Chapter One: Nationalism and the “Other” in A Game of Thrones

The A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series by George R.R. Martin has become a cultural phenomenon since its first novel, A Game of Thrones was first published in 1996. The novel received the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 1997; the series has become the basis for a popular television series and sold more than 70 million copies (Locus; Flood). This popularity spreads the messages of the novel among its readers, including messages about nationalist rhetoric being used to “other.” In A Game of Thrones, the free folk north of the Wall, a barrier made of ice and stone which crosses the northern horizon of the continent of Westeros, are depicted as a dangerous “other,” mirroring nationalistic rhetoric in which immigrants are criminals; through the character of Osha, the discourse of othering around the free folk is challenged.
From the very beginning of the novel, George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones shows a land beyond the “civilization” of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros north of the Wall. This landscape is populated by “wildlings” and the border is patrolled and guarded by a force of men called the Night’s Watch. While the Night’s Watch had originally formed to protect the kingdoms from a different enemy, the undead “Others,” this enemy is long forgotten for the more immediate enemy: the wildlings seeking to cross the Wall into Westeros. That the Others have been long forgotten is evident from the behavior of the characters who are concerned primarily with events south of the Wall and their lack of concern, or outright mockery, of the Night’s Watch. The only character who believes the ancient myths is Old Nan, the caretaker for the Stark family children at their home in Winterfell. Old Nan’s voice reverberates through the children as knowledge, though it is initially depicted by other adults as merely stories. Old Nan’s existence within the text seems to remind the reader that there is power and importance to myths and legends, the stories told about the world to understand it. A Game of Thrones is told from different perspectives, each character focusing on a separate plot; two of these plots are told from the perspective of children Nan helped raise and show the falsehoods around othering and the existence of a greater evil than the human “other.”
In 1970s America, “A popular consensus began to emerge that there was a ‘crisis of immigration’, although it was more a crisis of political reaction to immigrants and minorities than about the management of migration flows” (Baldwin-Edwards 1452). The shift in rhetoric and policy which took place in the 1990s as a reaction to the illegal immigration across its southern border may have had a part to play in the depiction of the wildlings in A Game of Thrones. According to Seth M. Holmes research on the US-Mexico border, this period of time saw changes to border policy in the United States called “prevention through deterrence” which involved “intentionally re-directing migrants to more dangerous, remote areas, including the area referred to by the US Customs and Border Patrol as the ‘corridor of death’” and is believed by scholars to be “directly responsible for an increase in border deaths” (Holmes 153). According to another scholar on migration, Martin Baldwin-Edwards, the fight against illegal immigration primarily comes from “nationalist political discourses, which are ideological rather than pragmatic,” metanarratives defining an “us” against a “them” (Baldwin-Edwards 1457). According to medieval historian Carolyne Larrington, Martin’s idea of the Wall originated during a trip to “Hadrian’s Wall, built to keep the bloodthirsty Scots and Picts out of the northernmost part of the Roman Empire” (74). Fantasy scholar Brian Attebery suggests that, “Fantasy is fundamentally playful— which does not mean that it is not serious. Its way of playing with symbols encourages readers to see meaning as something unstable and elusive, rather than single and self-evident” (Stories About Stories 2). An American author, writing during a time in which policy surrounding illegal immigration from Mexico is increasing, visits an ancient Roman wall used as a hard border, and develops the idea for the Wall as a device to “play” with the idea of hard borders and othering; the “play” of using an enormous Wall made of ice and stone enables symbolism for shatter-zones between nations. Where the world view of the novel is challenged is in the new understandings gained by the characters Bran Stark and Jon Snow. As Attebery states in Stories About Stories,
Progress, class struggle, manifest destiny— anything that imposes direction and a purpose on historical change is a story concocted by humans. Some of these stories are destructive; none are inevitable. The best counter is an alternative story (204).
