The Night King, as he is known in the show, is the menacing, brooding villain that threatens all life in Westeros and beyond. He commands the dead at a thought, brings winter storms that freeze the life from his foes, and now has an frozen dragon at his command. All of these magics and powers are far beyond anything we’ve seen from another being in this universe. Even Drogon, with all his strength and blazing fires, has nowhere near the body count or power of the Night King and he is a dragon that roasts armies alive at a whim. How could one person be so powerful when the source of his power appears to be from some obsidian shoved in his chest? In this video, I’ll be shedding some light on that peculiar bit of rock from the books and George’s past as a writer. Also showing how the source of the Other’s power could very easily be the same in the books.
The first thing we need to establish is what happened in the scene with the Night King and also Benjen Stark. With the Night King, the Children of the Forest are gathered around a weirwood in the middle of a spiral rock formation and have an obsidian, or dragonglass, spearhead in their hand. The spearhead being worked on in some way by the Children next to a weirwood is extremely important to understanding this scene- it implies they are using the magic of their trees on it. The weirwoods are more than mere trees rather enormous fonts of magic and souls. They serve as the afterlife for the worshipers of the trees, creating a collective unconscious net or hive mind for them. If you’re familiar with the Borg from Star Trek or the buggers from Ender’s Game, it’s a similar concept.
Next, one Child walks over and shoves the spearhead into the heart of a human man. Rather than killing him, his eyes and skin transform into the familiar blue of the Others which reinforces the magic that is happening. From Benjen Stark, we hear a similar tale. He was ambushed by the Others while on a ranging and the Others began converting him into another wight for their army. However, the Children appeared and shoved a shard of dragonglass in his heart. Somehow this stopped the wight creation and instead returned Benjen into an undead state much like Beric Dondarrion. In addition, it is a dragonglass dagger that Sam stabs an Other with that causes the creature to fall apart in front of his eyes.
When he opened his eyes the Other’s armor was running down its legs in rivulets as pale blue blood hissed and steamed around the black dragonglass dagger in its throat. It reached down with two bone-white hands to pull out the knife, but where its fingers touched the obsidian they smoked.
Sam rolled onto his side, eyes wide as the Other shrank and puddled, dissolving away. In twenty heartbeats its flesh was gone, swirling away in a fine white mist. Beneath were bones like milkglass, pale and shiny, and they were melting too. Finally only the dragonglass dagger remained, wreathed in steam as if it were alive and sweating. Grenn bent to scoop it up and flung it down again at once. “Mother, that’s cold.”
– A Storm of Swords Samwell I
What these scenes are establishing is, for some reason, dragonglass has magical properties not seen in our world. It can convert a man into a terrifying ice demon, return another to a cursed half-life, and even destroy those very same creations at a touch. The idea of magic rocks and stones is one that GRRM is well acquainted with in the rest of ASOIAF. Dragonglass has another known use, the glass candles of Valyria.
“What feeds a dragon’s fire?” Marwyn seated himself upon a stool. “All Valyrian sorcery was rooted in blood or fire. The sorcerers of the Freehold could see across mountains, seas, and deserts with one of these glass candles. They could enter a man’s dreams and give him visions, and speak to one another half a world apart, seated before their candles. Do you think that might be useful, Slayer?” –
A Feast for Crows Samwell V
Again, we have dragonglass being used to power an astonishing magical event. Clearly, George has it on his mind that this volcanic glass is capable of incredible deeds in his world which lines up with what we see in the show. The show didn’t pull the importance of dragonglass from where the sun doesn’t shine, rather they were using a known property of the substance from the books. And as well, it’s not just dragonglass that powers magic. Other gems, crystals, and stones do as well.
The most prominent example is Melisandre and the ruby she wears at her throat. Somehow, that crystal allows her to cast her spells and magics. The most visible example is the glamour that Melisandre put on Mance Rayder.
The sound echoed queerly from the corners of the room and twisted like a worm inside their ears. The wildling heard one word, the crow another. Neither was the word that left her lips. The ruby on the wildling’s wrist darkened, and the wisps of light and shadow around him writhed and faded.
The bones remained—the rattling ribs, the claws and teeth along his arms and shoulders, the great yellowed collarbone across his shoulders. The broken giant’s skull remained a broken giant’s skull, yellowed and cracked, grinning its stained and savage grin.
But the widow’s peak dissolved. The brown mustache, the knobby chin, the sallow yellowed flesh and small dark eyes, all melted. Grey fingers crept through long brown hair. Laugh lines appeared at the corners of his mouth. All at once he was bigger than before, broader in the chest and shoulders, long-legged and lean, his face clean-shaved and windburnt.
Jon Snow’s grey eyes grew wider. “Mance?”
