The Childrens Blizzard Essays Of Elia

Hey there friends, patrons, and fellow Mythical Astronomers! It’s your starry host, LmL, and we are ready to get this party started! I hope you enjoyed the prelude to a chill, and I hope I haven’t destroyed your image of me with that unexpected discussion of logistics and plausibility and the timeline. Similarly, I hope that last musical adventure into outer space at the end the last podcast didn’t give any of you bad dreams about visitors from other dimensions, because I would feel terrible if that was the case. That’s just what happens when the moment is right and I have a lot of effects pedals at my disposal, as I usually do.

In any case, we are pretty much ready to hit the ground running with this episode, so let me say thanks to George R. R. Martin for writing such wonderful books, and thanks to Patreon sponsors of Mythical Astronomy for keeping the starry lights on. Thanks very much Crowfood’s Daughter, who supplied many hat-tips for this episode. She’s been writing great ASOIAF analaysis for a while now, and she just started her YouTube channel, The Disputed Lands! Check it out there. 

She’ll also be my special guest on our livestream QnA, which will be Saturday, March 3rd, at 3:30 EST. Tune in here and join us! You can send in questions fo the livestream by leaving a comment here, or on Twitter, Facebook, Patreon, or YouTube.

I’d like to give an extra special thanks to our Long Night’s Watch patrons, who are filling out the Watch very nicely. We need twelve volunteers to become green zombies before the cold winds of winter arrive, and we have five so far. Just listen to these titles – these are the folks you need at your side to journey into the cold dead. Charon Ice-Eyes, Dread Ferryman of the North, Wielder of the Staff of the Old Gods, a weirwood staff banded in Valyrian steel. Ser Cletus Yronwood Reborn of the Never-Lazy Eye, wrestler of bulls and slayer of the white mists. Stepping up from the priesthood of Starry Wisdom, it’s Cinxia, Frozen Fire Queen of the Summer Snows and Burner of Winter’s Wick. The same goes for Antonius the Conspirator, the Red Right Hand of R’hllor, Knower of the Unknowable, Dispenser of Final Justice, who’s boosted his support to join the Watch (thanks so much guys!) Finally, our newcomer – Garth Bluemoon, the Mazemaker, he who strides the river of time. If you’d like to join the Watch or any other Patron level, just go to, which is also where you can find the matching text to this podcast.

Without further adieu…

The One That Got Away

This section is sponsored by The Cinder of the Citadel, Wielder of the Burning Weirwood Spear, Guardian of the Celestial Sow, and by Daphne Eversweet, Queen Bee of the Red Poppy fields, Guardian of the Crone’s Lantern, and keeper of the Black Rabbit with big, pointy, nasty teeth who can leap about…

At the end of the prelude to this series, I raised the question of historical parallels in regards to Gilly’s babe, the child known as Monster who was intended to be given to the Others but wasn’t. Gilly is a symbolic parallel of the Night’s Queen, giving her sons to the wood to be transformed into Others or used to create Others in some way, so doesn’t the example of her escaped child suggest that one of the children of Night’s King and Queen similarly might not have been turned into an Other, but instead rescued? That seems like it might be important, right? We’ve identified both Night’s King and Night’s Queen as magical beings, so any child of theirs might be a magical being as well, and directly tied to the Others… a kind of brother to the Others, which kind of matches Jon’s symbolism…

Before we get carried away, let’s start with the basic of the potential historical parallel. Consider what happens with Gilly and Monster. One of the big clues that Sam and Gilly are echoing the rescue of a Night’s King and Queen baby is that Sam and Gilly smuggle baby Monster south through the Black Gate at the Nightfort, the very seat of Night’s King. That’s a bit on-the-nose, isn’t it? Stealing a baby meant to be an Other using the Nightfort? When you think about it, there are really two main things that come from the Craster and Gilly storyline: the mutiny and murder of Lord Commander Mormont, and the rescue of Gilly and her babe by Sam, with an assist from Coldhands and the ravens. Baby Monster continues to play a role in the storyline, and quite honestly, his rescue – stealing a baby from the Others and a Night’s King figure – is just too major of an event not to be a historical parallel.

Here’s where all the research into R+L=J and the general moons of ice and fire pattern of a solar king or dark solar king with two moon wives comes in handy. These mythical astronomy templates serve as a great way to organize the various echoes of historical archetypes and events. Gilly is a Night’s Queen who has one son that is “rescued,” if you will, and of course if we want to know if this really happened with the original Night’s Queen and King, all we have to do is look to our other Night’s Queen and King figures. Rhaegar and Lyanna are the most important; do they have a son who is rescued by any chance?

Oh yes, It’s Jon Snow of course, whose symbolism already places him as a weird kind of brother to the Others. Here lies the answer to the riddle I left you with at the end of the RLJ episode: if Jon is a child of a symbolic dark solar king and an ice moon queen, just as the Others are, why isn’t his symbolism identical to that of the Others? Why is Jon more like a ‘good Other’ or ‘black Other’? Why does Jon have that black ice armor, like an inversion of the transparent ice armor of the Others, and why is he the one who is singularly dedicated to fighting the Others? It’s because he’s a parallel to this “one that got away,” I think, the child of Night’s King and Queen who wasn’t turned into an Other. This child would be a brother to the Others, as Gilly’s Monster is, but different as well. That fits Jon’s symbolism perfectly, and again – Jon was stolen at birth, or perhaps we might say ‘rescued.’ Ned had to disguise his parentage to save him from the wrath of Robert Baratheon, who was, at the time, making a strong effort to exterminate House Targaryen and secure his hold on the iron throne.

Now think about the scene at the Tower of Joy again in this context. Take a deep breath; this is going to be some shit. Since the Kingsguard can be used to symbolize the Others and since Lyanna is a Night’s Queen figure, we could absolutely see Ned at the Tower of Joy as a Stark commando stealing a Night’s Queen baby from the Others! I mean holy hell, Batman, think about it! Here’s a heroic Stark, fighting symbolic Others and taking home a child of a Night’s King and Queen! Taking him home, and…

…raising him as a Stark. I mean, his name is Snow and not Stark, but Ned claims him as his son, and of course many things suggest Jon as a true Stark, from Robb’s will naming him his heir to Stannis’s offer to name him Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell, to his overwhelming King of Winter symbolism that we discussed in the Green Zombies series. So if Jon symbolizes a rescued Night’s Queen baby, and he’s raised in Winterfell as part of the Stark family and eventually becomes Lord of Winterfell… uh… doesn’t that suggest that this hypothetical escaped Night’s Queen baby may have been raised as a Stark?

This would mean that all of the Winterfell Starks since the Long Night might descend from Night’s King and Queen.

“It’s good to see that frozen face of yours, Ned!”

If this theory about the origins of House Stark tracing to a Night’s King baby is true, then this is one of the major things being hinted at at the Tower of Joy scene. This may well be the reason why the Tower of Joy has been presented to us as this defining, pivotal scene – it’s actually showing us the origins of House Stark!

Now I can’t actually claim to have thought of this one completely on my own – the idea of the Starks being the family associated with ice as an opposite to House Targaryen and the Valyrians before them is readily apparent to everyone, and the idea of the Starks having an actual link to ice magic through a child of Night’s King and Queen is an old idea which has been floating around on the margins of the fandom for a long time. Gilly’s baby plants the notion of baby saved from the Others in the mind of the reader, and it’s fairly logical to wonder if this could be part of the link between Stark and Other.

Here’s the thing: whomever made this connection initially would have done it primarily on intuition. It’s not too hard to draw a comparison between Craster and Night’s King both “sacrificing to the Others,” and thus begin to see Gilly’s babe as an escaped Other child, but they wouldn’t have known to compare Lyanna and Rhaegar to Night’s King and Queen and thus would not have realized that Jon represents an escaped Other baby as well – and that’s the big clue that the stolen Other baby became a Stark of Winterfell.

But we have the advantage of mythical astronomy to guide us and help us identify multiple examples of the ice queen archetype, so we can see that in fact, both Gilly and Lyanna parallel Night’s Queen, and that both have their sons “rescued.” It was when I noticed this that I remembered the theory about House Stark being tied to a child Night’s King and Queen, and I realized it must be true. Symbolically, Jon “Snow” represents a rescued child of Night’s King and Queen, a prince that was promised to the Others but was never delivered.

The parallels go much further, as always. As-always. Consider the various plans for Gilly’s baby Monster. Sam’s first plan is to pass off Gilly’s baby as his own bastard and send Gilly and Monster along to his family at Horn Hill. This creates the possibility that this would-be Other baby could eventually become the Lord of Horn Hill, should something unfortunate happen to Dickon Tarkly, Sam’s brother (after all, Dickon is fond of hunting, and as Cersei says, the woods are the abattoir of the gods).

So what we have here is a Night’s Watch brother, stealing a Night Queen would-be Other baby at the Nightfort and instead setting him up to take over his house, one of the oldest First Men houses in Westeros. House Tarly would seem to be standing in for House Stark, and thereby pointing us back to the idea of a truly cold origin for the Winterfell Starks. The fact that Sam swears his oaths to the heart tree with Jon, in the traditional way of the ancient First Men, enhances this image of Sam as an original Night’s Watchmen and a placeholder for a Stark, as does his ability to pass through the black gate by reciting the older, stripped down version of the Night’s Watch oath. It’s worth noting that Sam and Ned would be playing the same rescuer role – Sam at the Nightfort with Gilly’s babe and Ned with Jon at the Tower of Joy. Coldhands can probably be put in this category too, and as a green zombie Night’s Watchmen himself, he definitely seems like a throwback to the original Night’s Watch. Heck, there’s a chance Coldhands IS one of the original Night’s Watch, as I mentioned in the Sacred Order of Green Zombies series.

Another plan to safeguard baby Monster makes the parallel to an Other baby raised as a Stark even more apparent. It comes from Jon’s imagination when he considers Stannis’s offer to make him Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell. To take the offer, Jon would have to marry Val, which Jon thinks, you know, wouldn’t be so bad (chuckle), even though he’d rather marry Ygitte, who is dead at this point in the story. Thinking of Val, he says to himself:

I would need to steal her if I wanted her love, but she might give me children. I might someday hold a son of my own blood in my arms. A son was something Jon Snow had never dared dream of, since he decided to live his life on the Wall. I could name him Robb. Val would want to keep her sister’s son, but we could foster him at Winterfell, and Gilly’s boy as well. Sam would never need to tell his lie. We’d find a place for Gilly too, and Sam could come visit her once a year or so. Mance’s son and Craster’s would grow up brothers, as I once did with Robb.

This quote is great because it has Jon doing a Night’s King routine by marrying a Night’s Queen figure, Val, and having Stark children with her; and simultaneously, he’s imagining taking in another Night’s Queen figure and her baby, Gilly and Monster, and taking them back to Winterfell as well! Jon them compares himself growing up as a brother to the Starks to Monster and Mance’s son growing up as brothers at Winterfell. You don’t even need any metaphors or symbolism here: this plan literally involves a baby stolen from the Others being raised at Winterfell, and then directly compares that plan to Jon being taken from his mother and raised at Winterfell. It’s pretty strong evidence in support of the “icy origins of House Stark” hypothesis.

If Jon had taken Stannis up on his offer to become the Lord of Winterfell, it would have been Jon’s genes (Jon and Val’s genes, that is, a.k.a. JonValJon) that established the future line of House Stark, and this is what I think happened to House Stark in the beginning. The idea of Night’s King and Queen genetics being slipped into House Stark is doubly implied here, actually, with two generations of Night’s King and Queen pairings going into this proposed takeover of House Stark; first Rhaegar and Lyanna, then Jon and Val. The fact that Stannis, a Night’s King figure at the Wall, wants to make Jon Snow the stolen Other baby the Lord of Winterfell is yet another echo of the pattern! Credit for that find goes to one of our Mythical Astronomy patrons – appropriately, it’s our Guardian of the Celestial Ice Dragon, Nienna the Wise, the Persephoenix,whose words are “from sorrow, wisdom.”