The alternative story within Game of Thrones invites the reader to consider that the free folk, called wildlings and vilified as they are by those in the Seven Kingdoms, are not the true threat, exemplified through Jon Snow’s encounter with the white walkers and Bran Stark’s encounter with the character Osha. Migration scholar Robin Cohen suggests that real world nationalist rhetoric attempts to separate the people of a nation from outsiders by demeaning the outsiders; “By suggesting that members of the Other were incapable of change, they cease to be amenable to reason and become unable to change, adapt or assimilate” (Cohen 64). This premise is a justification from the prologue of the novel to kill wildlings, but it is disproven by the behavior of Osha, a wildling woman who is captured by the Starks south of the Wall as she flees the greater threat: the undead Others. While she enters the Seven Kingdoms as a raider, she integrates into the society of Winterfell. As one of the only representations of the free folk, she is the representation of their humanity. The character of Osha proves that, though the culture of the Seven Kingdoms considers the wildlings to be irredeemably “other,” the wildlings seek only to survive; the need for survival requires the wildlings to flee an evil which surpasses any difference between her people and those within the Seven Kingdoms.
When the reader opens Game of Thrones, one of the first things that they will notice are the four maps at the beginning of the novel, depicting the world within. For the purposes of this chapter, the most important map is “The Land Beyond the Wall” on page iii.

Chapter One: Nationalism and the “Other” in A Game of Thrones
The A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series by George R.R. Martin has become a cultural phenomenon since its first novel, A Game of Thrones was first published in 1996. The novel received the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 1997; the series has become the basis for a popular television series and sold more than 70 million copies (Locus; Flood). This popularity spreads the messages of the novel among its readers, including messages about nationalist rhetoric being used to “other.” In A Game of Thrones, the free folk north of the Wall, a barrier made of ice and stone which crosses the northern horizon of the continent of Westeros, are depicted as a dangerous “other,” mirroring nationalistic rhetoric in which immigrants are criminals; through the character of Osha, the discourse of othering around the free folk is challenged.
From the very beginning of the novel, George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones shows a land beyond the “civilization” of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros north of the Wall. This landscape is populated by “wildlings” and the border is patrolled and guarded by a force of men called the Night’s Watch. While the Night’s Watch had originally formed to protect the kingdoms from a different enemy, the undead “Others,” this enemy is long forgotten for the more immediate enemy: the wildlings seeking to cross the Wall into Westeros. That the Others have been long forgotten is evident from the behavior of the characters who are concerned primarily with events south of the Wall and their lack of concern, or outright mockery, of the Night’s Watch. The only character who believes the ancient myths is Old Nan, the caretaker for the Stark family children at their home in Winterfell. Old Nan’s voice reverberates through the children as knowledge, though it is initially depicted by other adults as merely stories. Old Nan’s existence within the text seems to remind the reader that there is power and importance to myths and legends, the stories told about the world to understand it. A Game of Thrones is told from different perspectives, each character focusing on a separate plot; two of these plots are told from the perspective of children Nan helped raise and show the falsehoods around othering and the existence of a greater evil than the human “other.”
In 1970s America, “A popular consensus began to emerge that there was a ‘crisis of immigration’, although it was more a crisis of political reaction to immigrants and minorities than about the management of migration flows” (Baldwin-Edwards 1452). The shift in rhetoric and policy which took place in the 1990s as a reaction to the illegal immigration across its southern border may have had a part to play in the depiction of the wildlings in A Game of Thrones. According to Seth M. Holmes research on the US-Mexico border, this period of time saw changes to border policy in the United States called “prevention through deterrence” which involved “intentionally re-directing migrants to more dangerous, remote areas, including the area referred to by the US Customs and Border Patrol as the ‘corridor of death’” and is believed by scholars to be “directly responsible for an increase in border deaths” (Holmes 153). According to another scholar on migration, Martin Baldwin-Edwards, the fight against illegal immigration primarily comes from “nationalist political discourses, which are ideological rather than pragmatic,” metanarratives defining an “us” against a “them” (Baldwin-Edwards 1457). According to medieval historian Carolyne Larrington, Martin’s idea of the Wall originated during a trip to “Hadrian’s Wall, built to keep the bloodthirsty Scots and Picts out of the northernmost part of the Roman Empire” (74). Fantasy scholar Brian Attebery suggests that, “Fantasy is fundamentally playful— which does not mean that it is not serious. Its way of playing with symbols encourages readers to see meaning as something unstable and elusive, rather than single and self-evident” (Stories About Stories 2). An American author, writing during a time in which policy surrounding illegal immigration from Mexico is increasing, visits an ancient Roman wall used as a hard border, and develops the idea for the Wall as a device to “play” with the idea of hard borders and othering; the “play” of using an enormous Wall made of ice and stone enables symbolism for shatter-zones between nations. Where the world view of the novel is challenged is in the new understandings gained by the characters Bran Stark and Jon Snow. As Attebery states in Stories About Stories,
Progress, class struggle, manifest destiny— anything that imposes direction and a purpose on historical change is a story concocted by humans. Some of these stories are destructive; none are inevitable. The best counter is an alternative story (204).