– A Dance With Dragons Melisandre I
As the rubies lighten and darken, the glamour or illusion Mel has cast begins to fade and Mance appears in Rattleshirt’s place. Mel then makes it more explicit it that the ruby is key to the magic she weaved over the King Beyond the Wall.
Melisandre spoke softly in a strange tongue. The ruby at her throat throbbed slowly, and Jon saw that the smaller stone on Rattleshirt’s wrist was brightening and darkening as well. “So long as he wears the gem he is bound to me, blood and soul,” the red priestess said. “This man will serve you faithfully. The flames do not lie, Lord Snow.”
– A Dance With Dragons Jon IV
In another similar example, during the events of the Mystery Knight, Bloodraven disguised himself as Maynard Plumm using a similar glamour; however, this time he uses a different precious stone to power his illusion.
This close, there was something queer about the cast of Ser Maynard’s features. The longer Dunk looked, the less he seemed to see.
Dunk whirled. Through the rain, all he could make out was a hooded shape and a single pale white eye. It was only when the man came forward that the shadowed face beneath the cowl took on the familiar features of Ser Maynard Plumm, the pale eye no more than the moonstone brooch that pinned his cloak at the shoulder.
– The Mystery Knight
These are only tricks though, ones that Jon and Dunk both start to see through as they closely examine the men in question and begin to see the truth behind the stones. For our purposes though, this establishes that it’s not just one variety of crystal or gem that can enable magic. And it goes beyond these practical examples, George very often uses gems as color depictions particularly for eyes. When we first see the wighted rangers Othor and Jafer Flowers, here’s how George describes their magically blue eyes.
His hands were black like Jafer’s. Blossoms of hard cracked blood decorated the mortal wounds that covered him like a rash, breast and groin and throat. Yet his eyes were still open. They stared up at the sky, blue as sapphires.
– A Game of Thrones Jon VII
In addition we have the story of Symeon Star-Eyes, a great hero who replaced his lost eyes with sapphires that allowed him to see “hell-hounds”. Which really means they let him beyond the veil into the world of the supernatural telling us again that gems have otherworldly powers. This kind of thinking is not something George made up, many myths and cultures across history believe that gemstones are magic. Tide jewels from Japanese culture, Mermaids tears from Greek, Gem of Kukulan from Mayan, symantaka gem from Hindu. Or stones like the philsopher’s stone, Urim and Thummin from Jewish culture, among many others. That George is pulling from these examples and ideas is no surprise coming from our learned author.
The one most intriguing though for the idea of magic stones or crystals comes from his own past, the upcoming TV show and 1980 novella “Nightflyers”. The basic premise of Nightflyers is that a crew is hired to go study a space faring legend aboard the only ship that will take them, the Nightflyer. However over the course of the voyage the on-board psychic (yes psychic, this is GRRM after all) begins to detect something malevolent on board and the crew suspects the ship’s captain, Royd Eris, who has only appeared as a hologram. It is revealed instead to be the disembodied consciousness of Royd’s dead mother who has taken over the ship and uses her psychic powers to begin killing the crew one by one. What’s important for us though is how she is able to do this, and begins with a small gem called a whisperjewel.
When it touched her Melantha closed her eyes briefly, then opened them again, grinning. “It’s alive,” she said. “Haven’t you ever seen one? A whisperjewel, captain. Resonant crystal, etched psionically to hold a memory, a sensation. The touch brings it back, for a time.”
Whisperjewels also pop up in George’s novel Dying of the Light when the character Dirk t’Larien touches his again after many years.
Resentful, he reached out and took the jewel in his palm, and his fist closed ahrd around the smallness of it. He would toss it through the window, he decided, out into the dark waters of the canal, out and away with with everything that it meant. But once within his fist, the gem was an ice inferno, and the memories were knives.
-Dying of the Light
These psionic crystals affect the minds of the people who touch them, psychically transmitting back into their head memories and feelings. That is how they are created on the world of Avalon: carved by an esper or a psychic.
Any type of crystal may be fashioned into a whisperjewel, but certain kinds of gemstones retain the patterns far better than others. The strength and clarity of a whisperjewel may also vary with time, and with the degree of skill of the etching esper.
-Dying of the Light
In the Dying of the Light, we are shown exactly how they are created.
Long ago on Avalon. The old esper, a wizened Emerli with a very minor talent and red-gold hair, had cut two jewels. He had read Dirk t’Larien, had felt all the love Dirk had for his Jenny, and then had put as much of that into the gem as his poor psionic powers allowed him to.
-Dying of the Light
What’s being pointed out here is that a low level esper could make a jewel that contains memories and feelings, but are still extremely potent. From the above quote it is strong enough that Dirk feels his memories like knives of ice and fire being shoved into his mind. What if the psychic that created the jewel was much more powerful? Could they contain a entire mind or soul? The answer is yes, and that is the secret of the Nightflyer’s haunted computer.
