Ironborn Mythos Part Three: The Monomyth

Hello Everyone!  Today we are going to be doing another Ironborn section. In the previous sections we discussed the origins of the Ironborn myth of the Grey King, his sacrificial drowning and rebirth into a Christ-like figure, a mortal avatar of their Drowned God.  As we went further, we found drowning to be at the crux of his death and a fiery kiss being the key to his resurrection. In part two we found the inspiration for these drowned resurrections in merling legend and also found the common denominator that ties Patchface to the Drowned God.  This common denominator ultimately led to evidence of the Grey King and his Grey Grace being the same figure.  Something that we also noticed was the foolish symbolism which is peppered into every magical drowning which in essence is why we see Tyrian dressing up in motley before he goes overboard.

So, in Part III, we are going to examine the monomyth of Azor Ahai.  We are also going to continue touching on greyscale.  But before we do that I would encourage you to read an earlier essay, The Grey King fought Garth the Greenhand if you haven’t already done so.  I find myself referring back to it and it is something of a foundation to understanding the Grey King.  The seriously brilliant @LmL has called it ‘required reading’ in his Garth of the Gallows podcast (you honor me, ser), and it will help you to understand the grey/green brotherly concept. 

Alright, so let’s get started.  First, I bet you are wondering WHY the hell our dear writer is throwing down all the fool symbolism for the drownings…and yes, I can answer that. 

Harlequin

So, as I mentioned in part II, I had been doing some research.  While looking into all things fishy, I noticed a suggested topic at the bottom of the Mermaid Wikipedia page.  It was a skin condition which causes the skin to take on a scale-like quality.  The condition is called Ichthyosis, which is derived from the Greek word ichthys which means ‘fish’.  I thought this might be something to take more than just a passing glance since greyscale is also a disease characterized by its scale like quality, pretty easy to find similarity there.  I also decided to look closer because I had heard of this condition previously in the forums.  If Ichthyosis sounds familiar, it is probably because you have read some Redditor posts (Here,Here, Here and Here) who all have noted that the most severe form of this, Harlequin Ichthyosis, is the closest real-world match to Rhaego’s dragon deformities. 

Harlequin Ichthyosis is characterized at birth by the infant’s whole body being encased in an ‘armor’ of thick white plates of skin that resemble the checkered pattern of a famous fool’s costume named Harlequin. 

Harlequin was a character portrayed by the real world equivalent of mummer’s troupes in the 17th-19th centuries.  It has been suggested the term Harlequin originated from Hellequin, the leader of the French version of the Wild Hunt.  Harlequin is also associated with King Herla (Herla-King) who is also a leader of the Germanic Wild Hunt and a kind of Germanized Odin if you will.  In other versions, the leader of the Wild hunt is biblical Cain, King Arthur, Cernunnos (aka Herne the Hunter), and even an archaic version of Santa called Old Nick (which is why the storyline has a fool named Jinglebells). The Wild Hunt is basically a mono-myth found in many European cultures describing a group of demons chasing damned souls to Hell… you will find our writer using little bits of inspiration from each of these other Wild Hunt leaders all throughout the storyline.

In case you are still skeptical about the Harlequin greyscale/fool connection, you might also remember in the Prophet chapter Harlon Greyjoy was the name of the Greyjoy brother who died of greyscale.  If you have read my grey/green essay, you will also understand these next references: We also have Harle the Hunstman and Harle the Handsome who are brothers who hate each other because of a woman.  There are also the brothers Harlon the Hunter and Herndon of the Horn (Herne the Hunter–>another wild hunt leader) who shared a wife.  Additionally, in the Vale Petyr mentions Harlan of House Hunter killed his father and will be killing his older brother in due time.  

In a nutshell, GRRM is setting up the symbolism to point toward Azor Ahai having been the leader of a Wild Hunt so to speak while pitting two brothers against each other in the Grey/Green cycle, the symbolism suggests the other brother may in fact be leading a Wild Hunt of his own.

Let’s take a look at this passage now:

“My father threw me down a well the day I was born, but I was so ugly that the water witch who lived down there spat me back.” He pulled off the other boot, then did a cartwheel along the deck, spraying all of them. Young Griff laughed. “Where did you learn that?” “The mummers taught me,” he lied. “My mother loved me best of all her children because I was so small. She nursed me at her breast till I was seven. That made my brothers jealous, so they stuffed me in a sack and sold me to a mummer’s troupe. When I tried to run off the master mummer cut off half my nose, so I had no choice but to go with them and learn to be amusing.”

