“What, me, celibate? The whores would go begging from Dorne to Casterly Rock. No, I just want to stand on top of the Wall and piss off the edge of the world.”
Thus says the Night’s King — er, Tyrion — in A Game of Thrones, with the first of many, many references to “whores” throughout the entire series.
I don’t claim to know the mind or heart of author George RR Martin. Maybe he has a fetish with sex workers. It’s possible, after all, as a man has his desires and interests. However, given his peculiar predilection for punnery, we should have a strong suspicion that there is a larger narrative purpose behind his obsession.
On the surface, the prevalence of prostitution motifs in the extended ASOIAF story reflects our own world, not only in the mediaeval Europe inspirations of fantasy but throughout our extended history, and even far before then. The world’s oldest profession has held a controversial position in all cultures, conjuring up a variety of feelings of lust, revulsion, exploitation, empowerment, greed and even sacredness, depending on the context. That sex work plays a prominent role in GRRM’s worlds is not as surprising as why it doesn’t come up more often in other fantasy literature.
Maybe he’s just highlighting the prominent misogyny found in our world. It’s possible. Our modern sensibilities are quite attuned to this sort of literary approach, and not without reason. GRRM is a noted feminist and it wouldn’t shock us to uncover a wide bevy of cultural criticism in this fashion. The term “whore” prevails throughout not only referring to sex workers, but on many of the female protagonists and key characters (not to mention a few male ones), regardless of their station. It’s a slur, and whether there is slander or merit to these references, the humanity of the target is degraded, consciously or otherwise. That the reader picks up on this is GRRM’s doing; the social commentary is noted. (For an interesting conversation on the use of sex work in ASOIAF, I encourage you to listen in on Lucifer Means Lightbringer’s podcast episode with Jinx Lierre.)
Yet the subtext suggests he’s doing something more. I can’t think of another contemporary writer in any genre who employs a denser tapestry of symbolism and motifs in his stories than GRRM. The thematic repetitions beat on and on like a drum, from the blatant use of house sigils to represent characteristics to how every structure in the story seems to evoke a weirwood tree.
Therefore, in this essay, I will try to make the case that the term “whore” was deliberately used to symbolize the hoary “others”, those pale shadows underlying the entire narrative arc. Yes, that’s right. I’m going there. So, please forgive how I use the term “whore” here. GRRM is doing this for a specific reason.
And yet again, dear reader, it goes even deeper. I will also show how both the use of “whore” and “hoar” (and other ASOIAF homonyms) are related on a more primeval level. Whether or not it was GRRM’s conscious doing (I’m going with the latter), the symbolism is a reflection on our own psyche’s collective unconscious, a.k.a. the Great Goddess of world myth.
But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Business comes first.
Where Do Whores Go?
In ASOIAF, everywhere apparently.
He lifted the candle and looked her over. Bronn had done well enough; she was doe-eyed and slim, with small firm breasts and a smile that was by turns shy, insolent, and wicked. He liked that. “Shall I take my gown off, m’lord?” she asked.
“In good time. Are you a maiden, Shae?”
“If it please you, m’lord,” she said demurely.
“What would please me would be the truth of you, girl.”
“Aye, but that will cost you double.”
Tyrion decided they would get along splendidly.
Yes, yes, Tyrion loves him some whores. So much so, he drones on and on about them incessantly throughout ADWD. “Where do whores go? Where do whores go?” We get it, GRRM. We’re good now. Thanks.
Using A Search of Ice and Fire, I found 342 references to the term “whore” in the first five books plus whatever’s been released from TWOW. That’s an insane number. I tried to catalogue each of these representations and finally gave up, particularly once I got to ADWD, which featured 117 references alone.
(If you’re interested in continuing that work, please don’t. It’s depressing to read all that horror and degradation and depressing text. Trust me on this one. GRRM is a hell of a good writer for a reason.)
For the sake of brevity, the following is a list of characters I came across who were referred to or representing “whore” sterotypes in ASOIAF (keeping in mind some characters are part of more than one group here):
- Daenerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Margaery Tyrell, Melisandre, Brienne of Tarth, Ellaria Sand, Taena Merryweather, Lynette Hightower, both Lyanna Stark and Jon Snow’s mother (yes, yes, I know), Joanna Lannister, Doreah, Tysha, Pia, Shae, Serra, Satin, Ygritte, Gilly, Theon Greyjoy, Chataya, Alayay and Layna, and Abel’s washerwomen
- Women who slept with Robert Baratheon, the Hound, Bronn, Edmure Tully, Merrett Frey, Ser Ryman Frey, Tytos Lannister, Lannister soldiers, the Mountain’s men, Manderly spearmen, Gold Cloaks, various knights of the Kingsguard and men of the Night’s Watch
- The mothers of Barra, Obara Sand, Walder Rivers, Vargo Hoat, Casso Mogat and Euron’s men
- The sister of Ser Glendon Flowers aka Ser Glendon Ball, who were both purportedly the illegitimate bastards of the legendary Fireball
- Whores in King’s Landing, in Lordsport, in mole’s town, in Meereen, in Braavos, in Maidenpool, in Lannisport, in Volantis, in Selhorys and in the towns of the Basilisks Isles
- Those whores working at the inn of the crossroads, Littlefinger’s brothel, Chataya’s brothel, the mud gate, the Dragonpit, the Qartheen market, the Lazy Eel, the Peach, the House of the Seven Lamps, the Satin Palace, the Cattery, the Happy Port and the Temple of the Graces
- Elegant courtesans such as the Black Swan, the Veiled Lady, the Merling Queen, the Moonshadow, the Daughter of the Dusk, the Nightingale and the Poetess
- Other whores, including Marei the Whore, Lanna, Bella, Meralyn, Leslyn, Dancy, Jayde, Penny Jenny a.k.a. Redgrass Jenny, Cass, Assadora of Ibben, S’vrone, Blushing Bethany, Canker Jayne, Yna One-Eye, Dick Crabb’s sister, the silver-haired whore, the sunset girl, the Drunken Daughter, the Sailor’s Wife, the Queen Whore and the queen of whores
- The whore who killed Prince Daeron with the pox
- Whichever unfortunate soul tried to mug Hother “Whoresbane” Umber, and
- Whoever else I missed don’t @ me.
