One of the most astonishing things about the world of Game of Thrones is just how deep the lore and history goes. What appears at first glance to be the War of the Roses given a veneer of low-fantasy is just the tip of the iceberg. Scratch a little deeper and you”ll reveal the petty battles over the Iron Throne aren”t even remotely the most interesting thing going on in this world. Heck, they”re distracting from a far more tantalizing story. One where you discover you thought Westeros and The Known World (as George R.R. Martin has yet to name the planet all this strife is happening on) was a fantasy story, but once you pull back? It”s obviously science-fiction.
And it”s all tied into Asshai-by-the-Shadow, the Lord of Light, and the necklaces worn by the Red Priestess of R”hllor.
Image Credit: HBO
Martin has done a tremendous job of planting hints in his novels, but since he hasn”t wanted to grind his story to a halt for an extended history lesson, a lot of history was left on the editing room floor. Until The World of Ice And Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones hit bookshelves. All of the information in this article is either from the novels themselves, or this exhaustive historical resource.
We begin at the end of the world. At Stygai. Known as the “corpse city” or the City of the Night, Stygai”s ruins stand in the mountains of the Shadow Lands, beyond even Asshai-By-The-Shadow. It is a place of fear and mystery, where even shadowbinders such as Melisandre fear to tread. It is also at the heart of the Shadow. No one knows what civilization built Stygai, or what happened to them. One can infer whoever created the city was also responsible for the construction of Asshai, as the people there make no secret about not knowing how their city came to exist.
If Stygai is the capitol, then Asshai-By-The-Shadow is the port town. The most important thing to know about Asshai is that its existence makes no sense. Asshai itself is huge, with enough land to easily swallow Volantis, Qarth, King”s Landing, and Oldtown whole. Yet the population is very small, with native Asshaians going throughout their lives with their faces and bodies covered, carted about and catered to by slaves. The city was formed using “oily black stone” that drinks in light and – based on the evidence – poisons the realm. Nothing grows in Asshai. No food can be farmed; no animals can be bred. Those who have tried have lost crops and farm animals to mysterious means. The water is oily and heavily polluted, leading to mutated fish unsafe to eat. The city contains no children. The only thing that DOES grow in Asshai is “ghost grass.” Taller than a man on horseback and as white as milk, the plant is aggressive and takes over all available space. If not for the traders bringing in food, the populace* would”ve starved centuries ago. For what Asshai lacks in edibles it makes up for in gold and gems. Yet those gems are also said to be tainted.
*One could argue now knowing Melisandre”s secret that the traders are bringing in food and water only to keep the slave population from dying.
Asshai is also generally agreed to be where dragons originally hailed from, though their exact origins vary by culture. The Valyrians claimed dragons sprang forth fully formed from the Fourteen Flames that powered their empire. Ancient Asshai documents allege that dragons came from the Shadow, that a lost civilization was the first to tame them before bringing dragons to Valyria. But the people of Qarth have the most interesting myth. They say that once a second moon hung in the sky. One day it cracked open like an egg and all the dragons poured forth. Whatever the case may be, dragons and the Shadow are inextricably linked. Even the newest dragons – Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion – were gifted to Daenerys by Illyrio Mopatis, who claimed he procured them from the Shadow.
Then there're the ruby gemstones that give Melisandre – and now Kinvara (Ania Bukstein) – their power. We know Melisandre is from Asshai*. We also know R”hllor has a temple in Volantis that is three times the size of the Great Sept of Baelor in King”s Landing. But Martin never specifies if Volantis is the Rome of the Lord of Light or merely an outpost. Where does the religion of R”hllor come from? Considering the dark magic shenanigans his priestesses get up too, Asshai looks like a prime target. We know the “oily black stone” not only corrupted the land, water, air, and people of the Shadow Lands but also infected the gold and gems. An educated guess could lead you to believe the ruby that extends the life of Melisandre comes from a city where there are no children, but the population never dwindles. Whatever properties the ruby possesses is most likely utilized by all of the Asshai natives. On the show, one could even argue the stone more closely resembles an oily black in its resting state than red.
