Misconceptions are common throughout human societies and throughout human history. They bind us together. They sponsor a shared sense of ourselves. They entertain as they enlighten. But, they also deceive. They mystify. They obscure. And, they are very hard to dislodge. The misconceptions surrounding “A Song of Ice and Fire” are no different. I have listed them below along with the reasoning that shows how they are misconceptions and should be rejected. Afterwards, I offer some explanations for why they are so hard to dislodge. Last, but not least, I argue for why it is necessary to do so.
- Dragonbinder binds dragons.
It is now cannon to believe that Euron will use the horn, Dragonbinder, to bind a dragon or dragons to him. That is the way to interpret the Valyrian inscriptions. Furthermore, those who conclude otherwise are swiftly referred to Nobody Suspects the Butterfly’s post of Daenerys remembering that Valyrians used horns to coordinate their dragons in battle. Case closed.
However, there is a large gaping hole in this theory: Valyrians are not fireproof. Blowing Dragonbinder incinerates the lungs of anyone who sounds it. If Valyrians used it, they would die too. From the two Dance of the Dragons stories (“The Rogue Prince” and “The Princess and the Queen”) as well as the World Book and other references to Targaryens dying of various flame related incidents, we know that Valyrians are no more fireproof than anyone else. Martin has stated that Daenerys surviving Drogo’s funeral pyre was a one time thing, which is demonstrated in the Fighting Pit in Meereen where Daenerys gets burned by Drogon’s flames. Thus, it cannot be a horn that Valyrians sounded for any purpose let alone binding themselves to a dragon. What is more, the Dance of the Dragon stories tell us how dragon riders get their dragons. They bond with them the way the Stark children and Jon Snow bond with their direwolves, and skin-changers bond with their animals.
As a result, we can safely assume that Euron is going to skin-change his dragon just like any other Valyrian wannabe. Dragonbinder must do something else. That something can be seen in its effects at the Kingsmoot and what happened once Euron’s man died from sounding it. It binds people to dragons – the only creatures who are fireproof. Euron will use Dragonbinder as the Valyrians used it – to bind all those within its range to him by having his dragon, which can live for hundreds of years after sounding it, sound it. By the way, if you are worried about Tyrion or Daenerys being affected by the horn, do not. Valyrians are unaffected by Dragonbinder as they are part dragon themselves.
- Doran’s plan is solely the Quentyn quest and it failed.
Doran Nymeros-Martell has a reputation as being a master plotter, extremely cautious, and extraordinarily patient. And yet, the cognoscenti and the fandom believe that Doran’s entire plot was to send his second child, Quentyn, to get married to Daenerys with barely any resources, surrounded by Yronwoods (the Nymeros-Martell version of the Boltons), with solely an old marriage pact between Oberyn and Ser Willem Darry on behalf of Arianne and Viserys, the beggar king, whom Doran had not helped in the slightest, as evidence. Quentyn takes it upon himself to steal a dragon after Daenerys understandably dumps the Frog Prince who was late. He gets burned, literally. Everyone laments this tragic story, dumps on Doran for treating Quent this way, and chalks this one up to the suckiness of heroic journeys in Martin’s magnum opus.
This is irretrievably wrong, not the least of which is that it is fallacious reasoning – circular arguing. It assumes what it is trying to prove – Doran’s plan sucked. There is no doubt that sending Quentyn on a marriage proposal trip is a terrible plan. It is badly executed. It is poorly resourced. Its objectives are laughable. One naturally feels quite sorry for Quentyn and ready to condemn Doran, especially if, like most of us, you have daddy issues. Doran is a remote, seemingly uncaring father who has apparently sacrificed his son for his ruinous course of revenge. It is very Greek, tragic, and traditional. That is why this interpretation of Doran’s plan is completely wrong. Martin does not do any of those things.