I think the icy origins of House Stark hypothesis explains a lot of things, especially in terms of the themes of the story. It’s not just Jon who is like a good Other or inverted Other – the same could be said for House Stark as a whole. As I alluded to in the intro, the Starks parallel the Others as ice-eyed, snow-bearded Kings of Winter who wield “Ice swords,” and yet they oppose the Others, just as Jon does. The reason might be the same – it’s their possible descent from this Other baby that got away. As you might have guessed, it seems very possible that this escaped Other baby may have been the last hero, although it’s also possible the rescuer figure (represented by Sam and Ned, and even Coldhands) is the last hero. Perhaps we are seeing him taking a Night’s Queen baby home as a souvenir after Night’s King is defeated. We’ll come back to that in a moment.

Let’s think about this theory in terms of magical bloodlines, and within the context of all the evidence that points to Night’s King having been a blood of the dragon person – either Azor Ahai or his descendant. If Night’s King was a dragon person like Rhaegar, and the Starks descend from a son of Night’s King, would that make the Starks blood of the dragon people? More secret Valyrians? That would be blasphemy, right? Well, for all intents and purposes, the answer is no. So don’t throw down your headphones or flip any tables on me here!

Think about it like this: the fiery dragon genes of evil Azor Ahai as the Night’s King are frozen in the icy womb of the Night’s Queen – that’s something we saw depicted over and over with all the shivering flame and fires turning cold at Night’s Queen weddings like that of Alys Karstark or Jeyne Poole. When these formerly blood-of-the-dragon babies come out of the cold womb of Night’s Queen, I believe the affinity for fire that can be expressed by blood of the dragon people would have been flipped, and these Night’s Queen babies would have had an affinity for ice, in a way beyond what Gilly’s babe might possess, since Gilly is a normal human being and not an ice priestess or whatever Night’s Queen was.

However, I don’t think Night’s Queen was giving birth to full-grown Others; I suspect that just as Gilly’s babes are somehow transformed or used to make Others, there must have had a second step to the process of making Others from the cold babies of the Night’s Queen and King. Otherwise, this theory wouldn’t make sense at all – if Nigh’ts Queen as popping out full grown Others from her womb, there would be no way to steal one and make it a flesh-and-blood Stark. Rather, I imagine these cold Night’s Queen babies as having a natural affinity for ice magic in their blood that can be activated and awakened, just as Bran’s blood makes him a greenseer, but the weirwood paste and tree-bonding are necessary to awaken his gifts.

So, for all intents and purposes, a Night’s Queen baby wouldn’t really be ‘blood of the dragon’ anymore. If one of those cold children avoided his fate of becoming an Other and instead became the Lord of Winterfell, he might, if anything, be able to pass down this affinity for ice magic to his Stark descendants. Call it “the blood of the ice dragon,” or better yet, “the blood of the Other.” It makes sense, right? The Targaryens are the blood of the dragon, and the Starks are the blood of the Other! This natural symmetry is one of the things which has always made some version of this “icy origins of House Stark” theory attractive, and again I will say that it resonates with the theme of the Starks, who from the beginning seem tied to the Others. Just to name one example: the prologue of AGOT ends with Waymar being stabbed by a sword of ice… and the next chapter begins with Ned beheading Waymar’s black brother from the same mission, Gared, with Ice.

Polishing off my ancient aliens voice, I’ll pose the question ‘is it possible that…’ this icy Stark Lord, the child of Night’s King and Queen, was the man remembered as Bran the Builder? If an escaped Other baby did have some sort of ability to wield ice magic, this could explain the building of the Wall, right? The Wall is probably not a simple matter of stacking blocks of ice into a really tall wall – there is assuredly magic involved. Ygritte says the Wall was built with blood, so it may have even been blood magic of some kind that was used (which would surprise exactly no one, I think). Bloody or not, is it possible that the magic used to build this giant wall of ice was wielded by this rescued Night’s Queen child?

This begins to address one of the big logical issues with the theories about who built the Wall. The Others are the ones who can do incomprehensible, magical things with ice, so they are the first candidate to consider for ‘builders of the great ice wall,’ but trying to grasp their motive is as slippery as an icy pond. Were they trying to keep men out of their lands? It’s not really necessary, given their ability to raise the dead and given their immunity to everything but dragonglass and probably Valyrian steel. And would the Others really build such a “big, beautiful Wall” and then let the stinking Night’s Watch crawl all over it? Another point to consider is that until recent years, the Night’s Watch ranged freely into the Haunted Forest with no trouble from anyone but wildlings, and of course the wildlings have lived north of the Wall for centuries,  implying that the Others haven’t been super worried about keeping humans out of their territory until just recently. In other words, if the Others built the Wall, there’s a motive we simply can’t fathom at this point.

If the Wall wasn’t built by the Others, and was indeed meant to keep the Others out as advertised, the big mystery is who it would have been, among those fighting for the side of the living, that could manipulate ice with magic? Who could it have been that possessed abilities with ice magic that rival those of the Others, and who would also be motivated to keep the Others out of Westeros proper? Perhaps it was this son of the Night’s Queen – mayhaps his name was Brandon – and mayhaps he used magical abilities inherited from Night’s King and Queen to build the Wall out of ice, either during the Long Night or right after, thereby earning him his nickname of “the builder.” I think most would agree that right after the end of the Long Night is a logical point in the timeline to place the building of the Wall.

For what it’s worth, Mance’s wife Dalla, who seems like a wise character, has this to say about the Wall when Mance mention that many of his people wanted him to blow the Horn of Winter and make the Wall fall:

“But once the Wall is fallen,” Dalla said, “what will stop the Others?”

Mance also explains that his ultimate purpose is to flee the Others and get the wildlings on the south side of the Wall. I think that’s worth considering – the wildlings are the most connected to ancient northern lore such as the children of the forest and the giants, so their opinion counts for something. Mance and Dalla clearly think it’s meant to stop the Others.

Setting aside the question of who built the Wall and why (which we will come back to, have no fear), you can see how this theory about a Night’s Queen baby becoming the ancestor of the Winterfell Starks helps to stitch together the Azor Ahai / dragonlord part of the narrative and the Night’s King / last hero / House Stark side of things. We’ve been following the trail of Azor Ahai from Asshai to Westeros, from Oldtown all the way up to the Wall, wondering how this freight train of dragon symbols would collide with the classic Northern legends of Bran the Builder, last hero, and Night’s King. This rescued Night’s Queen baby theory has the satisfying effect of making Night’s King himself both a dragonlord, as the symbolism suggests (former dragonlord, I guess we might say), but also a Stark, as the narrative demands. Night’s King started off as a dragonlord, but his seed would have founded the modern House Stark – with the important caveat that this seed was transformed when it was given to the Night’s Queen. From the blood of the dragon to blood of the Other.

Alright. Before we move to the next section, I want to mention that there may be one more layer in between true dragonlord blood and House Stark if Night’s King is instead a son of Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa instead of the original moon-breaking Azor Ahai himself. That scenario might go like this: Azor Ahai Sr., let’s call him, he comes to Westeros and has a child with Nissa Nissa sometime before she dies, and that child grows up to become Night’s King, whose son then escapes and becomes the ancestor of the Starks. It seems overwhelmingly likely that Azor Ahai had at least one child with Nissa Nissa, since procreation is probably the most important aspect of the Lightbringer monomyth… so that kid kinda has to turn up somewhere.

Those who have read or listened to my Weirwood Goddess series know that there are many clues about Nissa Nissa being an elf woman of some sort: either a child of the forest or a human-child hybrid. In this case, the child of Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa may  be only half dragon-person, and might have access to greenseer or skinchanger abilities. This person might have become Night’s King, as I mentioned, and it’s also possible this child of Nissa Nissa could be either the last hero or the rescuer figure, or both if the rescuer and the last hero are the same person.

There are some really juicy potential echoes in the Targaryen family tree about this child of Nissa Nissa, actually, and clues that he or his descendant may become Night’s King. Consider the genes that led up to Night’s King figure Rhaegar, the man who gave his seed to Night’s Queen figure Lyanna. Leading up to Rhaegar, Viserys, and Dany, there were two generations of incest: Aerys and Rhaella were brother and sister, and their parents Jaehaerys II and Shaera Targaryen were too. But their parents were an interesting match indeed – Aegon V, also known as egg and “Aegon the Unlikely,” and Black Betha Blackwood.

House Blackwood is a house which recently produced a greenseer (Bloodraven a.k.a. Brynden Rivers), and given Nissa Nissa’s association with darkness (her death was used to usher in the Long Night, and her death correlates to the death of the fire moon which gave us the darkness of the Long Night), I tend to see Black Betha as a great child of the forest-Nissa Nissa analog (call her Betha Betha). Aegon would be Azor Ahai, and indeed, later in life he became obsessed with hatching a dragon’s egg. This obsession lead to the catastrophe of Summerhall, is a vivid fire moon explosion metaphor where Aegon Ahai and Betha Betha both died, appropriately. I mean, it was sad, but appropriate for symbolism.

In other words, Aegon and Black Betha may be serving as a symbolic historical parallel to Azor Ahai the dragonlord coming to Westeros and marrying a child of the forest Nissa Nissa. Their great grandson Rhaegar is a Night’s King figure who does all the Night’s King things, so perhaps the original Night’s King descends from a child of Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa. Even though Rhaegar isn’t Black Betha’s son, he might as well be, because as a result of the incest, he has roughly the same half-Targaryen / half-Blackwood genetic makeup of Egg and Black Betha’s children. The same is true for Dany of course; she’s basically half Blackwood. That’s a bit of an oversimplification in terms of genetics, but I think you take my point.

For that matter, Bloodraven himself is a walking clue about the blood of the dragon being injected into an ancient First Men house with greenseer abilities.

One generation before Egg and Black Betha, we have Egg’s parents: Maekar Targaryen and… Dyanna Dayne! I know many of you know that, so sorry for being melodramatic, but that’s another home-run as an echo of the past, since the Daynes seem to descend from the Great Empire of the Dawn from whence Azor Ahai came, yet are thought of as First Men. In other words, the Daynes themselves probably represent a merging of First Men blood and blood of the dragon from waaaay back. This may be another clue that the Azor Ahai bloodline blended with the blood of the First Men before producing the dragon person who became Night’s King. The fused stone fortress at Battle Isle is indicative of a colony or at least a long-term trading outpost, which would have given the dragonlords ample time to mingle their blood with the First Men before the Long Night falls, and in the south, in relative proximity to Starfall.

As usual, I am going to avoid trying to choose which exact scenario is the “Truth,” but there are a couple of things I do feel solid about. The evidence suggesting Nissa Nissa as at least part-children of the forest is solid, and it seems obvious that Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa had at least one child together, whom we have to assume is an important figure.  I am also confident that Night’s King had some amount of blood of the dragon in his veins and a direct connection to Azor Ahai, and I’m fairly confident one of the children of Night’s King and Queen was smuggled away to safety. If that’s the case, I am pretty sure this rescued ice baby would have become a Stark, both for the sake of thematic sensibility – I mean if anyone is related to the Others, it has to be the Starks, right? – and because of the parallels with Jon and baby Monster. Lyanna and Gilly are both Night’s Queen figures who have their babies smuggled away and raised under false identities, with Jon being raised at Winterfell and Monster almost being raised there.

Fortunately, and predictably, it’s not just Lyanna and Gilly and their children, Jon and Monster, who tell the tale. As usual, we are given many characters who play this archetype, and this is usually the point where I would list them out to you… but since I gave you the big reveal at the beginning, I will maintain the element of surprise by revealing them one or two at a time.

A Bael Issue

This section is sponsored by a priestess of the Sacred Order of the Black Hand, The Lady of Stellar Reason and Maleficence, and by two new Priestesses of Starry Wisdom, Crowfood’s Daughter of the Disputer Lands, and R’hllor Girl, Mistress of the Pointy End, whose house words are, “show us your moons”

With the exception of Jon and Monster, the most important potential echo of stealing a Night’s Queen baby to become a Stark is probably found in the Bael the Bard story. It’s not a perfect echo, but it has important lessons to teach us. Bael the Bard is a roguish wildling minstrel and King-Beyond-the-Wall, and his story is intricately linked with that of Rhaegar and Lyanna. This is apparent from the moment Ygritte brings up the subject of Bael, shortly after Jon has taken her prisoner in the Frostfangs in ACOK:

“You said you were the Bastard o’ Winterfell.”

