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Friday, June 17, 2016

A Unifying Theory: ASOIAF

While the Game of Thrones TV series have turned into fan fiction of the ASOIAF novels (or, as some may say, parody), this fan fiction has the advantage of having learned the grand finale from GRRM himself. The main characters' fates and big story arcs will likely to be generally consistent. For example, Jon Snow has been resurrected. Arya Stark is heading back to Westeros. Cersei Lannister will blow up King's Landing with wildfire. Daenerys Targaryen has tamed Drogon. Looming events include the dominance of Littlefinger Petyr Baelish and the Others and their zombies swarming over the Wall.

In the two novels plus 11 chapters released to date, a trend that is more pronounced than geographical convergence might be the spiritual "homecoming" of major characters. Daenerys has changed her principle from "If I look back I am lost" to re-examining her past. Jon Snow was about to ride to Winterfell before getting stabbed by Bowen Marsh and co. Tyrion, oddly enough, connects to home by selling it off to Brown Ben Plumm and his Second Sons army.

The human Arya may not be heading home up to the chapter "Mercy," but her constant warging into Nymeria suggests that her spirit may have already returned. Most notable, Bran's "return" reaches into the past of not only his family but the entire history of First Men and Children of the Forest, native populations of the ancient and mythical North. This, perhaps, is the grand and ultimate homecoming that the story is heading toward.

Thus we are faced with a question: What is home? What is the origin or true identity? Here another pattern emerges. Some of the main characters are not human but rather beasts. Below are the definite cases:


  • Dany: Her mental merge with Drogon, which I predicted and is all but confirmed by the TV series, marks her as a nonhuman figure. Dragons are not humanized or civilized, as we've been told. She has finally embraced her inner dragon that will bring fire and blood instead of peace to the world.
  • Arya: She is now living as a direwolf at night and a killer during the day with plenty of bloodletting. She had began shape-shifting when she became Arry in Yoren's ragtag group and her transformation is about to complete. 
  • Jon Snow: I am still expecting that he would warg into Ghost in death and come back into human shape later. Obviously it's not something the TV series want to shoot. Regardless, his death and subsequent break with the Night's Watch symbolize his break with humanity and regaining his direwolf identity. 
  • Bran: Heck he's not even a direwolf any more. He's the collective conscious of all living beings, past and present, of the North, and only a small part of that is First Men. I'm wondering if The Winds of Winter would skip his viewpoint because it would reveal absolutely everything. He might be the personification, or at least the representative, of the old gods. 
Then there are a few intermediary characters whose nature remains unclear: 
  • Sansa: All Stark children are wargs, GRRM has said. The obvious problem is that Sansa no longer has her Direwolf. More important, she is a civilized person, and her education has continued through Uncle Petyr. Will she ever return to her identity as a wolf or stay human? It remains unpredictable. 
  • Tyrion: This is entirely my speculation -- it's dependent on whether he turns out to be a Targaryen or a Lannister. It's clear by now that all Lannisters are human. Despite the lion sigil, we have yet to see one real lion in the whole of Westeros and Essos, while both direwolves and dragons roam the land and devour men. It all depends on whether he will telepathically bond with either Viserion or Rhaegal. 
On the human team, we know that all Lannisters are human. All Tyrells are human. The Freys are obviously human. The Greyjoys are human as well. The Martells are probably human, although they are a bit more wild than those living in the middle of Westeros. The rest is just wolf or dragon chow. 

The free folk are descendants of First Men and therefore are probably on the side of beasts and old gods. The Others ... ah, that's the heart of the question. Rising out of the North, it may or may not be in the same league as the old gods, but they are certainly not humans. Maybe that is why they are named "the Others"? 

Hence the structure of the ASOIAF universe becomes clear and almost simple: On one side are humans in a civilized and organized society; on the other side are mythical beasts and and prehistorical forces of nature. This is a story of man versus nature, civilization versus the primitive, and reason versus animal instincts in a person. 

The structure also generally fits the Ragnarok theory put forth by Dorian the Historian a few years ago and of which I'm a believer. In the Ragnarok (meaning "The Doom of the Gods") mythology, the Norse gods, including Loki and Thor and Odin, exist in human-like form and behave like humans despite their superpowers. Their opponents in the apocalyptic war are jotnar (singular, jotunn), mistakenly translated as giants, which might be why GRRM jokingly put real giants into the story. While the characters in ASOIAF may not perfectly match each of the gods and jotnar in Ragnarok as outlined by Dorian the Historian, jotnar are fundamentally the same as the old gods of the North. 

The gods live in Asgard, or Innangard, which literally means within boundary. The gods protect humans and civilization, ie, social order and laws. Looking at it in another way, civilized people are all restricted by laws and rules of behavior. Jotnar live in Utangard, meaning outside boundary. They represent "forces of destruction, entropy, and decay." This fits neatly with the chaotic, destructive nature of old gods. Beasts --- direwolves and dragons --- symbolize the wild and sometimes violent nature in us. For example, in the war between Children and First Men, Children used magic to bring about earthquakes, which caused the Arm of Dorne to break and sink into the sea. The Jotnar are supernatural forces that literally devour the world, especially civilization. This is an unmistakable parallel to the direwolves and dragons that devour humans in the story, including the human tendencies in the characters themselves. 

We know, from GRRM's earlier fiction, that he has always been fascinated by death and decay of entire civilizations. It is no surprise that, in his magnum opus, he will unleash all the jotnar onto the world and let them devour humanity. Wild nature will win. Anyone waiting for a battle between good and evil in the Judeo-Christian context, with the good triumphant, is bound to be disappointed. 

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