Here we see, Tryrion doing cartwheels and telling a falsehood about being drowned and then being saved by a magical woman, he is then sold to a mummer’s troupe, and has his nose cut off.  Taking what we know of the drownings and resurrections in Part II, would you be interested to know that the trademark of Harlequin was his acrobatics, and that a deformity of Harlequin Ichthyosis is an absent nose?

He was very nimble and performed the sort of acrobatics the audience expected to see. The character would never perform a simple action when the addition of a cartwheel, somersault, or flip would spice up the movement. —From wikipedia on Harlequin

The disease has been known since 1750, and was first described in the diary of a cleric from Charleston, South Carolina, the Rev. Oliver Hart: “On Thursday, April the 5th, 1750, I went to see a most deplorable object of a child, born the night before of one Mary Evans in ‘Chas’town. It was surprising to all who beheld it, and I scarcely know how to describe it. The skin was dry and hard and seemed to be cracked in many places, somewhat resembling the scales of a fish. The mouth was large and round and open. It had no external nose, but two holes where the nose should have been. The eyes appeared to be lumps of coagulated blood, turned out, about the bigness of a plum, ghastly to behold. It had no external ears, but holes where the ears should be. The hands and feet appeared to be swollen, were cramped up and felt quite hard. The back part of the head was much open. It made a strange kind of noise, very low, which I cannot describe. It lived about forty-eight hours and was alive when I saw it.”—From Wikipedia on Harlequin-type Ichthyosis

So now you know why Tyrian gets to cartwheel and somersault all through the storyline and why our writer had his nose cut off it is a nod to Harlequin and a real world disease that has inspired dragon deformities and greyscale.

Nissa Nissa

I have tried to stay away from the Grey King’s Merling wife for as long as humanly possible.  She is an enigma and as the wife of Azor Ahai she is also Nissa Nissa.  She is a integral part of the Azor Ahai monomyth and is found in other tales such as the mermaid-like Elenei or in the story of Florian the Fool where Jonquil is spotted bathing.  She can be found in more places than you might have realized, and when you find Nissa Nissa you will also find your Azor Ahai.  Let’s look at one example:

An old legend told in Pentos claims that the Andals slew the swan maidens who lured travelers to their deaths in the Velvet Hills that lie to the east of the Free City. A hero whom the Pentoshi singers call Hukko led the Andals at that time, and it is said that he slew the seven maids not for their crimes but instead as sacrifice to his gods. There are some maesters who have noted that Hukko may well be a rendering of the name of Hugor.

If you recall from Part II, the trademark of the classic run of the mill mermaid myth is luring sailors to their deaths with their song and beauty, they are often a hazard, a femme fatale, although sirens are not true mermaids they are often equated with mermaids because of this trademark.  In the myth, the Sirens are most often depicted as bird women.  So in the story of Hukko, having maidens associated with aquatic-birds who lure travelers to their deaths is simply putting a spin on the age-old merling/siren myth.  It’s actually a pretty simple, in your face parallel. 

Let’s talk about the Andals making seven of everything for a moment.  Chances are there weren’t really seven swan maidens since the Andals make everything into Seven to further testify to their religion. Knowing this, how much would you want to bet Hukko is in fact a variation of Hugor as the maester suggests and he slew just one really special ‘swan maiden’?  Let’s examine this conversation between Illyrio and Tyrion.  The conversation at hand was the greyscale Illyrio’s wife had succumbed to and Tyrion suddenly thinks of this about Hugor Hill and his lovely swan maiden:

“A Braavosi trading galley called at Pentos on her way back from the Jade Sea. The Treasure carried cloves and saffron, jet and jade, scarlet samite, green silk … and the grey death. We slew her oarsmen as they came ashore and burned the ship at anchor, but the rats crept down the oars and paddled to the quay on cold stone feet. The plague took two thousand before it ran its course.” Magister Illyrio closed the locket. “I keep her hands in my bedchamber. Her hands that were so soft …” Tyrion thought of Tysha. He glanced out at the fields where once the gods had walked. “What sort of gods make rats and plagues and dwarfs?” Another passage from The Seven-Pointed Star came back to him. “The Maid brought him forth a girl as supple as a willow with eyes like deep blue pools, and Hugor declared that he would have her for his bride. So the Mother made her fertile, and the Crone foretold that she would bear the king four-and-forty mighty sons. The Warrior gave strength to their arms, whilst the Smith wrought for each a suit of iron plates.”