The alternative story within Game of Thrones invites the reader to consider that the free folk, called wildlings and vilified as they are by those in the Seven Kingdoms, are not the true threat, exemplified through Jon Snow’s encounter with the white walkers and Bran Stark’s encounter with the character Osha. Migration scholar Robin Cohen suggests that real world nationalist rhetoric attempts to separate the people of a nation from outsiders by demeaning the outsiders; “By suggesting that members of the Other were incapable of change, they cease to be amenable to reason and become unable to change, adapt or assimilate” (Cohen 64). This premise is a justification from the prologue of the novel to kill wildlings, but it is disproven by the behavior of Osha, a wildling woman who is captured by the Starks south of the Wall as she flees the greater threat: the undead Others. While she enters the Seven Kingdoms as a raider, she integrates into the society of Winterfell. As one of the only representations of the free folk, she is the representation of their humanity. The character of Osha proves that, though the culture of the Seven Kingdoms considers the wildlings to be irredeemably “other,” the wildlings seek only to survive; the need for survival requires the wildlings to flee an evil which surpasses any difference between her people and those within the Seven Kingdoms.
When the reader opens Game of Thrones, one of the first things that they will notice are the four maps at the beginning of the novel, depicting the world within. For the purposes of this chapter, the most important map is “The Land Beyond the Wall” on page iii.

Literary scholar Kate Marshall describes Martin’s use of these maps as his participating in
two novelistic traditions that he often claims are crucial to the formation of his fiction. The most obvious, of course, is the tradition of fantasy writing that declares its stylistic debts to realism through devices such as intricately drawn maps of the spaces traversed throughout the action of the fiction. These are possible worlds with strict boundaries (Marshall 62).
These maps are used in fantasy as evidence of an alternative world. While the novels discussed in later chapters have different methods of world building, Martin begins with evidence akin to realism. While there is no scale, the Wall clearly spreads horizontally from one end of the continent to the other and is given a wide berth by the rest of civilization.
In comparing the Seven Kingdoms to the Romans and subsequent civilizations of Britain, Historian Ayelet Haimson Lushkov writes that the
demarcation of the supernatural follows in the tradition of Roman ethnography, a commonplace of writing wherein the author deviates from the regular plot to describe a particular place, its geography, and its inhabitants. The ancients believed that the geography and weather patterns of a place influenced the character and physical build of its inhabitants, so it was important to know the lay of the land in order to know what kind of people lived there (204).
While the map of “The South” shows lands filled with settlements with idyllic names, such as Starfall, Brightwater Keep, and Pinkmaiden, the map of “The North” shows a sparser place with harsher names: The Dreadfort, Winterfell, Last Hearth (Martin i-ii). This follows the Roman tradition of ethnographic writing in which they “proceeded from civilization into the wild, so that they become less and less ‘normal’ as they went” (Lushkov 204-205). There are almost no settlements in the land beyond the Wall, the only exceptions being Craster’s Keep and Hardhome. The rest of the map is dominated by the Haunted Forest, the Frostfangs and Thenns mountain ranges, the Shivering Sea, and “The Land of Always Winter” which, as “unmapped,” creates the impression that no one from the novel’s civilization has ever journeyed so far north and lived. Before the novel begins, the land beyond the Wall is depicted as a harsh and unsettled land. This map is the first insight the reader has into the Seven Kingdom’s views of wildlings: a people so uncivilized that they lack settlements as they seek to survive in their frigid landscape. There is such a fear about the land beyond the Wall and the people who live there that the lands which border the Wall are mostly unsettled. It is only once the stretch of land called “The Neck” is crossed that the people of the Seven Kingdoms appear confident in settling in greater numbers.
This treatment is described by historian Carolyne Larrington as taking the idea of ethnography farther to create “the realm of the uncanny, the land of ice, a place where the old ways prevail, where the stuff of Old Nan’s stories is both true and real, and where the customs and beliefs of the rest of Westeros seem to find no purchase” (81). It is for this reason that the Wall was created, to protect the Seven Kingdoms from the true terrors of the far north: the Others. However, in the millennia since it’s construction, the histories which Old Nan’s stories are based on have become myth and the danger of the north is instead ascribed to the savage wildlings.