It doesn’t end there. The Battle of the Blackwater features a trio of lovely ladies known as The Three Whores, those nasty trebuchets who launch the antler men into Blackwater Bay.
Even locales aren’t spared the whore pejorative. Here’s the Hound’s views on the Seven Kingdoms …
“The king is dead,” the scarecrow knight admitted, “but we are still king’s men, though the royal banner we bore was lost at the Mummer’s Ford when your brother’s butchers fell upon us.” He touched his breast with a fist. “Robert is slain, but his realm remains. And we defend her.”
“Her?” The Hound snorted. “Is she your mother, Dondarrion? Or your whore?”
… while Davos waxes poetic about King’s Landing:
Cities were like women, he insisted; each one had its own unique scent. Oldtown was as flowery as a perfumed dowager. Lannisport was a milkmaid, fresh and earthy, with woodsmoke in her hair. King’s Landing reeked like some unwashed whore. But White Harbor’s scent was sharp and salty, and a little fishy too. “She smells the way a mermaid ought to smell,” Roro said. “She smells of the sea.”
There’s even Long Barrow castle on the Wall, dubbed “Whore’s Hole” by the men of the Night’s Watch:
Iron Emmett grimaced. “Men are men, vows are words, and words are wind. You should put guards around the women.”
“And who will guard the guards?” You know nothing, Jon Snow. He had learned, though, and Ygritte had been his teacher. If he could not hold to his own vows, how could he expect more of his brothers? But there were dangers in trifling with wildling women. A man can own a woman, and a man can own a knife, Ygritte had told him once, but no man can own both. Bowen Marsh had not been all wrong. Hardin’s Tower was tinder waiting for a spark. “I mean to open three more castles,” Jon said. “Deep Lake, Sable Hall, and the Long Barrow. All garrisoned with free folk, under the command of our own officers. The Long Barrow will be all women, aside from the commander and chief steward.” There would be some mingling, he did not doubt, but the distances were great enough to make that difficult, at least.
“And what poor fool will get that choice command?”
“I am riding right beside him.”
The look of mingled horror and delight that passed across Iron Emmett’s face was worth more than a sack of gold.
“We need good men at Long Barrow.”
“Whore’s Hole, the men have started calling it,” said Marsh.
And let us not forget the little pirate lair in the Basilisk Isles charmingly referred to as the “Whore’s Gash.”
So, yeah. This isn’t some bizarre fetish of sex workers. GRRM is telling us something here.
Yes, it could be to call to attention the inherent misogyny in the ASOIAF universe, as well as to convey a broader stratum of society. Maybe.
But still, the profession and epithets are given far more prevalence that necessary for the latter purpose. As a comparison, the term “merchant” appears less than 100 times, “solider” 200. This has more meaning.
In any case, this essay isn’t going to delve into the specifics of examples of in-universe examples of misogyny; this area has been covered many times by others, and I encourage you to investigate it yourself. Far from disputing this, I think the textual references are speaking to a deeper meaning, both subtextual and even to our own patterns of being. I’ll return to this a bit further down.
But for now, let’s bring out the hoars.
Horton Hears a Hoar
In contrast to “whore”, the word “hoar” doesn’t appear once in the main ASOIAF novels; however, there are a few mentions of the term “hoarfrost.” We have enough time to list these all.
The first mention is Qhorin Halfhand:
Jon knew Qhorin Halfhand the instant he saw him, though they had never met. The big ranger was half a legend in the Watch; a man of slow words and swift action, tall and straight as a spear, long-limbed and solemn. Unlike his men, he was clean-shaven. His hair fell from beneath his helm in a heavy braid touched with hoarfrost, and the blacks he wore were so faded they might have been greys. Only thumb and forefinger remained on the hand that held the reins; the other fingers had been sheared off catching a wildling’s axe that would otherwise have split his skull. It was told that he had thrust his maimed fist into the face of the axeman so the blood spurted into his eyes, and slew him while he was blind. Since that day, the wildlings beyond the Wall had known no foe more implacable.