Crystal matrix cores, lasergrid data retrieval, full sensory extension, and other-features”
“Are you try to tell us the the Nightflyer is an Artificial Intelligence? Lommie Thorne suspected as much.”
“She was wrong,” Royd said. “My ship is not an Artificial Intelligent, not as I understand it. But it is something close. Mother had a capacity for personality impress built in. She filled the central crystal with her own memories, desires, quirks, her loves and her- her hates.”
Using these same principles, Royd’s mother poured her soul into the crystal-based computer of the Nightflyer. More than that though, because the crystals respond to psychic abilities, her bodiless mind was able to retain her powers.
”I was not familiar with whisperjewels until you told me of yours,” Royd said, “but the principle is the same. Esperetched, you said. Then you know that psionic power can be stored. The central core of my computer is resonant crystal, many times larger than your tiny jewel. I think mother impressed it as she lay dying.”
The mother’s intense psychic abilities allowed her to not only overwhelm the crystal programming, but use her telepathic gifts on the real world using the crystals. While this seems like a bizarre concept, it is well known in fantasy and sci-fi. More popular versions of this idea is the One Ring from Lord of Rings containing part of Sauron’s essence, Voldemort’s horcuxes from Harry Potter, or phylacteries from numerous fantasy books and game series, most popularly World of Warcraft from the liches. All of these are examples of a being putting their soul into an object and greatly increasing their powers by being beyond death. Similarly, the mother’s powers increase and she’s able to move objects with disturbing results.
”The eye did not move. The other grisly bits were drifting on the air currents that followed across the room, but the eye was still. It neither bobbed nor spun. It was fixed on him. Staring.
”She started to tell Royd that were all right when the blade abruptly shifted and came after them, gripped by some invisible force.”
This power, known as teke in the Thousand Worlds series, is better known as telekinesis. With gravity aboard the Nightflyer turned off and the Volcryn approaching, her powers accelerate beyond merely moving objects and she becomes a sci-fi necromancer.
The headless corpse came through. It moved with jerks, unnatural shufflings, never lifting its legs from the floor. It sagged as it moved, half-crushed by the weight upon it. Each shuffle was crude and sudden; some grim force was literally yanking one leg forward, then the next. It moved in slow motion, ams stiff by its sides. But it moved.
The corpse was halfway up the corridor. It must be walking on two broken legs, she realized. It didn’t care. A force greater than tendons and bone and muscle was holding it up.
The way that George is describing the corpses moving is extremely similar to how the wights the Others command move as well. The corpse is being moved like a puppet. A force greater than flesh is making them lurch forwards and do its bidding exactly like we see from the wights the Others control. They sometimes have had all or most of their flesh rotted away, limbs removed, heads gone, organs spilling out yet it doesn’t matter. They keep moving
He felt something scrabble at his ankle. Black fingers clawed at his calf. The arm was crawling up his leg, ripping at wool and flesh. Shouting with revulsion, Jon pried the fingers off his leg with the point of his sword and flipped the thing away. It lay writhing, fingers opening and closing.
The corpse lurched forward. There was no blood. One-armed, face cut near in half, it seemed to feel nothing. Jon held the longsword before him. “Stay away!” he commanded, his voice gone shrill. “Corn,” screamed the raven, “corn, corn.” The severed arm was wriggling out of its torn sleeve, a pale snake with a black five-fingered head.
-A Game of Thrones Jon VII
The similarities between the corpse attack in the Nightflyer and Castle Black are striking. In both situations George you wants you to understand these aren’t the typical undead, they don’t need their heads and brain intact to be functional. They’re being controlled like puppets on invisible strings, marching unfeelingly towards the puppeteer’s desires. In Nightflyers, we know for a fact it’s a psychic power based on a large powerful crystal. The exact same concepts may be at work for the Others giving us some insight into why a hunk of obsidian turns a man into a cold god instead of a curious corpse.
The way Others are described by George also matches up with we see from the Mother in Nightflyers. He describes them as “strange beautiful, think oh the Sidhe made of ice, something like that…A different sort of life…inhuman, elegant, dangerous”. The Sidhe are a mythological race from Irish and Scottish traditions that resemble fairies or elves. They should be foreign, alien, something you can’t really understand. Knowing that, let’s look at how Mother is described by psychics.
A malign, looming presence, they tell me, something cool and hostile and inhuman.
”Yes,” Karoly d’Branin said,” yes that was what Thale said. An alien he was certain of it.”
