[Spoilers for All books, Bloodraven, Bran, Hodor, Skinchanging]
There’s something about Hodor’s innocence, obedience and child-like nature that makes him incredibly endearing. This alone is cause for suspicion about the gentle-giant, simple and wholesome characters are few and far between in the Grimdark story of A Song Of Ice and Fire. This essay as an attempt to penetrate the façade of Hodor, to reveal the soul of the black-blooded skinchanger Bloodraven the lurks within.
When trying to tackle an area concerning bloodraven it is important to have an understanding of his appearance and history:
‘He was older than Dunk remembered him, with a lined hard face, but his skin was still as pale as bone, and his cheek and neck still bore the ugly winestain birthmark that some people thought looked like a raven. His boots were black, his tunic scarlet. Over it he wore a cloak the color of smoke, fastened with a brooch in the shape of an iron hand. His hair fell to his shoulders, long and white and straight, brushed forward so as to conceal his missing eye, the one that Bittersteel had plucked from him on the Redgrass Field. The eye that remained was very red. How many eyes has Bloodraven? A thousand eyes, and one.’
This isn’t a complete account of his life but should put you in mind of his physical appearance, notably his three fold disfigurement, the albinism, birthmark and missing eye, these are hallmarks of Bloodraven, especially his eye motif, the events of his life are also important to understand. Bloodraven is arguably one of the most important characters in the series, yet is only seen in the physical form in the fifth book, giving the impression of a truncated storyline, when in fact Bloodraven’s actions permeate the grand storyline of ASOIAF, in order for his actions to be recognised within the text, clues are regularly interspersed allowing the reader to understand the logic of such plots.
This essay is concerned with demonstrating that one of the most important manifestations of Bloodraven’s skinchanging is his control of Hodor as a golem-like creature in order to act as one of his ‘thousand eyes’ and commit physical acts that further his plots.
The main precedent for this thesis is the well established use of other creatures as what could be considered his ‘spirit-spies’, namely Mormont’s Raven, another companion to a Stark, a source of comic relief and an peculiar personality, and is often dismissed by other characters. I propose that Mormont’s Raven and Hodor are a dichotomy between brains and brawn, while the Raven is involved in political machinations through it’s use of somewhat less repetitive speech, Hodor is limited to his physical actions though these are no less important. The character of Bloodraven draws heavily from the one-eyed Norse god Odin, an enigmatic shape-shifting trickster who is attended by several animal companions, including a pair of ravens: Huginn and Muninn, thought and memory respectively, who act as his eyes and ears in Midgard, fitting for the god of knowledge. Odin may lack for a giant however Hodor is a slave whose life Bloodraven has stolen. An important analogue of Bloodraven ending the life of a giant is Odin and his brothers Vili and Vé slaying Ymir, their grandfather on their moth is an important event in the Norse cosmogony and our story.
The formation of Norse cosmos involves the mixing of the poison that precipitates from the rivers that flow from the ice realm Niflheim with the life giving heat of the fire realm Musplheim which is situated on the opposite side of Ginnungagap.
The streams called Ice-waves, those which were so long come from the fountain-heads that the yeasty venom upon them had hardened like the slag that runs out of the fire,-these then became ice; and when the ice halted and ceased to run, then it froze over above. But the drizzling rain that rose from the venom congealed to rime, and the rime increased, frost over frost, each over the other, even into Ginnungagap, the Yawning Void.
The figure being licked from the block of salty ice by the primeval cow Auðumbla is Búri, the grandfather of Odin and his brothers. The salt taken together with the vapours produced by a meeting of ice and fire provide a fulfilment of the Azor Ahai paradigm of birth amidst salt and smoke, with salt water from the melting particularly appropriate for the motif. The fact that Odin a descendent of Búri and Ymir and kills the latter is especially important in terms of the themes of kinslaying and retribution.
Odin, Vili and Vé break the body of Ymir into pieces, out of which the world Midgard is formed.
From Ymir’s flesh the earth was formed,
and from his bones the hills,
the heaven from the skull of that ice-cold giant,
and from his blood the sea
The idea of a dead body going into the substance of the world is part of the pagan folk-religion of the Old Gods as explained by the skinchanger Varamyr Six Skins, and Leaf:
‘Gone into the trees and streams, gone into the rocks and earth. Gone to dirt and ashes. That was what the woods witch told his mother, the day Bump died. Lump did not want to be a clod of earth.’
“Gone down into the earth,” she answered. “Into the stones, into the trees.”
The association between death and the repurposing of someone’s physical form is important to point out from the perspective of Varamyr’s literal interpretation as it signifies Hodor’s conciousness being displaced from his body, an act of murder in effect, to become a tool of Bloodraven just as Odin and his brothers kill Ymir to create Midgard. Leaf and the woods witch understand the true philosophy, that their souls can enter into an afterlife through assimilation into the trees:
‘Maesters will tell you that the weirwoods are sacred to the old gods. The singers believe they are the old gods. When singers die they become part of that godhood.’
The trees appear to preserve but draw sustenance from the bodies, in that sense the physical form of the singers is exchanged for that of the weirwood. Conversely, by killing Wylis, Bloodraven has killed a giant and assimilated his body into the weirwood network, making Hodor an outgrowth of the tree, as the body of Ymir becomes Midgard, a realm secured by a root of Yggdrasil.
An important detail for Ymir is how it receives sustenance, by suckling milk from the cosmic cow Auðumbla. The myth creates the impression of a primordial giant as a suckling babe, like a manchild, fitting with his depiction as a lonely newborn devoid lacking a man’s characteristics, Ymir doesn’t copulate but births Jotun from his armpits and feet.
Given that Bloodraven has takes on the form of Hodor, it stands to reason that the same imagery can be applied to him, the description is significant enough to warrant the same description about Bran:
‘Before them a pale lord in ebon finery sat dreaming in a tangled nest of roots, a woven weirwood throne that embraced his withered limbs as a mother does a child.’
‘he was back in the cavern, the pale thick roots of his weirwood throne cradling his limbs as a mother does a child. A torch flared to life before him.’
