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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Blood on the Snow – The Possible Meanings of the Colours Red and White in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones (Part I)

Was the beginning of both George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones partly inspired by a scene in two medieval versions of Perceval’s quest for the Holy Grail, when Perceval sees three blood drops in the snow?

In George R.R. Martin’s series of novels A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) and its TV-adaptation Game of Thrones (GoT) Jon Snow’s storyline arguably indicates slight similarities to Perceval’s journey in the two medieval romances or Holy Grail legends Perceval ou le Conte du Graal by Chrétien de Troyes and Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach. Both ASOIAF and GoT also refer to a common feature in Holy Grail legends – the wasteland motif.

Further allusions to the aforementioned versions of Perceval’s quest may be the frequent use of particular combinations of different colours. For example, the various references to black and white perhaps allude to the magpie image in Wolfram’s Parzival. Alongside these colours, we as readers or viewers notice several depictions, events or scenes which explicitly or implicitly mention the colours red and white.

We can, for instance, just point to Jon’s direwolf, Ghost, with his white fur and red eyes. Moreover, particularly with regard to ASOIAF, at the Wall in the snow-covered area far north of the fictional continent of Westeros Jon Snow suddenly imagines his uncle Benjen Stark’s death, when his uncle leaves Castle Black for an expedition into the haunted forest:

“As he watched his uncle lead his horse into the tunnel, Jon had remembered the things that Tyrion Lannister told him on the kingsroad, and in his mind’s eye he saw Ben Stark lying dead, his blood red on the snow.” (A Game of Thrones (GT), 179)

Later – before fleeing from the free folk beyond the Wall – he remembers the execution of  the deserter from the Night’s Watch:

“Jon remembered another killing; the deserter on his knees, his head rolling, the brightness of blood on snow…his father’s sword, his father’s words, his father’s face…” (A Storm of Swords 1: Steel and Snow (SoS), 566)

Intriguingly, there is a reference to blood on the snow in the consulted versions of Perceval’s quest, too.

Three Blood Drops in the Snow – Perceval’s Inner Vision

At one point, Perceval rides across a snowy field, spotting three blood drops. It is noteworthy that the snowfall during the night before borders on a miraculous event because it is summer (cf. esp. Wolfram’s Parzival). The three blood drops in the snow result from a bleeding bird (or, more precisely, a goose) after a falcon’s attack.

Perceval and the Three Blood Drops in the Snow
Perceval (or Parzival) and the three blood drops in the snow

Seeing the blood drops in the snow, Perceval falls into a trance-like state. Although scholars assess this episode in Wolfram’s Parzival differently, through the mix of the colours red and white he thinks to recognize his beloved’s beautiful face. Note that in Chrétien’s version his beloved is Blancheflor, whereas in Wolfram’s Parzival her name is Condwiramurs.

Undoubtedly, the three blood drops in the snow cast a kind of love spell over Perceval who experiences a form of inner vision or introspection. Consequently, the interplay of red and white enables Perceval to look inwardly. His thoughts of his beloved in his  trance-like state apparently gives him strength to continue his search for the Holy Grail.

Since Perceval has this inner vision of his beloved’s facial beauty that encourages him to resume his quest for the Holy Grail, this scene is a significant event. If we now put the emphasis on the analysis of the possible meanings of the colours red and white in ASOIAF as well as in GoT, we may figure out slight similarities between the scene above and an event in the beginning parts of the first novel and the pilot episode.

White Fur and Red Eyes – A Close Look at the Discovery of the Dead Female Direwolf and Her Pups

The Prologue of A Game of Thrones about the horrifying confrontation between three men of the Night’s Watch and the Others (i.e. the White Walkers and the wights / undead) is followed by a chapter with Lord Eddard (or Ned) Stark’s son Bran as the point-of-view (POV) character. GoTASOIAF’s TV-adaptation, roughly adheres to this order in its opening sequences of scenes. However, it is appropriate to primarily concentrate on the novel.