”No doubt she feels alien to a telepath used to the familiar contours of organic minds. Hers is not a human brain, after all. What it is I cannot say – a complex of crystallized memories, a hellish network of interlocking programs, a meld of circuitry and spirit. Yes, I can understand why she might feel alien.”
The same cold, inhuman, hostile, dangerous language used for both of George’s creations. He’s clearly pulling these villainous creatures from the same idea in his head. And what’s more, they control their undead servants in similar ways, and if the show is the be believed, their powers come from “impressed” or magical crystals and stones. This can give us insight into how their icy minds work by looking back at the Mother, perhaps a Night’s Queen- or Great Other-like figure, and seeing how the tragedies of their lives lead to such brutality and disregard for life. The mother was pushed into her murderous rage from years of abuse as a child on her home planet where they viewed her gift as something to be suppressed. Not unlike we see in Westeros where skinchangers are viewed as demonic and evil, cast out of society except beyond the Wall. A mistreated, broken prodigy that has their powers awakened later in life is one that George loves toying with.
In addition, this reveal tells us why in the show Benjen Stark is saved from becoming a wight by the Children shoving dragonglass in his chest. According to Nightflyers and Dying of the Light, in George’s mind different varieties of gems and stones can be stronger and weaker. Melisandre’s ruby allows her to affect what people hear, cast glamours, somehow bind Mance to her will, call Ghost to her, but those are minor tricks. Similarly, Bloodraven’s moonstone lets him use a glamor. But dragonglass is the stone that enables the strongest magic we’ve seen, namely in the form of glass candles, which give the ability to see across the world, invade minds, send dreams. It’s almost like a source of artificial skinchanging or astral projection granting the user the powers of someone like Bloodraven temporarily, meaning it likely contains enormous potential as a whisperjewel-like creation.
This means that Benjen having dragonglass inside him could be granting him powers similar to the Others and the ability to resist their powers over his body. His soul may be impressed into the dragonglass itself. Again, this concept has roots in Nightflyers. Royd explains that of all the the things his disembodied mother fears, she fears other psychics the most.
”She strikes out when she is threatened, and telepaths are always a threat. They sense her, you see.”
And to spoil the ending a bit, it’s revealed as a clone of his mother, Royd is a powerful latent telepath himself and they clash over control of the crystal computer she lives in.
Dying, he too found the strength to impress himself upon the great crystal. The ship is alive with both of them, and frequently they fight. Sometimes she outwits him for a moment, and the Nightflyer does odd, erratic things.
Benjen’s body is protected by the dragonglass inside of it, acting as a shield against the intrusions of the Others and guarding his own soul. The Night’s King demonstrates this principle as well with his own dragonglass whisperjewel in his chest. By inserting the dragonglass into the Night King’s chest, the Children of the Forest could have inadvertently given the Night’s King a tool to amplify whatever latent psychic powers he had, bringing them to another level. Not even considering what they may have put into the stone, which leaves us with the question of who the children impressed on the stone first? How many souls did they pour into it? Given the extreme powers of the Others to control tens of thousands of wights at the same time, this puts the Other’s powers well beyond Mother’s on the Nightflyer, even boosted by the Volcryn. What the children poured into the dragonglass must have been truly powerful.
The book version of this may almost assuredly be different in details, however we should expect these same concepts at play. The Heart of Winter that Bran saw may be the crystal that the soul of the Night King or his Queen share, commanding their armies from within like Royd’s mother. The stone itself could be any number of objects like dragonglass, an enormous glass candle, a piece of the moon, a meteor, a fallen star, the black stone of the Bloodstone Emperor. Dragonglass is the most likely given how heavily George has featured it. If you’re a fan of my good friend LuciferMeansLightbringer, the possibility of the whisperjewel of the Others being part of the ice moon that fell to Earth as a part of a cataclysm is one that works very well with his observations.
While many give the show and Dan and Dave a lot of grief for their adaption of A Song of Ice and Fire, in this case I find that their depiction of the Night King faithful to George’s previous works and many of his hints about the power of magic gems and stones in ASOIAF. What’s he really stressing to us as readers is to pay attention when he uses this kind of language. Eyes being the colors of gemstones, someone touching a crystal before doing something incredible, stones flashing like they are alive. In George’s mind, these gems are alive and when you look into them, the souls impressed in them look back at you. It’s the idea of underestimating something based on its appearance like the crippled sser Bran, the nearly dead Bloodraven, the incredibly young looking but powerful Children of the Forest, or the teenage Daenerys knocking down cities. Much like them, magic gemstones have enormous power that normal people overlook and struggle to comprehend. It makes a lot of sense that this idea powers the Others on their cold crusade against the living. Underestimated, mistreated, misunderstood, that is the classic recipe for George’s villains. Throw in a magic stone and anger, and you have the strongest villain he’s ever created.