When one recognizes that the Brave Companions and Shae are Doran and Oberyn’s agents the plan, the actual plan, falls into place. The former are the sellsword company Oberyn founded, hitherto unnamed to conceal their role from the reader, and the latter is an assassin and spy. (For the specifics of how the Brave Companions, Oberyn, and Shae enacted their plots see Preston Jacobs’ You Tube videos and/or my post on the “Martell Master Plan”.) Doran’s revenge is almost complete. This plan is complex, well thought out, and worthy of a master chess player that Martin was and likes.
However, that is not the whole of the plan. Quentyn’s mission is still terrible with no chance of success. But, when we combine that assessment with Doran as a master planner, we do not get “It was a lousy plan,” but instead it was planned to fail. Quentyn would go home in failure with the Yronwoods responsible for it all. Doran could not have anticipated Quentyn improvising and improvising badly in trying to steal one of the dragons. As for the true objective of the plan, it is all falling into place especially when we remember that, for Dorne, Doran is scheming to place his first-born, Arianne, on the Iron Throne in her own right, not Quentyn.
- Daenerys will burn the three lies: Stannis, fAegon, and Euron.
Daenerys has a series of visions in the House of the Undying including a group of prophecies, one of which declares her to be the slayer of three lies – a blue-eyed king with no shadow (Stannis), a mummer’s dragon (fAegon), and a stone beast from a smoking tower breathing shadow fire (Euron, supposedly headed for Oldtown with greyscale immunity bringing death, or greyscale infected Griffin, Jon Connington). Given her walkabout and her newfound dedication to “A dragon plants no trees,” this trio of killing makes a great deal of sense. That should be our first warning that it is wrong. Martin has a decidedly negative view of prophecies (donkeys and whores with sharp teeth and all). The key is recognizing that slaying lies does not necessarily mean killing. It can also mean simply exposure, refutation, and defeat.
While deposing Aegon by setting off most of King’s Landing with un-retrieved wildfire seems likely, it is also not Daenerys’ MO. She prefers stealth incursions to aerial bombardment. She wants to conquer King’s Landing, not roast any of it. Aegon is unlikely to try to resist Drogon by holding up in King’s Landing, but is so arrogant as to think he can make the mother of dragons his second queen. Aegon will attempt negotiation, then battle, but a retreat to King’s Landing such that Daenerys will have to mount an attack is simply not consistent with either player. What is more, Arianne is not someone who sits back while others seize the initiative and comes from a line famously hostile to dragons, the Rhoynar. Also, contrary to popular belief, Daenerys is not descending into madness, merely getting her mojo back. Remember one of Haggon’s lessons for Varamyr: skin-changing an animal is a two way process. Drogon is becoming as much a part of Daenerys as Daenerys is becoming a part of Drogon.
As for the third lie, Euron, this is a much darker, depressing, and distressing plot line. “Men are meat.” “Power is the only coin.” “First you get the dragons, then you get the power, then you get the women.” I made the last one up from Scarface, but you get the idea. Euron and Daario are the same person. They represent the same mindset. They are the devil on Daenerys’ shoulder while Drogon sits on the other. It is really not much of a choice. It is disappointing to us nice guys, but we finish last, and girls love the bad guy. Even the feminist loving Martin has a rather dim, though often accurate, view of the lovers women will choose when they are young like Daenerys. We need look no further than the fandom’s shipping of Sansa and Sandor while few to none will ship Tyrion and Sansa. The age range is the same, but people will always choose the big, athletic warrior over the short, clever malcontent keeping in mind they are both drunkards and abusive to women, including Sansa. As the chicken asked, are those the only choices? Daenerys will choose to marry Euron/Daario. The dragon will wed the kraken. Let the world beware.
- Jaime is the valonqar.
Maggie the Frog gives the eight year old Cersei a prophecy that includes the number of her children, that she will be queen, but her husband will not be Rhaegar, and that the valonqar will put his hands around her neck and choke the life from her after the deaths of her children and her supplanting by the younger, more beautiful queen. Given everyone’s belief in the truthfulness of prophecy, they sought a solution as to the identity of the valonqar. While some extended the definition of valonqar – Valyrian for younger brother – to cover anyone who was a younger brother like Sandor, the vast majority believe that it will be Jaime. Jaime is the one Cersei would never suspect, and yet he is the younger twin, a younger brother. The dramatic ironies are fulfilled as Jaime, the one she does not suspect, father to her children, her love, wraps his hands around her neck and chokes the life from her. One slight problem with this theory, by which I mean huge, is that Jaime has only one hand. It cannot be Jaime.
