The World of Ice and Fire history compendium is out this week and true to the nature of the fantasy series that birthed it, it is a massive and massively detailed read. Tie-in books can often be cynical cash-ins: repeating information that is readily available, or asserting non-canonical facts within a shared universe, or charging a ridiculous amount of money for a shoddily written and shoddily illustrated product. But AWOIAF avoids all of these aspects of tie-in books, containing a novel’s worth of material from series author George R. R. Martin, supplemented and fact-checked by Westeros.org heads Elio Garcia, Jr. and Linda Antonsson.
While there is some repetition, most of the material is brand new, offering new details for known peoples and lands and including tons of material about the lands at the edge of the map (and then some).
It’s also a gorgeous piece of work and you can see why the author and publisher needed extra time to work on it. Nearly every page is illustrated, from simple pencil and ink portraits in the margins to enormous painted spreads. There are a variety of styles on display, but they’re all consistently high quality and give you a very real sense of what it was like to inhabit this strange, strange world.
And it is strange. Hiding in this heavy tome are some interesting details about the world and characters of A Song of Ice and Fire, including what may be a look at the future of the series.
1.) This book is a re-gift. The conceit of the book is that you’re reading an in-universe history of the world compiled by a Maester Yandel, assembled as a gift for the king of Westeros. A dedication page stationed in between the Table of Contents and the Preface declares the book a gift to King Tommen, the First of his Name, King of the Andals, etc. Or it does NOW, anyway. Tommen’s name is written over the not-entirely erased name of Joffrey, which itself is written over the not-entirely erased name of Robert. King Robert’s page in the later section on rulers of Westeros is also very, very fawning. (And very short.) Yandel knows how this game is played.
Additionally, three of the five houses who’s sigils pin the Declaration have since been decimated and scattered. Who knows what state the remaining houses will be in once Maester Yandel gets to the next edition?
2.) Mankind is young. The maesters think that mankind only emerged 40,000 to 500,000 years ago, more than a million years later than humans on Earth. The origins of humans on Earth can be traced to the grass plains of northern central Africa and it’s believed that the Dothraki Sea served that same purpose on Planet Westeros. The first signs of human settlements are along the rivers in the western portion of the Dothraki Sea, and cave paintings have been found west of that, south of the Free City of Norvos.
Other species on Planet Westeros are considered to be older than mankind: like the giants, the Children of the Forest, and quite possibly the Others.
3.) The fight against the Others belongs to Essos, as well. The Long Night catastrophe only appeared thousands of years after the Andals settled Westeros and diminished the Children’s numbers, and the freeze that crept down into the world also affected Essos, freezing the Rhoyne river down to the same latitude as Dorne, nearly to the southern coast of Essos.
4.) Tor finds itself on the wrong side of history. Martin likes hiding homages in A Song of Ice and Fire and one of the more obvious ones (at least to us!) is The Tor, headed up by House Jordayne, located in Dorne.
Interestingly, we, er, I mean, the Jordaynes found ourselves part of the Dornish contingent that resisted Nymeria and the Martells domination of the land.
We They must have bent the knee eventually, because we the Jordaynes got to keep our their lands and titles after the Martells became the ruling family.
Good thing, too. Nymeria sent the lords who resisted her off in chains to the Wall, including Lucifer himself! (Well, Lucifer of House Dryland, Lord of Hellgate Hall, King of the Brimstone, and the Last of his Ilk.)
5.) A supervolcano altered the course of the known world. Although there were many antagonistic forces wishing for the Doom of Valyria, the physical evidence overwhelmingly suggests that Valyria sat on top of a supervolcano/caldera.
Oddly, the Valyrians may have saved the world from that same caldera by overmining it over the course of centuries and subsequently releasing some of the pressure building up before the eruption. While the Doom still came, the blast and subsequent ash cover could have been significantly more powerful and catastrophic to the planet at large.
6.) Samwell Tarly is not to be trifled with! Our beloved Samwell Tarly of the Night’s Watch is not the first of his name. A “Savage Sam Tarly” wielded a Valyrian sword by the name of Heartsbane during the reign of Aenys Targaryen I (the king after Aegon the Conquerer) and slew many a Dornishman while hunting for a rebel called the Vulture King. It was said that his sword was stained red from the blood of countless Dornishmen.
7.) Hardly anyone is the first of their name. Names repeat quite often in the histories of Westeros and the kingdoms beyond, and you will read about more than one Daenerys, Viserys, Lancel, Jeyne Westerling, Sam Tarly, and so on. You’ll even read about yet another Joffrey with questionable parentage.
8.) Piousness almost brought down Westeros’ communication network. Baelor Targaryen (the “Blessed”) instituted a lot of impractical reforms based on his overzealous faith of the Seven, but the funniest ones were probably his insistence that doves replace ravens as a means of communication, and that an illiterate boy named Pate be made the High Septon. Both events were debacles, and quickly reversed.
