Fantasy The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time – Episode Four “The Dragon Reborn”

I will be the first to admit I didn’t do separate reviews for episodes 2 &3 of The Wheel of Time. In some ways, it’s because I felt like there wasn’t much to review? And yet at the same time, I’m trying to figure out where this is going.

Before episode four, this series has felt managed to simultaneously feel as if it is going at breakneck speed while also just plodding along for the sake of worldbuilding and exposition. But this latest episode picked up the pace.

I had to pause and look up the writer because it felt so different to the previous 3 episodes. And sure enough, the writer this time was Dave Hill. He wrote the following Game of Thrones episodes: “Sons of the Harpy”, “Home”, “Eastwatch” and in season 8, “Winterfell”. Possibly all the stand out episodes. Either way, to me it showed that there was going to be shit happening in this episode.

And yes. FINALLY. Shit went down.

There was still a lot of exposition and worldbuilding but it was more balanced with the present day. We finally got to see first-hand why the Aes Sedai take finding the Dragon so seriously. We saw the impact it has on shielding them from using their magic.

There was more character development happening. And some hints at what the future for some of them may hold. I don’t like giving spoilers but I hope that Mat can find help soon before it’s too late.

And of course. That final scene. Yes! I admit that I’ve only read the first couple of books but Nynaeve was probably one of my favourite characters. She is so intensely loyal to her village. And fierce and strong. For her to come into her own at that moment was amazing to see. 💛

A Song of Ice and Fire

Science Behind the Magic: Valyrian Steel

This was the second part in my posts looking at the magic in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The first part about the Others’ Ice swords can be found here.

What is Valyrian Steel?

When it comes to Valyrian steel I am sure there are some long lost spells and other forms of magic still lost which renders it nigh impossible to forge new Valyrian swords but even old Valyrians had to figure this all out. They didn’t wake up just knowing how to forge dragonsteel. They had to start somewhere. To figure that out we have to take all that we know about creatures and objects that share similar properties.

GRRM has discounted theories about Valyrian steel being natively from a magical source such a dragon bone. He has also quite clearly stated that the magic comes from the forging techniques.

Question: A brief question about Valyrian steel – is it the metal that makes the sword so special (provenance, age, etc), or is it the forging (spells, techniques)

GRRM: Forging techniques and spells, actually. There is magic involved in the making of Valyrian steel.

So Valyrian steel take a normal source (iron) and imbues it with special forging techniques and magic to make it something more. For that reason I think that a normal blacksmiths forge will not be good enough to forge it.

Connection between dragonglass, dragonsteel & dragons

Valyria is famous for is their dragonlords and their connection to dragons. Most theories about the crafting of Valyrian steel suspect that dragons are involved which is why it is no longer possible to forge them. No dragons = no swords. Simple right? The problem with this is that it doesn’t explain why obsidian also kills the Others. What could both valyrian steel and obsidian have in common that could fight the Others?

In an older interview with GRRM he talks more about obsidian being referred to as “dragon glass” and he hints that there is a reason behind it.  

Shaw: Is there a certain reason why they named obsidian “dragonglass” or why you did that?

Martin: Yes, there is a reason.

Shaw: Are dragons somehow the mortal enemy of the Others?

Martin: There are a lot of legends, and you’ll be hearing more about them in the future books, but a lot of stuff about Others and about dragons maybe isn’t completely understood by the people of the present. Obsidian is of course volcanic glass; it’s formed by immense heat and pressure down in the earth. The dragons themselves are creatures of intense heat.

Shaw: I wasn’t sure if you had added something to obsidian for the fantasy.

Martin: I’ve given it magical characteristics that of course real obsidian doesn’t necessarily have. After all, we live in a world that has no magic. My world does have magic, so it’s a little bit different.

So here he makes the connection between Dragons and Obsidian and how they both are connected with intense heat. How does Valyrian steel fit in?

“The armor of the Others is proof against most ordinary blades, if the tales can be believed,” said Sam, “and their own swords are so cold they shatter steel. Fire will dismay them, though, and they are vulnerable to obsidian.” He remembered the one he had faced in the haunted forest, and how it had seemed to melt away when he stabbed it with the dragonglass dagger Jon had made for him. “I found one account of the Long Night that spoke of the last hero slaying Others with a blade of dragonsteel. Supposedly they could not stand against it.”