According to historian Brian de Ruiter, “Sociologists use this term [“other”] to describe how societies (and individuals) represent their own self-identity as normal and correct, but that of other social groups (and persons) as abnormal and deviant. This distinction often leads to discrimination and hostility” (de Ruiter 86). The fear of the Scottish “other” caused the Romans to build Hadrian’s Wall, the fear of the Mexican “other” caused US border policy change, and the fear of the wildling “other” is what is believed to be the cause of the Wall’s construction. The truth is forgotten due to time and lost belief, as evidenced in the history of Westeros, “the Others have not shown themselves in thousands of years, if indeed they ever existed” (Martin et al. 145). Instead of its true purpose, the Wall takes on a more nationalist symbolism as a hard border against the barbarians beyond it. Robin Cohen says in studying migration that “It is not required that the barbarians accept the ‘us-them’ label for the distinction to work. The difference may be arbitrary or fictive: it is enough that ‘we’ have set up boundaries for ‘us’, for ‘them’ to become ‘they’. ‘They’ have a culture or an identity incompatible with ours” (Cohen 64). In Martin’s companion text, written in the character of a maester, the land beyond the Wall is considered lawless and the separation between the wildlings and the Seven Kingdoms as necessary: “Their pride in their poverty, in their stone axes and wicker-wood shields, and in their flea-infested pelts, is part of the reason they are set apart from the people in the Seven Kingdoms” (Martin et al. 147). The wildlings are declared as others and the actions of the few who cross the border enforce the message, causing the wildlings to be perceived as so “other” that it would not be considered out of character for “their women [to] lay with the Others in the Long Night to sire terrible half-human children” (Martin 11). This ultimate sin adds a mythical enmity from before the construction of the Wall itself and, while many in the Seven Kingdoms may not believe in the stories of the white walkers, adds an additional argument for the continued eradication of any wildlings who near or cross the Wall. The fact that the wildlings are, by name, “wild,” means that they cannot be accepted into the “civilized” society of the Seven Kingdoms.
It is the concept of otherness which is examined as Martin writes about the wildlings. The Wall, from the first maps of the novel, dictate that there are “outsiders” who are a threat to the nation of the Seven Kingdoms. An important aspect of borders defined in Gary D. Keller’s research on representations of the US-Mexican border is how it “places into contact one of the most developed countries in the world with a poor country, qualifying it as a ‘shatter zone,’ an area where the culture is the result of the often troubled relationship of unequal partners” (63). The reality of shatter zones is mirrored in Martin’s novel through the use of the Wall to separate the impoverished, nomadic free folk from the rest of Westeros. Writing in the 1990s, Martin reflects the concept of real world shatter-zones in creating the world view around the people north of the Wall, the misperception of the wildlings as the greatest threat to the Seven Kingdoms. The differences between the Wall and real world borders, particularly the elements of the fantastic, allow for the rhetoric of strong national borders to be examined.
While it is clear that Martin borrows from real world history and realism to build the world of his novel series, an important question is: in a world of magic and dragons, how do people forget that the true danger north of the Wall is not human others, but the Others, the monstrous undead? The first answer to this question comes from the sub-genre elements of “low fantasy” for having little or no magic. The rare, magical elements of the novel, undead armies and the birth of dragons, take place mostly in the fringes of society. It is due to this distance that the people of the Seven Kingdoms are able to make magic into myth. The second answer comes from realistic historicism: according to the learned Maester Luwin, castle Winterfell’s tutor, doctor, and scribe, the history of Westeros begins when “some twelve thousand years ago, the First Men appeared from the east… They came with bronze swords and great leathern shields, riding horses” (Martin 713). These men with bronze swords are the Roman equivalent and built the Wall to keep out the Others, called the white walkers by the free folk. But the First Men were not the last to come to Westeros, just as the Romans who built Hadrian’s Wall were not the last to invade England. The next invaders were the Andals, the equivalent for the vikings, “‘a race of tall, fair-haired warriors who came with steel and fire and the seven-pointed star of the new gods painted on their chests’” (Martin 714). After this, the Targaryens came to Westeros with dragons to conquer the lands. While the dragons are remembered, these violent changes in rulership are evidently the cause of the loss of the Wall’s true purpose. The Wall’s existence denotes an existing threat; it is here the wildlings are considered the primary threat beyond the border. The wildlings are the “other” who can be seen instead of the Others who cannot and become myth.