Robert Arryn’s single mindedness often results in him attempting to act like the lord of the vale, following Lysa’s death this results in him being reprimanded as immature. One folly that results from Lysa’s governance is Tyrion’s imprisonment and trial by combat which Robert presides over while seated on a high chair. Lysa is a pretty good symbol for the cosmic cow, through her calling him ‘baby’ and her perverse breastfeeding:
‘She opened her robe and drew out a pale, heavy breast, tipped with red. The boy grabbed for it eagerly, buried his face against her chest, and began to suck.’
Lysa’s breast represents the weirwood tree through the pallet of white and red, more over it is that from which Robert draws sustenance, just as Bloodravens corpse is sustained by the weirwood. Lysa’s appearance on the whole is like that of a weirwood, plump, pale white and with auburn hair like the weirwood’s red foliage.
The drawing out of her breast is also like a flash of Bloodraven’s single eye, just as Dunk glimpses the true form hiding beneath Bloodraven’s glamour in The Mystery Knight.This may seem contrived as his albinism means he bares the same likeness to a weirwood, but consider this description of Kraznys demonstrating the blunted senses of an unsullied which involves the motif of Bloodraven’s eye appearing on a persons chest:
‘This will do him no great harm. Men have no need of nipples, eunuchs even less so.” The nipple hung by a thread of skin. He slashed, and sent it tumbling to the bricks, leaving behind a round red eye copiously weeping blood.’
There are many other similarities between Robert and Bloodraven, we know that as Bran’s cousin, the same blood that makes him a greenseer also flows in Robert’s veins, something I’ll address later. Robert is also a candidate bastard as his hair colour, dark brown is unlike that of his Tully mother or his Arryn father who harry the heir is said to resemble and who has blonde hair.
One of the most important scenes for this essay is the death of Robert Arryn’s giant doll in the midst of the snow castle:
‘”Winterfell is the seat of House Stark,” Sansa told her husband-to-be. “The great castle of the north.”
“It’s not so great.” The boy knelt before the gatehouse. “Look, here comes a giant to knock it down.” He stood his doll in the snow and moved it jerkily. “Tromp tromp I’m a giant, I’m a giant,” he chanted. “Ho ho ho, open your gates or I’ll mash them and smash them.” Swinging the doll by the legs, he knocked the top off one gatehouse tower and then the other.
It was more than Sansa could stand. “Robert, stop that.” Instead he swung the doll again, and a foot of wall exploded. She grabbed for his hand but she caught the doll instead. There was a loud ripping sound as the thin cloth tore. Suddenly she had the doll’s head, Robert had the legs and body, and the rag-and-sawdust stuffing was spilling in the snow.
Lord Robert’s mouth trembled. “You killlllllllled him,” he wailed. Then he began to shake. It started with no more than a little shivering, but within a few short heartbeats he had collapsed across the castle, his limbs flailing about violently. White towers and snowy bridges shattered and fell on all sides. Sansa stood horrified, but Petyr Baelish seized her cousin’s wrists and shouted for the maester.’
Robert’s manipulation of the doll is like an an act of voodoo magic, recreating aspects of the past, while also foreshadowing ominously for Hodor, bad things to happen when a voodoo doll gets its head torn off. This isn’t the only instance of Hodor or other automatons are represented through effigies but they shall feature later and in a related essay.
Robert’s routine emulates the “Fee-fi-fo-fum” quatrain through his “Ho ho ho”, Hodor with hiccups, also Hodor enjoys saying his name in different ways, albeit never in a truncated form. The jerky animation of the doll is like that of a puppet, more significant is the fact the same description crops up when Varamyr seizes Thistle’s body. To reinforce this connection, Robert himself suffers a very similar incident in the scene, a putative invasion by the skinchanging singers which inhabit the Eyrie’s weirwood throne. Robert and his dolls are a recurring feature of Catelyn and Tyrions sojourn to the Eyrie in a game of thrones, keep in mind the fact that when the first book was written, the series was intended to be much shorter so certain clues tend to be more concentrated and in this instance represent the fact that Hodor has also been an aspect of Bloodraven since the beginning of the story.
“Mother?” a small voice said. Lysa whirled, her heavy robe swirling around her. Robert Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie, stood in the doorway, clutching a ragged cloth doll and looking at them with large eyes. He was a painfully thin child, small for his age and sickly all his days, and from time to time he trembled. The shaking sickness, the maesters called it. “I heard voices.”
‘”Is he the bad man?” the boy had asked, clutching his doll.’
‘Little Lord Robert hopped to his feet at that, so upset he dropped his doll.’
The first passage in which Robert Arryn is introduced is incredibly important as encompasses almost all of his characteristics which pertinent to his greenseer abilites and depiction of Bloodraven; the doll, large eyes and short stature like that of a child of the forest, as well as his frailty, which figures into leafs description that those bestowed the gift of greensight tend to be fragile and short lived. Also noted is his shaking sickness and the first allusion to his reception of psychic activity emanating from the throne “I heard voices.”.
Returning to the snow castle, the sack of Winterfell (represented by Robert’s collapse) is something I believe Bloodraven had a hand, an action prior to that is the burning of the library tower by Hodor which I shall address in an accompanying essay, and is conveyed through the doll itself inflicting relatively minor damage to the castle concentrated on two towers. This serves to provoke Sansa, who needless to say represents Catelyn, the major pawn in that particular ploy. The fact that Sansa and Robert both tear the doll apart, spilling out [saw]dust which signifies the death and disentgration of a golem, may foreshadow Hodor’s body being torn apart, literally or figuratively through an unintentional action by Bran, but not so for Bloodraven who will contrive to fill Bran with remorse, just as Robert does with Sansa. The separation of the doll’s head from its body which remains in the hands of Robert depicts the stealing of Hodor’s body while discarding his head. The fact that the doll is made of cloth is another clue that it is related to skinchanging, something that will be addressed in my essay on the metaphor woven into skinchanging.
