Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Supreme Court of Westeros, ruling 75

Thursday is court day! Unfortunately, due to a series of real live problems, we couldn't post last week, so this week, enjoy two rulings in a row!
Welcome to the Supreme Court of Westeros! Every week, three pressing questions from the community will be answered by the esteemed judges Stefan (from your very own Nerdstream Era) and Amin (from A Podcast of Ice and Fire). The rules are simple: we take three questions, and one of us writes a measured analysis. The other one writes a shorter opinion, either concurring or dissenting. The catch is that every week a third judge from the fandom will join us and also write a dissenting or concurring opinion. So if you think you're up to the task - write us an email to, leave a comment in the post, ask in the APOIAF-forum or contact Amin at his tumblr. Discussion is by no means limited to the court itself, though - feel free to discuss our rulings in the commentary section and ask your own questions through the channels above.
One word on spoilers: we assume that you read all the books, including the Hedge Knight short stories, and watched the current TV episodes. We don't include the spoiler chapters from various sources in the discussion, with the notable exception of Theon I, which was supposed to be in "A Dance with Dragons" anyway.
And now, up to ruling 75 of the Supreme Court of Westeros! Our guest judge this week is Ser Drew of the Bluewater, who is an attorney practicing in south Florida, and devotee of Mr. Martin's books. Try as he did, he was unable to work "stare decisis" or "res ipsa loquitur" into his opinions. If he lived in George's world, he'd most certainly want to live in the Summer Isles, with a vacation manse in Naath.

What is your opinion regarding the role of Lady Stoneheart in ASOIAF? In which way does it contribute to the overall story? I've always felt that it was something of an outlier that didn't fit well to the general direction of the story. Do you think that could be pointing to some sort of explanation for the origin of the Others?

Main Opinion: Amin
I think Justice Stefan covered this topic in one of his essays, he may be able to confirm. I do think she plays a role in 1) plot wise, she and her faction of the Brotherhood have a role to play in the Riverlands 2) theme wise, she represents an example of where revenge can lead you, to a terrible result. Her resurrection is related to ‘Rhllor magic’, which is ostensibly on the other side of the spectrum from the Others. On the other hand, if you view the magical spectrum like a circle, then she might be quite close to the Others in some ways.

Concurring in part, dissenting in part: Ser Drew of the Bluewater
Lady Stoneheart plays a role as an agent of the gods exacting revenge, and in propelling the ongoing anti-Frey blowback, but her message seems somewhat contradictory and convoluted in the context of other agents of vengeance. By passing along the gift which Thoros gave Beric, GRRM smartly limits the universe of “people who can be revived” - otherwise, her reanimation would seem to signal the increasing triviality of death in GRRM’s universe. Query how that impacts Jon Snow’s future plans…Some have argued that Lady Stoneheart’s existence plays too much as fan-service- who wouldn’t want to see an avenging Stark/Tully pick off Freys one by one? However, it remains to be seen whether Lady Stoneheart remains a fringe player harrying the Riverlands (note the parallels to her current role and that of Gregor Clegane and Amory Lorch) or whether she is a key player in what is expected to be insurrection against the new Frey leadership in Riverrun. If the thread is left open- i.e. Lady Stoneheart just kills off Freys- then I’d argue her existence is mere (unnecessary) fan service. This point remains TBD. Her existence also complicates the story’s message regarding vengeance. With the decimation of House Stark at the Red Wedding, there is a gut reaction favoring vengeance against the Freys. Using R’hllor’s magic to revive the remainder of Catelyn and place her in command of the remnants of the Brotherhood would seem the perfect way to thin out the Freys and execute needed vengeance, and perhaps more. However, Stoneheart’s vengeance seems anathema to the other major plot arc involving vengeance- Dorne/House Martell. The plot arc of House Martell seems to be a masterclass in the perils and pitfalls of acting for vengeance- all of Doran’s machinations go up in smoke, at least until he is gifted with what looks like a “Golden” opportunity by a fortuitous landing in the Stormlands. Despite Doran’s best laid plans, his attempt to marry Arienne to Viserys fails, his heir dies in a burst of dragonfire, his brother is killed (very publicly and very horribly) in front of the entire capital, and his kingdom teeters on the brink of rebellion due to his (ironic) perception as a “do nothing” leader. The Martell arc plainly teaches that vengeance has terrible consequences for those seeking to slake their blood thirst. So how do we reconcile Lady Stoneheart? She of course has been wronged as much or more than any other character (she's technically already dead), so her vengeance is “deserved,” but if she is viewed as an avenging angel (or perhaps, demon) it seems to complicate GRRM’s message regarding vengeance. Perhaps because she already died she is (unlike the Martells) immune from further bad repercussions from her attempts to obtain vengeance. Ultimately, there will be more to Lady Stoneheart’s story, so there is time to reconcile the apparent divergence on the impact of vengeance. As to the Others, I see no connection. I do note with interest that R’hllor brings back a person who worshiped the Seven to take vengeance on behalf of a house that worshiped the Old Gods. Apparently R’hllor’s magic works whether you are a “believer” or not. That being said, we see nothing regarding the magic that has reanimated Catelyn to connect it to the magic that animates wights- the wights appear to remember fragments of their past lives (for instance, Othor and Jafer Flowers remember enough to go after Lord Mormont) but do not appear to have the same level of sentient free will that Lady Stoneheart demonstrates.