The key to solving the puzzle is to understand how prophecy works in “A Song of Ice and Fire”. In short, prophecy is garbage. It misleads. It deceives. But, it also reveals and plays with the reader as well as motivates the characters. Martin likes to play with his readers, especially word games. Dragonbinder does not bind dragons; it binds people to dragons. The salt of the Azor Ahai prophecy is actually snow misinterpreted. The stallion who will mount the world is not a rider, but a dragon analogized to a horse. Quaithe’s warnings to Daenerys are couched in riddles and symbolism (grey smiles, lions in the tall grass, the perfumed seneschal, etc.). The golden crowns and shrouds of Cersei’s children refers to their hair color and status as products of incest. Given that Lady Joanna had already caught her twins in unnatural embrace, Maggie the Frog is merely extrapolating outward. As for the use of “valonqar” instead of just “younger brother”, Maggie is telling Cersei and the reader what we should already know: Tyrion is part Valyrian, that is Targaryen. Maggie the Frog’s terminology is yet one more piece of evidence in support of Tyrion Targaryen. Again, Lady Joanna and Aerys’ relationship is an open secret as confirmed in the World Book.
Tyrion as the valonqar also makes story-telling sense consistent with Martin’s view of prophecy. After all, his usual stand-by story about prophecy is the lord who avoided stone walls only to die beneath a sign for the “Stone Wall” tavern. Maggie the Frog’s prophecy is an entirely self-fulfilling one. Cersei is persecuting Tyrion and Margaery from moment one, thus bringing about her overthrow and Tyrion’s motive for killing her, self-defense. Her incestuous children are doomed by their status as abominations. There is nothing prophetic about it. It is tragic, self-defeating, and the human heart in conflict with itself. It is very George R. R. Martin.
- The Others are the personification of climate change or the deep ones because “This is Tolkien” and/or Lovecraftian.
Perhaps the most powerful misconception concerning “A Song of Ice and Fire” is that the plot is inexorably, inevitably leading to a climactic second Battle for the Dawn between humanity and the White Walkers, or Others. Everything the White Walkers do is described as evil. Everything the White Walkers are is categorized as villainous. Their purpose is for the heroes to “earn their tropes”. Like so many opponents in comic books, the movies, literature, and history itself, the White Walkers in “A Song of Ice and Fire” are there to set up the time honored story of good v. evil, just with some pedagogical stuff about how plotting against ourselves weakens us before our ultimate struggle. As for the Lovecraftian nature of this world, the evidence is overwhelming from the oily stone beneath the Seastone Chair, the tower in Oldtown, and in Yi Ti, to the Iron Born culture of the drowned god, and the dark and sinister forces that underlie everything in planetos/terros.
It does not matter that there are also lots of elements that are not Lovecraftian, but from all the other authors Martin admires including Roger Zelazny, Ursula Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, and others. It is irrelevant that none of Martin’s previous work is Lovecraftian. There are no black and white struggles. There are no monster opponents. There is no prejudice that goes unchallenged. It is of no concern that Martin has repeatedly stated he writes about “the heart in conflict with itself”, the villain of one side is the hero of the other, the traditional fantasies are wrong, and that there are moral quandaries he likes to explore in his writing particularly questions about power, leadership, and belief. It also does not impact the analysis when one considers that Martin and Lovecraft and Tolkien completely disagree on a whole series of extremely important topics such as the difference between the races, the nature of evil, and the wonderfulness of traditional societies. In summary, there is no possible way “A Song of Ice and Fire” is going to end in an eldritch apocalypse.