“I am.”

“Who was your mother?”

“Some woman. Most of them are.” Someone had said that to him once. He did not remember who.

She smiled again, a flash of white teeth. “And she never sung you the song o’ the winter rose?”

“I never knew my mother. Or any such song.”

“Bael the Bard made it,” said Ygritte. “He was King-beyond-the-Wall a long time back.

Ygritte asking Jon if his mother ever sang the song o’ the winter rose is one of those deliciously ironic things you can only catch on a re-read. He never knew his mother Lyanna, nor the song of the Winter Rose – but Lyanna’s song was the Song of the Winter Rose, in a sense. This may be a good time to remind you about another part of the Tourney of Harrenhal sequence of events, something that happened at the feast the night before the tourney:

The dragon prince sang a song so sad it made the wolf maid sniffle, but when her pup brother teased her for crying she poured wine over his head.

In other words, Rhaegar sang her “the song o’the winter rose” for all intents and purposes, as this song seems to have sewn the seeds for their love and was followed up by the crown of blue winter roses.

Returning to the Bael story, Ygitte begins by telling us that Bael was a great raider and a long-time nemesis of the Stark in Winterfell at that time:

“The Stark in Winterfell wanted Bael’s head, but never could take him, and the taste o’ failure galled him. One day in his bitterness he called Bael a craven who preyed only on the weak. When word o’ that got back, Bael vowed to teach the lord a lesson. So he scaled the Wall, skipped down the kingsroad, and walked into Winterfell one winter’s night with harp in hand, naming himself Sygerrik of Skagos. Sygerrik means ‘deceiver’ in the Old Tongue, that the First Men spoke, and the giants still speak.”

This has obvious parallels to Mance sneaking in to Winterfell which we will discuss momentarily, but sticking with the story, we learn that Bael disguised as Sygerrik plays so well and pleases the Lord of Winterfell so much that he told Bael to name his reward. Ygritte tells us of Bael’s famous response:

 ‘All I ask is a flower,’ Bael answered, ‘the fairest flower that blooms in the gardens o’ Winterfell.’

“Now as it happened the winter roses had only then come into bloom, and no flower is so rare nor precious. So the Stark sent to his glass gardens and commanded that the most beautiful o’ the winter roses be plucked for the singer’s payment. And so it was done. But when morning come, the singer had vanished … and so had Lord Brandon’s maiden daughter. Her bed they found empty, but for the pale blue rose that Bael had left on the pillow where her head had lain.”

The distraught Lord Brandon searches high and low for a year, to no avail, and because his daughter was his only child, he feared the line of Stark would end. But then one day he finds his daughter in her chambers with a young male baby:

They had been in Winterfell all the time, hiding with the dead beneath the castle. The maid loved Bael so dearly she bore him a son, the song says … though if truth be told, all the maids love Bael in them songs he wrote. Be that as it may, what’s certain is that Bael left the child in payment for the rose he’d plucked unasked, and that the boy grew to be the next Lord Stark.

It’s easy to see that Bael, as a singer and harpist who “abducts” a blue rose maiden of Winterfell, serves as a parallel to Rhaegar, who is thought of as having abducted Lyanna – which is kind of the point. Think about it like this: both Rhaegar and Bael effectively slipped their seed into the Winterfell family tree via a blue rose maid that loved them.

Did Night’s King do the same? Well, if one of his children became a Stark, then the answer is yes! The logistics are a little different, but the main points are the same. Consider this: Night’s King brought his winter queen back to the Nightfort, while Bael brought his blue rose maiden down into the crypts – I am sure you can the similar underworld symbolism of both places. And as we saw at the very beginning of the story, the crypts are where people go to find a surprisingly life-like Lyanna as well, whether it’s Robert stroking the cheek of her statue as if he could will her back to life, or Ned dreaming of Lyanna’s statue weeping blood. Robert complains that Ned brought her back to the crypts, saying she should be buried on a sunny hillside, but Ned insists that this is her place and that she wished to be buried here. It’s a great parallel to the blue rose maiden of the Bael story.

There’s a shout-out to Bael taking his Stark maiden down to the crypts in Rhaegar and Lyanna’s story when Robert says that although he killed Rhaegar on the Trident and won the throne, “..somehow he still won. He has Lyanna now, and I have her.” The Bard and the Blue Rose Maiden, together forever – but in the underworld, like Bael and his maiden in the crypts or Night’s King and Queen at the Nightfort.

We can also observe that not only did both Bael and Rhaegar “abduct” a blue rose Stark maiden who seems to have actually loved them, both played overpowering music to win the hand or heart of their winter lady. This begs the question: was Night’s King a singer? It seems possible, and we’ll come back to this idea momentarily.

The name that Bael takes, Syggerrik, means “the deceiver” in the Old Tongue, and “the deceiver” is one the most common nicknames for the devil in the Bible. This implies Bael as “devilsh” and thereby helps us to see Bael as a dark solar king figure, like Rhaegar and Night’s King.  Bael is the right kind of guy to be giving his seed to the winter queen. And I know “he knew no fear, and that was the fault in him” is one of the more vague parts of the Night’s King description, but there’s no doubt both Bael and Mance had to be utterly fearless to sneak into the fortress of their enemy.

It may go without saying, but Bael is also an obvious parallel for Mance Raydar, who, like Bael, is a bard and a King Beyond the Wall who also sneaks into Winterfell using a false name – Mance used ‘Abel,’ an anagram of ‘Bael.’ Indeed, Mance is basically presented to us as a modern day Bael right from the beginning, when we meet him sitting cross legged in his command tent, playing the lute and singing of the Dornishman’s wife, and only shortly after Ygritte has given us the Bael legend.

Now when Mance-disguised-as-Abel sneaks into Winterfell, he doesn’t slip his seed into any bloodlines, but he does seek to steal a Stark maiden, after a fashion  – Jeyne Poole, who is being passed off as Arya Stark. As we discussed last time, Jeyne has abundant Night’s Queen / Corpse Queen / Ice Queen symbolism, so although she’s not specifically tied to blue roses, this actually lines up pretty well. We can also see an echo of the rescue of a Night’s Queen baby, if Jeyne is pregnant with Ramsay’s baby as I suspect she may be. Ramsay himself is a Night’s King figure, so it really would fit the pattern. Theon, who thinks of  himself as “a Stark at last” in these Winterfell chapters, would play the same rescuer role that Ned plays at the Tower of Joy and Sam plays at Craster’s Keep and the Nightfort.

So, Mance parallels Bael the Bard, and Bael parallels Rhaegar… and I probably don’t have to tell you that Rhaegar and Mance complete the circle by sharing a certain amount of symbolism (though they definitely are not the same person). They are both bard-kings (Rhaegar is a prince, but close enough) who play a father figure role to Jon – Rhaegar as the paternal father, and Mance as someone Jon learns from, sees himself in, and looks up to. Mance’s black cloak slashed with red gives him Rhaegar’s colors, and both Rhaegar and Mance lost their final battle to a Baratheon (Robert and Stannis, respectively). Both Rhaegar and Mance had a son who was born around the time they lost their final battles – sons who they never met – and both of the mothers of those sons, Dalla and Lyanna, died in childbirth.

Bael had a son he didn’t know for more than a few months, which is very similar, and like the tales of Rhaegar, Mance, and Night’s King, Bael’s tale has a tragic ending tied to a final battle. However, that’s going to lead to bit of a sub-topic, so let’s make this a section break.

The One That Came Back

This section is sponsored by three new members of the Starry Wisdom Priesthood: Stella di Silvestri, also called “Yellow Stella,” Mistress of Arcana; Jon of House Elric of Resembool, the Wintersun; and Louise of House Taylor, the Rainwatcher, Desert Penguin of the Red Mountains of Dorne 

For the doom-ridden end of Bael’s story, let’s return to Ygritte:

“The song ends when they find the babe, but there is a darker end to the story. Thirty years later, when Bael was King-beyond-the-Wall and led the free folk south, it was young Lord Stark who met him at the Frozen Ford … and killed him, for Bael would not harm his own son when they met sword to sword.”

“So the son slew the father instead,” said Jon.

“Aye,” she said, “but the gods hate kinslayers, even when they kill unknowing. When Lord Stark returned from the battle and his mother saw Bael’s head upon his spear, she threw herself from a tower in her grief. Her son did not long outlive her. One o’ his lords peeled the skin off him and wore him for a cloak.”

The winter rose maiden throwing herself from a tower is like a merging of Ashara Dayne throwing herself from a tower and Lyanna dying in the top of a tower. However the main thing that grabs our attention as an important Night’s king parallel is the father and son fighting one another – that really seems like what the Night King / last hero relationship might be all about. Our devilish Night’s King figure Bael donates a son to the bloodline of Winterfell, and that son grows up to become the Stark in Winterfell and eventually journeys north to confront and kill his father. When the last hero went north to end the Long Night, was that the son of the Night’s King, going to slay his dad? They fought at the “Frozen Ford,” which kind of sounds like a placeholder for the Wall, which is like a frozen river, viewed from above, and the Nightfort is a crossing point of that frozen rive. So this almost sounds like Night King’s son coming back to the Nightfort to kill him.

After all, Jon does dream of slaying a wighted version of his true father, Ned, at Castle Black:

Whatever demonic force moved Othor had been driven out by the flames; the twisted thing they had found in the ashes had been no more than cooked meat and charred bone. Yet in his nightmare he faced it again … and this time the burning corpse wore Lord Eddard’s features. It was his father’s skin that burst and blackened, his father’s eyes that ran liquid down his cheeks like jellied tears. Jon did not understand why that should be or what it might mean, but it frightened him more than he could say.

I’m sure that if Jon had had the chance to re-listen to his life on audiobook ten times like we have had, he would’ve eventually puzzled out the meaning, ha ha. In any case, we know to look at scenes like this as potential echoes of the past, and the idea of Jon having to kill a cold-wighted version of his father might have been included to serve as a parallel to Bael being killed by his son, and more importantly, to Night’s King being killed by his son, the last hero. Ned is not generally a Night’s King figure, but the dream vision wighted version of Ned with blue star eyes and a black cloak of the Night’s Watch certainly does the trick. The wight in that scene was the former Brother named Othor, so he’s kind of standing in for the Others in general, and if you recall, wighted Othor has a moon face in that scene, very like the moon that leers with Euron’s face in the Forsaken chapter of TWOW (and of course Euron is a Night’s King figure).

We find fainter echoes of the “son kills father” motif when Jon faces Mance’s army in battle at the Wall, and then later is sent north of the Wall to kill Mance through treachery, since Mance is something of a father figure to Jon and shares symbolism with Rhaegar, Jon’s biological father. If and when Jon finds out that Rhaegar was his biological father, I’m sure he’ll dream of killing him too. There’s another TWOW prediction, ha!

Now as we know, legend says that one of the men who brought down Night’s King was Brandon the Breaker, who is said to have been Night King’s brother in some tales, as opposed to his son as some of these echoes suggest. Regardless, Brandon the Breaker was the Stark in Winterfell who went north to face Night’s King, who was of his blood, just as Bael’s son went north to face his father Bael, a Night’s King figure.  Bael and Night’s King were both defeated by the Stark in Winterfell who was of their blood, in other words, and that’s a great parallel between them, even if one is a brother and one a son. Everyone knows the Bael story parallels Rhaegar and Lyanna’s story, and I have shown you how Rhaegar and Lyanna parallel Night’s King and Queen, so finding parallels between Bael’s story and Night’s King and Queen means that each of these three stories has echoes of the other two. And that’s what we around here like to call a symbolism three-way, rahr.