Concurring Opinion: Stefan
Lady Stoneheart is anything but fanservice. It isn’t even Catelyn anymore but just an empty shell of what she was before, consumed by one desire, and one desire only: the neverending quest for revenge. In the epilogue of “A Storm of Swords”, we can see how this obsession already drives her to kill people who are at most bystanders in the quest. Does anyone think she would spare Olyvar if she ever encountered him? Lady Stoneheart shows where the thirst for revenge leads, and for either Brienne or Jaime it might very well become deadly real soon. I have laid out these thoughts in more details in my essay "Savoring the Taste?", which can be found in the Collector's Edition of "A Flight of Sorrows".

Final Verdict: Lady Stoneheart signifies the cost of an obsession for revenge. 

Is there a link between First Man-Stark magic and Valyrians-Targaryens magic?

Main Opinion: Amin
No, they are different types of magic. There seems to have been and still are various forms of magic, including the Rhoynish water magic we hear about in The World of Ice and Fire. The Old Gods are something apart from whatever the Targaryens might have dabbled with.

Concurring in part, dissenting in part: Ser Drew of the Bluewater
All magic in GRRM’s world likely emanates from a common source- either dragons or whatever source allowed the initial birthing of the dragons and/or Danerys’ ability to reinvigorate her eggs (this is the classic “Dragon or the egg” conundrum). Interestingly, dragons themselves are postulated to have been the result of Valyrians breeding wyverns with firewyrms, which by itself may have required some magic. Thus, magic itself may have preceded dragons and been what allowed the creation of the dragons. I’m not sure we will ever get an answer. Both of the dominant forms of magic currently observed seem to require or favor blood sacrifice which seems to suggest that life/blood is the price/catalyst/enabler of all magic. It is unclear whether the Rhoynar water-based magic system noted by Justice Amin required blood sacrifice.

Concurring opinion: Stefan
The magic of the First Men derives from the same source as the one of the Children, which most likely os not connected to the Valyrian magic, which in turn is different from the magic of R’hollor and most likely the practices of the Undying or the Faceless Men. However, one thing all of it seems to have in common is that “only death can pay for live”. While the green dreams and warging seem to come without sacrificial cost, all other magical practices we’ve seen so far require the death of people to work; in the cases of R’hollor and Valyrian magic, it is proven. In all other cases we simply don’t know enough. It’s safe to say, though, that there once were different magic sources. 

Final Verdict: There is no direct link, they are different magic traditions. 

Are more families in Westeros apart of Starks and Targaryens with magical abilities?

Main Opinion: Amin
The Reeds of Greywater seem to be an obvious example. There are probably other examples out there the other judges can mention, some sort of magical (I am including skinchanging within that definition) ability must exist for other families. An interesting note at page 169 in the old Deluxe RPG for the series (semi-canon material and now out of print) is the suggestion that any family where the ancestral bloodlines are still strong may convey a sense of intuition: specifically, a family member may have a sense of intuition bordering on the supernatural when something awful happens to another family member. Bran and Rickon’s dream about Eddard is given as an example, with the suggestion that similar intuition may exist for other ancient families. Which makes the fact that Theon had a dream about Robb even more interesting, as he did not share his blood but was part of a family he wished to join.