The next one is probably of no significance at all:
The lower branches of the great green sentinel shed their burden of snow with a soft wet plop. Grenn spun, thrusting out his torch. “Who goes there?” A horse’s head emerged from the darkness. Sam felt a moment’s relief, until he saw the horse. Hoarfrost covered it like a sheen of frozen sweat, and a nest of stiff black entrails dragged from its open belly. On its back was a rider pale as ice. Sam made a whimpery sound deep in his throat. He was so scared he might have pissed himself all over again, but the cold was in him, a cold so savage that his bladder felt frozen solid. The Other slid gracefully from the saddle to stand upon the snow. Sword-slim it was, and milky white. Its armor rippled and shifted as it moved, and its feet did not break the crust of the new-fallen snow.
Small Paul unslung the long-hafted axe strapped across his back. “Why’d you hurt that horse? That was Mawney’s horse.” (ASOS)
Soon enough, Small Paul returns:
“Go away,” Sam croaked. “We don’t want you here.”
Paul’s hands were coal, his face was milk, his eyes shone a bitter blue. Hoarfrost whitened his beard, and on one shoulder hunched a raven, pecking at his cheek, eating the dead white flesh. Sam’s bladder let go, and he felt the warmth running down his legs. “Gilly, calm the horse and lead her out. You do that.”
Yet even so the wight’s grip did not loosen. Sam’s last thoughts were for the mother who had loved him and the father he had failed. The longhall was spinning around him when he saw the wisp of smoke rising from between Paul’s broken teeth. Then the dead man’s face burst into flame, and the hands were gone.
Sam sucked in air, and rolled feebly away. The wight was burning, hoarfrost dripping from his beard as the flesh beneath blackened. Sam heard the raven shriek, but Paul himself made no sound. When his mouth opened, only flames came out. And his eyes . . . It’s gone, the blue glow is gone.
Everyone’s favorite viking captain joins in the fun too:
Victarion’s hands closed into fists. He had beaten four men to death with those hands, and one wife as well. Though his hair was flecked with hoarfrost, he was as strong as he had ever been, with a bull’s broad chest and a boy’s flat belly. The kinslayer is accursed in the eyes of gods and men, Balon had reminded him on the day he sent the Crow’s Eye off to sea.
When they reached the crest the wolves paused. Thistle, he remembered, and a part of him grieved for what he had lost and another part for what he’d done. Below, the world had turned to ice. Fingers of frost crept slowly up the weirwood, reaching out for each other. The empty village was no longer empty. Blue-eyed shadows walked amongst the mounds of snow. Some wore brown and some wore black and some were naked, their flesh gone white as snow. A wind was sighing through the hills, heavy with their scents: dead flesh, dry blood, skins that stank of mold and rot and urine. Sly gave a growl and bared her teeth, her ruff bristling. Not men. Not prey. Not these.
The things below moved, but did not live. One by one, they raised their heads toward the three wolves on the hill. The last to look was the thing that had been Thistle. She wore wool and fur and leather, and over that she wore a coat of hoarfrost that crackled when she moved and glistened in the moonlight. Pale pink icicles hung from her fingertips, ten long knives of frozen blood. And in the pits where her eyes had been, a pale blue light was flickering, lending her coarse features an eerie beauty they had never known in life.
She sees me.
Swaying in his wicker basket on Hodor’s back, the boy hunched down, ducking his head as the big stableboy passed beneath the limb of an oak. The snow was falling again, wet and heavy. Hodor walked with one eye frozen shut, his thick brown beard a tangle of hoarfrost, icicles drooping from the ends of his bushy mustache. One gloved hand still clutched the rusty iron longsword he had taken from the crypts below Winterfell, and from time to time he would lash out at a branch, knocking loose a spray of snow. “Hod-d-d-dor,” he would mutter, his teeth chattering.
Our friend Varamyr, now warged as the wolf One Eye:
Then the two rushed together, wolf and direwolf, and there was no more time for thought. The world shrank down to tooth and claw, snow flying as they rolled and spun and tore at one another, the other wolves snarling and snapping around them. His jaws closed on matted fur slick with hoarfrost, on a limb thin as a dry stick, but the one-eyed wolf clawed at his belly and tore himself free, rolled, lunged for him. Yellow fangs snapped closed on his throat, but he shook off his old grey cousin as he would a rat, then charged after him, knocked him down. Rolling, ripping, kicking, they fought until the both of them were ragged and fresh blood dappled the snows around them. But finally the old one-eyed wolf lay down and showed his belly. The direwolf snapped at him twice more, sniffed at his butt, then lifted a leg over him.
A few snaps and a warning growl, and the female and the tail submitted too. The pack was his.
This is what happens with materiel stored under the Wall (including corpses, presumably):
The next door was made of rusty iron. Behind it was a flight of wooden steps. Dolorous Edd led the way with his lantern. Up top they found a tunnel as long as Winterfell’s great hall though no wider than the wormways. The walls were ice, bristling with iron hooks. From each hook hung a carcass: skinned deer and elk, sides of beef, huge sows swinging from the ceiling, headless sheep and goats, even horse and bear. Hoarfrost covered everything.
As they did their count, Jon peeled the glove off his left hand and touched the nearest haunch of venison. He could feel his fingers sticking, and when he pulled them back he lost a bit of skin. His fingertips were numb. What did you expect? There’s a mountain of ice above your head, more tons than even Bowen Marsh could count. Even so, the room felt colder than it should.
Old Hoarfrost Umber again:
Jon chose to ignore them. “Your Grace, might I know if the Umbers have declared for you?”