Although they have subtle variations, these three stories all have a Night’s King figure slipping his seed into the bloodline of House Stark via blue winter rose maiden – with Night’s Queen as the original blue winter rose maiden, so to speak. The “son-kills-the-father” symbolism of Jon Snow and Bael’s son might suggest a last hero who was both a Stark of Winterfell and the son of Night’s King, while the Brandon the Breaker legend suggests that the last hero might have been the brother of Night’s King.

Lest I gloss over a meaningful point, yeah, think about it – if Night’s King ruled during the Long Night, whoever defeated him was probably the last hero. If Brandon the Breaker defeated Night’s King, then he may have been the last hero! If this is the case, then the thing Brandon broke would have been the Long Night.

The cool thing about Jon is that whether the Night’s King and the last hero are a brother / brother thing or a father/son thing, . We just saw he dreams of killing wighted Ned, and as you may recall from Bloodstone Compendium 2, he also dreams of killing his brother Robb – with a flaming sword no less. This as he stands atop the Wall, defending from icy foes who scuttle up the ice like spiders.

There’s a kind of symbolic echo of this “son kills father” pattern with Craster as well, who makes white shadows with Gilly and the rest of his “wives” and thus plays the Night’s King role. Obviously Monster would need to grow up and travel back in time to kill Craster, since he’s already dead, but consider the symbolism of the person who kills Craster – it’s a black brother named Dirk. His symbolism is that of a black dirk – a black knife, in other words – and this may be a callout to Jon’s symbolism of being like dragonglass and black ice (remember Stannis talking about finding and using Jon like Jon found the dragonglass). This is not only Jon’s symbol, but the symbol of the dragon locked in ice, and all of these Night’s Queen baby / last hero figures are playing that role. Thus, Night’s King Craster figure was slain by a black knife person who called himself “a sword in the darkness,” and that’s a message that fits in with all the other symbolism we are discussing here. At the very least, it makes sense to see members of the Night’s Watch kill a Night’s King figure, with the name Dirk kind of emphasizing the symbolism of the Night’s Watch as human swords.

There’s actually a lot more to this pattern of the last hero coming to kill his father or brother who is the Night’s King, but we’ve got to introduce more Night’s King figures to get there, and we’ve got to dip into some world mythology that George is referencing. But real quickly, before we move on, I just want to say a quick word about Craster himself, since we are talking about him anyway and he doesn’t really fit anywhere else. It’s worth noting that Craster is the bastard son of a Night’s Watch brother, and Ygitte says that “Craster’s blood is black, and he bears a heavy curse.” That all could potentially fit with the dark solar king archetype, who represents an undead and or transformed sun figure (which the black blood can signify) and the cursed part surely applies to someone who may have broken the moon or created the Others. Craster “has a cold smell to him,” so obviously he’s not a warm kind of solar figure – he’s showing us Night’s King after he’s already given his seed and soul to Night’s Queen, just like the ghostly Rhaegar that burns with a cold light.

Weirdly, Craster has 19 wives, and there are 19 fortresses on the Wall. Let me know what you think that could mean. The other 19 that seems relevant pops up when the survivors of the Fist of the First Men return to Craster’s Keep, as Sam reports to Mormont that they have 19 dragonglass arrowheads. It’s easy to see the similarity between the 19 fortresses and the 19 arrowheads, since the brothers that man those fortresses are meant to wield dragonglass, but I am not sure why Craster would have 19 wives. Perhaps Craster is like the Wall and his wives are like the fortresses, but again I am not sure what that is supposed to mean. Ygritte was 19 as well, for what it’s worth.

Finally, there are even some credible theories out there that the black brother who fathered Craster was either Maester Aemon, formerly Aemon Targaryen, or Bloodraven when he was Ser Brynden Rivers, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Either scenario would make Craster the blood of the dragon, and either scenario would be a nice match for my hypothesis about the Night’s King being Azor Ahai or his son. I mean… he is a white-haired sheep-herder practicing a ton of incest, which is basically a 100% accurate description of the Valyrians. Give that man a lute!

I’ll just let that sink in for moment. A white haired sheep-herder practicing a ton of incest and maybe a bit of human sacrifice to create monsters? That’s right, it applies to both Craster and the Valyrians. So I’m not sure if he really does have dragon blood or not, but at the least, the incesty shepherd thing does make for a good comparison to the Valyrians. It serves to make him a stand-in for a blood of the dragon person, even if he isn’t actually one.

Alright, so we are done with the three devilish bards, Bael and Mance and Rhaegar, plus our non-bard, Craster, all of whom have a stolen or rescued son that seems to fit the pattern of the stolen child of Night’s King and Queen. We’ll continue to follow the trail of the stolen Other baby, but as I mentioned earlier, all this bard stuff begs the question: was Night’s King a freaking bard? Well, we’ll have to ask the singers.

A Bale to Dread

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Now I suppose it’s possible that Nights King was literally a singer of some kind, but I have suspect the singing were are talking about is the the magical kind, something closer to the singing that the greenseers do. Singing to the stars, perhaps, but again in the magical sense. The devotees of the Church of Starry Wisdom, founded by the Bloodstone Emperor himself, are known to ‘sing to the stars’:

As she made her way past the temples, she could hear the acolytes of the Cult of Starry Wisdom atop their scrying tower, singing to the evening stars.

Of course they don’t just sing for the sake of singing – they practice dark magic in their scrying tower and attempt to gain the wisdom of the stars, or something esoteric like that. Melisandre does a bit of singing during the Lightbringer forging ritual, where it says that “Melisandre sang in the tongue of Asshai, her voice rising and falling like the tides of the sea.” In fact, there are six references to Melisandre singing, always when she prays to R’hllor.

I’m also thinking of the sort of singing that comes in the closing line of AGOT:

As Daenerys Targaryen rose to her feet, her black hissed, pale smoke venting from its mouth and nostrils. The other two pulled away from her breasts and added their voices to the call, translucent wings unfolding and stirring the air, and for the first time in hundreds of years, the night came alive with the music of dragons.

When they talk about the music of dragons, they aren’t talking about Rhaegar’s playing and singing, although that’s obviously a parallel symbol. No, we’re talking about real dragons, and you can see that Martin is using the word “sing” in a slightly poetic fashion. The most famous dragon to ever “sing” the music of dragons was, without a doubt, Balerion the Black Dread. I’ll say it again more slowly – Bael-erion. That’s right. Balerion the actual black dragon obviously qualifies as a incarnation of the black dragon archetype, just like his rider Aegon the Conqueror, and just like Rhaegar. We’ve already identified Aegon and Rhaegar as Night’s King figures who make symbolic Others with their respective ice queens, but little did we know that Balerion himself was a Night’s King symbol! It makes perfect sense of course, but it’s still amusing. Balerion the Black Bard, ha. Is it possible that in the books, Balerion will be the dragon who is wighted or turned cold, instead of Viserion the white dragon? I’d still bet on Viserion, but if Balerion turns icy somehow, that will be an extension of him as a Night’s King symbol.

So yeah, the Bael characters, including Balerion, seem to be telling us about Night’s King, and yes, there is a constant theme of singing and bard-dom around Night’s King.

Now you might be saying to yourself, “is it really all the Bael characters?  What about Baelor the Blessed? How is he a Night’s King figure?” Well, first of all, as we discussed in Moons of Ice and Fire 3, his Sept on Visenya’s Hill is a giant symbol of the ice moon which houses the Warrior’s Sons, who symbolize the Others! Baelor’s statue in front of the sept is indeed an ice dragon symbol: a statue of a dragon made of white marble, which symbolizes ice.

Usually the ice moon represents Night’s Queen, but think about this. When Night’s King gives his seed and his soul to Night’s Queen, we can think about that as his seed and soul becoming the dragon locked in ice, the dark meteor trapped in the ice moon. When we speak of it as his seed, that correlates to Jon as the dragon sperm, injected into the womb of the ice queen Lyanna. When we think of the dragon locked in ice as the soul of Night’s King, then it becomes Night’s King himself who is locked in ice, and in the ice moon. Baelor’s Sept is on top of Visenya’s Hill, with the Hill being much bigger, so it’s very like the Sept of Baelor Targaryen is the dragon locked in the ice moon of Visenya’s Hill. After all, it was the building of Baelor’s Sept which started the business of Other-like Warrior’s Sons crawling all over Visenya’s Hill like Others pouring out of the ice moon.

Baelor also does another Night’s King type of thing, which is locking maidens in towers (he famously locks his three sisters in the Maidenvault). We saw Night’s King Stannis lock Val in a tower, and we of course know that Lyanna gave birth in the Tower of Joy, with other-like Kingsguard standing guard outside. We don’t know exactly where Night’s King took his Corpse Queen in the Nightfort, but logic dictates it was the Lord Commander’s chambers, which were probably in a tower! I’d say it’s a safe bet. Jeyne Poole is another Night’s Queen figure locked in a tower, for what it’s worth. And in case you’re wondering about Ashara Dayne, who leapt to her death from a tower (supposedly)… I tend to think she’s a fire moon queen as opposed to an ice moon queen, but I am not sure by any means. We have so little info about her, it’s hard to tell.

As for Baelor’s three sister-wives who were locked in the Maidenvault, they all have one solid Night’s Queen clue. The middle sister,  Rhaena, was almost as pious as Baelor and eventually became a Septa, giving her good ice moon symbolism (although no dragons were never ‘locked in her ice,’ obviously). The first-born sister, Daena “the Defiant,” mother of Daemon Blackfyre, used to wear black as a child, but switched to always wearing white after Baelor was unable to consummate their marriage. That’s not bad, but not overwhelming either – until one of your mythology friends pipes up and informs you that the Greek Danae (Danae, Daena) was a daughter of the King of Argos who was locked in a tower to prevent her from becoming pregnant! That’s just what happened to me – no, I wasn’t locked in a tower to prevent me from becoming pregnant, I mean that my mythology friend, Crowfood’s Daughter ( @Crowfood_sD on Twitter) piped up and filled me in on the Greek Danae, and now I can include her in the essay just where she belongs – locked in a tower, unfortunately, like Daena the Defiant. More on the Greek Danae in a moment.

Elaena, the youngest sister, is where the really, really good symbolism is. She had hair that was platinum white, with a bright gold streak – and a dragon’s egg whose shell matched her hair. White dragons can be potent white meteor or ice dragons symbols, or even symbols of the Others themselves, as we know. It actually gets worse, because Elaena married Ossifer Plumm and had a son named Viserys – a name shared with another white dragon, Viserion. It’s well possible that Elaena named her son Viserys Plumm after her uncle, Viserys I Targaryen, who became king after Baelor died. Viserys Plumm’s descendant is Brown Ben Plumm, who famously got along well with Dany’s dragons – in particular, he got along with Viserion, the white one, of course. Surrounding Elaena Targaryen with all these white dragon stuff and the names Viserion and Viserys serves to equate her with Visenya Targaryen, a terrific Night’s Queen figure.

In fact, think about this: if Elaena is the Night’s Queen figure, then she’s analogous to the ice moon. Ossifer Plumm – let’s call him Lucifer – would be the Night’s King figure. Their child should represent either Jon or the Others – and they named him Viserys, which is now a white dragon name. And in keeping with a lot of the symbolism of the dark solar king figures being dead or undead, there’s a funny little story about Ossifer conceiving Viserys Plumm with Elaena Targaryen which is hinted at by Tyrion when he talks to Brown Ben Plumm in ADWD:

“I know you as well, my lord,” said Tyrion. “You’re less purple and more brown than the Plumms at home, but unless your name’s a lie, you’re a westerman, by blood if not by birth. House Plumm is sworn to Casterly Rock, and as it happens I know a bit of its history. Your branch sprouted from a stone spit across the narrow sea, no doubt. A younger son of Viserys Plumm, I’d wager. The queen’s dragons were fond of you, were they not?”

That seemed to amuse the sellsword. “Who told you that?”

“No one. Most of the stories you hear about dragons are fodder for fools. Talking dragons, dragons hoarding gold and gems, dragons with four legs and bellies big as elephants, dragons riddling with sphinxes … nonsense, all of it. But there are truths in the old books as well. Not only do I know that the queen’s dragons took to you, but I know why.”

“My mother said my father had a drop of dragon blood.”

