Category Archives: Themes and Motifs

You Want to be …Fooled

I want to write a fun, explorative piece: more idea-fuel and moderate insights than it is ‘epic theory’—an essay full of rhetorical sleight-of-hand that reads like a series of magic tricks and less like rote historiography. So here’s an attempt.

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  • What would it take for you to distrust any prediction a character makes?

Obviously a mistaken interpretation or two will hurt someone’s belief. But what about an admission that they’re just guessing in the first place, something like this:

“Some may.” Could the skulls in her vision have signified this bridge? Somehow Melisandre did not think so. “If it comes, that attack will be no more than a diversion. I saw towers by the sea, submerged beneath a black and bloody tide. That is where the heaviest blow will fall.”


Was it? Melisandre had seen Eastwatch-by-the-Sea with King Stannis. That was where His Grace left Queen Selyse and their daughter Shireen when he assembled his knights for the march to Castle Black. The towers in her fire had been different, but that was oft the way with visions. “Yes. Eastwatch, my lord.”

In our haste to zip through Melisandre’s chapter and find the juicy details, we seem to have overlooked what I now think is perhaps the choicest morsel of all. Why?

It means that Melisandre often interprets her visions as applying to things other than literally what she sees.

This is hardly surprising though—we all know she makes mistakes. Even she admits it. But on the other hand, there’s really only one way to broadly interpret Melisandre’s statement:

Visions often show one thing, but are in truth about another.

If this is the case, then when Melisandre wrongly interprets a specific detail in a vision, she’s not only making mistakes, she is almost certainly misleading readers who trust her words or thoughts.

I know it sounds ridiculous: that her own thoughts would fool us. After all, if she saw Jon… she saw Jon. Why would the text in her own POV mislead us, the readers who are free from the supposed perils of bias that afflict the characters?

The assumption about what Melisandre sees being precisely what she thinks (or more accurately being what is on the page) is ignoring that we are reading words set out by an author who has no strict obligation to give us full, accurate information at all times. There have been several occasions where a character’s thoughts seem to omit details that readers could benefit from and have no real reason not to exist. Tyrion’s chain, Victarion’s ‘surgery’, and more, are all examples of when Martin’s words have deftly avoided the ‘whole truth’ in favor of a more compelling story. And as noted, Melisandre herself admitted that her visions may not apply to the exact objects, places or people she envisions… so even if you disagree and think her thoughts aren’t erroneous and that she actually saw Jon, the vision could still instead apply to someone else—by her own admission!

Anyways, It’s one thing to say this, its another to show you just how misleading a bad prediction can be. Like me, you almost certainly never realized that Melisandre’s first bad vision in A Dance with Dragons happens in Jon’s first chapter.

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  • Ready for a magic trick?

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Moon Visions: Bran is Already Seeing the Future

I’ll get straight to the point:

Bran’s last chapter in A Dance with Dragons is rife with hidden meaning.

In particular, there are carefully hidden allegories buried in the various transitions of the moon.

By unraveling these mysteries, we realize that Bran’s powers of omniscience were already blooming, even before he—or the reader—was consciously aware of them.

Specifically: We can find intriguing possibilities that might support predictions about the fates of both Jon Snow and Stannis.

Lets start with Bran’s narrative: upon finally settling in at the cave of the Three-Eyed Raven, his narrative becomes increasingly distorted.

Bran’s last chapter in A Dance with Dragons is especially conspicuous, containing frequent—almost rhythmic—breaks in the storytelling—breaks which in almost every case describe the the moon overhead. These interludes all begin with one of the following phrases:

The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife.

The moon was fat and full.

The moon was a black hole in the sky.

These phrases clearly mark the passage of time, and make it clear that BRAN III—ADWD covers a period spanning several months.

Now this leads to an interesting question:

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  • Can we connect these passages to events happening elsewhere?

At first blush that seems absurd because Bran’s chapter and these sentences seem so abstract and independent of everything and everyone else. But all I’m really asking is–Can we find events in other chapters where the moon can be found in the same phase, or other evidence that events are happening concurrently with the events in BRAN III—ADWD as shown by Bran’s descriptions of the moon?

You may harbor serious doubts about this idea. However, if you’ll indulge me the opportunity to compare two passages from A Dance with Dragons, I believe you will be convinced that reading the remainder of this essay is worthwhile. Continue reading

The Sea of Shadow: A Map to Dead Kings

“Men live their lives trapped in an eternal present,
between the mists of memory and
the sea of shadow that is all we know of the days to come.

Would you believe me I told you there was a series of ‘easter eggs’ concealed within A Song of Ice and Fire?

Specifically, would you believe that there are references to other scenes and places secretly placed in passages mentioning shadows?

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Prophecy: A Cipher for the Readers

That said, now that I’ve realized his three-fold revelation strategy, I see it in play almost every time. The first, subtle hint for the really astute readers, followed later by the more blatant hint for the less attentive, followed by just spelling it out for everyone else. It’s a brilliant strategy, and highly effective.
— Anne Groell, GRRM’s editor

I believe a careful exploration of Martin’s use of prophecies in A Song of Ice and Fire can allow us to make an insightful observation:

Prophecies are a device used by Martin to communicate with his audience – NOT with characters in the books.

As a cryptic form of direct address, the utility of prophecies is often not hinged on the real-world possibilities (meaning as a prophecy might make sense to a character).

Continuing, the value of prophecy is most often derived from things perceptible only to readers (e.g., such as the prose used by the author).

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