“Half of them, and only if I meet this Crowfood’s price,” said Stannis, in an irritated tone. “He wants Mance Rayder’s skull for a drinking cup, and he wants a pardon for his brother, who has ridden south to join Bolton. Whoresbane, he’s called.”
Ser Godry was amused by that as well. “What names these northmen have! Did this one bite the head off some whore?”
Jon regarded him coolly. “You might say so. A whore who tried to rob him, fifty years ago in Oldtown.” Odd as it might seem, old Hoarfrost Umber had once believed his youngest son had the makings of a maester. Mors loved to boast about the crow who took his eye, but Hother’s tale was only told in whispers … most like because the whore he’d disemboweled had been a man.
The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. Summer dug up a severed arm, black and covered with hoarfrost, its fingers opening and closing as it pulled itself across the frozen snow. There was still enough meat on it to fill his empty belly, and after that was done he cracked the arm bones for the marrow. Only then did the arm remember it was dead.
It was warmer in the godswood, strange to say. Beyond its confines, a hard white frost gripped Winterfell. The paths were treacherous with black ice, and hoarfrost sparkled in the moonlight on the broken panes of the Glass Gardens.
Dead men in Winterfell:
All about the yard, dead men hung half-frozen at the end of hempen ropes, swollen faces white with hoarfrost. Winterfell had been crawling with squatters when Bolton’s van had reached the castle. More than two dozen had been driven at spearpoint from the nests they had made amongst the castle’s half-ruined keeps and towers. The boldest and most truculent had been hanged, the rest put to work. Serve well, Lord Bolton told them, and he would be merciful. Stone and timber were plentiful with the wolfswood so close at hand. Stout new gates had gone up first, to replace those that had been burned. Then the collapsed roof of the Great Hall had been cleared away and a new one raised hurriedly in its stead. When the work was done, Lord Bolton hanged the workers. True to his word, he showed them mercy and did not flay a one.
Dead man in Winterfell:
The next morning Ser Aenys Frey’s grizzled squire was found naked and dead of exposure in the old castle lichyard, his face so obscured by hoarfrost that he appeared to be wearing a mask.
And, finally, we have a mention of the castle at Hoarfrost Hill:
Especially when it concerned the free folk, where their disapproval went bone deep. When Jon settled Stonedoor on Soren Shieldbreaker, Yarwyck complained that it was too isolated. How could they know what mischief Soren might get up to, off in those hills? When he conferred Oakenshield on Tormund Giantsbane and Queensgate on Morna White Mask, Marsh pointed out that Castle Black would now have foes on either side who could easily cut them off from the rest of the Wall. As for Borroq, Othell Yarwyck claimed the woods north of Stonedoor were full of wild boars. Who was to say the skinchanger would not make his own pig army?
Hoarfrost Hill and Rimegate still lacked garrisons, so Jon had asked their views on which of the remaining wildling chiefs and war lords might be best suited to hold them. “We have Brogg, Gavin the Trader, the Great Walrus … Howd Wanderer walks alone, Tormund says, but there’s still Harle the Huntsman, Harle the Handsome, Blind Doss … Ygon Oldfather commands a following, but most are his owns sons and grandsons. He has eighteen wives, half of them stolen on raids. Which of these …”
“None,” Bowen Marsh had said. “I know all these men by their deeds. We should be fitting them for nooses, not giving them our castles.”
So that’s it for hoarfrost mentions. It seems to be associated with wights, dead men, soon-to-be dead men and Winterfell (but I repeat myself).
We are also treated to a number of references to “hoary.” The first of these is of the Lady of Bear Island:
The Old Bear sighed. “You are not the only one touched by this war. Like as not, my sister is marching in your brother’s host, her and those daughters of hers, dressed in men’s mail. Maege is a hoary old snark, stubborn, short-tempered, and willful.
Then Dagmer Cleftjaw:
“Why do you tell me this?” Dagmer asked. “It was me who put your first sword in your hand. I know you are no craven.”
“Does my father?”
The hoary old warrior looked as if he had bitten into something he did not like the taste of. “It is only . . . Theon, the Boy Wolf is your friend, and these Starks had you for ten years.”
“I am no Stark.” Lord Eddard saw to that. “I am a Greyjoy, and I mean to be my father’s heir. How can I do that unless I prove myself with some great deed?”
And two old Umbers — Mors, a.k.a. “Crowfood” and Hother, a.k.a. “Whoresbane” — both of whom are sons of the aforementioned Hoarfrost Umber:
“Yes. I thought perhaps we could arrange other matches for Lord Walder’s daughters. Ser Wendel Manderly has offered to take one, and the Greatjon tells me his uncles wish to wed again. If Lord Walder will be reasonable—”
”He is not reasonable,” said Catelyn. “He is proud, and prickly to a fault. You know that. He wanted to be grandfather to a king. You will not appease him with the offer of two hoary old brigands and the second son of the fattest man in the Seven Kingdoms. Not only have you broken your oath, but you’ve slighted the honor of the Twins by choosing a bride from a lesser house.”