“Two drops. That, or a cock six feet long. You know that tale? I do.

The joke here comes from the fact that Ossifer Plumm was very old when he married Elaena, and reportedly died at the bedding ceremony following their wedding. Yet Elaena still gave birth nine months later, and the rumor is that Aegon IV (Aegon the Unworthy) was the actual father. That’s what Tyrion means when he says that  his father might have two drops of dragon blood – one from Elaena and one from Aegon the Unworthy. The only way that isn’t the case would be if old man Ossifer had a cock “six feet long” – meaning that he was able to reach out from the grave and impregnate Elaena. Think of Davos’s observation that Stannis looks to have one foot in the grave and remember that he looks that way because he’s been giving his seed and soul to Melisandre to make shadow children, and Night’s King gave his seed and soul to Night’s Queen. That means that, symbolically, Night’s King is sort of also implied as a dead person who still impregnates someone.

The line about Brown Ben being sprouted from a stone seems like a humorous way of talking about meteors and moons as parents and children, if you ask me, and of course the joke Tyrion is making refers to the younger of Viserys Plumm that must have crossed the Narrow Sea as the stone of a plum fruit. It’s actually a very good way of showing meteor childbirth – the meteor child is the heart of a fallen plum instead the heart of a fallen star.

So, that’s a long way to follow the thread of white dragons symbolism leading from Baelor the Blessed, Priest-King of the Ice Dragon temple, but it’s cool to see how consistent George is with his symbolism. If he needs to invent more House Plumm backstory for Brown Ben in TWOW, expect more white dragon symbolism!

So that’s King Baelor Targaryen, lock-er-away-er of ice queens. He’s not a perfect Night’s King match, but sometimes Martin has fun playing with your expectations. He does that through symbolism, as we’ve just seen, but he does that in the main story anyway – Baelor is beloved as a blessed holy man, but Tyrion calls him “Baelor the Befuddled,” and in the Sword Sword, Ser Eustace Osgrey calls him “the feeblest king who ever sat on the Iron Throne.” He may well have starved himself to death after Daena the Defiant gave birth to Daemon Blackfyre (then called Daemon Waters) by living on bread and water for 41 days until he finally expired. The MaidenVault was some wack-ass shit too, you have to admit.

I suppose a little Bael mythology might be appropriate here. It seems like there are a couple of mythological figures who inspired George to associate characters that have Bael-related names with Night’s King. First off, Ba’al of Canaanite myth is the original horned god, and he does the standard horned god / fertility god routine of being killed in the fall and resurrected in the spring. I talked about all the horned god mythology in the Sacred Order of Green Zombies Series, so that’s the place to look for all for all of that, but you will probably recall that we found strong horned god symbolism around Azor Ahai and the last hero, and around figures like Jon and Mance and Stannis. The horned god can certainly be a musician; Pan is one version of this figure, and of course Pan sometimes uses his music to bewitch and entrance.

An even more potent myth George seems to be be referencing with the Bael names comes from Irish folklore, which is a well we already know George likes to draw from. I’m speaking of Balor, King of the Fomorians, who was a giant with a large eye in his forehead that wreaks serious destruction when opened. He’s also called “King of Demons,” and according to wikipedia, it is suggested that Balor comes from Common Celtic Baleros, meaning “the deadly one”, cognate with Old Irish at-baill (dies) and Welsh ball (death, plague). Three of his nicknames are translated as ‘Balor the Smiter,’ ‘Balor the Strong Smiter,’ and ‘Balor of the Piercing Eye’ which later became ‘Balor of the Evil Eye.’

So you kinda get the idea: he’s a death god who brings dread and woe. The word Baleros sounds very close to Balerion, and given his “Black Dread” nickname, we can see that George is using the meaning of the Welsh Balor’s name as well. Balerion and all black dragon figures are representative of the ASOIAF death god (also called Him of Many Faces, the Lion of Night, the Stranger, etc.) That’s cool and everything, but let me show you the even more obvious tip-off that this Balor myth is a myth Martin is thinking of, which is this: Balor locks his only daughter, Ethniu, in a tower to prevent her from becoming pregnant. He does this because it is prophesied that Balor would be killed by his grandson, and of course this happens anyway, as his daughter becomes pregnant and her son Lugh leads the Tuatha Dé Danann in rebellion against the Formorians and Balor. I would see the parallel to this as Baelor Targaryen locking up his sister wives, one of which gave birth to Daemon Blackfyre, who lead the largest rebellion against the Targaryen dynasty in their history as kings of Westeros.

And didn’t we just say that the Greek Danae was locked up to prevent her pregnancy, just like the daughter of Balor of the Evil Eye? It’s actually an even closer parallel when we look at the Danae story again: she too eventually became pregnant (horny old Zeus saw her imprisoned and became a “golden rain” which left her pregnant, and yeah the dirty joke is implied in the myth), and just like Balor’s daughter giving birth to a hero who grew up and killed Balor, Danae gives birth to the famous hero Perseus, who eventually killed his grandfather! This time it was an accident – Perseus was throwing the discus at the athletic games, which his grandfather attended, and an errant throw struck him in the head. There’s also a prophecy involved, just as with the Balor story – in both cases, it is prophesied that the daughter will give birth to a son that will kill the grandfather who likes to lock women in towers, which is what leads Balor and his Greek counterpart, Acrisius, King of Argos, to lock their virgin daughters in towers to begin with.

Needless to say, these two myths, when compared with Baelor Targaryen’s wife having a son who rebelled against the royal dynasty, pour a lot more fuel on the fire of our theory about the last hero being a son or close relative of Night’s King. I also think it’s just plain cool how George wove the Irish Balor of the Evil Eye and Greek Danae myths together in the story of Baelor and Daena Targaryen.

“Lugh Faces The Evil Eye” by Jim Fitzpatrick
This image has mythical astronomy written all over it!

As for the mythical astronomy of the Balor of the Evil Eye myth, wowsers! Balor, King of Demons and Fomorians (the latter of whom may well be part of the inspiration for the Others), has some sort of destructive eye! And by destructive, I mean forest-burning, earth-moving destruction. It reminds me of my notion of the celestial Gods Eye, from which the deadly moon meteors came… and you’re not going to believe this, but listen to what happens when Balor is killed by his grandson Lugh, and here I will quote wikipedia: “One legend tells that, when Balor was slain by Lugh, Balor’s eye was still open when he fell face first into the ground. Thus his deadly eye beam burned a hole into the earth. Long after, the hole filled with water and became a lake which is now known as Loch na Súil, or “Lake of the Eye”, in County Sligo.”

Lake of the Eye, and formed by a slain god! Kinda sounds like the Gods Eye lake, does it not? In other words, the Irish Balor legend would seem to contain the inspiration for the destructive celestial gods eye as well as the gods eye lake. It was probably in George’s mind when he wrote the battle over the Gods Eye scene with Daemon Targaryen and Aemond One-Eye, which gave us Night’s King figures and and a white dragon plunging into the lake like Balor’s severed head. You guys don’t even know how long I have been saving that one – it’s been at least a year and a half or something, ha ha. What’s really great about it is that aligning Balor’s baleful eye with the Gods Eye eclipse makes Balor’s falling head, with its deadly eye beam blazing, equivalent to the falling moon meteors, and that makes perfect sense. That’s what Balerion the Black Dread represents as well – the black meteors that fell from the Gods Eye in the sky and brought darkness and dread, just like Balor, the Smiter.

If you think about it, this also kind of suggests the Gods Eye lake was created via meteor impact, although it would have had to be a much older impact, as crater lakes take a very long time to form. Here I’d like to give a shoutout to An American Thinks on YouTube, who arrived at the meteor-origin for the Gods Eye lake idea through an entirely different line of research. Check those out on his YouTube channel, they’re great!

Better yet for Mythical Astronomy, Lugh kills Balor by throwing a magical spear through his baleful eye, very like all the dragon-eye spearing ideas in ASOIAF which I would say refer to the piercing of the celestial Gods Eye by the comet, such as the legend of Serwyn of the Mirror Shield slaying the dragon Urrax. It’s not that different from Perseus hitting his grandfather in the head with a discus, for that matter.

So, to sum up, I think we can say that given the locking maidens in towers connection to Baelor Targaryen, the overlaps with the Greek Danae myth that also play into the Baelor the Blessed story, plus these awesome mythical astronomy connections, this is assuredly a myth George drew inspiration from. We can also deduce that it shaped his decision to use variants of the Bael name for certain Night’s King figures. The theme of being slain by your descendant present in the Irish Balor legend and the Greek Danae has us once again suspecting that the last hero may have been the son or nephew or recent descendant of Night’s King.

And that’s before we consider our final Baelor influence from world mythology, Balan and Balin, two brother knights from Arthurian myth who tragically killed each other. Here I owe another large hat-tip to Crowfood’s Daughter, without whom I would have been ignorant of this mythology. We don’t need to go too deep into Arthurian myth here, but the broad strokes are highly relevant, particularly because this tale intersects with the Holy Grail mythology, including the Fisher King and the Dolorous Stroke. You could do an entire essay about these ideas and their influence on ASOIAF, so understand that I am summarizing significantly here. There’s also the issue of there being several variants of the story, as with a lot of Arthurian myth and world myth in general.

Sir Balin the Savage is kind of the main character, with his brother Balan serving as more of an adjunct. Balin is a somewhat tragic figure, who struggles with fits of melancholy or rage. His brother Balan acts as a good influence, helping to limit the damage of these spells and helping Balin to learn to control them. Balin is in possession of a magic sword, which is also cursed, but the most famous weapon he uses is the Spear of Longinous – supposedly the spear used by a Roman soldier to pierce the side of Jesus Christ on the cross. The circumstances of the tale place Sir Balin in the castle of King Pellam, who is the grail king, and after a fight breaks out, Balin ends up using this holy spear to inflict what is known as “the dolorous stroke” on the grail king Pellam.

This wounded king figure is also known as the Fisher King (although they can be separate, father-and-son characters in some versions), and the idea is that this dolorous stroke is an allusion to castration – it’s usually described as an inner thigh wound as a way of cleaning up the story, but symbolically, it’s a blow which ruins the King’s fertility. In this mythology, the vitality of the king is seen as tied to the health of the land (think of fat and jolly King Robert ruling over a long, bountiful summer, for example), and when the Grail King receives the dolorous stroke, the land turns to ruin and famine. This is what actually sets the stage for the grail quest, which is completed by Sir Galahad, who in some versions is the grandson of Pellam or Pellam’s brother.

Here’s how this translates to ASOIAF: our Bael character, Sir Balin, strikes a magical wound which turns the land to blight, just as Night’s King may be the same person as Azor Ahai, the man who broke the moon and caused the Long Night. The solar king kills his lunar wife, but he himself is wounded and weakened – this is the dark sun of the Long Night seen as a weakened and blighted solar king, ruling over a blighted and drought-filled land. Interestingly, in some Fisher King stories, the wounded grail king is wounded as punishment for his taking a wife, which guardians of the grail are not supposed to do. That sure reminds us of the idea of Night’s King breaking his Night’s Watch vows and taking Night’s Queen to wife.

The other relevant part of Sir Balin’s story is that he mistakenly kills his brother, Balan, who was in a kind of disguise, wearing someone else’s armor. Most tales have them dying in each other’s arms, realizing their tragic mistake only  after mortally wounding one another. George gives us a version of this story with a pair of twin brothers who both joined the Kingsguard: Erryk and Arryk Cargill. The most complete recounting of this tragic event that occurred during the Dance of the Dragons comes  from TWOIAF, though its referenced several times in the story proper:

Even the Kingsguard were enlisted into the strife. Ser Criston Cole dispatched Ser Arryk Cargyll to Dragonstone with the intention of having him infiltrate the citadel in the guise of his twin, Ser Erryk. There, he was to kill Rhaenyra (or her children; accounts differ). Yet as chance would have it, Ser Erryk and Ser Arryk met by happenstance in one of the halls of the citadel. The singers tell us that they professed their love for one another before the steel clashed, and fought with love and duty in their hearts for an hour before they died weeping in one another’s arms. The account of Mushroom, who claims to have witnessed the duel, says the reality was far more brutal: they condemned one another for traitors, and within moments had mortally wounded each other.