Reasons for Belief
- Why We Think the Way We Do
The biological need for human socialization is plain. Individually we are weak, vulnerable, and, therefore, unlikely to survive. Together, acting as a group, humans are unsurpassed in hunting, exploitation of resources, and, therefore, living long enough to reproduce. To overcome our individualism with its attending selfishness and independence-seeking, we have various pre-programmed tendencies that diminish our separate identities and forge us into parts of the whole. Similarly, societies also develop memes, norms, and enculturation practices that reinforce the community’s cohesiveness, setting the boundaries for inclusion and exclusion, establishing its rules, and formulating its objectives. Part of that enculturation process is the songs we sing and the stories we tell.
From the time we are born, we are taught by our care-givers, peers, and groups what to think, how to think, and why we are what we are – our identities. The Bible, the Koran, the mythologies, and so on are all enculturation stories that shape our self-conception, the patterns of our thought, and, thus, what we expect life to be both in reality and in stories. Someone immersed in fantasy is conditioned to anticipate the same story arc in whatever he or she reads or experiences. Therefore, it is not surprising that people predict “A Song of Ice and Fire” is going to end in the eldritch apocalypse. That is how all the stories end.
- “A Song of Ice and Fire” Community
There is no doubt there is a community in and around “A Song of Ice and Fire”. People within the community know who each other are, what defines membership, and what is acceptable behavior and belief. Those who violate those rules are excluded, dismissed, and marginalized. One might say they are “othered”. Contributors like Preston Jacobs and myself are too brash, too non-conforming, and too disrespectful of the community leaders to be accepted. On occasion we transgress the political correctness, millennial zeitgeist, or in some cases have gone after beloved insiders. It does not matter what our message is, the quality of the argument, or our actual intentions. Our ideas are now inextricable from our outsider personas. We are persona non grata. Being right has nothing to do with anything.
Why It Matters
Normally, one can dismiss this situation as so much ado about nothing. After all, it is just a dispute about some fantasy novels. There are important things over which to disagree and “A Song of Ice and Fire” is not one of them. While one can sympathize with this line of reasoning even as one wonders about the hypocrisy of it (Condemning someone as being petty while excluding them from the conversation is a contradiction. If it does not matter, then why are you taking such extreme action?), it does beg the question: Why do the disagreements about “A Song of Ice and Fire” matter? There are three main set of reasons, but they all boil down to the saying: the mind is like a parachute; it only works when it is open.
- The Road Not Taken
Martin does not take stands on moral questions, but loves to pose them. His reading of historical fiction and history has reinforced this. It does not matter whether Richard III is the one of Shakespeare’s song and sturm or Josephine Tey’s re-reading. It does not matter whether Elizabeth Woodville was wronged. Wars are fought, won and lost. Territory changes hands, but little changes for those on the bottom rungs. When we assume those moral quandaries away with assertions of “Full Stop”, “Morality 101”, and Martin clearly wants us to know Ned’s way was better than Tywin’s and so forth, the potential for a useful exchange of views on some of the hardest questions there are (What is evil? What is the good? Is there such a thing as a just war?) dissipates like the dew on a hot day. We have an opportunity to have a rich, enriching discussion. Let us not waste it.
- Humanity in Microcosm
Martin’s story is fiction, but it has enough verisimilitude for us to be able to relate to it on a fundamental level. We know these people. We can believe in their history, their quarrels, their loves, and their losses. We can relate. Because of that, we can also use these involving stories to look at our own lives. Those views can lead to insight into who we are, the how of it, and the why. It is a kind of living, lived history in a petri dish for us to examine, experiment with, and learn from.
- Redefining Ourselves
When we understand better who we are and what makes others the way they are, we can start to build bridges between our communities. Instead of walls that divide, we will have connections, interchanges, and the trade in ideas that, like with the trade in goods and materials, makes everyone better off. All we have to do is comprehend ourselves and others. Ending discrimination is a necessary first step. We cannot do that if we persist in demonizing, seeing the world as good v. evil, and deploying shoot from the hip moral absolutism untouched by self-examination. There is always a choice. We should choose well. We will become the better for it.