Hugor Hill is ultimately another adaption of the Azor Ahai mono-myth.  What is funny to me is that Hugor Hill is the same alias Tyrion takes when he is on the Shy Maid.  So in the Sorrows chapter we literally get Hugor Hill an Azor Ahai figure drowning and being saved by the woman that Tyrion gets to see bathing all the time (just like Jonquil). Let’s take a look at another one:

Ser Gallawho of What?” He snorted. “Never heard o’ him. Why was he so bloody perfect?” “Ser Galladon was a champion of such valor that the Maiden herself lost her heart to him. She gave him an enchanted sword as a token of her love. The Just Maid, it was called. No common sword could check her, nor any shield withstand her kiss.

So this time instead of the Maid bringing her forth the merling wife is instead the Maiden herself.  Just to solidify the drowning symbolism of Azor Ahai, Brienne also had a brother named Galladon and look what happened to him as Brienne tells it: “Galladon drowned when I was four and he was eight”.  Of course he did.

Now I am sure most were pretty much tracking these examples of the  Azor Ahai/Nissa Nissa monomyth, but let’s not forget the Grey King had greyscale and look at this example you may not be aware of:

MARIS THE MAID, the Most Fair, whose beauty was so renowned that fifty lords vied for her hand at the first tourney ever to be held in Westeros. (The victor was the Grey Giant, Argoth Stone-Skin, but Maris wed King Uthor of the High Tower before he could claim her, and Argoth spent the rest of his days raging outside the walls of Oldtown, roaring for his bride.)

If this tale of Maris sounds familiar it is because it is literally the EXACT same storyline as Helen of Troy. Helen of Troy was the most beautiful woman in the world, the face that launched a thousand ships and because of her beauty there was a competition for her hand and King Menelaus wins this competition and is supposed to get Helen…except Menaleus doesn’t get to keep Helen because she is abducted by Paris and an epic war breaks out.  Similarly, Maris is the ‘most fair’ and her beauty also causes a competition for her hand and the Grey Giant emerges victorious so her hand should rightly go to him, except Uthor plays the role of Paris and ends up with her instead…and then guess what happens…

Let’s just look at the tale of Elenei once more.  If you notice Elenei is also a variation of Helen—you will also notice that there is a theme of this mermaid-like woman whose union seems to be tied to a war with the Storm God.  Additionally, it is said the Grey King “took his mermaid wife and planned his wars with the Storm God.”  I had mentioned earlier some examples that were obvious nods to Harlequin and Cernnunos (aka Herne the Hunter); those being the duo of Harle the Hunstman and Harle the Handsome, and also of Harlon the Hunter and Herndon of the Horn.  With these two examples there is one common denominator—a woman they shared.  We are going to continue touching on this concept in the future essays, but just realize there is symbolism behind Rhaegar also winning a tournament and crowning Lyanna the “queen of love and beauty” and then running off to steal her.     

Broken Swords

In addition to Nissa Nissa, a broken sword is also part of the monomyth.  If you look at the story of Azor Ahai, his sword broke twice before he tempered his blade in the heart of Nissa Nissa.  In the story of the Last Hero, we also find a sword that is broken.  Additionally, the prologue of GOT provided symbolism of this Last Hero character right from the get go as we also see a Night’s Watch brother whose sword also breaks as he is fighting the Others.  When we look at the Sorrows chapter, Tyrion notices a few shapes in the distance as they draw closer to the Bridge of Dream:

“The fog clung to them, damp and chilly. A sunken temple loomed up out of the greyness as Yandry and Duck leaned upon their poles and paced slowly from prow to stern, pushing. They passed a marble stair that spiraled up from the mud and ended jaggedly in air. Beyond, half-seen, were other shapes: shattered spires, headless statues, trees with roots bigger than their boat.”

Later, there is the Bridge of Dream rewind and Tyrion notices these items again, and these shapes are pointed out to the reader for a second time

“A trickle of moisture ran down his spine and made him shudder. The Sorrows drifted by them. Peering through the mists, he glimpsed a broken spire, a headless hero, an ancient tree torn from the ground and upended, its huge roots twisting through the roof and windows of a broken dome. Why does all of this seem so familiar?”

And for a third time we get our broken spire:

As the Shy Maid drew nearer, though, the shape of it came clearer. A wooden keep could be seen beside the water, rotted and overgrown. Slender spires took form above it, some of them snapped off like broken spears. Roofless towers appeared and disappeared, thrusting blindly upward.

To put it in a nutshell, these broken spires are a broken sword symbol neatly tucked into the Sorrows chapter.  There is often reference to spires being weaponlike as we see in the metaphor of broken spears, and you can even see other instances outside of the Sorrows chapter such as in Bran’s fever dream   

“a frozen wasteland where jagged blue-white spires of ice waited to embrace him. They flew up at him like spears. He saw the bones of a thousand other dreamers impaled upon their points. He was desperately afraid.