While the Stark family and the people of the North believe in the importance of the Wall, “The further south one goes, however, the less convinced the king and lords become of the urgency or national importance of the Watch’s task. They therefore increasingly use the Wall as a dumping spot for the criminal and the poor, a combination of murderers and rapists as well as perpetrators of small-time crimes driven by hunger and desperation” (Lushkov 208). Opening the novel with men of the Night’s Watch, and the subsequent fixation on that brotherhood by protagonists Jon Snow and Bran Stark, shows that the wildlings are considered to be the greatest threat to the society of the Seven Kingdoms. The prologue, before the rest of the novel can obfuscate the fact, works to reveal the true danger of the Others over the wildlings. The brothers of the Night’s Watch begin the novel by hunting wildlings before being ambushed by the undead. This event is ignored and forgotten as the lone survivor is considered a madman and beheaded by Lord Eddard Stark, the father of Jon and Bran, for deserting his post as a ranger in the Night’s Watch. This is considered especially grievous because the primary force of the Night’s Watch’s border patrol is the rangers,
Every man who wore the black walked the Wall, and every man was expected to take up steel in its defense, but the rangers were the true fighting heart of the Night’s Watch. It was they who dared ride beyond the Wall, sweeping through the haunted forest and the icy mountain heights west of the Shadow Tower, fighting wildlings and giants and monstrous snow bears (Martin 431).
To guard against the wildlings is considered a matter of national security and the very ethos of justice: to defend against the barbaric wildlings who refuse to bow to the throne of Westeros and only want to kill and steal. And yet, in living at the Wall, the men of the Night’s Watch become harsh as well in the isolation and cold. Brother Donal Noye explains to Jon what it means to be a man of the Night’s Watch as he struggles with his experiences of his idolized knightly order: “‘Yes. Cold and hard and mean, that’s the Wall, and the men who walk it. Not like the stories your wet nurse told you’” (Martin 175-176). It is unclear if living on the border changes the men, reinforcing the climate as a interpreting factor of the inhabitants, as the Romans wrote in their ethnographies, or if the fact that many of them are criminals sent to serve as punishment is the reason the Watch is filled with such brutal men defending civilization against brutal “others.”
The rhetoric around the wildling “other” is not hard to reinforce as the wildlings who venture south of the Wall are raiding. The first wildlings described for the reader comes from one of their raiding parties meeting Bran out in the forest, alone. Halfway through the novel, Robb Stark, another of Bran’s brothers, and the other hunters from their home of Winterfell leave Bran to chase a stag. “When he heard the rustle of leaves, Bran used the reins to make Dancer turn, expecting to see his friends, but the ragged men who stepped out onto the bank of the stream were strangers” (Martin 389). Bran, in recognizing their otherness, is afraid. While the fear of wildlings is perpetuated most by the Jon chapters, it is Bran who meets the first wildlings of the Song of Ice and Fire series, “One look, and Bran knew they were neither foresters nor farmers. He was suddenly conscious of how richly he was dressed” (Martin 389). Bran’s fear is justified from the stories Old Nan’s told him; “just as raiding occurred across Hadrian’s Wall, the wildlings conduct raids in the north, plundering, abducting females, and acquiring the metal necessary for their weapons” (de Ruiter 92). From the stories he has been told, it is no surprise that Bran Stark is apprehensive of the raiding party. He is proven right when the wildlings begin to rob him, threaten him, and discuss kidnapping him.
The wildlings make for an ideal “other” for the culture of the Seven Kingdoms, with the lack of recognized civilization, overt violence, and an ancient mythical grudge. The pre-existence of a hard border between the wildlings and the Seven Kingdoms allows for a nationalist narrative of “keeping undesirables out” and for an unchallenged rhetoric depicting them as barbarians needing eradication (Larrington 75). However, rhetoric about the wildlings is challenged through Bran’s encounter with his first raiding band. While they do attempt to rob him, threaten him, and kidnap him, Bran hears the discussion of their reasons for going south: the wildlings are fleeing the “white walkers” marching in the land beyond the Wall (Martin 390). This is the first indication that, though the people south of the Wall have believed the wildlings to be allied to the Others, that myth is false; the wildlings are as afraid of the Others as the people of the Seven Kingdoms ought to be. While most of these raiders are killed in a fight with Robb Stark, who comes to rescue his little brother, the wildling survivor, Osha, is the character who shows Bran that the wildlings are not mere barbarians.
