In George R.R. Martin’s series of novels A Song of Ice and Fire and its TV-adaptation, Game of Thrones, the frequent reference to the colours black and white may allude to the magpie image in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s medieval romance Parzival.
What strikes us in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) and Game of Thrones (GoT) – alongside many other aspects – is the frequent reference to the colours black and white or the combination of these colours. In her storyline Arya Stark, for instance, trains to be a Faceless Men in the mysterious House of Black and White in Braavos.
Apart from this, the mighty Wall of ice rises up behind Castle Black. By joining the Night’s Watch, recruits take the black since the men of the Watch, called crows by the free folk, are dressed in black. Appropriately enough, in the snowy areas in the far north or at the Wall they are confronted with the free folk and the White Walkers / the Others that together with the wights or the Army of the Dead pose a threat to the living.
Usually, we associate white with good, whereas we link black to evil. If all these information are taken into consideration, the frequent use of black and white might be interpreted as an indication that in ASOIAF and GoT the line between good and evil blurs. Or, perhaps we deal with an allusion to the magpie image in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s medieval romance Parzival, which was probably written in the first quarter of 13th century.
Broadly speaking, the Eurasian magpie has a black and white plumage. Hence, the magpie image represents the idea of an ambivalent or contradictory human being. Such a person can be characterized as – in metaphorical terms – internally black and white spotted. Simply put, good and evil or good and bad traits exist side by side.
With regard to Wolfram’s medieval romance, maybe the magpie image is applicable to Parzival (or Eng. Perceval) who commits sins and, nonetheless, finds grace. Needless to mention, in ASOIAF as well as in GoT several characters embody ambivalent human beings with moral flaws. Moreover, one of the main protagonists, Jon Snow, to a certain extent, appears to show slight similarities to Perceval or Parzival.
Bumke, Joachim. Wolfram von Eschenbach. 7th ed. Stuttgart, Weimar: Verlag J.B. Metzler, 1997.
Johnson, Sidney M. “Wolfram von Eschenbach.” The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. Ed. Norris J. Lacy. Updated paperback ed. New York, London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996.