*I would bet a shiny gold piece that Melisandre”s memories of being sold into slavery were of her being sold to R”hllor in Asshai.
So here we have a mysterious, magical, radioactive wasteland that is populated by people who never eat and never die. A place where dragons supposedly spawned and a bizarre bit of flora that grows like kudzu in the southern United States. It would be easy to say obviously the people of Stygai were meddling with things they shouldn”t have – like nuclear or biological weapons – and a massive accident sent civilization back thousands of years. And perhaps they did. But there”s an even more intriguing option: the “lost civilization” was not from The Known World. They, the White Walkers, and the dragons are the remnants of an alien spacecraft.
There have long been fan theories on why Westeros has weird seasons. Maester Nichol”s charting of the stars in The Measure of the Days suggested that at one time the seasons of The Known World were regular, changing with the way the planet faced the sun throughout the year. Ancient stories seemed to confirm Nicol”s findings, but with no way to corroborate it scientifically, the Citadel dismissed the theory. One thing that could cause such a change? Something massive slamming into the planet with such velocity that it altered the orbit enough to throw the seasons out of whack, but not so much as to cause mass extinctions.
But if that were the case, wouldn”t there be a record of it? There is. The Long Night. A generation that lived and died in darkness, the sun lost behind clouds. Certainly sounds like an impact winter caused by a meteor…or a giant spaceship falling to the earth. Every civilization in The Known World has stories about the Long Night. We”re familiar with the tales from Westeros; of the Night”s King and the Others stalking through the North until Azor Ahai banished the Long Night and saved the world. In Asshai, they have stories of a hero who rose up to fight the darkness with a red sword. Even Yi Ti has legends about a woman with a monkey”s tail* who brought back the sun when it had hidden its face from men for a lifetime.
*”A monkey”s tail” is easily translated to “a dragon”s tail.” If you”ll recall, Dany”s stillborn son was birthed with a tail, and many legends say Valyrians of old also bore this genetic abnormality.
Now we put it all together. Peeling back the layers of mythology reveals a startling possibility. Two aliens species accidentally bringing their war to a primitive planet already populated with a variety of sentient species. The Dragon-Folk and the White Walkers. One side”s ship(s) crash into the south-eastern tip Essos, creating the Shadowlands. Now stuck, the Dragon-Folk begin the process of dismantling their technology and repurposing it. The “oily black stones” become the cities of Stygai and Asshai. But whatever the material is is poisonous to the land, killing everything. In its place, the non-native “ghost grass” took root and, like any other invasive species with no predator – flourished. Dragons that came with their masters (or friends) spread throughout the world. Meanwhile, the other side crashes or migrates to the Lands of Always Winter.
There are Dothraki legends that say the horse peoples once lived on the other side of Vaes Dothrak. That they only crossed the nearly impassable Mother of Mountains when their ancestors were fleeing some catastrophe. Now known as the Bones, the mountain range is a testament to that flight: thousands of skeletons of man, giant, beast, bird, and monster litter the paths. If they indeed fled from the Shadow, it”s no wonder their mythology states one day “ghost grass” will cover the world, signaling the end times.
Eventually, both the Dragon-Folk and the White Walkers begin to interbreed with the local human populations. The Night”s Queen chooses her husband from the men of Winterfell. Some might even say her paramours must be a Stark. The Dragon-Folk mingle with humans, creating the Old Valyrian bloodline with their unique silver hair, lilac eyes, and ability to commune with dragons. Both species create architectural wonders such as Dragonstone Castle, the Wall, the Lorath mazes, and the city of Yeen in Sothoryos. Centuries passed, the bloodlines thinned, and eventually the origins of the alien creatures were forgotten and turned to legend.
That would make the White Walkers and denizens of Asshai the last holdouts of a science-fiction story in a fantasy world. What do you guys think? Is Melisandre the unwitting pawn in a millennia-old battle between alien beings? Or does her power extend from more traditional fantasy gods?