Returning to my analysis of Norse mythology, an important theme with Odin is his acquisition of knowledge, some times by theft, just as Bloodraven destroys Walder’s mind to use Hodor’s body for gathering intelligence. In the poem Vafþrúðnismál, Odin seeks to obtain the wisdom of the giant Vafþrúðnir through a contest of wits, testing each other’s knowledge of the mythological world. It plays out like Riddles in the Dark, with Vafþrúðnir losing the wager and with it his head, when Odin acts a question only he knows the answer to. I don’t see our author passing up the opportunity to pay homage to both the Hobbit and the Prose Edda. there is also a scene addressed later which involves the separation of a giant’s head from its body, representing Bloodraven discarding Hodor’s mind to make use of his body, something I delineated in my analysis of the death of the doll giant scene.
Another pertinent norse myth is that of the theft of the Mead of Peotry. In breif, Odin contrives to steal the magical poetic mead which he is denied by a selfish giant Suttungr, who on learning of the theft pursues Odin, each in the form of an eagle. As Odin nears Asgard he excretes a small portion of the mead such is the tension and excitement, this becomes the ‘rhymester’s share’, from which all inferior poetry is derived. It goes without saying that Hodor is anything but a Skald, moreover the repetitive Hodoring is in part a parody of the shit poetry empowered by the rhymster’s share. Amidst all the other giants in our story Hodor is also one of the few who doesn’t drink, and then some, another allusion of him being robbed of the poetic mead.
Perhaps the most blatant connection between Hodor, Bloodraven and Norse mythology is the naming of the former after the god Höðr, the ‘true’ meaning of Hodor’s name in the books themselves being secondary to Höðr in terms of our authors choice of the name Hodor.
“One of the Æsir is named Höðr: he is blind. He is of sufficient strength, but the gods would desire that no occasion should rise of naming this god, for the work of his hands shall long be held in memory among gods and men.”
– Brodeur’s translation of the Prose Eda
Höðr which is anglicised to Hod, Hoder, or Hodur, is the son of Odin who is tricked into slaying his twin brother Baldr by Loki who Bloodraven embodies. Baldr and his mother Frigg both had dreams of his death, in response she made everything object in the realm vow never to harm Baldr, though she neglected to include mistletoe (the reasoning is disputed, it may have been too young or unimportant). This allowed the Gods to amuse themselves by throwing objects at Baldr without effect, however Loki had learned of Baldr’s weakness and made a spear/arrow from mistletoe, which he equipped Höðr with and guided his aim, resulting in Baldr’s death which is harbinger of Ragnarök, which figures into the ominous portents of the Horn of Winter waking giants from the earth. For this act, Odin and the giantess Rindr gave birth to Váli who grew to adulthood within a day and slew Höðr. Readers aware of the mythical astronomy of ASOIAF will be able to recognise this story as one which our author has borrowed from for other important aspects of ASOIAF.
Hödr stood outside the ring of men, because he was blind. Then spake Loki to him: ‘Why dost thou not shoot at Baldr?’ He answered: ‘Because I see not where Baldr is; and for this also, that I am weaponless.’ Then said Loki: ‘Do thou also after the manner of other men, and show Baldr honor as the other men do. I will direct thee where he stands; shoot at him with this wand.’ Hödr took Mistletoe and shot at Baldr, being guided by Loki: the shaft flew through Baldr, and he fell dead to the earth; and that was the greatest mischance that has ever befallen among gods and men.”
– Brodeur’s translation
While we know very little of Hodor’s actions prior to the books or whether they will come to embody the slaying of Baldr later, his manipulation by Loki is precisely what Bloodraven’s skinchanging of Hodor represents. The seizing of a human’s body is considered abominable, just as Loki is punished by chaining him to a rock with his son’s entrails while a serpent drips poison onto him.
The relationship between the Gods is also captured in ASOIAF, for instance Loki is father to the wolf Fenrir (Bran) who bites off the right hand of Týr (Jaime), the god of war when Fenrir is bound with Gleipnir to a stone slab. In homage Jaime’s crippling of Bran in turn results in the amputation of the offending hand. Given this established connection between ASOIAF and Norse mythology, we can also assume that Odin’s fatherhood of Hödr is also testament to a relationship between Bloodraven and Hodor. the blidness of Hödr is surely one of the reasons that the actual giants of westeros have poor eyesight, that and their herbivorous diet which is complemented by a keen sense of smell. this idea also applies to those with giant’s blood such as the Mountain during his duel with Oberyn:
The Dornishman kept circling, jabbing, then darting back again, forcing the bigger man to turn and turn again. Clegane is losing sight of him. The Mountain’s helm had a narrow eyeslit, severely limiting his vision. Oberyn was making good use of that, and the length of his spear, and his quickness.
The mountain suffers chronically from blinding headaches which may be a consequence of his gigantism, and drinks copious amounts of the milk of the poppy to counter these effects, however the headaches may also be a manifestation of withdrawal from the drug, a warrior such as the Mountain would likely still suffer wounds that could lead to abuse of the painkiller. Likewise there are many giants who drink substances which are the cause of their blindness themselves blind as in Sandor and Robert. It may also be
“Yes, I hoped the boy would die. So did you. Even Robert thought that would have been for the best. ‘We kill our horses when they break a leg, and our dogs when they go blind, but we are too weak to give the same mercy to crippled children,’ he told me. He was blind himself at the time, from drink.”
Here Cersei speaks not only of the physical effects of Robert’s alcoholism, but also the effect it had on his judgement and perception, such as his ignorance of the incest, something that can be deduced by simply looking at Robert’s bastards.
‘It was queer how sometimes a child’s innocent eyes can see things that grown men are blind to.’
‘How could they have all been so blind? The truth was there in front of them all the time, written on the children’s faces. Ned felt sick.’
Robert also has a habit of seeing only that which he wants and twisting the reality, although his statement those possess important meaning:
When he had protested that the young prince and princess were no more than babes, his new-made king had replied, “I see no babes. Only dragonspawn.”