Willow trees too:
After that, hardly a hundred yards went by without a corpse. They dangled under ash and alder, beech and birch, larch and elm, hoary old willows and stately chestnut trees. Each man wore a noose around his neck, and swung from a length of hempen rope, and each man’s mouth was packed with salt. Some wore cloaks of grey or blue or crimson, though rain and sun had faded them so badly that it was hard to tell one color from another. Others had badges sewn on their breasts. Brienne spied axes, arrows, several salmon, a pine tree, an oak leaf, beetles, bantams, a boar’s head, half a dozen tridents. Broken men, she realized, dregs from a dozen armies, the leavings of the lords.
Finally, two old clan leaders of the north, Old Flint and The Norrey:
Old Flint and The Norrey had been given places of high honor just below the dais. Both men had been too old to march with Stannis; they had sent their sons and grandsons in their stead. But they had been quick enough to descend on Castle Black for the wedding. Each had brought a wet nurse to the Wall as well. The Norrey woman was forty, with the biggest breasts Jon Snow had ever seen. The Flint girl was fourteen and flat-chested as a boy, though she did not lack for milk. Between the two of them, the child Val called Monster seemed to be thriving.
For that much Jon was grateful … but he did not believe for a moment that two such hoary old warriors would have hied down from their hills for that alone. Each had brought a tail of fighting men—five for Old Flint, twelve for The Norrey, all clad in ragged skins and studded leathers, fearsome as the face of winter. Some had long beards, some had scars, some had both; all worshiped the old gods of the north, those same gods worshiped by the free folk beyond the Wall. Yet here they sat, drinking to a marriage hallowed by some queer red god from beyond the seas.
Notice that it just isn’t “hoary” but “hoary old”. (GRRM forgot to add “gods”.)
Next, I tip my hat to the ”Moons of Ice and Fire” essay series by Lucifer Means Lightbringer, which points out that GRRM presents a few dragons which symbolize the ice dragon (well, the “ice moon” specifically). Two of these are described as “hoary old” in The Princess and the Queen. First, it’s Vermithor, ridden first by Old King Jaehaerys:
Moreover, six other dragons made their lairs in the smoky caverns of the Dragonmont above the castle. There was Silverwing, Good Queen Alysanne’s mount of old; Seasmoke, the pale grey beast that had been the pride and passion of Ser Laenor Velaryon; hoary old Vermithor, unridden since the death of King Jaehaerys. And back of the mountain dwelled three wild dragons, never claimed nor ridden by any man, living or dead. The smallfolk had named them Sheepstealer, Grey Ghost, and the Cannibal. “Find riders to master Silverwing, Vermithor, and Seasmoke, and we will have nine dragons against Aegon’s four. Mount and fly their wild kin, and we will number twelve, even without Stormcloud,” Princess Rhaenys pointed out. “That is how we shall win this war.”
It’s strange to describe Vermithor as “hoary” given it’s bronze-and-tan coloration, especially since Silverwing may have appeared more hoary at the time. It’s likely an association with Jaehaerys as well as its age, but that’s what we have.
Then there’s Vhagar, who is ridden by the notorious Aemond One-Eye:
No living dragon could match Vhagar for size or ferocity, but Jace reasoned that if Vermax, Syrax, and Caraxes were to descend on King’s Landing all at once, even “that hoary old bitch” would be unable to withstand them. Yet so great was Vhagar’s repute that the prince hesitated, considering how he might add more dragons to his attack.
Recall for a moment One Eye, the hoary wolf warged by Varamyr in the ADWD Prologue, as Lml notes here:
I’m not one to believe that George would place a rider with a blue star eye on top of the hoary white dragon without intending us to think of the ice dragon in some sense. I mean, it’s just too perfect – Aemond One Eye literally has a blue star sapphire in his eye. That makes Vhagar the ice dragon, at least in a sense, and Vhagar was first the mount of Queen Visenya. You can see how this stuff starts to stack up – this is a major clue indicating we should associate Visenya and Vhagar with ice, at least in the symbolic sense.
It’s also worth noting that Dany’s dragon named Viserion is the cream-colored one, which is basically close enough to say “white dragon.” Viserion, the whitish dragon, and Visenya, who rode a whitish dragon.
Again, I’ll point you to LmL’s ice-moon theory. He finds plenty of symbolic references that link characters or situations to the icy others. For example:
Lyanna’s bones are also ice moon meteor symbols – the white bones of an ice moon maiden would symbolize pieces of the ice moon, certainly, and they too are taken from the scene by Ned.
Of course this is the same Lyanna who is repeatedly referred to as a “whore” throughout the main novels (in addition to Jon Snow’s mother, whomever that may be).
Hordes of hoarse Hoares and hors and horses and horns
And then there are the story’s many, many other hoary old homonyms, if you pardon the alliterative pun.
By far the most interesting of these is House Hoare, kings of the isles and the rivers. Only two mentions of this black-blooded brood occur in the entirety of the main five-novel series, yet GRRM spends an unusual amount of space on them in The World of Ice and Fire, and rightly so. They are a fascinating family, not only because of their role in constructing the largest fortification in the seven kingdoms (though that is awesome in its own right), but their history is a direct continuation of the ancient line of ironborn rulers back to the Grey King himself. That the name “Hoare” was chosen for a non-northern house is particularly noteworthy, as is this passage in TWOIAF, where we see some ice-hot whore-on-Hoare action in the westerlands:
The growing strength of the westerlands posed an even more acute threat to the dominion of the driftwood kings. Fair Isle was the first to fall, when its smallfolk rose up under Gylbert Farman to expel their ironborn overlords. A generation later, the Lannisters captured the town of Kayce when Herrock the Whoreson blew his great gold-banded horn and the town whores opened a postern gate to his men. Three successive ironborn kings attempted to retake the prize and failed, two of them dying on the point of Herrock’s sword.