“Dragonsteel?” Jon frowned. “Valyrian steel?” (AFFC Samwell I)

I do not think it is a coincidence that dragon glass and dragon steel are both associated with Dragons which are “creatures of intense heat.” Why can’t this mean that dragons created both? Or they are from the same source?

When Sam is shown the burning glass candle in the Citadel he first asks what feeds the flame however Marwyn is quick to ask “what feeds a dragon’s fire?” implying that the two are connected.

“What feeds the flame?” asked Sam.

“What feeds a dragon’s fire?” Marwyn seated himself upon a stool. “All Valyrian sorcery was rooted in blood or fire.” (AFFC Samwell V)

Where dragonsteel is made

Dragons, dragon steel and dragon glass candles all have ties to Valyria and Valyrian sorcery. One of the returning themes of the text is that every action has a price. It would make sense for this to apply to magic as well. So what did the Valyrians do and what was the price they paid? Well quite simply they learned how to manipulate blood and fire, the blood and fire found in the earth. The area around the Valyrian Freehold is volcanic which conveniently is a natural source of obsidian. According to the SSM Dragons are also a creature from this environment so it makes sense they go hand in hand. Valyrian steel is known as dragon steel not because it is forged from dragon blood or dragon bones but because it also is forged in the same environment that dragons and dragonglass comes from. Volcanoes.

To really oversimplify the process forging steel requires taking iron, removing its impurities and then adding in carbon. To remove the impurities the iron has to be heated to well… a really hot temperature. There is a theory out there that since dragon glass is frozen fire it could be the fire hot enough to make Valyrian steel. If that isn’t it, well you are in a volcano and it don’t get much hotter anywhere on Earth. If that is part of the process the next challenge is keeping that temperature consistently hot enough to complete the process. In which case a volcano would be a great place to be. Now the traditional method for adding carbon back into the purified iron is using charcoal. However you can use gases or plasmas such as carbon dioxide or methane. Volcanoes it turns out expel a lot of CO2. (Tinfoil theory: so do dragons and thats why the weather is weird.)

If Valyrian steel needs to be first forged in a Volcano we now have the case that the 3 objects which have a chance of fighting the Others comes from the heart of the earth. But what about the price that the Valyrians paid?

They paid that price with the Doom of Valyria.

tl;dr Valyrian steel swords are forged in Volcanoes because that is the natural environment for dragons and dragonglass.

A Song of Ice and Fire

Science Behind the Magic: The Others’ Ice Swords from ASoIaF

I had written this awhile back for /r/asoiaf. I figured since I’ve been too busy with the baby to create new content I might as well publish some old posts on here in case people haven’t read them yet. Enjoy!

Let’s start with what we know

I mentioned in the last post that I was actually interested in finding out more about how the Others’ magic actually works. Since we don’t actually know much about them this is mostly going to be speculation. However there are parallels between what is written about the Others and other forms of magic in the series. One of the first places to start is with what we actually know the most about – their weapons. We have had multiple instances now where contact has been made with the Others and their fighting described. I think that there is enough in these passages to at least provide a closer hint to the nature of the Others’ magic and how it ties in with the overarching themes of ice and fire.

Crystal Swords Description

We are first introduced to the Others in the prologue of A Game of Thrones. It is in that prologue that we also get a detailed description of their crystal ice weapons.

The Other slid forward on silent feet. In its hand was a longsword like none that Will had ever seen. No human metal had gone into the forging of that blade. It was alive with moonlight, translucent, a shard of crystal so thin that it seemed almost to vanish when seen edge- on. There was a faint blue shimmer to the thing, a ghost- light that played around its edges, and somehow Will knew it was sharper than any razor. (AGOT, prologue)

GRRM tends to describe a lot of swords (and other objects) as being razor sharp but what is interesting about this description is that a very similar one is used to describe another material that has magical properties:

Torchlight ran along its edge, a thin orange line that spoke of razor sharpness. Dragonglass. What the maesters call obsidian. Had Ghost uncovered some ancient cache of the children of the forest, buried here for thousands of years? The Fist of the First Men was an old place, only . . . (Jon IV, ACoK)

Dragonglass/obsidian is the weapon that the Children used before the First Men. I think this was deliberate because it is another way to tie the magic of the Others with that of the Children. We do know that obsidian is a material found in nature and GRRM has decided to imbue it with its own magical properties. In fact the Valyrians actually referred to it as “frozen fire.” (AWoIaF) What does this all have to do with the Others’ crystal swords? Well they are in fact made from frozen water… or ice. (Groundbreaking theory I know!) Which is also what GRRM says in that same interview I linked to in the last post.

