This season of Game of Thrones has been ripe for the fan theory picking. After a five-year drought – A Dance With Dragons came out in July of 2011 – book readers have been gorging on the new reveals HBO is giving out week after week. From Bran”s involvement to why greyscale could be important and beyond, it”s been a great time to be a lore nerd.
But after the visions in last week”s episode, “Blood of my Blood,” I feel like we”ve all been overlooking another war within the war. And it involves wildfire.
WARNING: SPOILERS AND SPECULATION FOR GAME OF THRONES BEYOND THIS POINT.
George R.R. Martin loves thematic layers. A Song of Ice And Fire is like an onion…or a parfait. There is the ground war between the Houses of Westeros, the war between the Faith and the nobility, and then there is the war with the White Walkers. If you dig a little deeper, there”s probably a war between the Night”s King and whomever/whatever R”hllor is. Maybe with even a little bit of Deep Ones thrown in as a third party to this war of the gods. But there could also be another war waging under the surface; this one between magic and technology.
In “Blood of my Blood,” Bran was receiving visions of the past in choppy bits. The most coherent bit was where Jaime stabs King Aerys II to death before he can live up to his title as the Mad King and burn King”s Landing to the ground with wildfire. Whether or not the streams were getting crossed and Aerys actually meant “burn all the ice zombies” remains to be seen. What we do know is Aerys had a serious cache of wildfire all over the city. Wildfire created by the mysterious Alchemist Guild.
Image Credit: HBO
You see those chains? They almost look like a maester's chain, but the links are too uniform. Which reminded me the Maester's Guild does not look too kindly on the alchemists and their claims of magic. Probably because the Maester”s Guild has spent the better part of a thousand years trying to eradicate magic from the face of the Earth. These are mortal enemies engaged in a cold war of epic proportions, and all of it is going on under the noses of everyone without notice.
In order to understand what”s at stake here, a little bit of background on the two organizations. The Maester”s Guild is an ancient order that has its roots in the Citadel of Oldtown. Founded by King Urrigon of Hightower in the age of petty kings, the Citadel has toiled tirelessly for a millennia behind the scenes. Guided by scientific pursuits, maesters focus on medicine, astronomy, economics, ravenry, warcraft, and other wholly mundane interests. They follow the course of the seasons and offer scientific explanations for any and all phenomenon. They also loathe magic. This first becomes apparent in “A Feast for Crows” when Samwell Tarly reaches the Citadel to begin his training. Up until that point, maesters dismissal of magic seemed to be merely rooted in healthy skepticism.
When Sam meets Archmaester Marwyn at the Citadel, Marwyn reveals several interesting tidbits about the order. For one, Marwyn”s fascination with studying the occult and magic have branded him as an outcast among his people. The study of magic is looked down on. Marwyn confesses he believes the Maester”s Guild had a hand in destroying the last of the Targaryen dragons.
Who do you think killed all the dragons the last time around? Gallant dragonslayers armed with swords? The world the Citadel is building has no place in it for sorcery or prophecy or glass candles, much less for dragons. Ask yourself why Aemon Targaryen was allowed to waste his life upon the Wall, when by rights he should have been raised to archmaester? His blood was why. He could not be trusted. No more than I can.
So here we have a group of people with an extreme amount of influence upon the realm of the Seven Kingdoms. Every noble house has a maester as a status symbol, and the maesters all answer to the Grand Maester, Pycelle. The guild is supposed to be apolitical, but we all know how likely that is.
On the other side of the coin is the Alchemist Guild. The old guard pushed out by the new world order. Little and less is known about the Alchemist Guild, because history is written by the winners. What we do know is intriguing. We know they were once powerful players in the game, using magic to create wildfire and transmute materials from one form to another. We know they have vast stores of knowledge kept secret from the general populace. We know they once held the position of power now wielded by the Maester”s Guild. We know they were pyryomancers. And where to pyromancers come from? Asshai-by-the-Shadow – ground zero for weird magic nonsense.
When the last of the Targaryen dragons died and “magic went out of the world,” the Alchemist Guild claimed it became much more difficult to create wildfire as the spells weren”t working well. But since the birth of Dany”s dragons, wildfire has been much easier to produce (much to Cersei”s delight).
If true, then dragons and wildfire are inextricably linked, lending more proof to the theory that dragons (and by extension the Dragon Lords) originate from Asshai-by-the-Shadow. As to why the Maester”s Guild would want to stamp out magic? Reasons range from a power grab to fear of a return of the Elder Races to leveling the playing field between the Targaryens and the rest of the world. But to paraphrase the great Ian Malcolm, they were so concerned with whether or not they COULD wipe magic from the world, they never stopped to think if they SHOULD. Do you want White Walkers? Because this is how you get White Walkers.
Intersetingly, the similarity in both the uniform of the alchemists and the maesters and the hierarchy of their orders leads me to believe they may be different branches of one ancient order that had a falling out.
What do you guys think? Will the hubris of the maesters give rise to the return of the alchemists?