Herrock Kenning is a bastard-bron ironborn and yet, with this action, he becomes a westerlander. It’s almost as if the saviour of Kayce descended from the Hoares themselves.
House Hoare died alongside the God’s Eye by the black fire of Balerion the Dread. Prior to this, they unsuccessfully attempted to land on the Isle of Faces with the same longships that were able to take over the entire west coast of the continent and dominate the Trident. Yet Howland Reed told his kids that he was able to take a little boat out to the same island without any apparent difficulty. It’s almost as if the waters surrounding the island ward against the horde of hoary old Hoare whores, protecting the green men inhabiting the weirwood trees.
A number of Hoares and other ironborn even feature the whore homonym in their first name. Qhored (“k-whore-ed”) and Qhorwyn (“k-whore-win”) Hoare, Qhorin (“k-whore-in”) Volmark. It’s like that Qhorin Halfhand, ranger of the Night’s Watch, was once ironborn. There’s also Salladhor (“salad-hor”) Sann.
We are treated other hoary names too. The city of Qohor and Selhorys are situated in the Rhoyne watershed, which also includes tributaries of the name Lhorulu flowing into it at the Sorrows and the Selhoru connecting at Selhorys. The trading cog sailed by Jon Connington’s entourage on the Rhoyne is called the “Selaesori Qhoran”, which we are told means “the fragrant stewart”. Khal Horro was the “last great khal”. Sothoryos or “Sothoros” is the great unknown southern continent. There was once a pirate from Qarth named Xandarro Xhore who built a doomed “grim black fort” in the Basilisk Isles.
Is Hodor a derivative of the hoary name (“hoar door”)? Or R’hllor? Or Hyrkoon the Hero (or even Azor Ahai)? Or Moqorro? Or House Harlaw? Harren? Harwyn?
Yeah, maybe, maybe not. But what about “horde”? We have a few instances of this, nearly a horde of hordes, and not only associated with the Dothraki. Eddard describes a scene in AGOT:
The Street of Steel began at the market square beside the River Gate, as it was named on maps, or the Mud Gate, as it was commonly called. A mummer on stilts was striding through the throngs like some great insect, with a horde of barefoot children trailing behind him, hooting.
Renly subjects Catelyn to a passive-aggressive threat:
“King Robb is warring, my lord,” Catelyn replied with icy courtesy, “not playing at tourney.”
Renly grinned. “Go softly, Lord Randyll, I fear you’re overmatched.” He summoned a steward in the livery of Storm’s End. “Find a place for the lady’s companions, and see that they have every comfort. Lady Catelyn shall have my own pavilion. Since Lord Caswell has been so kind as to give me use of his castle, I have no need of it. My lady, when you are rested, I would be honored if you would share our meat and mead at the feast Lord Caswell is giving us tonight. A farewell feast. I fear his lordship is eager to see the heels of my hungry horde.”
Lord Commander Mormont consults his leadership on the growing wildling threat:
“There are goats among these sheep, Thoren,” warned Jarman Buckwell. “Aye, and maybe a few lions. Rattleshirt, Harma the Dogshead, Alfyn Crowkiller . . .”
“I know them as well as you do, Buckwell,” Thoren Smallwood snapped back. “And I mean to have their heads, every one. These are wildlings. No soldiers. A few hundred heroes, drunk most like, amidst a great horde of women, children, and thralls. We will sweep over them and send them howling back to their hovels.”
The scheming traitor Chett also overhears the wildlings referred to as a horde:
The Milkwater would take them past the Fist of the First Men, the ancient ringfort where the Night’s Watch had made its camp. Any man with a thimble of sense could see that it was time to pull up stakes and fall back on the Wall. The Old Bear had strengthened the Fist with spikes and pits and caltrops, but against such a host all that was pointless. If they stayed here, they would be engulfed and overwhelmed.
And Thoren Smallwood wanted to attack. Sweet Donnel Hill was squire to Ser Mallador Locke, and the night before last Smallwood had come to Locke’s tent. Ser Mallador had been of the same mind as old Ser Ottyn Wythers, urging a retreat on the Wall, but Smallwood wanted to convince him otherwise. “This King-beyond-the-Wall will never look for us so far north,” Sweet Donnel reported him saying. “And this great host of his is a shambling horde, full of useless mouths who won’t know what end of a sword to hold. One blow will take all the fight out of them and send them howling back to their hovels for another fifty years.”
Daenerys’s followers in ASOS grows from a scrabble of Dothraki to a horde of freed slaves:
Within the perimeter the Unsullied had established, the tents were going up in orderly rows, with her own tall golden pavilion at the center. A second encampment lay close beyond her own; five times the size, sprawling and chaotic, this second camp had no ditches, no tents, no sentries, no horselines. Those who had horses or mules slept beside them, for fear they might be stolen. Goats, sheep, and half-starved dogs wandered freely amongst hordes of women, children, and old men. Dany had left Astapor in the hands of a council of former slaves led by a healer, a scholar, and a priest. Wise men all, she thought, and just. Yet even so, tens of thousands preferred to follow her to Yunkai, rather than remain behind in Astapor. I gave them the city, and most of them were too frightened to take it.
