The whereabouts of Benjen Stark, uncle to Jon et al, brother to Lyanna and Ned, third son of Rickard, has been the subject of fan curiosity since the publication of the first book, A Game of Thrones. It is likely that Benjen had key information both as an eyewitness to the events up to and including Robert’s Rebellion and First Ranger of the Night’s Watch. However, he has disappeared never to be seen again. What is more, it is in part his disappearance that caused the disastrous Great Ranging, which in turn depleted the Night’s Watch and led to Jon’s too early elevation to Lord Commander, sealing his fate by the end of A Dance with Dragons. A popular theory – that Benjen was Coldhands – was definitively disproven with the discovery of a notation in a draft of A Dance with Dragons in which Martin answered the question of whether Coldhands was Benjen with a “No.” This has led many to believe Benjen has a special role to play, specifically in conducting reconnaissance on the Others/White Walkers and revealing R + L = J to Jon. Despite these able writers and their theories, I have a different view based on some key information that these conclusions neglect. In short, Benjen does have a special role to play, but not on the side of the anti-White Walker forces.
Readers of this blog are already aware of my belief that the Starks are descended from the White Walkers (the burial in the crypts, the moniker Kings of Winter, their comfort in the cold, Bran the Builder’s facility with ice construction including Winterfell and Storm’s End, and so on). This already makes Benjen a subject of interest for the White Walkers, a reason why they would want him alive and not a wight. But, Benjen is also a skinchanger as we learned from Lady Barbrey’s talk with Theon/Reek, that Benjen and Lyanna were “like centaurs, those two”. Also, it is likely that Jon’s skinchanging with Ghost, his warging, is an ability he inherited from his mother, Lyanna. Thus, Benjen’s ability with horses is likely skinchanging.
This matters because the White Walkers use animated corpses – wights – as part of their forces. It is not too much of a stretch to attribute this power to skinchanging. Coldhands, according to Leaf, was “killed long ago” and has the characteristics of an animated corpse or wight including the cold blood coalescing in his hands as the source of his nickname. That Bloodraven is skinchanging him as he would ravens is a reasonable conclusion. Given practice and a supernatural kick, it is not hard to imagine that converted skinchangers are what the White Walkers are using to create wights. Benjen, thus, would serve a dual purpose: he already is related to the White Walkers through his Stark inheritance and would be able to manipulate corpses as wights as a skinchanger.
Finally, as per Bran’s vision through the Winterfell heartwood, Benjen has been baptized, if you will, in the godswood pool. Once again, I have mentioned in previous posts that I subscribe to the theory that the always cold pool is the remains of an ice dragon. Because the White Walkers are the children of the ice dragon, being baptized in the pool likely designates you as a kindred spirit. (For this reason, I find it concerning that Osha has bathed in the pool.) This baptism means that Benjen is special to the White Walkers, anointed in some respects.
Therefore, it is my conclusion that Benjen is not working on behalf of the Night’s Watch in the Land of Always Winter, but is now among their number as either a leader or the leader. He has been converted. He was already complicit with Craster’s arrangments with the White Walkers – giving them snows as the North did before Good Queen Alysanne’s prohibition of the right of the first night (the Snow Gate now Queen’s Gate and the Black Gate of the Nightfort). Now, Benjen is perfectly placed to give critical information to a reborn Jon Snow. Its purpose will not be how to defeat the White Walkers, but to convey the true nature of the White Walkers and their relationship with the rest of humanity. As for whether Jon will be receptive to this message, that is another question entirely.
Note: This post is derived from my readings on Reddit, blogs, and the You Tube videos of Preston Jacobs.