This trope of blindness and the substances which cause it is quite important so it will feature in a future essay rather than being explored fully in this essay. The ironic inversion of this myth inspired trope is Hodor’s apparent ignorance, when in fact Bloodraven gains great knowledge through the sight of Hodor.
I shall depart from the mythological comparison for the time being as details within the context of the books serve as symbolic evidence for Bloodraven occupying Hodor’s skin. The first is an association between the Green dreams involving the opening of Bran’s third eye, and Hodor’s seemingly deliberate attempts to open Bran’s head:
‘Bran touched his forehead, between his eyes. The place where the crow had pecked him was still burning, but there was nothing there, no blood, no wound. He felt weak and dizzy. He tried to get out of bed, but nothing happened.’
‘in the dark it pecked at his brow, driving its terrible sharp beak deep into his skull. He screamed until he was certain his lungs must burst. The pain was an axe splitting his head apart, but when the crow wrenched out its beak all slimy with bits of bone and brain, Bran could see again.’
These dreams even give Bran the impression that opening of his third eye is a literal act and is therefore supportive of the connection between the Greendreams and Bran’s head injuries inflicted by Hodor.
‘When he was alone, Bran tried to open his third eye, but he didn’t know how. No matter how he wrinkled his forehead and poked at it, he couldn’t see any different than he’d done before.’
Here’s the passage describing the damage to Bran’s skull, there are also many instances of him having to duck his head under ceilings and doorways, sometimes unsuccessfully:
‘The stableboy stood near seven feet tall all by himself; on his back Bran’s head almost brushed the ceiling. He ducked low as they passed through the door. One time Hodor smelled bread baking and ran to the kitchens, and Bran got such a crack that Maester Luwin had to sew up his scalp. Mikken had given him a rusty old visorless helm from the armory, but Bran seldom troubled to wear it.’
‘The lintel was low. “Duck down, Hodor,” Bran said, and he did, but not enough to keep Bran from hitting his head. “That hurt,” he complained.’
‘The way was cramped and twisty, and so low that Hodor soon was crouching. Bran hunched down as best he could, but even so, the top of his head was soon scraping and bumping against the ceiling. Loose dirt crumbled at each touch and dribbled down into his eyes and hair, and once he smacked his brow on a thick white root growing from the tunnel wall’
It’s difficult to say why Bloodraven may want to damage Bran’s head, it may just be how the clues or written, or it could be an effort to potentate his psychic abilities. Some readers, myself included suspect Bloodraven in the form of a crow may have alerted Cersei to Bran’s presence, resulting in him being thrown from the tower. the consequent brain damage and his coma, a period of total darkness and disconnection which we understand to be important for such abilities (recall Arya’s blindness and Bran hidden in the crypts) may therefore constitute an effort to awaken Bran’s power, which may be akin to a savant syndrome which can brought on by brain damage. Regardless of it’s potential purpose, it definitely parallels Bloodraven in the form of the Three eyed crow, as well as Maester Luwin’s opposition to Bran’s interest in greenseers and magic, signified by his closing up of the wound representing his third eye.
The use of Hodor as a mount for Bran is ubiquitous in the story. I shall limit my examination to a single instance of a skinchanger using a creature as a mount, Varamyr who rides a snow bear as this is the plainest allusion to a giant skinchanged against it’s will for the purpose of riding it. A simple verification of the association between bears and giants is the Flight At The Fist when a wight bear under the control of the Others attacks:
“Bloody huge,” and a third voice said, “A giant!” and a fourth insisted, “A bear, a bear!”
‘The bear that had come up the Fist had no hair left on its rotted flesh. He didn’t want to think about bears.’
Like the rotted bear, Hodor is lacking the thick coat of hair which covers full-blood giants, he is also used as a weapon in an inverted fashion fashion, fighting wights (some of which wear the black) in place of the black brothers. Varamyr’s experience with the snow bear also provides some indication that Bloodraven’s skinchanging and the reaction of Wylis was a cause for his mental illness:
‘the snow had gone half-mad for a time, snapping at trees and rocks and empty air’
‘The bear hated him, had raged each time he wore her skin or climbed upon her back.’
The latter excerpt also highlights the imbalanced relationship between Bloodraven and Hodor. If you need any more convincing of the idea of Hodor as a skinchanged mount, consider the name-calling by the Little and Big Walder who call Walder a horse, one of the most significant animals in terms of being a skinchanged mount.
Departing from the boarder associations related to myth and skinchanging practice, I shall draw upon the symbols intrinsic to the book such as those used to represent Bloodraven or the wierwoods, take for instance this description of Bran’s greendream, sent by you know who::
‘The gargoyles watched him ascend. Their eyes glowed red as hot coals in a brazier. Perhaps once they had been lions, but now they were twisted and grotesque. Bran could hear them whispering to each other in soft stone voices terrible to hear. He must not listen, he told himself, he must not hear, so long as he did not hear them he was safe. But when the gargoyles pulled themselves loose from the stone and padded down the side of the tower to where Bran clung, he knew he was not safe after all. “I didn’t hear,” he wept as they came closer and closer, “I didn’t, I didn’t.”
He woke gasping, lost in darkness, and saw a vast shadow looming over him. “I didn’t hear,” he whispered, trembling in fear, but then the shadow said “Hodor,” and lit the candle by the bedside, and Bran sighed with relief.’
The description of the eyes of the gargoyles is an excellent match for the very first description given of the Three Eyed Crow.
‘Seated on his throne of roots in the great cavern, half-corpse and half-tree, Lord Brynden seemed less a man than some ghastly statue made of twisted wood, old bone, and rotted wool.The only thing that looked alive in the pale ruin that was his face was his one red eye, burning like the last coal in a dead fire, surrounded by twisted roots and tatters of leathery white skin hanging off a yellowed skull.’
Red eyes are also typical of Heart trees and singers chosen by the gods to receive the gift of greensight. Furthermore the legend behind gargoyles is that they were the heads and necks of dragons, hardened through fire, which St. Romanus mounted on churches to ward of evil spirits, therefore it is an apt depection of any character with Targaryen ancestry.