Ned Stark on the Iron Throne
Ned Stark (Sean Bean) on the Iron Throne

Subsequent to the execution of the deserter from the Night’s Watch, Ned Stark, his sons Robb and Bran(don), his alleged bastard son Jon Snow, his ward Theon Greyjoy and other men return to the home of the Starks, Winterfell. On their way back Robb Stark discovers a dead female direwolf that was killed by a stag’s antler. (Contrary to the descriptions in the novel, in GoT Ned Stark and the boys together with Theon as well as two other members of the Stark household first find a dead stag and, then, the dead direwolf.)

 

Given that the direwolf is the sigil of House Stark and the stag is the sigil of House Baratheon, the dead animal is certainly a potent of the upcoming disaster for House Stark, as the course of ASOIAF and GoT reveals. Regardless of this bad omen, the direwolf’s pups are alive. Evidently, Ned Stark decides not to have the pups killed due to Jon’s insightful remarks:

““There are five pups,”…“Three male, two female.”…

“You have five true born children,” Jon said. “Three sons, two daughters. The direwolf is the sigil of your House. Your children were meant to have these pups, my lord”

Bran saw his father’s face change, saw the other men exchange glances. He loved Jon with all his heart at that moment…The count had come right only because Jon had omitted himself.” (GT, 19)

Nevertheless, a sixth pup emerges shortly afterwards.

Jon’s discovery of the sixth pup is significant because of the little animal’s appearance:

“His fur was white, where the rest of the litter was grey. His eyes were as red as the blood of the ragged man [i.e. the deserterwho had died that morning. Bran thought it curious that this pup alone would have opened his eyes while the others were still blind.” (Ibid., 21)

The male pup’s striking features are his white fur and his red eyes. Jon eventually gives him the name Ghost.

In general, this beginning part of the story contains important aspects concerning foreshadowings, symbolism and the meanings of the colours red and white. Additionally, the text mentions clear deviations from the norm in the represented (quasi-medieval) fantasy world. All these issues not only underscore the significance of this event but also help to point out some possible connections to the scene when Perceval sees the three blood drops in the snow.

Besides the potent of the upcoming disaster and the portrayal of Ghost’s appearance, other distinctive features of this part (including the Prologue) in addition to specific signs allow us to link this sequence of scenes to future events, to interpret the meanings of red and white and to draw (,at least, slight) parallels to the Perceval scene above. We will list these points in the following:

  • The banner or blazon of the Starks is “a grey direwolf racing across an ice-white field” (GT, 14; cf. 813).
  • Bran witnesses the beheading of the deserter: “Blood sprayed out across the snow, as red as summerwine…Bran could not take his eyes off the blood. The snows around the stump drank it eagerly, reddening as he watched” (ibid.15). (There is no snow during the execution scene in the pilot of the TV-series.)
  • Ned Stark beheads the deserter with one single stroke. He carries out the execution with his greatsword Ice. We later learn that this greatsword is used by Ser Ilyn Payne to execute Ned in the capital of Westeros, King’s Landing (cf. Ibid., 727; season 1.9).
  • As indicated in the Prologue, the alleged deserter from the Night’s Watch, Gared, encounters the Others (or the White Walkers). He is on an expedition into the haunted forest together with two other rangers – the young commander Ser Waymar Royce and Will, who – from a tree – sees the killing of Royce. (By the way, in GoT the roles are swapped. Will survives the violent encounter, becomes witness of Gared’s decapitation by a White Walker and is, then, executed as a deserter by Ned Stark.)
  • A few striking passages that depict the bloody confrontation between Royce and the Others read as follows: “The young lord cried out in pain. Blood welled between the rings. It steamed in the cold, and the droplets seemed red as fire where they touched the snow” (GT, 10).
  • Gared (or Will) just flees south to escape from the horrifying beings. However, he is viewed as a deserter. (Technically, he is one.) Before his execution he insists on having encountered the Others or the White Walkers.
  • While Gared (or Will) is sentenced to death by Ned Stark for alleged desertion, the latter is subsequently decapitated on Joffrey’s order for alleged treason (cf. Ibid., 726). Prior to his beheading he, in vain, tries to prevent Joffrey from becoming king, after uncovering that this boy is actually the product of the incestuous relationship between Cersei and her brother Jaime, the Kingslayer.
  • Several lines in the beginning parts of the first novel draw the attention to the weather conditions in the north of the represented world: „The late summer snows had been heavy this moonturn” (ibid., 17). For this reason, when the other men together with Bran arrive at the site of the dead direwolf, Robb stands “kneedeep in white, his hood pulled back so the sun [shines] in his hair” (ibid.). (We already noted the absence of snow during this scene in GoT.)
  • The emergence of a (big) dead direwolf or direwolves, so to speak, apparently deviates from the represented world’s norms. According to Theon, ““[t]here’s not been a direwolf sighted south of the Wall in two hundred years”” (ibid., 18). (In the TV-adaptation Robb makes a similar statement.)
  • Undoubtedly, the female direwolf’s death was caused by a struggle or confrontation between two animals (i.e. the direwolf and a stag). 