9.) You will feel sympathy for Tywin Lannister. Tywin’s backstory comes out in full force during the recounting of the reign of the Mad King, as well as in the recounting of House Lannister, and it is intense. You won’t like him once you’ve read it, but you’ll understand him a lot better.
10.) The Muppets are House Tully. During the Dance of the Dragons, Ser Elmo Tully declared Riverrun for Rhaenyra instead of Aegon II. He lived only 49 days before dying and leaving Riverrun to his son…Lord Kermit.
11.) What’s west of Westeros? No one knows. The Iron Islanders have made repeated voyages to find out, but have turned back reporting no sightings of land.
There are two structures on Westeros that hint at a civilization visiting Westeros from over the Sunset Sea. One is the Seastone Chair, found already standing in the Iron Islands before it was settled. The other is the base of the Hightower in Oldtown, a black stone square with hallways that feel more like walking through a smooth tunnel a worm has made through the rock.
12.) Westeros gets hurricanes. Hurricanes form in the Summer Sea and curve up into the Narrow Sea, making landfall every autumn* on the Westeros Stormlands on the eastern portion of the continent, in the same manner that they do in the Carolinas and Florida in the U.S.
*They are more frequent in the autumn between long summers and winters, but form in other seasons, as well.
13.) Braavos is way ahead of everyone. Possibly thanks to a long history untouched by war or extended battle, Braavos possesses technology and social constructs akin to advances made during Earth’s western Renaissance and Industrial Revolution. There is a building called The Arsenal which features interchangeable manufacturing ala the Industrial Revolution and which can produce an entire ship in a single day. The city also possesses aqueduct technology, hospitals, and the world’s largest bank.
14.) Westeros was severed from Essos by…global warming? Aside from the theory that the Children of the Forest drowned the land bridge between Westeros and Essos is a theory that a long series of extended summers and short, warm winters melted polar ice and made sea levels rise, turning the land bridge into the Stepstones and merging what may have been a freshwater sea north of Dorne with the Narrow Sea.
15.) There are dragons elsewhere. Sothyros still contains wyverns, savage and smaller offshoots of dragons, and it is rumored that proper dragons still exist in the darkness beyond Asshai.
There are also hundreds of eyewitness reports of ice dragons roosting in the frozen regions of the Shivering Sea!
16.) Snails are big money. The key to the Free City of Tyrosh’s wealth? Snails. That excrete rich dyes and are only found in Tyrosh.
17.) An end to the Prince who was an Egg. The entry for Aegon Targaryen the V, otherwise known as “Egg,” tells the story of the entirety of his rule and rise to prominence, stretching past the events depicted in the Dunk & Egg stories released thus far.
This includes how Egg dies, or at least, it includes what is last KNOWN about Aegon V, and serves as a tantalizing hint for a story that is obviously to come. It turns out that Aegon becomes obsessed with restoring dragons to the world, and that this coincides with a celebration of the birth of his first great-grandchild Rhaegar at Summerhall.
What happens at Summerhall isn’t specified, the report of it having been lost to a careless spill from an ink bottle (heh), but select phrases remain.
These might be considered spoilers, so highlight to see:
“…the blood of the dragon gathered in one…”
“…seven eggs, to honor the seven gods, though the king’s own septon had warned…”
“…flames grew out of control…towering…burned so hot that…”
“…died, but for the valor of the Lord Comman…”
Dunk’s fate is not specified.
18.) The joining of Stark and Targaryen is key. Lord Cregan Stark made an agreement with the Targaryens during Aegon IIIs reign called the “Pact of Ice and Fire,” designed to wed Stark and Targaryen to each other.
It went unfulfilled.
19.) Many people will be required to turn back the Others. Possibly the most prophetic passage in the book concerns the various stories involving the heroes that turned back the Long Night the first time around. It seems like no coincidence that each culture names a different kind of hero, and that the nature of many of these heroes seem to be earlier versions of the ones we follow in the series.
– The Asshai credit Azor Ahai and Lightbringer for ending the Long Night. Jon Snow?
– Credit is also give to a mystery hero who traveled through the North with his companions abandoning him or dying before he reached the Children of the Forest and pleaded for their intervention. Which we’ve essentially just seen Bran do.
– An Essosi legend credits another mystery hero who got lesser gods (such as the “Crab King” and the “Old Man of the River”) to stop fighting each other and “sing a secret song” to combat the Long Night. Hmmmm.
– The Yi Ti claim that disaster was only averted through “the deeds of a woman with a monkey’s tail.” Daenerys, under the advisement of Tyrion?
– The most boring theory is, of course, that the Night’s Watch did all the hard work of physically fighting them back, which seems more likely than not.
Believe it or not, that’s not even half of what I found in The World of Ice and Fire. This is a hefty, hefty book, and it does a tremendous job of creating a full picture of the world and its history.
The World of Ice and Fire is out now from Random House.
Chris Lough doesn’t know what House he would be in Westeros. Probably House Whatevs.