The irony of the passage is that Bran is unconcerned with Hodor as the shadow, when in fact Bloodraven has been observing Bran and his nightmare, giving the scene another creepy dimension. Hodor’s as a vast shadow also pertains to Bloodraven’s tenure as Lord Commanded of the Night’s Watch, as well as his affinity for shadows and the dark in terms of deeds and philosophy, one mantra is sufficient to illustrate this:
“The strongest trees are rooted in the dark places of the earth. Darkness will be your cloak, your shield, your mother’s milk. Darkness will make you strong.”
Also bastards take the form of shadows, think of Melisandre’s shadow babies, the black dargons of Blackfyre and the coal black hair that marked Robert’s bastards, a trait inherited from the bastard Orys Baratheon who had both black hair and eyes. Bastards are also described as ‘being born on the wrong side of the sheets’ as in the shadow of the legitimate side. This passage also provides some insight into the figures of speech surrounding bastards:
‘Catelyn softened then, to see his pain. Eddard Stark had married her in Brandon’s place, as custom decreed, but the shadow of his dead brother still lay between them, as did the other, the shadow of the woman he would not name, the woman who had borne him his bastard son.’
Another aspect bran’s awakening is Hodor’s lighting of a candle may indicate that Bloodraven has utilised them in his past, which would be unsurprising given his reputation as a sorcerer and spymaster. Alternatively it may represent how Bloodravens ability to see through trees and animals as well as send receptive individual dreams are analogous to the powers of a glass candle. The flame of the singular candle could also be associated with his red eye, watching bran.
One of the motifs most strongly associated with Bloodraven is sight through a single eye which we see applied to characters which bare many other associations such as Beric Dondarrion, an undead rogue, seated on a throne of weirwood roots. The all important eye motif is also applied to Hodor:
‘His face was all ugly from the beating, his nose swollen and one eye closed.’
‘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.’
The latter description occurs just after Bran thinks to himself ‘are we there yet?’ ‘How much longer? It’s so cold. Where is the three-eyed crow?’ the irony being that he couldn’t be any closer riding on Hodor’s back. The relevancy of the description of frosty Hodor is twofold as Hodor’s moustache is an excellent match for the Winterfell Heart tree as observed by Theon:
‘Even the godswood was turning white. A film of ice had formed upon the pool beneath the heart tree, and the face carved into its pale trunk had grown a moustache of little icicles.’
This pairing of Hodor and the heart tree fits with Bloodraven being described as a ‘half-corpse and half-tree’ who is integrated into the weirwood network, making the two a single entity, furthermore Hodor as a human with giant’s blood can also be likened to Weirwoods which are described as such and function as metaphorical giants.
Throughout ASOIAF there exists the idea that one’s descendants take on the form of their ancestors (e.g. Azor Ahai reborn), following this logic it possible to recognise a parallel between Old Nan and Bloodraven, an aspect of each of them going into the making of Hodor. Old Nan is suspected of being the longest lived human in westeros, the other contender being Aemon, though in truth we know it to be Bloodraven in his state of undeath. Like Old Nan, Bloodraven is gradually shrinking, receding into the tree:
‘Hodor was nearly seven feet tall. It was hard to believe that he was the same blood as Old Nan. Bran wondered if he would shrivel up as small as his great-grandmother when he was old. It did not seem likely, even if Hodor lived to be a thousand.’
‘A little skin remained, stretched across his face, tight and hard as white leather, but even that was fraying, and here and there the brown and yellow bone beneath was poking through.’
The idea of Hodor living for a thousand years hints at the potential for Bloodraven’s consciousness to persist within the weirwood network indefinitely. Bloodraven, Old Nan alike have lived long enough to witness the death of almost all of their family, and over the course of their long lives have been known by many names, though most have been forgotten, including their given names and are now know by a single moniker.
‘The last greenseer, the singers called him, but in Bran’s dreams he was still a three-eyed crow. When Meera Reed had asked him his true name, he made a ghastly sound that might have been a chuckle. “I wore many names when I was quick, but even I once had a mother, and the name she gave me at her breast was Brynden.”’
Old Nan and Bloodraven both embody aspects of The Crone and are very important figures in Bran’s storyline in terms of shaping Bran’s desires and perception of the past, the former through recounting stories by the oral tradition, the latter through the more vivid process of exploring the memories in the Weirwoods.
Now that we have considered some of the symbolic evidence of Hodor’s skin changing by Bloodraven, we shall consider the narrative elements which serve as evidence.
One of the main reasons for stealing Walder’s skin and breaking his mind is to create a dependent within Winterfell which can fulfil various criteria within the constraints of a skin changed human, one which isn’t consistently occupied by Bloodraven who must take other forms. I should preface this explanation with the assumption that Bloodraven anticipated Bran’s birth and planned his eventual crippling before he seized Walder’s body, failing that it is likely that he chose Walder because of his ‘giant’s blood'(which is important but the subject of another essay) and that he would serve a useful purpose regardless of whether a Greenseer was born, as I stated earlier, Bloodravens involvement seems to extend beyond the political consequences.
As I mentioned previously, Hodor’s role as Bran’s mount is critical to his delivery to Bloodraven’s cave, and his strength and endurance also make him an excellent body guard, like the giants Dunk, Sandor and Ser Robert Strong, as a precaution against foes encountered foes north and south of the wall such as the wights and Ramsay’s men. The breaking of Hodor’s mind preserves all the aforementioned functions while also making Hodor less conspicuous as a spy (one can divulge information in his presence with the expectation he is unable to understand or recall it), easier to imitate as Bran demonstrates with his own skinchanging, a component of this is the ability for Bloodraven to leave Hodor in a dormant state (that is to say not presently skinchanged) allowing him to act independently (relaxing in the hot pools for instance), but in a very limited fashion owing to his mental handicap, meaning Hodor’s behaviour remains relatively unchanged, not that people would think question anything untoward, not least of all because the only answer they’d receive from him is ‘Hodor’. A regular variation in Hodor’s behaviour is also observed by Bran himself, but without cause for suspicion:
“Hoooodor,” said Hodor, swaying. “Hooooooodor, hoooooodor, hoDOR, hoDOR, hoDOR.” Sometimes he liked to do this, just saying his name different ways, over and over and over. Other times, he would stay so quiet you forgot he was there. There was never any knowing with Hodor. “HODOR, HODOR,HODOR!” he shouted.