So there you go – it’s pretty much the same story, save that Erryk and Arryk did recognize each other, unlike Balin and Balan. More importantly, we are thinking of how Night’s King was thrown down by his brother, Brandon the Breaker, which gives us a Bael figure – Night’s King – killed by his brother, something like Balin and Balan.  As you can see, George has created his Night’s King mythology by drawing from tales which involve both brother-brother killings and / or kings who are killed by their children and grandchildren. Heck, one of the oldest brother vs. brother tales deserves a mention here as well, and that’s the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. Since George specifically pointed out that “Abel” is an anagram of “Bael” when Mance posed as Abel to sneak into Winterfell, we are probably supposed to lump Abel the slain brother into the wider context of Night’s King background mythology. I’m not sure how much our Baelful Night’s King character correlates to the sweet and innocent Abel of the Bible, but it nevertheless yet another brothers fighting myth that is being referenced, and so deserves mention.

I’d also like to direct you to Crowfood’s Daughter’s essay on these topics, which are fantastic, and you can find right here.

We have more Bael and bard figures left to look at, so we’ll bear these themes of kinslaying in mind as we go and see what we find.

A Bale Full of Bards

This section is brought to you by the Patreon support of three new acolytes of starry wisdom: Matanues, Alaskan God of Thunder and Sex, the Cookie-Burner; Ben Brown Plumm, Archmaester of the Haunted Forest; and Laurel of House Hilldigger, the antiquarian, weaver of ancient knowledge

Now you guys know how George does his symbolism: he lays it on thick, with many, many examples of any given idea for us to find and connect. Bael the Bard and Baelor Targaryen and Balerion the Black Dread aren’t the end of it, oh no. Baelor Breakspear is the other famous Baelor, and although he’s quite a nice guy, and doesn’t lock any maidens in any towers, he is a black dragon figure the one time we see in armor at the Tourney of Ashford Meadow:

Then came a voice. “I will take Ser Duncan’s side.”

A black stallion emerged from out of the river mists, a black knight on his back. Dunk saw the dragon shield, and the red enamel crest upon his helm with its three roaring heads. The Young Prince. Gods be good, it is truly him?

Lord Ashford made the same mistake. “Prince Valarr?”

“No.” The black knight lifted the visor of his helm. “I did not think to enter the lists at Ashford, my lord, so I brought no armor. My son was good enough to lend me his.” Prince Baelor smiled almost sadly.

I love how Baelor is called the Black Knight twice here, and how he rides out of the river mists in such dramatic fashion, after beginning as a disembodied voice. His sad smile foreshadows his imminent death, which comes as a result of a blow he takes during the trial of seven. That blow came from his brother Maekar, and though it wasn’t intended to kill, it unfortunately fractured his skull, and getting killed by your brother is a match for the legend of Night’s King… and Balin and Balan, of course. In fact, this tale hits on an element of the Sir Balin story that Erryk and Arryk do not, which is the tragic misunderstanding aspect. Maekar and Baelor don’t mistake one another, but they are friends and Maekar certainly did not mean to kill his brother.

As a historical echo of Night’s King and Brandon the Breaker, things are kind of all scrambled around. Maekar parallels Brandon the Breaker, since he’s killing a black dragon Bael figure, but Baelor is the one named as a breaker via his “Breakspear” nickname. In fact Baelor Breakspear compares well to the last hero, since he switches sides for the trial of seven and fights against the Other-like Kingsguard – shades of our rescued Other baby as the last hero fighting his would be brothers, right? Baelor’s “break-spear” name kinda of evokes the broken sword motif that all last hero characters seem to manifest. I also wonder if the spear of Longinus that Balin used to wound the Grail King Pellem is being referenced here. Another similarity to the Balin tale is that Baelor is wearing someone else’s armor, as Balin’s brother Balan did.

Maekar, meanwhile, has a wife, Dyanna Dayne, whose name rhymes with Lyanna. He lives at Summerhall, which is of course notably tied to Night’s King figure Rhaegar. He’s also the one who has a child taken from him, which would of course be Egg, who is taken by Dunk right after this tourney. Dunk would seem to fit well with our other collector / rescuer figures like Ned, Sam, and Coldhands. I can’t help noticing that all of those people have a similar personality – honorable, steadfast, resolute, and humble.

We can’t talk about Baelor Breakspear without speaking of Baelor Breakwind! That’s right, there’s a very minor character in the current timeline named Baelor, who’s actually on the other side of the battle lines from Euron and his Ironborn fleet – that’s Baelor Hightower, son and heir of Lord Leyton Hightower, who’s seeing to the defenses of Oldtown by building new ships for the fleet. He’s also the one whom a young Oberyn Martell nicknames “Baelor Breakwind” after he farted in his and Elia’s presence while courting Elia.

Upland Brewery Crew: Top Left to Right Caleb Staton, Director of Sour Operations, Eli Trinkle, Cellarman, Pete Batule, VP of Operations; Bottom Left to Right, Adam Covey, Quality Assurance Manager, Nicholas Nehring, Assistant Brewer/Cellar, Cody Chestnut, Assistant Brewer/Cellar


By Pennfield Jensen

It was a woman who drove me to drink, and I never had the courtesy to thank her for it.

–W.C. Fields

Alcohol is a big deal in this country, and throughout the world. Hundreds of billions of dollars in play, innumerable lives enlivened, enriched, and, alas, also destroyed by “demon rum.”

The making and selling of alcohol can be a thrilling enterprise, but it is also a war zone. Not only do the major brands battle tirelessly over market share among themselves, especially as they seek to attract and capture the Millennial Market (all you LDA’s—Legal Drinking Age—out there between the ages of 21 and 32), there is a cultural war. Some call it the Craft Revolution. Others see it as the War On Craft. I have spent the last 13 years of my life deep in the trenches of this revolutionary war, having just a few months ago retired as Emeritus Executive Director of the American Craft Spirits Association. I began in San Francisco, but there have been many stops along the way including a stint at Upland Brewing Company assisting in its transition to new ownership, and as Executive Director of the Brewers Guild of Indiana.

I want to share some of what I have learned over the years and what I foresee coming down the pipe. I’m starting here under the beneficence of The Ryder with a three-part series: Beer, Bourbon and Beyond. For those who care, I’ve created a website of the same name (.com) to share in much greater detail what will be here just a scratch on the surface of what many believe to be the cradle of modern civilization: the creation and enjoyment in its many forms and guises of the ultimate frenemy, alcohol.

BEER, Part I

Beer is proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

                                                            —Benjamin Franklin

It is commonly said that “beer is food.”  The justification for this is yeast. Yeast, that elegant, sensitive, tiny single-celled creature that converts sugar water into carbon dioxide and … ta da … alcohol! These blessed little critters that have been recorded “singing” (when the fluid temperature is perfect), just as they have been recorded “screaming” (when the temp is too hot).[2]

Although fermentation has been around for untold millennia, that yeast was the cause of fermentation is a relatively recent discovery by Louis Pasteur in 1857 who was investigating why beet juice sometimes made alcohol and sometimes soured. [3]

Although most, if not all, of yeast’s secrets have now been revealed, the fermentation process is worth a closer look. Beer fermentation proposes a charming and rather prophetic metaphor: typically, the brewer dumps (pitches) yeast into a cozy vat of warm malted-barley sugar water (the wort). Yeast heaven! Nothing to do but eat, excrete, and make more yeast. Those excretions, as most everyone knows, are primarily carbon dioxide and alcohol. And therein lies the rub.  After a few days, the yeast produce so much alcohol that they pollute their heavenly habitat and either die or go into toxic shock. The process is called attenuation. At the point where the attenuation is complete, and the yeast are totally wrecked, victims of shock and awe, the merciful brewer lowers the temp to Oº C, (which puts all the living ones to sleep) and pours himself a sample pint of the consequence of that pollution: beer. Perhaps the Master Brewer similarly will show up and thank us for our work here with the planet…but on that score I have serious personal doubts.

But, hey, it’s all beer; it’s all good. Which brings up a monumental conundrum among aficionados: lagers vs. ales. Until very recently, lagers have reigned more or less uncontested upon the throne of beers. With the advent of craft brews, predominantly ales, that has begun to change…dramatically. There are now over 4,100 craft brewers in the United States. They make hundreds of different styles, and now generate almost 28% of all beer sales, and growing. The big guys are feeling the heat. Case in point: Constellation Brands’ billion-dollar acquisition of San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewery,  (Yep, one billion. Hard to fathom.)

Until very recently, lagers have reigned more or less uncontested upon the throne of beers. With the advent of craft brews, predominantly ales, that has begun to change.

Fundamentally, the difference between lagers and ales is the kind of yeast that’s used. Lager yeast (Saccharomyces pastorianus) got started in the 1500’s somewhere in that part of greater Europe more or less around Pilsen, from whence hails pilsner. Ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) also called Baker’s Yeast has been around since the beginning of civilization, and a powerful argument holds that the desire for beer is what kick-started staying in one place to grow the grain necessary to make the beer that sped non-stop from Mesopotamia 7,000 years ago to Budweiser sponsoring the Super Bowl, i.e., civilization as we know it.

The other part of the distinction between lagers and ales is cold brewing vs. warm brewing—often referred to as “top fermenting” (ales) and “bottom fermenting” (lagers). But the top-bottom distinction is not as precise as the cold vs. warm one. Cold-brewed lagers (under 10° C) give us those EZ Drink’n crisp, clean and sometimes slightly skunky flavored beers, and the “light” beers that have virtually no discernable flavor whatsoever. Lagers also age longer and at far lower temperatures in the eponymous process called “lagering.” Ales (brewing between 15° – 25° C) ferment faster, and tend to be fruitier, with big hugs all around for maltiness, hoppyness, and depth of flavor and color. But here’s the mystery within the conundrum: S.pastorianus does not exist wild anywhere in Europe! It has only existed in the vaults of the European brewers and their minions, and has been thus secreted since the early 1500s. So, where did it come from?

Saccharomyces (sugar-eating yeasts) thrive on oak trees. In 2011 a team of scientists found a strain of S.pastorianus growing wild on oak trees in Patagonia. Who would have guessed? So, to paraphrase an expert, “How the hell did it get to Europe 600 years ago?” [How about the Spanish and Portugese conquistadores desperate for oak to repair their ships, or the barrels they used to carry home the booty from a plundered continent? All good vectors for the good Sr. Pastorianius being a stowaway. Any takers for that theoretical scenario?] No matter how it got there, get there it did, and the rest, as they say is history. And today those good Dutch, German, and Belgian lagers can be found all around the globe.

Ales have taken a different trajectory. Popularized in England as pale ale, or Bitter, then enhanced famously during the Raj by adding more preservative hops to create India Pale Ale, and now the flagship IPAs of so many modern craft brewers. Hops, ah yes.

The wort  (the barley malt sugar water) is the heart of every beer known to man. It is here where most of the bittering and flavoring elements that define a beer’s style and quality get introduced. The key bittering agents are hops, of which there are at least 32 varieties—many under duress thanks to climate change, especially in the Northwest where several of the more popular hop varieties are grown. And there is a metric for judging bitterness, IBUs (International Bittering Units), which most brewpubs proudly post, along with the ABV levels (alcohol by volume) for each style on tap. But the wort is where other flavorings are introduced as well: coriander, orange curaçao, chamomile—for wheat beer—and all sorts of crazy-ass things that irrepressible brewers like to toss in such as pumpkin, mulberries, raspberries, persimmons, and so on. Not to mention the classic Belgian “sour” beers with their ancient lineages that use wild yeast to make a beer then pack in fruit for a (secondary) barrel fermentation that can age for a year or more. When done right, sour blends with sweet to a fructuous delirium.

Barley, specifically malted barley, is the brewer’s grain of choice although other grains are also used, such as rye, or in the case of the popular wheat-based styles such as wit (white) or heffeweisen. In aggregate, the mixture of ground-up grains is called the mash. And the vat in which the mash is transformed into wort is called the mash tun.

