Did 'Game of Thrones' just send Jorah on a quest to find ANOTHER zombie army?
So much is happening this season on Game of Thrones. It’s like someone accidentally knocked into the hyperdrive lever and spilled coffee on it and now we’re all hanging on for dear life as we hurtle through the plot at LUDICROUS SPEED. Which is why it would have been easy to overlook a small scene between Daenerys and Jorah on last week’s episode, “The Door.” Compared to the lore bombs dropping over Bran Stark’s head, a desperate quest is pretty boring. But I noticed. And it sent me down a lore hole so deep, I’m writing this article from Yi-Ti.
WARNING: SPOILERS AND SPECULATION FOR GAME OF THRONES BEYOND THIS POINT.
A quick recap on Jorah’s situation. To condense George R.R. Martin’s unwieldy number of players, Ser Jorah Mormont drew the short straw and absorbed Jon Connington’s character arc. Jorah also absorbed Connintong’s infection from Stone Men of Old Valyria/Chroyane and will eventually succumb to greyscale, becoming a Stone Man himself. As the disease has now spread all the way up his arm, Jorah confessed his illness to Dany in “The Door.” Instead of turning him away, the Mother of Dragons gave her errant knight a quest: to find a cure for an incurable illness before it takes him away from her forever. But how?
Shireen Baratheon. As an infant, the only child of Stannis Baratheon was infected with greyscale. Her father — desperate to save her — brought in healers from all over the world. One (or a combination of them) succeeded. To this day, no one knows who or what stopped the spread of greyscale from marching across Shireen’s face. She is one of only a handful of children to ever survive the illness; in adults, it is always fatal. But would Jorah Mormont even know of Shireen? After all, he’s spent the better portion of his life as a sellsword in Essos, banished from his homeland. The short answer is yes. The long answer is Jorah’s life began to spiral downhill the same year Shireen was born (289 AC). It was that year that Robert put down Lord Greyjoy’s Rebellion. At the victory tournament, Jorah Mormont won the lists and crowned his future wife, Lynesse Hightower, the Queen of Love and Beauty. It would take Jorah until 293 AC to be caught selling slaves and banished. Even in a world where the main form of communication is raven, the tales of Shireen’s miraculous recovery would’ve reached Bear Island.
There’s only one problem: both Shireen, her Maester, and her parents are dead. But those that may have healed her are still alive and well: the priests and priestesses of the red god, R’hllor. While Melisandre did not join Stannis’ household until after the death of his brother, King Robert Baratheon, that doesn’t mean she was the first of her kind to travel to Dragonstone. If you take a moment to examine Stannis Baratheon, hiring a shadowbinder from Asshai seems far outside his comfort zone. He was a humorless, rigid man. Not one prone to flights of fancy or belief in the supernatural. So why bring Melisandre home? Clearly it was with the intent of destroying Renly. Mission accomplished. But WHY would Stannis believe in the power of R’hllor to perform miracles? If he’d seen it with his own eyes before. If a red priest/priestess saved Shireen, that would be all the proof Stannis needed that the Lord of Light could help him wrest the crown from his wayward younger brother.
Are you still with me? Because this is where I tripped and fell into the lore hole. Two questions spawned from the realization that Shireen’s saviors could be the key to saving Jorah. How could the red priests stop the spread of greyscale, and how exactly did Shireen come into contact with greyscale?
The latter question appears easy enough to answer. No culprit has been given in the books, but during his “Sorry I’m about to murder you” speech on the show Stannis confesses to Shireen that is was a doll brought by a Dornish trader that caused the greyscale. One the one hand, that would mean greyscale either has an alarmingly long half-life or the Dornishman was an assassin. But on the other hand — given Stannis track record as kind of a jerk — I gave that story some serious side-eye. So I did a little digging into the Baratheon family tree. It didn’t take long to find another perpetrator of Shireen’s greyscale…Stannis. But if I’m right, at least it was an accident?
In order to explain, we have to go back. Way back. To the reign of the Mad King, Aerys II. In his early days, Aerys wasn’t quite so mad. He was sane enough to forge and keep friendships, among them Tywin Lannister and Steffon Baratheon. We’re concentrating on the latter, has he was the father of Robert, Stannis, and Renly. Aerys really went off the deep end after the Defiance of Duskendale (277 AC), when Lord Darklyn kidnapped the king and held him as a prisoner for half a year. All the Lord of Duskendale wanted was a trader charter, but when you kidnap your anointed ruler to get it, you’re going to have a bad time. Needless to say, Tywin Lannister didn’t take kindly to this. But Lord Darklyn threatened to kill Aerys if the Hand laid siege to the castle. After six months of dithering, Tywin was about to press his luck, saying of Prince Rhaegar that if Aerys dies, there’s a better king right here. That would be one of the wedges that drove Tywin and Aerys apart. Which meant Steffon Baratheon was only childhood friend Aerys had left that he could trust.
