Ironborn Mythos Part One: The Grey King, our Lord and Savior

Hello Everyone!  The last topic I posted discussed the brotherly struggle between the Grey King and Garth the Green.  The topic I am posting today is something related that I have had on the backburner for some time, but as luck would have it, I finally found the motivation to at least start something I thought to ambitious to take on.  The discussion with my fellow board members has helped tremendously.  In that respect, I would like to give a big thanks to Painkillerjane , Hiemal, unchained, Ravenousreader, LmL, Bluetiger, Isobelharper, and if you are still out there…alaskansandman.   So now that I have finally gotten around to it, this essay will explore The Grey King and Drowned God Mythos a bit more closely.  Enjoy!

What is the Drowned God Religion?

Let Theon your servant be born again from the sea, as you were,” Aeron Greyjoy intoned. “Bless him with salt, bless him with stone, bless him with steel. Nephew, do you still know the words?”     “What is dead may never die,” Theon said, remembering.  “What is dead may never die,” his uncle echoed, “but rises again, harder and stronger. Stand.”

According to TWOIAF, the Ironmen believe themselves a race set apart from the rest of mankind and consider themselves closer kin to merlings and fish.  It is true there are several differences such as the Ironborn reverence for the old way and many mysteries surrounding ancient artifacts and structures such as Castle Pyke, Nagga’s Bones and the Seastone Chair.  Another difference we see with the Ironborn is their worship of the Drowned God, a deity who dwells in his watery halls beneath the waves.  The Forsaken chapter has provided us with a glimpse of how the Ironborn depict their Drowned God.  Many religions traditionally choose to depict their deity as wise, strong and majestic, sometimes with animalistic aspects.  I was quite taken aback by the description of the Drowned God.

“All gods are lies, but yours is laughable. A pale white thing in the likeness of a man, his limbs broken and swollen and his hair flipping in the water while fish nibble at his face. What fool would worship that?”

Indeed, Why would the Ironborn worship something in the likeness of a dead, pale, drowned and bloated thing, a literal drowned man?  The answer of course is in the mantra of the Ironborn religion itself: “what is dead may never die, but rises harder and stronger”.  Ah yes, this most likely means there are tales of their Drowned God rising from the dead.  A god too mighty for even death who rose from the sea harder and stronger.  Similar to many religions around the world, the death resurrection of a god or Christ-like hero is one of the most universal stories in both religion and myth so the Ironborn having a similar version of this is nothing out of the ordinary.

From the LmL essays we have learned the Drowned God is most likely referring to a type of meteor impact which occurred in the ocean somewhere near the Iron Islands.  This makes perfect sense as the Bloodstone Emperor was said to worship a stone which fell from the sky and practiced dark arts, torture, and necromancy.  The way the Bloodstone Emperor is portrayed in TWOIAF, it seem as though the he had found a way (or at least he thought he had) to manipulate this stone that fell from the sky and his dark arts rested in this power.  Likewise, The Grey King’s kingship came from the sea and from the Drowned God who dwells beneath it.

I would argue that the Drowned God religion has more parallels with Christianity than what initially meets the eye.  In addition to a ritual baptism of infants, Christianity believes in something called the Holy Trinity—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit…all being aspects of one God.  This is somewhat echoed in the faith of the seven where there are seven aspects of one god.  I would argue TWOIAF gave the Grey King a very interesting Christ-like parallel.  For those of you who have ever attended a Christian church, you are probably familiar with the Apostles Creed.  The worldbook provides an uncannily similar description, except, instead of ascending to heaven, he Grey King descends to take his rightful place at the right hand of the Drowned God.        

Apostles Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven

and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.


From there he ruled the Iron Islands for a thousand years, until his very skin had turned as grey as his hair and beard. Only then did he cast aside his driftwood crown and walk into the sea,descending to the Drowned God’s watery halls to take his rightful place at his right hand.