A grain of barley looks a lot like a football that is rounded at one end. Basically, it’s a shell made of cellulose surrounding a cache of starch. The starch is a kind of battery, storing energy waiting for folks to come along and start using it. Those “folks” are enzymes, wormy-shaped proteins of enormous power. There’s a little packet of these at the tip of the kernel, along with a genetic package containing a barley embryo (the light bulb). When triggered by a pleasant shower of warm water, the enzymes wake up and start their work: slowly and carefully converting the starch in the kernel to sugar to feed the little green shoot that will grow and grow until it anchors itself in the earth and builds through the warm days into those amber waves of grain we sometimes sing about.

However, if, say, after three days, one halts this barley germination process by exposing our little sprout to high heat something new and exciting has happened: the barley kernel is now malted.  The Scots famed use of burning peat for this imbues the malt with a flavor that once tasted can never be forgotten, and bless, bless, bless them for that! (But all that is in Part 2.) When malted barley is ground and mixed with hot water, the enzymes—now freed from their measured constraints—convert the mash of crunched up starch to sugar water in a process that’s virtually instantaneous. The wort is drawn off and the spent grain (mash to mush) discarded. (Many brewers provide the spent grain to cattle and buffalo ranchers.) The wort is boiled—to sanitize it—and hops et al added to make a giant pot of malted barley tea that once cooled, will serve as the short-lived heaven for our yeast.

But I should not gloss over the significance of wort creation, for here is where the art of brewing meets the science of it. So far, my description of wort is similar to saying automobiles use internal combustion. But there are differences between my Kia Soul and a Mustang GTO, namely “muscle” and “performance.”

Yeasts vary widely in their ability to tolerate alcohol. “Muscle” yeasts produce higher than average ABVs, and as taste trends have red-shifted toward hoppyer, higher alcohol beers, such as Trappist-style tripels and Imperial IPAs, these yeast strains have become popular. However, to get the higher ABV, the brewer needs heavier worts, that is he needs more available sugar. Comparing the weight or specific gravity of a particular wort to the weight of plain water provides a metric differential between the two. At the conclusion of fermentation a second measurement is taken and the difference between the incoming wort and the outgoing beer determines how much of the sugar has been converted to alcohol, call it performance. What the yeast does not consume is called residual sugar.

The true artistry comes when the brewer can combine just the right amount of “heavy” wort with just the right amount of hops so that the yeast attenuate leaving the least amount of residual sugar behind. Call it “balance.” Achieving that fulcrum point of perfect balance among all the variables is the Holy Grail for most brewers, and is the main reason you should pay attention to the specialty and seasonal releases from our great local breweries. Some say perfection has been achieved: Dark Lord Imperial Stout from Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana, but it is only released once a year, on Dark Lord Day. Some people wait in line all night to secure a few precious bottles (very limited release) at the brewery. If you’re up for it, this year Dark Lord Day is April 25th.

About now is when most of my audiences start glancing at their watches or longingly at the bar with its glinting bottles and beckoning taps, hoping for a pint. I don’t blame them, and that’s what I would like to do as well, join up and to take in the truly best part of the great process of brewing: drinking and savoring the combined artistry of brewer and brewed.

Adventures In Bourbon, Part II

It is notoriously difficult as it is to pinpoint how, where, and when “bourbon” began—its origins shrouded in myth, legend and outright malarkey.

It never ceases to amaze me that during all the years spent helping to build and then support the craft spirits industry, almost no one ever asked me which craft spirit was my favorite. Ninety times out of hundred, it was “What’s your favorite bourbon?” Still the same deal today. I have to ask myself ‘Why so, Joe?’ I can’t chalk all of it up to the fact that I live in Bloomington on the northern cusp of Appalachia. Albeit a majority of the corn used to make bourbon is grown in Indiana, and one of the largest distilleries, the largest when Sam Bronfman and Seagram’s ruled the spirits world, works its magic down the road as the less-than-lyrically named Midwest Grain Products (MGP) in Lawrenceburg. Nope, none of the above, although all certainly play a role.

Personally, I think bourbon fascinates because of its mystery—Why is it called bourbon? Where did it get started? Is it because of its seductive culture—Master Distillers, Thoroughbred Horses—and its unique way of flirting with every sensory pore in your body while never exhausting its ability to surprise and confound your expectations? All that, and bourbon is irrefutably America’s indigenous spirit. Indian corn, American white oak, and, if from Kentucky or Indiana, spring-fed water filtered through limestone laid down by the Tethys Sea 100 million years ago. It is a legacy that encourages an almost infinite variety of iterations while steadfastly defying even the worst travesties visited upon it. Fireball? Are you crazy?

Whiskey, including bourbon, is so inextricably intertwined with the birth and growth of the United States as to be virtually indistinguishable from it. You can pick almost any year or place to start, from the early use of whiskey—rye in the north, corn in the south—as a universal currency, to the storied introduction of alcohol taxation. My favorite point of embarkation is “The Whiskey Rebellion” of 1791. It was brought on by a new-fangled “excise” tax levied on spirits in order to pay down the debt created by the American Revolution. President George Washington leading federal troops ultimately quelled it. [WhiskeyRebellion.jpg  c. 1795, attributed to Frederick KemmelmeyerMetropolitan Museum of Art, P.D.] No matter that George, at the time, happened to be the largest manufacturer of whiskey in the United States, kind of a one-man Diageo. We can assume he paid his taxes.  George’s Mount Vernon estate and restored distillery on the majestic bluff overlooking the Potomac at Mount Vernon deserves a personal visit by every red-blooded American.


Nick’s owners Gregg “Rags” Rago and Susan Bright with a signature  bottle of their hand-selected 131-proof single-barrel bourbon from Four Roses


Although it took six years for the 175 hold-out bourbon distillers in Kentucky to be brought to ground, Thomas Jefferson came to their rescue by honoring a platform promise of his fledgling Republican Party to repeal that odious “whiskey” tax. This was in direct opposition to Alexander Hamilton and his pro-tax Federalists. And, just like that, our two-party system, mostly, of American politics was off to the races.

Enter bourbon. Actually, enter bourbon barrels. By 1800, Louisville, in-not-yet-a-state-Kentucky, is host to one of the fledgling nation’s biggest transportation pains-in-the-ass: the Falls of The Ohio. Every shipment heading downstream to New Orleans has to stop, unload, and portage around the beautiful jumble of fossil Devonian reef then reload below it. There’s a lot of traffic, a lot of money to be made, and the Clark family is there to make it.

Revolutionary War heroes, neighbors to Jefferson in Virginia, the Clarks re-settled in pre-state Kentucky. It was to his friend John Clark’s son William (and Meriwether Lewis) that Jefferson handed the task of exploring his 1804 Louisiana Purchase. Lewis and Clark set out from the Clark mansion in New Albany, Indiana, across the Ohio from Louisville, organized their team in St. Louis, and you don’t need Quentin Tarantino to tell you how the West was won.

Yes, there is a dark side to William Clark’s story. With his extensive knowledge of the First Nations tribes he encountered, William Clark rose to the exalted post of Superintendent of the Indian Nations in 1822. Although he did much to preserve their legacies, following Jefferson’s ideal of inclusion rather than extinction, he nevertheless adhered to and executed The Indian Removal Act. In what for me is the saddest chapter in American history, the Act was a major tool of Andrew Jackson’s—Old Hickory’s—policy of genocide. In addition to outright removal from their ancestral lands, think the Cherokee “Trail of Tears,” and handing out smallpox infected blankets, Clark oversaw the deliberate use of high-proof, un-aged whiskey to destabilize native American communities and eliminate all resistance to the wholesale acquisition of Indian lands.

Meanwhile, whiskey was common currency throughout the rest of the nation, and demand for it was high. Courtesy of the Falls, the barrels of corn whiskey trekked to the Ohio from the interior of Kentucky, vaguely defined as Bourbon County, could languish dockside for weeks. Traffic was heavy and delays could be lengthy. There was also the steamy voyage downriver to New Orleans, which afforded further delays before the whiskey reached its destination decanter. But when it did, the amber-hued, sweet yet potent spirit with its unmistakable notes of vanilla and oak stood wildly apart from its clear-liquid “white lightning” cousins. People liked it, and asked for it. But what was it? “Oh,” we can imagine some purveyor answering, “that thar’s Bourbon County Kentuck’ whiskey!” The geography blurred, but the name, with its echoes of French support for the revolutionaries, some of whom were its very distillers, stuck.

As notoriously difficult as it is to pinpoint how, where, and when “bourbon” began—its origins shrouded in myth, legend and outright malarkey—there is one mystery that remains core and to this day unresolved: Who was it that thought of charring the barrels?

All whiskey comes off the still, clear and sparkling. They call it “white dog.” You can buy un-aged “white” whiskey almost anywhere. The misnomered “moonshine” popularized by hillbilly reality shows and troglodyte duck hunters is similar, except for the fact that many ‘shiners use up to 50% sugar as well as corn to create “sugar shine” served up in iconic Mason jars. All moonshine is legally produced white whiskey, except for the stuff that isn’t. And if you come across illegally produced whiskey, do be careful; it’s against the law to buy it or sell it, and it can blow your liver out of the sky like a mallard hit by a double load of 12-gauge shot.

Age is a big deal with bourbon. Legally called “straight” after two years in the barrel, bourbon, or any whiskey for that matter, rarely becomes drinkable before four years. For most bourbons, five to eight years is an optimal range with six and seven year-old bourbons defining the sweet spot. Above seven years, the distiller runs the risk of diminishing returns. Not only does evaporation, euphemistically called the “angel’s share,” take its toll, harsher “oakey” qualities start to appear that can render a barrel undrinkable. True, distillers can “blend” barrels, but only from their own stocks in a process called marrying. For example, the re-born Willett family’s bourbon stores, now Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, have brought us some magic marriages such as Noah’s Mill and Rowan’s Creek, not to mention Willett itself.

Bourbon, is so inextricably intertwined with the birth and growth of the United States as to be virtually indistinguishable from it.

As straightforward as barrel aging might seem, the reality is that distillers go to great pains to maximize the happy effects of the many burnt sugars and other flavors derived from charred oak. There are colossal slow-motion elevators to slowly rotate barrels through the various levels of the rick house to capture the “breathing” that a barrel experiences from the heat of summer through the cold of winter. Ten High, one of the early premium bourbons now in bottom-shelf ignominy, was so named for coming from barrels “ten high,” indicating a more dynamic aging, hence a better flavor. Any single barrel can have a marked difference from its siblings. Most distillers employ tasters, generally women who have naturally more sensitive taste buds, to match the selected barrels consistently to the flavor profile of a specific brand.

Brands drive the business, and brand protection has made many distillers loathe to reveal their recipes. Four Roses, for example, has five different yeasts that they have patented and which they use in combinations to create their specific bourbon expressions. A major exception is Maker’s Mark whose personnel proudly descant on their unique mash bill of 70% corn, 16% soft red winter wheat and 14% malted barley. The story goes that the recipe was derived by founder Rob Samuels, Sr. baking bread. The Samuel families 1950’s kitchen—all red-and-white gingham—is delightfully restored at Maker’s Mark. There is also a to-die-for Dale Chihuly blown glass ceiling installation at the distillery.

Bourbon’s popularity today belies its not-too-distant past as a moribund category. Skyrocketing demand world-wide has taken distillers by surprise. Knob Creek famously ran out of 7 year-old bourbon because seven years earlier no one at Beam had a clue regarding consumer demand seven years later. Changes and expansions are coming on hard and fast. Main Street in Louisville, home to over 83 pre-Prohibition distilleries, is rebounding with a plethora of re-fashioned distilleries and bourbon outposts. Buffalo Trace is available to retailers only on allocation, and don’t even think about getting your hands on a bottle of Pappy 23. It’s safe to say the situation is not going to change any time soon, and that’s the theme we’ll pick up in our next installment “And Beyond.”

As for the question, what’s my favorite bourbon? Easy Peezy: the one in my hand.


“The paradigm, shifting is.”