I propose that the strongest logical evidence of Bloodraven skinchanging Hodor is the arrival of Coldhands with Sam and Gilly at the Nightfort, a matter of hours after Bran and his party, which was necessary for Sam to guide them through the Black Gate and introduce them to Coldhands. I for one don’t trust in coincidences in the books, instead i think that Bloodraven through the eyes of Hodor coordinated the arrival of Coldhands, who stays in communication through the language of the ravens and is known to take false routes to delay the journies of those he is guiding in the behest of Bloodraven, thus allowing Bran to arrive at the Nightfort first. To reinforce the idea that Bloodraven is trying to facilitate their use of the secret passage we have this behaviour:
‘Hodor peered over the knee-high lip of the well and said, “HODOR!” The word echoed down the well, “Hodorhodorhodorhodor,” fainter and fainter, “hodorhodorhodorhodor,” until it was less than a whisper. Hodor looked startled. Then he laughed, and bent to scoop a broken piece of slate off the floor.
“Hodor, don’t!” said Bran, but too late. Hodor tossed the slate over the edge. “You shouldn’t have done that. You don’t know what’s down there. You might have hurt something, or . . . or woken something up.”
Hodor looked at him innocently. “Hodor?”’
The fearful anticipation Bran feels over Sam’s climb out of the well is certainly precipitated by Hodor’s dropping of the slate, he even acts coy about it.
This particular well has a certain association with bastards and the imagery of Hodor, a giant dropping a fragment of metaphoric rock into the waters of the well is symbolic of an important motif in ASOIAF, but both topics are beyond the scope of this essay.
The anxiety Bran feels results in his skinchanging of Hodor even before Sam emerges, however before he can draw his sword and potential kill Sam, which would hinder Bran’s passage through the Black Gate, Hodor collapses and become uncooperative:
‘A huge black shape heaved itself up into the darkness and lurched toward the moonlight, and the fear rose up in Bran so thick that before he could even think of drawing Hodor’s sword the way he’d meant to, he found himself back on the floor again with Hodor roaring “Hodor hodor HODOR,” the way he had in the lake tower whenever the lightning flashed.’
These Hodor temper tantrums may be a result of Bran’s inexperience at skinchanging Hodor, or it may be a deliberate attempt by Bloodraven to prevent an action that could kill Sam, keep in mind that the conciousness Bran thinks is inside Hodor resisting his skinchanging may not be consistently that of Walder but Bloodraven who is exerting the ability of a more powerful or experienced skinchanger to displace another from a skin as Varamyr demonstrates with Orel’s eagle and Haggon’s wolf One eye. I think it is more likely the conciousness Bran experiences as retreating submissively is Walder, which is to be expected given the amount of time Bloodraven has spent in his body.
‘Hodor would curl up and hide whenever Bran reached out for him. His hiding place was somewhere deep within him, a pit where not even Bran could touch him.’
Another tell on Bloodraven’s part his Hodor’s relief on recognising Sam (whom he is familiar with through the sight of Mormont’s Raven), showing his elation at a difficult task accomplished, delivering Bran through the wall and into the possession of Coldhands, with Sam and Gilly as witness, who he knows will remain silent.
‘Hodor?” Hodor squatted down on his haunches to peer at the man in the net. “Hodor,” he said again, hooting.
As they decend the well we get a clue that Bloodraven whose own body can only speak in whispers is mimicking Hodor:
‘The well grew darker and colder with every turn. When Bran finally lifted his head around to look back up the shaft, the top of the well was no bigger than a half-moon. “Hodor,” Hodor whispered, “Hodorhodorhodorhodorhodorhodor,” the well whispered back. The water sounds were close, but when Bran peered down he saw only blackness.’
As the well is the sight of the Black Gate, a white Weirwood with a face, it can be interpreted that the Bloodraven, through the use of the Weirwoods, is the actual voice of Hodor in this scene, much like an echo, and when Bran looks to the source of the echoes he sees only blackness, which Bloodraven personifies.
Returning to happenings earlier in the story, Hodor suspiciously refuses to take Bran down to the crypts following his dream of Eddard’s death (sent by Bloodraven), ostensibly because of his fear of the dark:
“Go down into the crypts. When I woke, I told him to take me down, to see if Father was truly there. At first he didn’t know what I was saying, but I got him to the steps by telling him to go here and go there, only then he wouldn’t go down. He just stood on the top step and said ‘Hodor,’ like he was scared of the dark, but I had a torch. It made me so mad I almost gave him a swat in the head, like Old Nan is always doing.” He saw the way the maester was frowning and hurriedly added, “I didn’t, though.”
This isn’t a problem when Hodor’s cooperation is required more urgently such as their disappearance from Theon, so one must assume that this Bloodraven acting to frustrate Bran’s curiosity and plays into Luwin’s willingness to dispel such notions by accompanying him to the crypts alongside Osha. Consequent to their encounter with reckon, Luwin attempting to dispel the idea of meaningful dreams but his histories, the counterpoint to this outlook being the anecdotal evidence offered by Osha of ten foot tall giants and the half-bloods and their making, very pertinent for Hodor.
A very important manipulation of Hodor and one which on the surface could cause a reader to repudiate this thesis is the thunderstorm at Queenscrown in which Hodor’s shouting, the impetus for Bran’s skinchanging of Hodor, something he achieves without the assistance of integration into the Weirwood network, partly because of his genotype (descent from house Lothston), but more so because Hodor is amenable to skinchanging because of his prior occupation by Bloodraven, a concept he himself explains and one which is critical to the practice of skinchanging:
Slipping into Summer’s skin had become as easy for him as slipping on a pair of breeches once had been, before his back was broken. Changing his own skin for a raven’s night-black feathers had been harder, but not as hard as he had feared, not with these ravens. “A wild stallion will buck and kick when a man tries to mount him, and try to bite the hand that slips the bit between his teeth,” Lord Brynden said, “but a horse that has known one rider will accept another. Young or old, these birds have all been ridden. Choose one now, and fly.”