Shaw: Do you know what substance an Other sword is made from.

Martin: Ice. But not like regular old ice. The Others can do things with ice that we can’t imagine and make substances of it.

Like GRRM said, this being the Others means it can’t just be any ice. So what do we do to find out more about it? Well let’s see what else GRRM wrote.

Crystal Swords & Armor in Action

The wights had been slow clumsy things, but the Other was light as snow on the wind. It slid away from Paul’s axe, armor rippling, and its crystal sword twisted and spun and slipped between the iron rings of Paul’s mail, through leather and wool and bone and flesh. It came out his back with a hissssssssssss and Sam heard Paul say, “Oh,” as he lost the axe. Impaled, his blood smoking around the sword, the big man tried to reach his killer with his hands and almost had before he fell. The weight of him tore the strange pale sword from the Other’s grip. (ASoS, Sam I)

Now this is where I would like to share this video of a simple experiment where they put dry ice (frozen CO2) in water. Dry ice is an interesting case study to look at because it is, well, super cold. Like −78.5 °C cold. In fact if you watch the video when putting a cube of dry ice in water you get a reaction that hisses and causes the water to “smoke.” The swords aren’t the only clue that GRRM leaves with us about the nature of the Others’ magic. Their armor is magical as well. In fact when Sam stabs one of them with an obsidian (frozen fire!) blade we get a description of how the armor is subsequently destroyed.

He heard a crack, like the sound ice makes when it breaks beneath a man’s foot, and then a screech so shrill and sharp that he went staggering backward with his hands over his muffled ears, and fell hard on his arse.

When he opened his eyes the Other’s armor was running down its legs in rivulets as pale blue blood hissed and steamed around the black dragonglass dagger in its throat. It reached down with two bone-white hands to pull out the knife, but where its fingers touched the obsidian they smoked. (ASoS, Sam I)

There are two key pieces here one is that noise with is made on contact and the other is the fact that the armor basically melts. What reacts like that when fire heats it? Ice. Going back to the dry ice experiments, it turns out there are lots of those where people try cutting dry ice as well. When a metal blade is heated and then touches dry ice we get a rather unpleasant sound. Also as the blade cools it once again become almost impossible to cut through the ice.

What does this all imply?

The Others know how to manipulate cold, specifically ice. I also think that their magic is similar to that of the Children which could have a couple of implications. The control of the wights for one could be a type of warging and if it is are they aware of what the wights sense? I also am toying with the idea that they also possess their own form of ice dreams. If there are green dreams and dragons dreams that tell something of the future it is very likely that there are ice dreams. Also /u/JoeMagician wrote this great post about how there is more to Waymar Royce than the fact he died in the prologue. The Others are looking for something (or someone?) and acting different based on *something.* Why shouldn’t it be a prophetic dream? Most importantly though it does give the Watchers & Wildlings something to fight.

Tormund turned back. “You know nothing. You killed a dead man, aye, I heard. Mance killed a hundred. A man can fight the dead, but when their masters come, when the white mists rise up … how do you fight a mist, crow? Shadows with teeth … air so cold it hurts to breathe, like a knife inside your chest … you do not know, you cannot know … can your sword cut cold?” (Jon VII ADwD)

Old Nan tells the story of the Last Hero and mentions that his sword broke as well due to the fact it froze.

”… One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him, and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds—” (Bran IV, AGoT)

The Others are the embodiment of cold. They can manipulate the temperatures of water/ice to the extreme where it acts similarly to dry ice in our world. We know that normal swords shatter when they hit the ice crystal swords because it somehow insta-freezes the metal.

Ser Waymar Royce found his fury. “For Robert!” he shouted, and he came up snarling, lifting the frost-covered longsword with both hands and swinging it around in a flat sidearm slash with all his weight behind it. The Other’s parry was almost lazy. When the blades touched, the steel shattered. (Prologue, AGoT)

The reason why obsidian can kill the Others is because it is pure crystallized fire. Valyrian steel, being a forged in a similar environment and with special magic related to fire and blood, will most likely react similar to obsidian. So yes, Jon’s sword most likely can cut cold.

And if you want to read about the science behind Valyrian steel, head over here!