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History of Thrones: The Horn of Winter and Why it Could All Come Crashing Down

When it comes to the history of HBO’s Game of Thrones and George RR Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire novel series, some fans are wise old maesters and others are know-nothing Jon Snow types. To prepare for season six we’re looking at some of the most important moments in the long, complex, and often controversial history of Westeros—and what they might tell us about events yet to come. So whether you’re as versed in the past as Maester Luwin or as clueless as Gilly in a castle for the first time, we’re calling your banner to join us on this march to the new season. Either way, be warned: there are major, major spoilers for the series in this post.

You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.

The Horn of Winter (a.k.a. The Horn of Joramun)

In our last edition of a History of Thrones, we looked back at The Long Night, the first time the White Walkers invaded Westeros. Following the end of that war the great, possibly mythical hero of the North, Bran the Builder, erected The Wall to protect the realms of men.

(Note: The Night’s Watch actually predates The Wall, but not by much. The Long Night was 8,000 years BC (Before Aegon’s Conquest), and the brothers in black formed to fight against the army of the dead. The Wall was built after the war.)

It is said that the 300 mile wide Wall is made of ice, stone, and magic—a magic that prevents White Walkers from getting past it. While it currently stands at 700 feet tall, it is not believed to have been built that high at first, with the Night’s Watch making it taller over time. It has 19 castles (they aren’t really castles, more like fortresses), though the most ever occupied by the Night’s Watch at one time was 17. When A Song of Ice and Fire began only three of them were in use by the Watch, though Lord Commander Jon Snow was beginning work on manning each castle during the last book/season.

Minor Sidebar: There are all sorts of issues with the timeline that don’t totally add up, but it is said that the Children of the Forest (whom The Last Hero contacted to help defeat the White Walkers), gave the Night’s Watch 100 obsidian daggers each year, ostensibly to fight a future invasion. Obsidian is also known as dragonglass, and is one of only two known ways to kill a White Walker. The truth is we have no idea if they did, when they did, or for how long they did, but the details aren’t as important the legend that the Children provided the Night’s Watch with weapons to defeat White Walkers for some period of time. Got it? Good.

Fast forward a couple thousand years and, with the White Walkers unseen for that whole time, The Wall’s purpose (and the Night’s Watch‘s main job) shifted to protecting Westeros from wildlings instead. When Aegon conquered Westeros, the Night’s Watch stood at 10,000 men—many of them honorable and of noble birth. At the start of A Song of Ice and Fire, though, it was closer to a thousand—full of criminals and vagabonds.

While many in the Seven Kingdoms not believing the White Walkers would return (or even that they never really existed), The Wall has always stood as the ultimate shield against them.

So why the hell would someone make a horn that could bring it crashing down?

That’s right, it is believed there is a legendary horn — the Horn of Winter, also known as the Horn of Joramun — capable of bringing down The Wall if it were to be blown.

It’s important to understand that The Wall being partially made of magic is true. The physics of The Wall don’t hold up—and the thing literally couldn’t hold up on its own. Ice doesn’t work like that, so magic must be involved in keeping it standing. Also, Game of Thrones the show has been much more cautious in its use of magic than the books, but in one chapter Sam and Gilly pass through a talking, glowing weirwood gate at the Nightfort (a castle along The Wall), known as the Black Gate. It’s a magical, wooden gate, and they can only pass through it because Sam is a member of the Night’s Watch. Coldhands, a mysterious, apparently dead character that saves Sam and Gilly and later leads Bran and his crew to the Three-Eyed Raven, says he can’t go through it himself.

So if magic helped make The Wall and keeps it standing, it is reasonable to think magic is capable of destroying it too.

Which brings us to Joramun and his horn. Jormaun was a King-Beyond-the-Wall who is credited — along with Brandon the Breaker of Winterfell — with helping defeat the Night’s King. The Night’s King was the 13th Lord Commander, so that gives you an idea of how long ago Joramun lived—a time period not that far removed from The Long Night.

The legend says that when Joramun blew the horn the first time he raised the giants, but that blowing it again will bring down The Wall.

And that’s it. That’s all we know about the myth of the horn, not how it works, or who made it, or where it came from. The show has never introduced it, and may never introduce it based on its conservative use of magic (maybe because they’re saving it for the return of some dead characters this upcoming season).

So if the show might not ever mention it, and we know little about it, why does it matter for season 6 so much? Because there is overwhelming evidence from the books it will show up, and if The Wall falls nothing else happening will matter.