One should also keep in mind the fact that skinchanged animals can also be inhabited by more than one consciousness, as with the ravens containing children of the forest, and Orell’s eagle containing the shadow of his soul, while under the control of Varamyr. This conduciveness to skinchanging is observed in Hodor, most unlike that seen with thistle or even most animals which in a sense can possess less mental capability than Hodor yet are more difficult to bond with as it is a matter of the soul, not biology alone:
‘Bran shook his head. “I don’t know.” But he did. I reached for him, the way I reach for Summer. He had been Hodor for half a heartbeat. It scared him.’
‘The big stableboy no longer fought him as he had the first time, back in the lake tower during the storm. Like a dog who has had all the fight whipped out of him, Hodor would curl up and hide whenever Bran reached out for him. His hiding place was somewhere deep within him, a pit where not even Bran could touch him. No one wants to hurt you, Hodor, he said silently, to the child-man whose flesh he’d taken. I just want to be strong again for a while. I’ll give it back, the way I always do.’
The resistance Walder displayed to Bran’s skinchanging may have been a reaction to an unfamiliar presence, having been accustomed to Bloodraven for many decades. By causing Bran to take control of Hodor to avert their capture, Blooraven potentiates Bran’s later temptations which sees him skinchange Hodor with no purpose other than to explore the caves and experience the sensation of walking. I believe that the purpose of encouraging such actions is to develop Bran’s powers as a skinchanger, all the while disregarding basic morality and the code of skinchanging outlined by Varamyr: that a skinchanger consuming human flesh or occupying a human’s body are both considered abominations, but in my opinion likely serve as dark catalysts for the power of a skin changer, also the fact that Bloodraven has skinchanged Hodor means that a portion of his soul resides within Hodor, and is thereby transferable to Bran which may affect his own powers, as well his own disregard for the moral code of skinchanging also seen with Bloodraven and Varamyr.
‘Abomination. That had always been Haggon’s favorite word. Abomination, abomination, abomination. To eat of human meat was abomination, to mate as wolf with wolf was abomination, and to seize the body of another man was the worst abomination of all. Haggon was weak, afraid of his own power. He died weeping and alone when I ripped his second life from him. Varamyr had devoured his heart himself. He taught me much and more, and the last thing I learned from him was the taste of human flesh.’
I recommend reading ‘Abomination in Training: The Indoctrination of a Greenseer’ by Cantuse whose done some great scholarship on all the books. It details how Coldhands and Bloodraven trick a group of Night’s Watch deserters into tailing their party, through his false routes, and the way in which four people ride on the back of the elk or Hodor, creating the impression of fewer people, making a more tempting target. Coldhands acknowledges their perusers, blinds them with the ravens and kills them, butchering their limbs and claiming it as meat from a stray sow, highly unlikely in the midst of the haunted forest, especially when all the free folk brought with them their livestock during the flight to the south. I propose that Hodor may have also encouraged the pursuit by the deserters by an act of trail blazing:
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.
the absence of snow and the damage inflicted would be a sure sign to the deserters should the falling snow obscure their tracks or otherwise confuse their pursuers, we can assume that the deserters are used to be rangers of the Nights Watch based on their survival of the great ranging which was made up mainly by rangers, this means they would be able to detect such signs, trailblazing is even mentioned in the tracking of Brandon Stark:
Ser Jaremy Rykker had led two sweeps, and Quorin Halfhand had gone forth from the Shadow Tower, but they’d found nothing aside from a few blazes in the trees that his uncle had left to mark his way.
Trailblazing can take the form of carving into trees, which is what Hodor achieves in effect.
When Bloodraven’s plan comes to fruition and the starving party partakes of the deserter’s flesh, Bloodraven obscurely expresses his satisfaction:
“Who were they? Wildlings?”
Meera turned the meat to cook the other side. Hodor was chewing and swallowing, muttering happily under his breath. Only Jojen seemed aware of what was happening as Coldhands turned his head to stare at Bran. “They were foes.”
Men of the Night’s Watch. “You killed them. You and the ravens. Their faces were all torn, and their eyes were gone.” Coldhands did not deny it.
This is an important scene in which both the perceived identity of both the meat and Hodor is subverted. This is in contrast to the inversion of the trope of literal giants as eaters of humans, something shown to be otherwise for the real gentle-giant Wun Wun, well at least when he’s sober.
Wun Wun was very little like the giants in Old Nan’s tales, those huge savage creatures who mixed blood into their morning porridge and devoured whole bulls, hair and hide and horns. This giant ate no meat at all, though he was a holy terror when served a basket of roots, crunching onions and turnips and even raw hard neeps between his big square teeth.
Not everything Bloodraven uses Hodor’s body for is quite so malevolent, questionable certainly:
‘In the dim-lit gallery outside the Great Hall, they came upon Joseth the master of horse engaged in a different sort of riding. He had some woman Bran did not know shoved up against the wall, her skirts around her waist. She was giggling until Hodor stopped to watch. Then she screamed. “Leave them be, Hodor,” Bran had to tell him. “Take me to my bedchamber.”‘
I guess having sex in front of a heart tree isn’t that popular, probably something to do with how no man could tell a lie in front of a heart tree. Does that mean the weirwood-net is for corn?
“Corn,” the bird was screaming. “Corn, corn, corn, corn, corn, corn.”
Departing from direct evidence of Hodor being skinchanged, we return to the mythical figures Hodor represents, foremost are the golems of Jewish folklore. A golem is an artificial form of life created by imbuing life into a formless construct of clay, mud or dust, as in the creation of Adam from dust, only receiving his soul on the sixth day after his physical form is complete, just as Hodor is but a physical form, deprived of a soul.