It is said by Aeron as he drowns his faithful “Lord God who drowned for us,” the priest prayed, in a voice as deep as the sea, “let Emmond your servant be reborn from the sea, as you were.”  This sounds very much like the sacrifice of Christ who also ‘died for us’ and was subsequently resurrected. Now we don’t really see how the stone that fell from the sky becomes reborn, and maybe it does as it is said Dawn was forged from the heart of a falling star…so yeah maybe it was that kind of a rebirth where it rises harder and stronger…but I don’t think that is precisely what the Ironborn are referring to.  As we have seen from the discussions regarding the Grey King, all of the symbolism points toward a fiery rebirth into an Azor Ahai type character.  It just shows up time and time again.   I believe this is the key to the idea of what is dead may never die, but rises harder and stronger.  The perfect example of this is the ghost of Renly.  Renly symbolizes a murdered green horned figure and the character we see in the Battle of the Blackwater is no longer a true green Renly, but rather Renly’s ghost in a sense.  If we look at it as kind of a resurrection, we see Renly as more of an AA figure with his possession of the fire of the Gods.  Take a look at his resurrection, unRenly is not as green as he appears. his fire resurrection has turned his armor grey through the ashes of the burning crops.

Ser Dontos laughed and hopped from one leg to the other, almost falling. “They came up through the ashes while the river was burning. The river, Stannis was neck deep in the river, and they took him from the rear. Oh, to be a knight again, to have been part of it! His own men hardly fought, they say. Some ran but more bent the knee and went over, shouting for Lord Renly! What must Stannis have thought when he heard that? I had it from Osney Kettleblack who had it from Ser Osmund, but Ser Balon’s back now and his men say the same, and the gold cloaks as well. We’re delivered, sweetling! They came up the roseroad and along the riverbank, through all the fields Stannis had burned, the ashes puffing up around their boots and turning all their armor grey, but oh! the banners must have been bright, the golden rose and golden lion and all the others, the Marbrand tree and the Rowan, Tarly’s huntsman and Redwyne’s grapes and Lady Oakheart’s leaf. All the westermen, all the power of Highgarden and Casterly Rock! Lord Tywin himself had their right wing on the north side of the river, with Randyll Tarly commanding the center and Mace Tyrell the left, but the vanguard won the fight. They plunged through Stannis like a lance through a pumpkin, every man of them howling like some demon in steel. And do you know who led the vanguard? Do you? Do you? Do you?” “Robb?” It was too much to be hoped, but … “It was Lord Renly! Lord Renly in his green armor, with the fires shimmering off his golden antlers!

So instead of the Drowned God dying and being reborn, like Jesus, it is the Grey King, the avatar of their god.  It is the Grey King who dies and is resurrected and later descends to the watery halls to sit at the right hand of the Drowned God.  Just as Garth was considered god-like and is linked to the Storm-God mythos, the Grey King can be linked cohesively with the Drowned God deity as both brothers were the actual antagonists of the Grey-Green cycle, both are loosely aspects of the ‘Drowned God’ and the ‘Storm God’. 

Now, It is believed the Drowned God has the power to resurrect those who have drowned, and the Ironborn seem to have developed their own version of CPR where the ‘kiss of life’ is administered to the faithful servants who wish to become priests of the Drowned God religion.  Although it is uncertain if there is an actual Drowned God, there have been several instances of drownings or suspected drownings where many readers believe the character might have had some sort of divine intervention. The best example of this is of course Patchface who washed up after three days and was naked, cold and lifeless.  There is also Davos who washed up on the spears of the Merling King after the Blackwater, which also had some very bizarre occurrences.  Other characters with some questionable drowning circumstances include Aeron, Tyrion, Moqorro and Elder Brother of Quiet Isle.  Seeing these in the books, it makes you wonder if there is something going on with these water resurrections. Something magical maybe??????????

The Kiss of Life

Yes, it seems the Ironborn have developed their own version of CPR which the Ironborn dub the Kiss of life.  Aeron shows us exactly how the kiss of life is performed in The Prophet chapter showing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and even chest compressions. 

