The Idea of Vision – The Possible Meanings of the Colours Red and White in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones (Part II)

While part I mainly focuses on the discovery of the dead direwolf and her pups, Ghost’s appearance as well as the possible similarities between this event and the Perceval scene (i.e. ‘the three blood drops in the snow’), the second part will attempt to work out the concept of vision in connection to the colours red and white.  

Unlike Perceval, who stares at the blood drops in the snow, at the beginning of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) or Game of Thrones (GoT) Jon Snow, at first sight, does not appear to have an inner vision. It is apposite to repeat that in A Game of Thrones the chapter after the Prologue is narrated in the third person from Bran Stark’s point of view.

Yet, from some of the following chapters with Jon as a P-O-V character we can infer an idea of vision regarding specific situations and conditions. Jon, as pointed out in part I, later recollects the beheading of the deserter, a past event, and sees “in his mind’s eye” (GT, 179) his uncle’s death, a vision of a potential future event. Remarkably, his recollection and his imagination of Benjen Stark’s death involve blood on the snow.

(A note about his uncle in the TV-series: During the sixth season of GoT Benjen Stark returns, rescuing Bran and Meera Reed. After a White Walker stabbed him, he was saved by the Children of the Forest. Benjen also helps Jon escape from the White Walkers and the Army of the Dead before sacrificing himself.)

At this point, we may recall his insightful remark, in which he attributes the number and sexes of the five direwolf pups to the five “legitimate” Stark children (i.e. three boys and two girls). Another notable event in this regard happens in the hunted forest (i.e. close to Castle Black, the main stronghold of the Night’s Watch). Here Jon says the vows of the Night’s Watch together with his friend Sam(well) Tarley before a heart tree.

White Weirwood Trees with Blood-Red Leaves and Red Eyes – The Notion of Vision

What strikes us (i.e. the readers or viewers) is the appearance of these trees since they are weirwoods with white barks, blood-red leaves and red sap. They look like the heart tree in Winterfell’s godswood:

“The weirwood’s bark was white as bone, its leaves dark red, like a thousand bloodstained hands. A face had been carved in the trunk of the great [heart] tree, its features long and melancholy, the deep-cut eyes red with dried sap and strangely watchful. They were old, those eyes; older than Winterfell itself.” (A Game of Thrones (GT), 23)

Likewise, the heart trees or weirwoods in the haunted forest have faces and red eyes which were carved into their white or pale trunks:

“The sun was sinking below the trees when they reached their destination, a small clearing in the deep of the wood where nine weirwoods grew in a rough circle…Even in the wolfswood [near Winterfell], you never found more than two or three of the white trees growing together; a grove of nine was unheard of. The forest floor was carpeted with fallen leaves, bloodred on top, black rot beneath. The wide trunks were bone pale, and nine faces stared inward. The dried sap that crusted in the eyes was red and hard as ruby.” (GT, 521-2)

These lines again stress the importance of the colours red and white.

Ghost accompanies them but vanishes for a while. Subsequent to the taking of the vows, Ghost suddenly reappears with a hand of a human corpse in his jaws. In this context, Jon’s realization is very interesting: “And suddenly Ghost was back, stalking softly between two weirwoods. White fur and red eyes, Jon realized, disquieted. Like the trees… (ibid., 522).”

By making a connection between Ghost’s distinctive features and the weirwood trees, Jon gives the impression of having a flash of insight. He apparently becomes aware of the possible link between his direwolf and the trees through the colours red and white and, particularly, the red eyes. Eventually, the discovery of the hand turns out to be significant because, shortly thereafter, – amongst other things – Jon experiences his first encounter with a wight – a blue-eyed reanimated corpse.

Generally speaking, due to his flashes of insight in these events Jon can be compared, in a way, to Perceval when he has an inner vision by looking at the three blood drops in the snow. Now, it is not necessary to analyze the similarities and differences between Jon Snow and Perceval or Parzival, the medieval hero in some of the Holy Grail legends.

Nevertheless, the above mentioned aspects open the door to speculations whether the Perceval scene provided inspiration for George R.R. Martin. During these events, in any case, the idea of vision comes to the fore, as Jon’s flashes of insight, Ghost’s red eyes, the red eyes on the white weirwood trees, specific passages in the novels (e.g. “…in his mind’s eye [Jon] saw…(GT, 179)”) or particular shots of eyes and other scenes in GoT underline.

Furthermore, through the notion of vision we recognize a link between Jon and the P-O-V character of the beginning chapter after the Prologue, Bran Stark, who in GoT transforms into the Three-Eyed Raven. Fittingly, in Welsh bran or Brân means “crow or raven”.

As in the TV-series, in ASOIAF Bran is summoned through visions or dreams to a cave far north beyond the Wall, where he encounters the three-eyed crow (or the former Three-Eyed Raven in GoT), a mysterious figure. Inside the cave there are numerous weirwood roots.

White Skin, White Hair, a Bloody Blotch and a Red Eye – The Mysterious Three-Eyed Crow / Raven and Another Reference to Inner Vision

Sitting on a kind of throne of weirwood roots and being twined about with these roots, the crow / Raven appears to be interconnected with the weirwoods all over the north or even Westeros. His appearance in the show markedly differs from how he is depicted in ASOIAF. For our purposes it is useful to resort to the description of his frightening appearance in the fifth novel, A Dance with Dragons.

The mystical three-eyed crow is portrayed as a pale figure with white skin, white hair, a missing eye, a red eye and a red blotch that covers (a part of) his neck and cheek.