The same group of freed folk is described several more times thusly in ADWD, including this passage:
She had not forgotten the slave children the Great Masters had nailed up along the road from Yunkai. They had numbered one hundred sixty-three, a child every mile, nailed to mileposts with one arm outstretched to point her way. After Meereen had fallen, Dany had nailed up a like number of Great Masters. Swarms of flies had attended their slow dying, and the stench had lingered long in the plaza. Yet some days she feared that she had not gone far enough. These Meereenese were a sly and stubborn people who resisted her at every turn. They had freed their slaves, yes … only to hire them back as servants at wages so meagre that most could scarce afford to eat. Those too old or young to be of use had been cast into the streets, along with the infirm and the crippled. And still the Great Masters gathered atop their lofty pyramids to complain of how the dragon queen had filled their noble city with hordes of unwashed beggars, thieves, and whores.
There’s your “horde of whores.”
How about the concubines of Lord of Harmony, as described to Dany by Missandei?
Missandei had told her of the Lord of Harmony, worshiped by the Peaceful People of Naath; he was the only true god, her little scribe said, the god who always was and always would be, who made the moon and stars and earth, and all the creatures that dwelt upon them. Poor Lord of Harmony. Dany pitied him. It must be terrible to be alone for all time, attended by hordes of butterfly women you could make or unmake at a word.
The imprisoned Cersei is also plagued by a horde:
Jaime would be coming for her, but how would she know when he arrived? Cersei only hoped he was not so foolish as to go racing ahead of his army. He would need every sword to deal with the ragged horde of Poor Fellows surrounding the Great Sept.
My absolute favorite mention is the horde of the infamous trickster Ser Perkin the Flea. Wait, who? This awesome guy from The Princess and the Queen:
With the setting of the sun, the vermin of King’s Landing emerged once more from their rat pits, hidey-holes, and cellars, in even greater numbers than the night before.
At the River Gate, Ser Perkin feasted his gutter knights on stolen food and led them down the riverfront, looting wharfs and warehouses and any ship that had not put to sea. Though King’s Landing boasted massive walls and stout towers, they had been designed to repel attacks from outside the city, not from within its walls. The garrison at the Gate of the Gods was especially weak, as their captain and a third their number had died with Ser Luthor Largent in Cobbler’s Square. Those who remained, many wounded, were easily overcome by Ser Perkin’s hordes.
Ser Perkin, who is later to be the first person condemned to the Wall after the Dance of the Dragons, has Night’s King written all over him.
Shall we keep going with the hoary homonyms? Why the hell not?
Here’s Eddard hearing a hoarse voice when leaving Chataya’s brothel:
The rain was falling harder now, stinging the eyes and drumming against the ground. Rivers of black water were running down the hill when Jory called out, ”My Lord,” his voice hoarse with alarm. And in an instant, the street was full of soldiers.
Yes, a horde of soldiers is called forth by a hoar’s voice.
If “hoarse” works, then how about “horses”? Bronn is a veritable greenseer in AGOT:
Bronn was seated cross-legged under a chestnut tree, near where they’d tied the horses. He was honing the edge of his sword, wide awake; the sellsword did not seem to sleep like other men.
And don’t get me started on “horns”.
Okay, I might be pushing it a bit. I could go on, but I’ll stop hoar, er, here.
I feel comfortable enough in saying that, given the prevalence of “whore” personas as well as some oddly specific naming pattern, not to mention a few direct associations of “hoary old” characters, there is very likely a relationship between the homonyms “whore” and “hoar” to represent the icy white-walking others.
Thematically, this might mean that the hoary old others might share other characteristics with stereotypical whore archetypes in addition to the homonym.
The most obvious characteristic is the selling one’s body for a set price. While some women (and a few men) in the story are accused of doing this, there are others who literally do this. Tyrion spells it out to Jaime:
“You poor stupid blind crippled fool. Must I spell every little thing out for you? Very well. Cersei is a lying whore, she’s been fucking Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack and probably Moon Boy for all I know.”
In exchange, Cersei receives favors and loyalty from those who she’s bedded, at least for a time.
However, as we all know, there is a price to be paid for this exchange, a severe price. Lancel ends up a walking ghost of a man, a Theon of the Faith, while Osmund’s treason has forfeited his life. Daenerys learns this the hard way:
“There is a price,” the godswife warned her.
“You’ll have gold, horses, whatever you life.”
“It is not a matter of gold or horses. This is bloodmagic, lady. Only death may pay for life.”
“My death?” asks Dany.
“No … not your death, Khaleesi.”
Khal Drogo bought Daenerys and paid for it with his life, while she eventually became the powerful leader of a horde. Not bad.
A man knows:
“The Red God has his due, sweet girl, and only death may pay for life. This girl took three that were his. This girl must give three in their places. Speak the names, and a man will do the rest.”
An icy queen knows:
“Lady Melisandre will tell you, my lord. Only death can pay for life.”
“The boy?” The king almost spat the words.
“The boy,” agreed the queen.
“The boy,” Ser Axell echoed.