His drowned men formed a circle around the dead boy, praying. Norjen worked his arms whilst Rus knelt astride him, pumping on his chest, but all moved aside for Aeron. He pried apart the boy’s cold lips with his fingers and gave Emmond the kiss of life, and again, and again, until the sea came gushing from his mouth. The boy began to cough and spit, and his eyes blinked open, full of fear. Another one returned. It was a sign of the Drowned God’s favor, men said. Every other priest lost a man from time to time, even Tarle the Thrice-Drowned, who had once been thought so holy that he was picked to crown a king. But never Aeron Greyjoy. He was the Damphair, who had seen the god’s own watery halls and returned to tell of it. “Rise,” he told the sputtering boy as he slapped him on his naked back. “You have drowned and been returned to us. What is dead can never die.” “But rises.” The boy coughed violently, bringing up more water. “Rises again.” Every word was bought with pain, but that was the way of the world; a man must fight to live. “Rises again.” Emmond staggered to his feet. “Harder. And stronger.”“You belong to the god now,” Aeron told him. The other drowned men gathered round and each gave him a punch and a kiss to welcome him to the brotherhood.

When performed by priests, the kiss of life is considered a holy act, part of the holy rites when fully giving one to their God.  When looking at this holy ritual it seems like this is the key to the death and rebirth of their Christ-like hero.  A drowning with subsequent rebirth a la kiss of life was most likely how the Grey King’s resurrection went down.  After being tempered by water, the Grey King was given the kiss of life causing a fiery resurrection. 

Similar to the religion of the Ironborn, the religion of R’hllor practices a parallel holy rite when a follower of the Lord of Light dies, the last kiss. In practice, priests of R’hllor fill their mouths with fire and breathe flame into the deceased, as they believe that fire cleanses.  Much to the astonishment of Thoros, this last kiss is what resurrected Beric Dondarrion, and it is after these resurrections Beric began to reveal corpse-like Azor Ahai greenseer symbolism.  Although it is called the last kiss by the R’hllor religion, Thoros did once refer to this last kiss as the kiss of life.

Harwin begged me to give her the kiss of life, but it had been too long. I would not do it, so Lord Beric put his lips to hers instead, and the flame of life passed from him to her. And … she rose. May the Lord of Light protect us. She rose.”

Yes, Cat rose, and she had risen harder and stronger.

Death by Water

It is more than evident the Grey King underwent a re-birth and fiery transformation of sorts.  I believe a fiery kiss of life is what resurrected our Grey King, but before he was resurrected, he had to die, he had to drown for us.  I believe the key to this drowning lay in the legend of Nagga.

On the crown of the hill four-and-forty monstrous stone ribs rose from the earth like the trunks of great pale trees. The sight made Aeron’s heart beat fasterNagga had been the first sea dragon, the mightiest ever to rise from the waves. She fed on krakens and leviathans and drowned whole islands in her wrath, yet the Grey King had slain her and the Drowned God had changed her bones to stone so that men might never cease to wonder at the courage of the first of kings. Nagga’s ribs became the beams and pillars of his longhall, just as her jaws became his throne. For a thousand years and seven he reigned here, Aeron recalled. Here he took his mermaid wife and planned his wars against the Storm God. From here he ruled both stone and salt, wearing robes of woven seaweed and a tall pale crown made from Nagga’s teeth.