“His body was so skeletal and his clothes so rotten that at first Bran took him for another corpse, a dead man propped up so long that the roots had grown over him, under him, and through him. What skin the corpse lord showed was white, save for a bloody blotchy that crept up his neck onto his cheek. His (long) white hair was fine…A spray of dark red leaves sprouted from his skull, and grey mushrooms spotted his brow. A little skin remained, stretched across his face, tight and hard as white leather, but even that was fraying, and here and there the brown and yellow bone beneath was poking through…A three-eyed crow should have three eyes. He has only one, and that one red.” (A Dance with Dragons (DD), 177-8)

Such characteristics link him not only to the weirwood trees but also, up to a certain degree, to Ghost. Again this connection is established by the colours red and white. Interestingly enough, the red eyes contrast with the (cold) blue eyes of the wights and the Others / White Walkers.

Let us consider for a moment the cultural depictions of ravens or crows on an abstract level. Unsurprisingly, in mythology as well as in classical literature ravens or crows with their black plumage evoke negative associations. More precisely, these carrion birds are associated with uncleanliness, loss, death and bad omens.

Alongside the wolf and the vulture / eagle (another carrion-eater) the raven is also known as one of the beasts of battle in Old Norse and Old English poetry. Notably, the entry for ‘Raven’ in A Dictionary of Literary Symbols includes an interesting detail: “It was proverbial that ravens peck out the eyes of the slain” (168).

Martin’s ASOIAF clearly identifies crows as eaters of carrion. Suffice it to say that the title of the forth novel is A Feast for Crows. On a side note, ravens function as an integral part of the communication network in the fictional continent of Westeros, carrying letters from place to place. Instead of dwelling on their functions in the represented world, we should return to the mysterious three-eyed crow / Three-Eyed Raven.

The very name three-eyed crow / Three-Eyed Raven entails the mystical and even esoteric notion of an interior and invisible third eye. By means of this “eye” a person gains access to a kind of perception or insight beyond ordinary sight and forms of arcane knowledge. Appropriately enough, the third eye is also regarded as the inner or the mind’s eye.

It is possible to interpret the third eye as another reference to the idea of inner vision. This not only allows us to connect Bran to the three-eyed crow / the Three-Eyed Raven but also permits the possibility to establish a connection between the three-eyed crow / Raven, Bran and Jon Snow in the aforementioned events.

The link between them is primarily suggested through the colours red and white. Other intriguing aspects are recognizable, when the three-eyed cow’s / Raven’s (or Bran’s) abilities are taken into account.

He Has the Greensight – The Three-Eyed Crow’s / Raven’s (or Bran’s) Abilities

We learn in ASOIAF that he is the last greenseer who were, according to some legends of the fictional continent of Westeros, the wise men of the Children of the Forest. They allegedly could see through the eyes the Children carved on the weirwood trees, were able to see events from a far distance, could control the minds of animals like wolves or direwolves and had the ability to look into the past and to predict the future.

Presumably, Bran, as it is revealed in GoT, eventually possesses all of these abilities. He, in fact, is the new Three-Eyed Raven, after the old one was killed by the Night King in season 6.

In A Dance with Dragons the three-eyed crow teaches Bran Stark about skinchanging (i.e. the “power” to enter an animal’s body) and greensight (i.e. the capability to have dreams about the future and to see flashes of past events). Bran evidently develops the ability of greenseeing.

Besides this, in the course of ASOIAF as well as in GoT he is a skinchanger or a warg since he frequently inhabits his direwolf’s (i.e. Summer’s) body for a period of time. Additionally, he projects his mind into a raven and his simple-minded friend Hodor. To a lesser extent, Jon and Arya, for example, also have a sort of warg bond with their direwolves, Ghost and Nymeria, in ASOIAF, although only Bran has been actively honing this ability.

Strikingly, with reference to the idea of vision, Bran witnesses the execution of the deserter at the beginning, whereas Yoren of the Night’s Watch prevents Arya from seeing the execution of her father, Ned Stark. It is worth adding that Arya loses her sight, while she trains to become a Faceless Man and assassin in Braavos.

Finally, in part III some of Melisandre‘s features will be analyzed. Apart from this, this part will elaborate on how the connection between Jon Snow and the Targaryens is alluded to through the colours red and white. 

Sources

Bumke, Joachim. Wolfram von Eschenbach. 7th ed. Stuttgart, Weimar: Verlag J.B. Metzler, 1997. 

Game of Thrones: Die komplette erste Staffel. DVDs. HBO, 2012. -> The blog post also refers to the other seasons of GoT.

Game of Thrones: Die komplette dritte Staffel. DVDs. HBO, 2014.

Lacy, Norris J. “Perceval.” The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. Updated paperback ed. 1996. 

Larrington, Carolyne. Winter Is Coming: The Medieval World of Game of Thrones. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2016.  

Loomis, Sherman Roger. The Grail: From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol. Renewed ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.   

Martin, George R.R. A Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books, 2011. (1996) -> The blog post also refers to the other novel of ASOIAF.

Martin, George R.R. A Storm of Swords 1: Steel and Snow. London: Harper Voyager, 2011.

Martin, George R.R. A Dance with Dragons: Book Five of A Song of Ice and Fire. New York: Bantam Books, 2011.

Martin, George R.R. Westeros: Die Welt von Eis und Feuer: Game of Thrones. Trans. Andreas Helweg. 5th ed. Munich: Penhaligon, 2015.

Pavlac, Brian A. “Introduction.” Game of Thrones versus History: Written in Blood. Ed. Brian A. Pavlac. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017. 1-15.

Riggs, Don. “Continuity and Transformation in the Religions of Westeros and Western Europe.” Game of Thrones versus History: Written in Blood. Ed. Brian A. Pavlac. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017. 173-184. 

 

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freedomfactsandstories

Nils Zumbansen, Ph.D. You can contact me under the following email // Sie können mich über die folgende E-Mail-Addresse erreichen: freedomfactsandstories@gmail.com