Another drowned man, Davos Seaworth, was also washed ashore to the oceanic spires located outside of Blackwater Bay.  These spires were likewise given this spear like reference as the rock grouping is named the “Spears of the Merling King”.  A broken spear is also what Tyrian was using at the end of the fiery Blackwater battle before he was cut down by a “white shadow” and fell in the river.  So, putting the idea of spires being like spears or weapons is kind of the imagery that is being implied by our writer, and placing these broken weapon metaphors throughout the Sorrows chapter is simply hinting at the monomyth of our historic hero.  Knowing the Grey King was Azor Ahai, and that his Grey Grace is just another version of our Grey King, the broken spires throughout the Sorrows chapter is in its simplest form is an allusion to monomythic legend that has been detailed thus far. 

A broken sword is also found wielded by another legendary hero, the Titan of Braavos.  The Titan of Braavos is a green clad warrior depicted with green hair who emerges from the sea. He is a green legendary hero who holds a broken sword in one hand as he heralds the rising and setting of the sun.  This is another obvious Azor Ahai myth, if you have read the grey/green essay you will know the Grey King to be the brother of Garth the Greenhand.  One of the great finds in the discussion on the grey/green topic was the sigil of House Greyiron, who were the first driftwood kings after the Grey King.  When you look at the sigil for this extinct house, you see the sigil is a picture of ‘the Sea King’ crowned with green hair and a green beard.  This sigil we came to realize in our discussion is most likely a mugshot, so to speak, of the Grey King prior to his grey transformation.  So knowing the Grey King also had grey hair, seeing a statue which comes to life and wades into sea with a broken sword and green hair with fire in his eyes is another obvious piece of the monomyth.  Petyr Baelish’s grandfather also bore the Titan’s head for a sigil which Sansa notices when they stay in his keep in the Fingers.  His shield is displayed on the wall and we see another broken sword seated next to the Titan shield.

Above the hearth hung a broken longsword and a battered oaken shield, its paint cracked and flaking. The device painted on the shield was one Sansa did not know; a grey stone head with fiery eyes, upon a light green field. “My grandfather’s shield,” Petyr explained when he saw her gazing at it.

The Titan of Braavos is not the only green haired hero within the monomyth.  I have seen some conclude the ‘Sea King’ sigil of House Greyiron a depiction of the Merling King.  This is somewhat influenced by an eerily similar sigil of House Manderly that depicts a merman with green hair and beard.  If we start piecing the myth together once it is realized that the Grey King was not always grey, it becomes fairly easy to understand the ‘Sea King’ and the Grey King who ruled the sea itself are one in the same.  However, if you go a step further and toy with the conventions of the Greyiron Sigil being the head of the Merling King, other things begin to line up.  Basically, the Merling King is an east coast version of the Grey King.  EAST SIDE! **throws up mermaid gang sign**

As with the broken spires, GRRM can get a little sly with his broken sword symbolism.  The Merling King is a great example of this.  It is not hard to see the Merling King connections within the Grey King legend.  We are already aware the Grey King is said to have taken a mermaid to wife.  Aeron mentions there are mermaids in the Drowned God’s watery halls and Asha mentions merlings are the subjects of the Drowned God when she said, “Below the waves the merlings HAIL THEIR LORD by blowing into seashells”.  We have also seen in part I that there are even some Ironborn who believe themselves to be descended from fish or merlings.  So the Merling King, in a sense is just a spin placed on the monomyth itself. 

If we recall, after Davos was drowned in the fiery Battle of the Blackwater, he washed ashore to the Spears of the Merling King which gives us our key drowning association.  Later, in another Davos chapter he is taken to Mermen Court and an allusion to the Grey king being the Merling King is provided:

   “The knight wore silver armor, his greaves and gauntlet inlaid with niello to suggest flowing fronds of seaweed. The helm beneath his arm was the head of the merling king, with a crown of mother-of-pearl and a jutting beard of jet and jade. His own beard was as grey as the wintersea. Davos rose. “May I know your name, ser?” “Ser Marlon Manderly.” He was a head taller than Davos and three stones heavier, with slate-grey eyes and a haughty way of speaking.”   

As we can see, Marlon Manderly has basically put on a Merling King personification symbol.  We can also see by the bearded helm that the Merling King is indeed depicted with green facial hair, however it is what is underneath that armor that gave me pause.  Underneath we have a grey man as grey as the winter sea.  The above passage is eluding the idea that the Grey King and the Merling King are one in the same.  Has anyone ever noticed the almost duplicated descriptions between the two? 