The most relevant and famous tale is of the Golem of Prague, which features a man of the 16th century, considered a very wise man who created the golem to protect the Prague ghetto for pogroms. It was formed out of clay from the banks of the Vltava river and is animated through incantations and the use of a shem, a cabalistic name of God, a word of power which feature in the control and animation of all golems which can be deactivated on the sabbath by withdrawing the shem. The fact that Hodor answer to a communicates only through the nonsense word Hodor puts us in mind of a shem which is the basis of the golem’s identity. In one tale a golem destroyed by erasing a single letter from the shem emet (אמת, “truth” in Hebrew) to met (מת, meaning “dead”) causing the golem to return to dust. The word Hodor also fulfils the qualities of a shem through our authors design of the word as a secret name of the god Hödr, and like the emet and met, differs from the other through the loss of only a single vowel.
A less esoteric comparison is that Hodor’s body functions like the formless mass of the golem an artificial construct, only coming alive when imbued with the soul of a skinchanger, without them Hodor behaves like a golem, an uncultivated being which is unable to speak and inherently obedient, following commands which it interprets literally, exemplifying it lack of intelligence and absence of free will. Hodor’s plight definitely figures into the themes of free will and agency present throughout the series. There are also many different interpretations of the word golem, in Yiddish it means someone who is slow and clumsy, both of which apply, and the creators of golems in folk-lore were either god which greenseers embody or rabbis, whom the Three-Eyed Crow partly represents as sage figure with long uncut hair is a bit like the Payot (sidelocks) of rabbi.
The clearest allusion to Hodor as a golum is the clay boy Luwin bakes. What is striking about it is that it is dressed in Brans clothes meaning it must be fairly sizeable, certainly a giant as far as effigies go in the books, the clothes also represent an inversion of the skinchanging metaphor, with Hodor wearing the skin of Bran.
‘Later, Maester Luwin built a little pottery boy and dressed him in Bran’s clothes and flung him off the wall into the yard below, to demonstrate what would happen to Bran if he fell. That had been fun, but afterward Bran just looked at the maester and said, “I’m not made of clay. And anyhow, I never fall.”‘
This instance of dramatic irony is a classic, providing the simple foreshadowing of Bran’s fall, distracting from the more obscure meaning, Bran taking on the form of a golem and the ominous portent of Hodor shattering. To emphasise its importance Bran recalls the lesson in his coma dream:
‘Maester Luwin made a little boy of clay, baked him till he was hard and brittle, dressed him in Bran’s clothes, and flung him off a roof. Bran remembered the way he shattered. “But I never fall,” he said, falling.’
Luwin’s office of a maester is a good approximation of being a rabbi, a teacher, scholar and councillor. The term rabbi even derives from the Hebrew word rabi meaning ‘my master’, so it’s only natural that Luwin, which sounds like Loew should create the foremost representation of a golem in the story. The similarities don’t end there, Hodor is often found in attendance of Luwin and does as the Maester bids him (like the golem of Prague helping around Loew’s house). This behaviour of accompanying the maester and going wherever he is ordered is also a fair representation of a raven, Bloodraven’s second most prominent manifestation.
Perhaps the most elusive nod to Hodor being a golem, born from mud is his proclivity for spending long hours, naked, luxuriating in the muddy hot pools of winterfell which are described thusly in summer’s skin:
The smells filled his head, alive and intoxicating; the green muddy stink of the hot pools, the perfume of rich rotting earth beneath his paws, the squirrels in the oaks.
The who description of the god’s wood is focused around nature, namely that which is born from the earth, mushrooms which are the cause of the rich rot, and the green muddy pools from which a golem emerges, naked an mud spattered, waiting to be dressed by the Rabbi.
A few moments passed before they heard a tuneless humming. Hodor arrived half-dressed and mud-spattered from his visit to the hot pools, but Bran had never been so glad to see him.
I posit that Hodor likes to spend much of his time in his ‘deactivated’ state relaxing in the hot pools as it becomes a metaphor for the sabbath as the day of rest. Hodor’s naked bathing also makes him look like a newborn golem, coated in the mud from which he is fashioned. In case your sceptical as to how muddy the pools are I have put forth the following analysis and collection of quotes:
‘he would happily immerse himself in the hottest pool and sit for hours, giving a loud burp to echo the spring whenever a bubble rose from the murky green depths to break upon the surface.’
‘they made do with one of the murky pools in the godswood. Walder and Walder had never seen hot water bubbling from the ground before’
‘The warmth took some of the ache from his muscles and made him think of Winterfell’s muddypools, steaming and bubbling in the godswood.’
The muddiness of the pools also as in agreement with the modelling of Winterfell the surrounding region around Iceland, one manifestation of it’s geothermal energy being hot mudpots (which contain clay) which typically give off hydrogen sulphide, creating a characteristic stink, the hot pools of Winterfell are therefore likely a mild combination of a mudpot combining with and a less caustic hot spring to give a more dilute mud bath.
When considering the composition of a golem, one should keep in mind that while most accounts don’t involve creation from dust, clay and soil are themselves produced by the mixing of fine grains with other materials, namely water. The golems return to dust when they are killed, an appreciation of this symbolism is key to understanding and identifying other golems as indicated by an act of disintegration corresponding to death, better yet, the spilling of dust which occurs when the head is torn from the giant doll, though this isn’t to say that Hodor is necessarily the only golem depicted by the doll.
This essay may be subject to further editing, frankly it’s more of a discourse on the idea that Bloodraven has taken the form of Hodor rather than a proper analysis of the character of Bloodraven. I feel the analysis is sufficient and the controlling of Hodor is something I will reference in a future essay. I’ve drawn upon some myths which are best appreciated in terms of giants as a whole, when working with a narrow theory I’m convinced of, I tend to dispose of lengthy counter arguments, balanced with additional evidence, although some I withhold for future works. That said I’m more than more than happy to discuss criticism of this theory.