About a year after emerging from Duskendale a broken, paranoid shell of a man, the King tasked Steffon with a mission. He was to travel to Old Volantis in search of a bride for Rhaegar. One from an Old Valyrian bloodline. But this doesn’t jibe with the fact that Aerys now thought Rhaegar was conspiring against him and not to be trusted. This is also around the time the Mad King began to stockpile wildfire caches all over the city “just in case.” But if Steffon wasn’t in search of a bride for the Prince, what WAS he looking for? Weapons. Wildfire isn’t the only monstrosity Aerys could’ve unleashed upon his people. Perhaps he was also in search of other means of control. Means such as greyscale.
Volantis would be a good place to look for such a biological weapon. Legend says greyscale sprung into being when the lords of Valyria and Volantis conquered the festival city of Chroyane. Men, women, and children were slaughtered without mercy while their prince — Garin — was forced to watch from a gilded cage. In his grief, Prince Garin prayed to the Mother Rhoyne, and she rose up out of her banks to destroy the fire lords with a flood and the curse of greyscale. The Stone Men still roam the ruins of Chroyane (and some say Valyria as well). Some myths even say the Doom of Old Valyria was the curse of Garin coming to full fruition. Those who live in Volantis would be well acquainted with the disease.
But if Steffon Baratheon was bringing back a cache of biological weapons for his mad king, he never made it. Robert and Stannis watched in horror from Dragonstone* as their father’s ship was destroyed in a storm a mere few miles from safe harbor. Steffon, his wife, and hundreds of their men died. If Aerys II had designs on controlling his people through greyscale, those plans died too. Until Stannis dug it up.
*The ship broke up off the coast of Storm's End, whoops!
In 289 AC — the year Shireen was born — the young Baratheon monarchy was embroiled in a conflict with the Iron Isles known as the Greyjoy Rebellion. Balon Greyjoy (Theon’s father) styled himself King of the Iron Islands and had his brother Euron set fire to the Lannister fleet while anchored in Lannisport. As master of ships, Stannis was tasked with rebuilding the fleet to help put down the rebellion. If he had even an inkling that his father had been on a mission for King Aerys II for weapons, prudent Stannis might have sent men to excavate the ship. The result would’ve brought greyscale directly to Shireen’s cradle. This might also explain why Stannis — never a man to waste effort on sentiment — spent so much time trying to save his daughter. Guilt.
So now there’s the theory on how Shireen contracted greyscale, but who cured her? I suggest the priestesses of R’hllor as George R.R. Martin does love his bookended symmetry. As to the how? I suggest fire, obviously. The only thing that burns away impurity is the flame of the Lord of Light. There is the tiniest shred of evidence in the books to support this theory. When Tyrion, Jon Connington, and Young Griff are set upon by the Stone Men on the Bridge of Dream, Tyrion touches one with a torch. This is a Stone Man who has a broken leg — bone peeking out through his skin — yet feels no pain. He continues lumbering towards his victims…until the fire touches him. At that point, the Stone Man shrieks in pain. Martin goes out of his way to describe the blood by the broken leg as brown, but not the fresh blood that sprouts when the Stone Man is injured by flame. If it is the case, no wonder Stannis didn’t reveal the cure. Who would admit to setting their infant daughter’s face aflame?
What’s more tantalizing? In “The Door” we learned the White Walkers are the product of the Children of the Forest attempting to defend themselves against the First Men. In turn, the White Walkers created the wights. Mindless ice zombies meant as meat shields and cannon fodder. They represent the armies of ice in the “Song of Ice and Fire.” But as of yet there is no high fantasy army for Fire. Unless it’s the Stone Men and the Shrouded Lord. The Stone Men behave very much like zombies, nearly mindless and feeling no pain. Their skin is reminiscent of dragon scales. There’s been little and less mention of the Shrouded Lord who rules over the Stone Men, but what we do know sounds similar to the Night’s King. The Shrouded Lord allegedly can spread greyscale with the grey kiss, though he gives it out sparingly. It seems more likely he would be gifting his kiss to those he wishes to make like himself, as the Night’s King converts Craster’s sons into White Walkers. There are even those who believe the Shrouded Lord is Prince Garin himself, still ruling over the remnants of his civilization.
Of course, there’s another myth that says the Shrouded Lord was brought to life when a woman with lips as cold as ice kissed him. Sounds a little like the Night’s Queen, doesn’t it?
If the Children of the Forest could create a living weapon that turned against them, what’s to say the people of Essos couldn’t have done the same in their desperation? Regardless, Dany sending Jorah to find a cure will no doubt shed more light on exactly who the Stone Men are, how sentient they remain, and who their leader is.
Come the great battle for the Known World, will it be a battle between two human armies? Or two armies of the undead? Both? Probably both.