Concurring Opinion: Ser Drew of the Bluewater
Although our sources are questionable, there is anecdotal evidence of other Westerosi families besides the Starks and the Reeds (as noted by Justice Amin) having supernatural or magic abilities. The females of House Crane are rumored to skinchange into actual cranes, and ancestors of the contemporary Baneforts and Upcliffs are rumored to have been sorcerers as well. As to what is “evident” from the pages among Westerosi families, we have Jojen’s greensight, and the Stark kids’ warg-ing abilities. The majority of magical powers noted in the strict book canon seem to originate from Essos- the Targaryens, Mirri Maz Duur, Maggy the Frog, the Assahai’i, firemages in Qarth, warlocks in Qarth, etc… all demonstrate magical abilities. The Westerosi families with magical abilities appear to have strong First Men ties, and their magical abilities likely originate from their closeness to, or potentially their prior relationship with the Children of the Forest.

Concurring Opinion: Stefan
The problem is that the Westerosi don’t know themselves. The many stories Ser Drew mentions seem to belong more in the realm of legend, but some families at least have a tradition of magic that at one point or another died out. Currently, I would count Starks and Reeds, but not anyone else. And even those seem to have been developing the powers only recently. One notable exception is of course the Targaryen family and their offspring, which might explain the awakening of the dormant Blackwood powers in Bloodraven. But as with so many cases, we lack the abundance of information necessary to generalize the findings of insular cases. 

Final Verdict: There are the Reeds, at least.


  1. I would like to point out that skin-changing and green seeing do have their own costs. It's made mention that those that skin-change can often be weak or malformed, such as the case with Varamyr Six skins, while those with the Green sight are often also marked by short years on the earth or other deformities. In homage to Odin, it seems Blood Raven had to lose one of his eyes to gain foresight and unlock his green seeing abilities, while Bran had to lose his legs before he managed to activate his.
    And Bloodraven even describes albinoism as being a mark of a Greenseer as they can have Green or Red eyes. This has lead me to conclude that Ghost himself has the ability to Greensee, to the extent that his consciousness allows, with the cost to him being his voice. It would explain the unease that other animals feel around him besides him being a dire wolf, how Jon Snow knew where Ghost was as Ghost called out to him, and how if Jon's mind ends up in Ghost, it will be able to return once Jon's body is revived.

  2. Re: the magic questions, I think it's interesting that R'hllor seems to be the only representative of a magical tradition that favors the low-born. By which I mean the various slaves, ex-slaves, and servants that are able to use "fire power"--Dany may be able to, but seemingly not anywhere near the level of Thoros or Melissandre or Moqorro or Mirri Maz Duur.

    I have a crackpot theory related to magic. Here it is: at the end of the Long Night, all the Kings of Westeros got together and decided to banish anything magic-related from their land. They built a big (and ironically magic) Wall and made not only the Others but also the Children of the Forest and all the wargs and greendreamers et al. live beyond it (this would explain why those abilities seem much more prevalent among Wildlings now). But, Kings being Kings, they thought they could keep some magic to themselves. They kept their magic castles (Winterfell, Storm's End), the Starks didn't banish themselves despite being wargs, they kept their Godswoods, etc. So that small amount of magic they kept for themselves gradually expanded in power until the present day, and now because of that selfish decision those Kings made thousands of years ago, the entirety of Westeros is on the brink of an existential crisis.

    1. The Wall is a manifestation of cancelation magic, hence nothing magical can pass it our operate on both sides of it. The one exception seems to be access to the Weirnet that allows Greenseers to look beyond, so I'm thinking earth magic is compatible while ice, fire, and blood are blocked by it and hence unable to cross.
      According to the world book, it wasn't the case that they banished magic from south of the Wall. Gradually over the generations, the first men put an end to the users that upset the balance of things, namely the war of the Wolves and the Warg King of Sea Dragon point. The scarcity of first men magic users is simply superstition calling for extermination of those they fear, or people keeping it under wraps. Plus, given the explanation that Bloodraven gives us, its very rare for individuals to manifest their abilities, 1/1000 just for skin changers, with varying degrees of competency there. For one Greenseer to come about, its a 1 in 1000000 chance, which given how much trouble the North has with sustaining that kind of population, excluding in breeding, then no wonder its so rare to get a first man magic user. As for the southern kingdoms, the influx of Andal blood could dilute that and with the religious persecution going on, anyone that possessed said abilities would hopefully be smart enough to keep his head down for however short his life is.

  3. Warging also occurs with anyone. Varamyr Sixskins and Orell aren't exactly highborn. It seems to be more of a question of keeping close to the Old Gods.

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