  “The Grey King ruled the sea itself and took a mermaid to wife, so his sons and daughters might live above the waves or beneath them as they chose. His hair and beard and eyes wereas grey as a winter sea, and from these he took his name. The crown he wore was made of driftwood, so all who knelt before him might know that his kingship came from the sea and the Drowned God who dwells beneath it.”

In the Davos chapter prior to Mermen’s court, Davos is in White Harbor staring at the Merman statue centered in the courtyard and what do you know, we have another broken sword symbol, and we also have our storm reference nestled neatly afterward.

He was here for the night. He gazed up at Old Fishfoot with his broken trident. I have come through rain and wrack and storm. I will not go back without doing what I came for, no matter how hopeless it may seem. He might have lost his fingers and his luck, but he was no ape in velvet. He was a King’s Hand.

Take the legend of House Velaryon as another example revealing the Merling King to be part of the monomyth. House Velaryon is said to have received a ‘Driftwood Throne’ from the Merling King to conclude a pact.  As we already know, the legendary throne of the Grey King (which is now lost to history) was not Nagga’s bones, but driftwood. The books mention Nagga’s teeth made his crown and the jaws had made his throne. TWOIAF later contradicts this and mentions his crown was made of driftwood. 

  “The Grey King ruled the sea itself and took a mermaid to wife, so his sons and daughters might live above the waves or beneath them as they chose. His hair and beard and eyes were as grey as a winter sea, and from these he took his name. The crown he wore was made of driftwood, so all who knelt before him might know that his kingship came from the sea and the Drowned God who dwells beneath it.”

So now we have the Grey King’s driftwood throne which is lost to history, and we also have an ancient driftwood throne that was gifted to the ancestors of House Velaryon to conclude a pact with the Merling King.  This is not coincidence…not at all.

Knowing what we know about Nissa Nissa and the drowning storyline, let’s take a look at our man Petyr  as he speaks about his upcoming travel to the Vale, they discuss the hazards of the autumn storms and we are introduced to the Merling King ship. 

“How soon might you leave?” “On the morrow, if the winds permit. There’s a Braavosi galley standing out past the chain, taking on cargo by boat. The Merling King. I’ll see her captain about a berth.” “You will miss the king’s wedding,” said Mace Tyrell. Petyr Baelish gave a shrug. “Tides and brides wait on no man, my lord. Once the autumn storms begin the voyage will be much more hazardous. Drowning would definitely diminish my charms as a bridegroom.” Lord Tyrell chuckled. “True. Best you do not linger.” “May the gods speed you on your way,” the High Septon said. “All King’s Landing shall pray for your success.” Lord Redwyne pinched at his nose.“May we return to the matter of the Greyjoy alliance? In my view, there is much to be said for it. Greyjoy’s longships will augment my own fleet and give us sufficient strength at sea to assault Dragonstone and end Stannis Baratheon’s pretensions.” “King Balon’s longships are occupied for the nonce,” Lord Tywin said politely, “as are we. Greyjoy demands half the kingdom as the price of alliance, but what will he do to earn it? Fight the Starks? He is doing that already. Why should we pay for what he has given us for free? The best thing to do about our lord of Pyke is nothing, in my view. Granted enough time, a better option may well present itself. One that does not require the king to give up half his kingdom.” Tyrion watched his father closely. There’s something he’s not saying. He remembered those important letters Lord Tywin had been writing, the night Tyrion had demanded Casterly Rock. What was it he said? Some battles are won with swords and spears, others with quills and ravens … He wondered who the “better option” was, and what sort of price he was demanding.

Directly after discussing storms, drowning, the Merling King and brides, they turn their conversation to the Ironborn fleet.  The better option mentioned we later learn is the bastard of Driftmank, Aurane Waters.  The only problem with their plan is that Aurane doesn’t fight the Ironmen as the small council had hoped, and according to Patchface’s prophesy he may well join his fleet with ‘merlings’ in an alliance very soon; much like the parallel we see in the Dance of Dragons where the Blacks, which was heavily comprised of Velaryons, also sided with the Ironborn in an alliance.

Closing Thoughts

Welp, I am up to page nine again and going to cut this off.  The main point of this essay was to bring home the idea of the monomyth of Azor Ahai and his mermaid wife.  We didn’t get to really touch on Greyscale the way I wanted to, but that will come in probably the next essay.  What I want you to do is question why we have a character who has the head of the Titan of Braavos for a family sigil with a broken sword displayed on the wall and rode on a ship called the Merling King when he spirited (stole) Sansa away to the Vale.  I also want you to know there is another myth much like that of mermaids and sirens, it is a tale of a cunning man who wanted to be the ‘ruler of them all’ and lured people to their death with his gift of voice.  This man became the first mockingbird.