Lots of people asked, “What’s up with the crazy killer skeletons?”
Everything the White Walkers kill turns into their undead slave. So, theJason and the Argonauts skeletons are some long-dead victims of the White Walkers. And, since they were wearing armor and chain mail, perhaps the remnants of some long-dead Night’s Watch ranging? Or even older? The knife that stabbed poor Wonder Twin Jojen appeared to be bronze, which could mean ancient First Men. And who knows how many thousands of ice zombies are up there just waiting for winter to finally come?
Greg asks, “So burning the bodies of the dead prevent them from becoming White Walkers, right? Why does that only happen north of the Wall? Is there any explanation as to how a dead body becomes a walker?”
It only happens to things killed by White Walkers, or perhaps already dead things that come into contact with White Walkers. The explanation is this: magic, yo.
Kevin asks, “Is the Mountain dead or alive?”
Alive but ailing.
And did they say there are now 18 million Game of Thrones viewers per week?!
"From King Aegon’s profligate loins sprang the seeds of open warfare. On his deathbed, the king legitimized all of his bastards, from the ones born of dalliances with tavern wenches and whores to those from highborn mistresses, the so-called “great bastards.” The ill-advised mass legitimization, along with his earlier decision to give the fabled Valyrian sword of Aegon the Conqueror — traditionally passed from king to king — to his great bastard Daemon Blackfyre instead of his trueborn heir Daeron (who later became King Daeron II Targaryen), created an environment of growing antagonism between the root-and-stem Targaryens and the Blackfyre offshoot of the family. And, so, about 10 years into King Daeron II Targaryen’s reign, the Blackfyre Rebellion broke out."
I know, right? The backstory for Game of Thrones is fascinating.
I hope that if the TV show catches up with the books so they need more time, that perhaps they'll make a season or two of backstory. How cool would that be?