Here’s a quick recap of the Horn of Joramun in the books: Mance Rayder tells Jon Snow he has found it and shows it to Jon. It is huge, old looking, and has the markings of the First Men, and, unless his people are given safe passage through The Wall, Mance says he will use it. Unfortunately for him Stannis shows up and defeats his army. The horn is then used to start the fire that burns “Mance” alive, destroying it.

Only it probably wasn’t the real horn.

Ygritte and Tormund both tell Jon they never found the true Horn of Winter, even though they dug up many graves looking for it. Considering the wildlings were trying to run from the White Walkers, destroying the magical Wall that keeps the army of the dead out of the Seven Kingdoms was not really a good strategy (only Tormund expresses an enthusiasm for really using it). Dalla, Mance’s wife, tells Jon, “But once the Wall is fallen, what will stop the Others?”

Could it just be a red herring from George R.R. Martin? It’s possible, though it feels unlikely. Martin doesn’t waste time when it comes to plot points; he only wastes time describing food and the juices of the meat running down beards. (Do not bring up Benjen Stark. His disappearance wasn’t a loose end, it was a plot device to initiate the Great Ranging, which brought Jon north of The Wall and the Night’s Watch into direct contact with the White Walkers.)

I mean, there’s a lot of talk about the horn in the books for it to just be filler; it has a real “Chehkov’s gun” feel to it. Jon, Ygritte, Mance, Dalla, and Tormund talk about it, and at one point in A Dance With Dragons, Melisandre thinks to herself:

“The Horn of Joramun? No. Call it the Horn of Darkness. If the Wall falls, night falls as well, the long night that never ends. It must not happen, will not happen!”

So even if the show doesn’t specifically end up using the horn, if it gets used in the books it will have some equivalent action on the show. The Wall coming down would be kinda tough for HBO to omit.

There are two main possibilities to focus on here. The first involves the discovery of dragonglass by Jon at the Fist of the First Men in the books. In that bag of obsidian daggers and arrowheads he also found a cracked, old aurochs’ warhorn with bronze that he can’t get to make any sound. He gives it to Sam, who still has it with him when he leaves for Oldtown. A very old horn—bundled with weapons that can kill White Walkers—is certainly an interesting find.

The dragonglass was discovered on the show by Sam, Grenn, and Edd, and while they made no mention of it, the same horn is right there in plain view.

Bag-Dragonglass-hornImage: HBO

Was it broken on purpose? Can it be fixed? Can it work from that far away? The horn barely gets mentioned after its discovery, yet it’s important enough that Sam holds onto it even when he needs to sell almost everything else on his journey to Oldtown. It has the air of importance, even if it doesn’t get mentioned that much.

The other idea, and the much scarier one, is that the Horn of Winter is still out there, buried somewhere north of The Wall. Considering Mance and the freefolk were digging up graves to find it, that gives us some idea of where it might be located. As a reminder graves are full of dead people, and there’s a group of ice monsters currently raising dead people for their army. The true fear is the White Walkers will find, or possibly have already found, the Horn of Winter.

If that’s the case Tormund will find someone willing to give it a toot, but as always be careful what you wish for.

But What About that Other Horn?

There’s also another horn, very real and seemingly very magical, found by Euron Greyjoy, Theon’s uncle/Balon’s brother, that seems akin to a Horn of Summer, that gets the name Dragonbinder. It kills the man that blows it, and Euron claims it can tame dragons, like old dragonlords of Valyria used. That sounds like the opposite of a Horn of Winter, one that benefits the night/cold/Others versus one that is related to dragons, the thing that can destroy them. This whole story is called A Song of Ice and Fire, so having two equal but opposite horns makes the likelihood of the Horn of Joramun existing even greater.

There’s just too much surrounding the myth of this horn to think it won’t play some kind of factor. The Wall relies on magic, and the magic is said to prevent White Walkers from getting past it. That doesn’t make for very interesting conflict. So to see an invasion that requires an actual battle between the living and the dead, the blue-eyed monsters need a way past The Wall—in both the books and the show.

When it comes to this theory it can either be that a) magic can’t actually prevent the White Walkers from getting past The Wall, and therefore all of the talk of the Horn of Winter is just a pointless red herring, or b) the horn is real and will be used, or some similar device will be employed on the show.

Oh, and if you’re still skeptical, this is the cover of the next book, The Winds of Winter.

WInds-of-Winter-coverImage: Bantam Spectra

If that horn falls into the wrong hands, well let’s just say that would blow for the people of Westeros.

What’s your take on this theory? Sound off in our comments below.

You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.

Featured Image: “Looking for the Iron Throne” by Dumaker

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