It works the other way too. Only life can pay for death on the Cinnamon Wind:
“Others came in, mean and women both, and he listened to them kissing and laughing and mating with one another. Summer Islanders. That’s how they mourn. They answer death with life. Sam had read that somewhere, a long time ago. He wondered if Gilly knew, if Kojja Mo had told her what to do.
Jory Cassel meets his maker after visiting whorehouses in the search for Jon Arryn’s secret. The Mountain’s Men are killed by the Hound and Arya after their fun with whores at the inn at the crossroads. Men of the Night’s Watch went “digging for buried treasure” in Mole’s Town before they met their demise in the Great Ranging, including Chett, who himself was sent to the Wall after “steeling” a woman with a knife. Shae not only dooms Tyrion’s life but his father’s as well. Robert’s dalliances with whores ultimately led to his assassination.
One doesn’t even have to engage in the sexual act to fit the motif. The virgin queen Margaery is “whored” to at least three kings, two of whom met untimely demises (so far):
“What am I to do with this brother of mine, Brienne? He refuses my peach, he refuses my castle, he even shunned my wedding . . .”
“We both know your wedding was a mummer’s farce. A year ago you were scheming to make the girl one of Robert’s whores.”
“A year ago I was scheming to make the girl Robert’s queen,” Renly said, “but what does it matter? The boar got Robert and I got Margaery. You’ll be pleased to know she came to me a maid.”
It seems then that an exchange with a whore could represent a transformative moment, for both the “whore” and the “John”, and usually this price is steep. As another example, in ACOK, Edmure had crossed the Tumblestone threshold to meet with a whore and a transformative moment occurs. He had caught and hanged a few false envoys Tyrion had sent to rescue Jaime from Riverrun. These three envoys stayed in the castle for three nights before they made their move. One was a “big brute” (i.e. a giant), another was “skinny” (i.e. a skinchanger), and the third a “mummer”. Edmure returns just before dawn (ti.e. the hour of the wolf). If he had not gone whoring, this event might not have occurred:
“Ah, as it happened, I was not in the castle. I’d crossed the Tumblestone to, ah . . .”
“You were whoring or wenching. Get on with the tale.”
Edmure’s cheeks flamed as red as his beard. “It was the hour before dawn, and I was only then returning. When Long Lew saw my boat and recognized me, he finally thought to wonder who was standing below barking commands, and raised a cry.”
Another characteristic is that whores can see through disguises (i.e., skins). Men can be fools, but not the whores:
“A different look, a different smell, a different way of walking,” said Tyrion. “Most men would be deceived.”
“And most women, maybe. But not whores. A whore learns to see the man, not his garb, or she turns up dead in an alley.”
Varys looked pained, and not because of the false scabs on his feet. Tyrion chuckled.
Whores are sometimes associated with the cold, as we see when Jon recruits Mole’s Town residents to help defend the Wall:
Two of the whores had even offered to fight, and had shown enough skill with the crossbow to be given a place on the steps forty feet up.
“It’s cold.” Satin stood with his hands tucked into his armpits under his cloak. His cheeks were bright red.
Shortly after this battle, we see more associations with the “others”:
Jon asked Satin to help him down to the yard. His wounded leg hurt so badly that he could hardly walk, even with the crutch. “Bring the torch,” he told the boy from Oldtown. “I need to look for someone.” It had been mostly Thenns on the steps. Surely some of the free folk had escaped. Mance’s people, not the Magnar’s. She might have been one. So they climbed down past the bodies of the men who’d tried the trapdoor, and Jon wandered through the dark with his crutch under one arm, and the other around the shoulders of a boy who’d been a whore in Oldtown.
Notably, there are a few main female characters in the stories who aren’t specifically associated with whores, such as Catelyn, Sansa and, in particular, Ygritte:
“No.” Jon’s grief over Ygritte was too fresh for him to deny her now. “No, my lord.”
“I suppose it was also the Halfhand who commanded you to fuck this unwashed whore?” Ser Alliser asked with a smirk.
“Ser. She was no whore, ser. The Halfhand told me not to balk, whatever the wildlings asked of me, but . . . I will not deny that I went beyond what I had to do, that I . . . cared for her.”
“You admit to being an oathbreaker, then,” said Janos Slynt.
Half the men at Castle Black visited Mole’s Town from time to time to dig for buried treasures in the brothel, Jon knew, but he would not dishonor Ygritte by equating her with the Mole’s Town whores. “I broke my vows with a woman. I admit that. Yes.”
At least, not in Jon’s opinion. Why this is I’m not sure, and I’ll leave it to others to speculate.
A final characteristic of whores in this story seems to be their expulsion from established realms, such as Tybold Lannister’s whore being made to do the walk of shame down Lannisport streets, or Cersei’s own walk out of Baelor’s Sept, or even the whores on Dragonstone:
The port was as crowded as Davos had ever known it. Every dock teemed with sailors loading provisions, and every inn was packed with soldiers dicing or drinking or looking for a whore . . . a vain search, since Stannis permitted none on his island.
LmL seems to believe that the others were greenseer types expelled from weirwoods, becoming lost and out of touch with the collective consciousness, thus the hatred of life and everything warm. This expulsion theory can be supported by the whore-hoare symbolism.
In part II of this series, we’ll examine the historical, mythological and psychological foundation of the use of the Whore archetype in our culture, both past and present, keeping in mind what we have learned about its usage in ASOAIF.