Almost probably, the list is not sufficient. Yet, it will do for our purpose.

The Prologue / the opening scene, the execution of Gared / Will and the discovery of the dead female direwolf and her living pups undeniably mark important events. Especially in the first novel of ASOIAF, certain issues make possible connections between these events and the Perceval scene appear more plausible. Hence, perhaps the scene of Perceval looking at the three blood drops partly inspired George R.R. Martin, as far as the beginning of ASOIAF is concerned.

Among these aspects are the references to the heavy summer snow, the violent struggle between the animals and, of course, the blood on the snow as well as the colours red and white, even though the summer snow does not amount to a miraculous incident in this area of the represented world, the direwolf is dead and the explicitly mentioned blood is the result of the beheadings of men. Instead of truly “miraculous” weather conditions as in (Wolfram’s version of) the Perceval scene, strange incidents take place.

With respect to the “reality” and rules of this quasi-medieval fantasy world, transgressions of norms occur at the beginning of ASOIAF and GoT on differet levels. Apart from the occurrence of the Others / White Walkers, the onset of the fantastic, and the deserter who breaks the “law”, such a deviation from the norm is the presence of the big female direwolf and her pups on the southern side of the Wall.

Strangely enough, as Jon accurately observes, the number and sexes of the five direwolf pups correspond to the number and sexes of the “legitimate” Stark children (i.e. Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon). Therefore, the five Stark children, in Jon’s words, are really “meant to have these pups” (GT, 19). Fittingly, the grey direwolves later resemble the grey one on the sigil of House Stark in contrast to the sixth pup, Ghost, whose fur is white and whose eyes are red.

This pup stands out from the rest of the grey looking litter. By differing from the other five pups, Ghost – with his white fur and red eyes – is a good match for Jon Snow, the alleged bastard. His direwolf, in a way, mirrors Jon’s situation or position within the Stark family. He somehow belongs to the Starks without being (treated as) a full family member.

Ghost’s distinctive physical characteristics – his white fur and his red eyes – are  occasionally emphasized in the course of ASOIAF, when Jon is the POV character: “…Ghost hunched with white fur bristling. He made no sound, but his dark red eyes spoke blood (A Storm of Swords 1: Steel and Snow (SoS), 219).” In particular, the red eyes may imply the concept of vision.

As the final sentence indicates, part II will deal with the idea of vision in connection to the colours red and white.

Sources

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

Chrétien de Troyes. Perceval: The Story of the Grail. Trans. Burton Ruffel. New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 1999.

Freese, Peter. “Parzival als Baseballstar: Bernard Malamuds The Natural.” Jahrbuch für Amerikastudien 13 (1968): 143-157.

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

Johnson, Sidney M. “Wolfram von Eschenbach.” The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. Updated paperback ed. 1996. 

Lacy, Norris J. Ed. The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. Updated paperback ed. New York, London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996. 

Lacy, Norris J. “Chrétien de Troyes.” The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. Updated paperback ed. 1996. 

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

Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival. Illus. Dieter Asmus. Trans. Peter Knecht. Stuttgart: Reclam, 2011. 

 

Black vs White or Black with White – Do Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire Allude to the Magpie Image in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival?

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.

Sources

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.