Winter has come. The seventh season of Game of Thrones is off and running and with only seven episodes, HBO doesn’t have time to hold our hands and explain things like where characters are, the history of new locations, or how the actions of one character affect the powder keg that is Westeros’ political climate. Luckily, between all of George R.R. Martin’s novels, and The World of Ice and Fire historical tome, there’s plenty of ways to fill in the blanks and we’re here to help. Obviously spoilers will abound, so proceed at your own peril.
Over the years, readers of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga have had to come to grips with the fact that people, places, and events that are important in the novels have been excised from the HBO adaptation. Characters such as Lady Stoneheart have been cut entirely while others such as Jeyne Poole or Arianne Martell had their storylines given to more prominent players in the game. Plots involving everyone from Mance Rayder and Victarian Greyjoy to Quentyn Martell and Young Griff have been left on the cutting room floor. This is not to say these characters won’t have major parts to play in Martin’s novels, but the tale Game of Thrones is telling doesn’t need this many tertiary characters rolling around, bumping into each other and extending the story.
So while Game of Thrones will never see the living corpse of Catelyn Stark hand Dondarrion’s flaming sword to Jon Snow, that sword is still in the show. Dondarrion has it and — based on the trailer — will be using it sooner rather than later. But that isn’t the case for two crucial artifacts that Martin has set in motion in his novels: the two horns. The first is the Horn of Winter, a legendary horn known to the Wildings. The second is the Dragonbinder, a horn in the possession of Victarion Greyjoy in the novel but not even a blip on the radar on the show. While it’s entirely possible neither or these horns will appear in the show, the sheer power they possess would propel the series along towards the inevitable war with the Night King, which makes them candidates to show up as deus ex machinas when the time is right. But first, what are these horns?
The Horn of Winter, otherwise known as Joramun’s Horn, is an ancient magical artifact with the power to bring down the Wall. In the “Age of Heroes” Joramun became the first King-Beyond-The-Wall. Like all good legends lost to the mists of time, no one knows how Joramun came into the possession of such a powerful weapon. I’d say we don’t know if it even exists, but if Martin has hammered home anything it’s that skepticism of magic is the road to death in Game of Thrones. Also lost in the thousands of years of retelling is how the Horn is supposed to bring down the Wall. All the stories say is that blowing the Horn will “wake the giants from the earth.” While some would say that is merely a metaphor of the massive earthquake that would be necessary to bring down 700 vertical feet of ice, I have to wonder if the “giants” are the mythical ice dragons that live beyond the Shivering Sea. Allegedly, ice dragons of old were larger than any Valyrian dragon and melted upon their death. If you were building a giant wall and needed more ice than could be conceivably hauled by sled, would you perhaps use the Horn to lure ice dragons to their deaths to become building material?
Which leads me directly into the second legendary horn: the Dragonbinder. Found in the smoking ruins of Valyria by Euron Greyjoy (if you believe him), this Horn is said to bind the will of any dragon that hears it to the master of said Horn. There’s only one problem: anyone who blows the Dragonbinder ends up cooked from the inside out. So whomever is blowing the Horn is not its master. In A Dance With Dragons, a red priest tells Victarion that he can become the Dragonbinder’s master but it will be paid with a blood price. Should Victarion master the Dragonbinder, Danerys and her dragons would be vulnerable. My personal take, however, is somehow the Dragonbinder will end up in Tyrion’s hands. Call it a hunch.
Now, both of these horns have been described in similar ways. The Dragonbinder is as real as anything, made from a six foot long black dragon’s horn and covered in both Valyrian glyphs and bands of red and gold Valyrian steel. Blowing into Dragonbinder causes the horn to glow red and then white as the heat inside increases. Meanwhile the Horn of Winter has yet to make an appearance in A Song of Ice and Fire, but it isn’t a large a leap to think it is similar in design to the Dragonbinder. The false horn that Mance showed Jon Snow and that Melisandre consequently burned was an eight-foot-long black horn with glyphs of the First Men and bands of gold. It seems reasonable that Mance and his people would base the false horn on stories they’ve heard of what the real one looked like. And if the Valyrian Dragonbinder is designed to bring fire dragons to heel, one could imagine the Horn of Winter might do the same for ice dragons. Of course, this makes me wonder if there’s a horn out there that could call to the mythical and allegedly extinct Sea Dragons…
Should Game of Thrones need either artifact to hasten about the war with the Other, the question then becomes where are they? None of the principal players are still in Essos, meaning a jaunt to Old Valyria to retrieve the Dragonbinder is out of the question. The Horn of Winter is still out there somewhere, perhaps hidden in a secret area beyond the Wall by the Children of the Forest. But the easiest solution would be to combine the Dragonbinder and the Horn of Winter into a single entity and hide it deep within the confines of The Citadel. It’s an elegant solution. The Citadel is already where the most dangerous and exotic magic is kept on lockdown. Everything from glass candles to the secret mysteries of Asshai and Yi-Ti are somewhere in the bowels of Oldtown. And lucky for the North, Samwell Tarly is currently at the Citadel and isn’t afraid to break the rules to gain knowledge. It wouldn’t take much to imagine Sam finding mention of the horns in a forbidden book and going on a spelunking adventure to find it. Perhaps he’d even take greyscale-ridden Jorah along for the ride. After all, if Jorah is going to die, it might as well be because the blew the horn that would simultaneously wake the sleeping ice dragons and bind them to Dany’s will.