As most of you are already aware, the ribcage of Nagga’s Bones is most likely the hull of a large weirwood boat, and that is EXACTY what TWOIAF states the Grey King made…ships from demon weirwood trees. In addition to Nagga being a ship, I see Nagga being a shipwreck. I believe the text is suggesting a shipwrecked person or group of people who washed upon the shores of Old Wyk. It is known the First Men were never seafaring people, so it might be safe to say many of them had never seen a boat before the Ironmen started coming around. Primitive cultures coming into “first contact” with more advanced technology might result in the technology explained by the supernatural which could cause a large boat to be called a sea monster of sorts. If the First Men had never seen a boat in their lives, they may well think such a ship is a sea dragon. A boat on the waves of a supernatural storm like the drowning of the waters could even be viewed as CAUSING such an unusual event. But wait! If this sea dragon becomes wrecked and washes to shore along with a certain survivor or a group of survivors, the First Men would believe the survivors had slain the sea monster. What is the wood of a wrecked ship? The answer to that riddle is driftwood, and the slaying of Nagga is the answer to the Grey King’s death by water. He went down with his ship and the two were washed to the shores of Old Wyk.

“We did not come to these holy lands from godless lands across the seas,” the priest Sauron Salt-Tongue once said. “We came from beneath those seas, from the watery halls of the Drowned God who made us in his likeness and gave to us dominion over all the waters of the earth.”

Indeed, if the First Men believed Nagga was a sea dragon, where do you think the First Men would have assumed The Grey King and his people had come from?  Asshai? No, they would have thought the Grey King and his people came from the sea itself.  They would not have shared a common language, and who is to argue when is someone thinks you killed a sea dragon anyway? 

  The Bloodstone Emperor: “ever the outcast, the wanderer from distant places”

When the daughter of the Opal Emperor succeeded him as the Amethyst Empress, her envious younger brother cast her down and slew her, proclaiming himself the Bloodstone Emperor and beginning a reign of terror. He practiced dark arts, torture, and necromancy, enslaved his people, took a tiger-woman for his bride, feasted on human flesh, and cast down the true gods to worship a black stone that had fallen from the sky. (Many scholars count the Bloodstone Emperor as the first High Priest of the sinister Church of Starry Wisdom, which persists to this day in many port cities throughout the known world). In the annals of the Further East, it was the Blood Betrayal, as his usurpation is named, that ushered in the age of darkness called the Long Night. Despairing of the evil that had been unleashed on earth, the Maiden-Made-of-Light turned her back upon the world, and the Lion of Night came forth in all his wroth to punish the wickedness of men.  

The Bloodstone Emperor sounds pretty awful doesn’t he, as if the devil himself was loosened upon ancient Essos doesn’t it?  I am going to play the devil’s advocate for a moment because I do not believe this guy is as bad as he sounds.  I do believe there are truths hidden in much of TWOIAF, and indeed I am sure there are truths to the Bloodstone Emperor.  I do believe however, there may have been a smear campaign at one point in time since this is also a guy who was forced to leave his homeland.

A perfect example of the is the smear campaign against Danny, our Stormborn lady who is another Azor Ahai figure.

“The old woman’s smile turned feral. “I have heard it said that the silver queen feeds them with the flesh of infants while she herself bathes in the blood of virgin girls and takes a different lover every night.”

Whoa… say it ain’t so Danny!  :o

“If even half the stories coming back from Slaver’s Bay are true, this child is a monster. They say that she is bloodthirsty, that those who speak against her are impaled on spikes to die lingering deaths. They say she is a sorceress who feeds her dragons on the flesh of newborn babes, an oathbreaker who mocks the gods, breaks truces, threatens envoys, and turns on those who have served her loyally. They say her lust cannot be sated, that she mates with men, women, eunuchs, even dogs and children, and woe betide the lover who fails to satisfy her. She gives her body to men to take their souls in thrall.”

Yes, I would say the tales of the Bloodstone Emperor sound like rumors of a smear campaign.  It says he  practiced dark arts, torture, and necromancy?  I guess you could say the same thing for Aeron couldn’t you, since he waterboards people until they die then he brings them back to life…yes dark arts, torture and necromancy.  Maybe the Bloodstone Emperor was pure evil, who knows.  One thing I do agree with was a blood betrayal that ushered in the Long Night, and will leave it at that for the moment.  If you have read the grey/green topic you know what I am referring to. 

This is part 1

Here it is, what are your thoughts?