–from Conversations with the Yoda, 1989

“Craft” is dead. Long live craft. Oh sure, there are brewers and distillers throughout America who get up every morning, slip on their Carharts and rubber boots and set out on the soul-satisfying task of fabricating what we hope are unique and delicious hand-made creations.  But craft, as we once knew and loved it, is dead. It’s now gone mainstream. Perhaps this is inevitable, and maybe it’s not that bad.

Put another way, the Big Boys have all but conceded the field to the Small Guys. That means two things: One, what is local and regional will stay local and regional, and, Two, as brands achieve scale, the “Boys be wait’n.” Yep, the long-dreaded scourge of Very Large Players has arrived. And they bring with them a totally new approach. Rather than “crafty,” as witnessed by the erstwhile efforts of SAB-Miller’s “Blue Moon” or AB-INBEV’s equally noxious “Shock Top,” to trick consumers into buying factory beers they believe are “craft,” they have taken the path of outright acquisition. Forget Budweiser’s scandalously hypocritical slam against craft beer during the 2015 Super Bowl as they simultaneously gobbled up Washington State’s Elysian Brewery and Oregon’s 10 Barrel Brewery. Consider instead Bud’s big Breckenridge buy or Constellation Brands’ (ever had Corona?) billion-dollar purchase of Ballast Point Brewing.

Where Bernie or I might see corporate hypocrisy at work, others perceive the ascendance of craft as an essential transition from a folk-traditional to a high-stakes business model. As with most established, entrenched businesses finding themselves disrupted, not everyone saw it coming, and many of those who did were ticked off about it. Case in point: Eight years ago I was asked to make a presentation on craft spirits to the board of NABCA, the national association representing the Control States—those states with exclusive rights to buy and sell hooch. Governor-appointed, and dependent on the major distributors for their buying instructions, the craft spirits phenomenon had these directors bamboozled. I was bombarded with questions: Were the products any good? How much should we buy? What are consumers buying? How can we warehouse all these different skus?

What did I know? At the time only a few craft spirits brands were making noise in the marketplace, and almost all of them, if you exclude Tito’s, were highly regional, mostly small distilleries with loyal local followers. At the happy-hour reception afterwards, I was, in company of the steering committee, whose president, Mark Brown of Buffalo Trace, had generously provided several BT brands for our delectation., I was doing my part, within the responsible parameters of such an event, not to show any disrespect to Mssrs Stagg and Van Winkle. Mark, ever the gentleman, by and large had good things to say about craft, but several senior management types from the other major industry giants cornered me with pointed comment: You [craft distillers] are a threat to our brands. All our brands started small, Mom and Pops like your guys. We don’t need the competition. Whew!

Fast forward three years to a chance encounter with one of those same senior management-global-VP-types, and I was greeted with a big smile a slap on the back, and a major change of tune. We love you guys; you’re doing all our R&D for us! As soon as a distiller achieves scale, we’ll buy ‘em.

OK, when did this major tipping point occur? It was August 19, 2013, in Austin at the very first “Spirits Summit” hosted by the respected trade publication Wine and Spirits Daily. Danny Brager of Nielsen Associates had walked the crowd—a veritable who’s who of the spirits business in America—through his power point deck, to his conclusion. The data were incontrovertible: Craft spirits had a growth curve equal to or even stronger than that of craft beer at an analogous period in its development, and the future presented “a long runway.” Translated, Nielsen’s analysis foresaw no major obstacles facing the growth of craft spirits. Here, at last, was proof-positive of what many knew intuitively was the case. You could hear checkbooks snapping open.

An endearing quality of “craft,” if you admire pluck and rebellion, is its inherent resistance to the mantra of “go big or go home.”

Three years later, at the March Conference of my own organization, the American Craft Spirits Association, Danny revisited the data. Nielsen’s view was not only unchanged, but strengthened. Driven by “Millennials” who value authenticity, integrity and identity, craft beer, craft distilling, craft mixology, virtually all things “craft” was proving to be unstoppable. Not a train to stand in front of.

An endearing quality of “craft,” if you admire pluck and rebellion, is its inherent resistance to the mantra of “go big or go home.” True, there are some mega acquisitions in process, but not everyone wants to sell out. Rather, they are buying in. My term for these hold-ins is “legacy owners.” Starlight Distillery, part of the Huber Orchard and Winery complex on the fertile mesa above New Albany, exemplifies this concept. Seven generations of Hubers have grown fruit, made award-winning wine and brandy from their own orchards and vineyards, and now distill bourbon using their own corn. Huber’s economic impact can be gauged by its position as the third-ranking tourist destination in Indiana, after the Colts and the Indy 500. The distillery is, as one might expect, a gleaming showcase of copper and glass.

Similarly, Bently Heritage, a $40-plus million reconfiguration of an historic grainery in Minden, Nevada, will feature an over-the-top distillery-and-tourist complex with state-of-the-art mechanics utilizing grain grown on the Bently family’s Carson Valley farm holdings. And these are just two out of the hundreds of show-time distilleries expanding around the country that will awe and inspire all who visit them.

So, one asks, do these mega-trends spell doom for locals? I dropped in on Bloomington’s own Cardinal Spirits to hear what they had to say. What co-owner Adam Quirk revealed about Cardinal strongly reflected the underlying ethos of “craft” itself: authenticity is the lodestar. “The biggest part of building our brand is honesty,” he noted. “That’s what craft means. A craftsman makes something with his or her own hands, and does honest work. We make everything from scratch. We ferment and distill on site, and do our best to make a great product. It’s a matter of great personal pride,” Quirk observes. “But if your spirits are not good, people aren’t gonna buy ‘em. Simple as that.” And the ultimate goal? “Five years from now we want to be a well-known Midwestern distillery. But there’s more,” he adds. “It is critical to our mission to provide meaningful employment for ourselves and our staff. That’s really why we’re here.”

# # #


I want to get drunk ‘till I’m off of my mind.

–George Thorogood, “One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer”

Alcohol can be fatal. Bingeing is a chronic phenomenon that is hugely popular among Millennials at major “party schools,” like IU. I’m no moralist, but I do side with Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing and Distilling who delivered the keynote at my first craft spirits conference in 2008. “Alcohol is not the problem,” he declared forcefully. “The problem is these kids never learned how to drink.”

I grew up in a somewhat Bohemian enclave of San Francisco. Alcohol, mostly wine, was enjoyed nightly at dinner by my parents, and throughout the year at nearly every occasion by everyone we knew. Think of the wedding scene in The Godfather and you can get a pretty good picture. I think it’s a shame that so many young adults enter the university sphere with little or no understanding of alcohol. Because, if you understand it, you will respect it.

This is a simplified version of what happens when you get drunk, but there will be a quiz later, so pay attention.

A pint of beer, a 5 oz glass of wine, or a 1 ¼ shot of vodka all contain roughly a half-ounce of pure alcohol each. Drinking six of these at one sitting, in any combination or order, is considered bingeing. Anyone with half-a-clue about what happens during the Dionysian debacle called Little Five, or has experienced any of B-town’s infamous Sports Bars late of a Friday or Saturday night knows six drinks to be a mere warm up. It takes roughly an hour for the liver to metabolize that half-an-ounce of pure ethanol. Do the math.

Your dear, dear liver first metabolizes the ethanol into acetaldehyde, a very toxic poison that the ancient enzymes that govern so much of our lives almost instantaneously convert to sugars that are converted to fat cells and stored by the liver. What doesn’t get metabolized collects in the bloodstream causing havoc.[1] Chug a pint beaker of 86° vodka and you’re either going to expel it as an offering to the ceramic gods, or you’re going to enter some form of inebriation bordering on toxic shock. Keep at it and you may find yourself waltzing with the Grim Reaper.

Drinking can and should be an enjoyable part of life. Drinking to get drunk is not. Getting drunk is stupid. Getting drunk with strangers is really, really stupid.

That’s it. Now, here’s the multiple-choice quiz:

I will Never Ever Drink Anything Alcoholic Ever!

I will endeavor to learn about the myriad styles and qualities of alcoholic       beverages, and respectfully enjoy them

I will dismiss this “quiz” as a pile of moralistic crap from a dumb-ass scold       and do whatever I want whenever I want to

Hey, it’s your life to live and to enjoy. Please do.


We know what is legally required to define bourbon, but how is it actually made? I asked an expert, “Bourbon” Dave Scheurich, the Distillery Manager for Woodford Reserve (ret.). Here’s Dave.

As you know, Bourbon whiskey requires at least 51% corn. Most distillers use #1 yellow corn that is first ground to a fine meal, mixed with water, and cooked at 212⁰ F for 30 minutes to totally liquefy the starches in the corn.  The mash temperature is gradually lowered and rye or wheat meal is added to the slurry. The barley malt is added when this big vat of starch reaches 154⁰ F.  The enzymes in the malt instantly convert the starch to sugar.

Although not required by law, most of us use a little backset stillage or “sour mash.” In the early years of making whiskey, distillers would make good batches and bad batches without knowing why.  In the mid-1850’s James Crow (and others) learned that if they put some spent mash back into the cooking process they got consistently good whiskey.  Since sour mash is very acidic, i.e., around 4.0 pH. Adding some into the cook deters the natural yeasts and molds in the air that surrounds us.

Wheat versus rye as the second grain in the mash bill is a matter of the distillers’ preference.  Some people enjoy a spicy, complex bourbon (high rye) while others like soft and sweet bourbon (wheated).  Maker’s Mark is a good example of a wheated bourbon.



What Makes Bourbon “Bourbon”

  1. Must be manufactured in the United States
  2. Must be at least 51% Corn. Other allowed grains are Rye, Malted Barley, and Wheat
  3. Cannot be distilled above 160 proof (80% alcohol).
  4. Must be aged in charred new American white oak barrels for at least two years
  5. Must be casked no higher than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol)
  6. Must be bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% alcohol)



“My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”

–1952 speech by Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., a young lawmaker from the U.S. state of Mississippi, on the subject of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibition (which it did until 1966) or finally legalize alcoholic beverages



We know what is legally required to define bourbon, but how is it actually made? I asked an expert, “Bourbon” Dave Scheurich, the Distillery Manager for Woodford Reserve (ret.). Here’s Dave.

As you know, Bourbon whiskey requires at least 51% corn. Most distillers use #1 yellow corn that is first ground to a fine meal, mixed with water, and cooked at 212⁰ F for 30 minutes to totally liquefy the starches in the corn.  The mash temperature is gradually lowered and rye or wheat meal is added to the slurry. The barley malt is added when this big vat of starch reaches 154⁰ F.  The enzymes in the malt instantly convert the starch to sugar.

Although not required by law, most of us use a little backset stillage or “sour mash.” In the early years of making whiskey, distillers would make good batches and bad batches without knowing why.  In the mid-1850’s James Crow (and others) learned that if they put some spent mash back into the cooking process they got consistently good whiskey.  Since sour mash is very acidic, i.e., around 4.0 pH. Adding some into the cook deters the natural yeasts and molds in the air that surrounds us.

Wheat versus rye as the second grain in the mash bill is a matter of the distillers’ preference.  Some people enjoy a spicy, complex bourbon (high rye) while others like soft and sweet bourbon (wheated).  Maker’s Mark is a good example of a wheated bourbon.



What Makes Bourbon “Bourbon”

  1. Must be manufactured in the United States
  2. Must be at least 51% Corn. Other allowed grains are Rye, Malted Barley, and Wheat
  3. Cannot be distilled above 160 proof (80% alcohol).
  4. Must be aged in charred new American white oak barrels for at least two years
  5. Must be casked no higher than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol)
  6. Must be bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% alcohol)



“My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”

–1952 speech by Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., a young lawmaker from the U.S. state of Mississippi, on the subject of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibition (which it did until 1966) or finally legalize alcoholic beverages



In an episode of the Sitcom “Cheers,” Cliff explains “the buffalo theory” to Norm.

Well, you see, Norm, it’s like this: A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members.

In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Now, as we know, excessive intake of alcohol kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine.

And that, Norm, is why you always feel smarter after a few beers.







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