On Osha’s first sighting, Bran considers her appearance as “other.” “She scarcely looked like a woman; tall and lean, with the same hard face as the others, her hair hidden beneath a bowl-shaped halfhelm. The spear she held was eight feet of black oak, tipped in rusted steel” (Martin 389). While she is the first to suggest using Bran as a hostage, she is also the only one of her group who surrenders. She describes the plight of herself and her deceased comrades as a forced migration or “Migration that results from some sort of compulsion or threat to well-being or survival, emerging in conditions ranging from violent conflicts to severe economic hardship” (Bartram et al. 69). The act of venturing south is not depicted by Osha as an act of greed or bloodlust, but of survival from a greater threat beyond the Wall. Osha’s forced migration mirrors situations in the real world in which it is not the decisions of individuals to migrate, but the issues which forced from their home to survive.
Due to the wildlings being depicted as having a lack of humanity, there is a temptation to reciprocate a lack of humanity. When deliberating what to do with Osha in her surrender, Theon Greyjoy, ward of the Starks, urges, “‘Give her to the wolves’” to be eaten alive. The Starks do not agree; while there is a pretense that she is to be taken back to Winterfell for questioning, there is a sense this is an overture for sparing her life as “Bran could see the relief on [Robb’s] face” (Martin 395). Osha, as a forced migrant surrendering to Stark forces, is pleading for safe refuge. The reaction of Theon unsettles the Starks, who act as a moral compass for the reader in Westeros, because to turn away someone who surrenders would betray a deep moral code that nobility ought to behave by, regardless how that code is ignored by other nobles. Whatever moral superiority Theon would claim before is undercut by his treatment of a now defenseless woman.
Instead of being thrown to the wolves, Osha is put into the service of the Starks at Winterfell. Over time, Osha is more recognizable as a person, less like an other, from her time in Winterfell. “Her hair was growing out, brown and shaggy. It made her look more womanly, that and the simple dress of brown roughspun they’d given her when they took her mail and leather” (Martin 558). Osha conforms more to the idea of what a woman looks like in the Seven Kingdoms, beginning the process of integration, defined as “the process by which immigrants gain social membership and develop the ability to participate in key institutions in the destination country” (Bartram et al. 83). She works within the castle walls as an imprisoned laborer, but increasingly earns freedoms as she proves her trustworthiness. Though she had been treated as other before, as an outsider and a threat, Osha gains social membership, and therefore security from the white walkers, in the community, “Ser Rodrik had ordered Osha’a chain struck off, since she had served faithfully and well since she had been at Winterfell. She still wore the heavy iron shackles around her ankles— a sign that she was not yet wholly trusted— but they did not hinder her sure strides” (Martin 707). However, Osha has not assimilated, defined as “The process by which immigrants become similar to natives— leading to the reduction (or possibly the disappearance) of ethnic difference between them” (Bartram et al. 15). Osha does not seek to become similar to the natives of Winterfell and takes pride in the ethnic differences between herself and the people south of the Wall, including knowledge of ancient history, her worship of the “old gods,” and personal independence. The lack of change in Osha shows that she does not gain humanity by entering civilization, but had it before.
Osha loses her otherness not from changing setting, but from familiarity. Bran values Osha’s knowledge of the world; she tells him what became of the nonhuman races during a history lesson when Maester Luwin’s knowledge seems to fail and claims a deeper connection to the “old gods” he worships, “‘They are my gods too… Beyond the Wall, they are the only gods’” (Martin 558). The more Bran listens to Osha, the more he begins to believe that some of the stories of Old Nan are true, that there is a greater evil beyond the Wall than the wildlings. As Osha tells him, “‘Giants and worse than giants, Lordling… the cold winds are rising, and men go out from their fires and never come back… or if they do, they’re not men no more, but only wights, with blue eyes and cold black hands. Why do you think I run south with Stiv and Hali and the rest of them fools?’” (Martin 559). The more time Bran spends with Osha, the more the differences between them seem superficial or of no importance. This builds a relationship between the two as Osha comes to care for Bran and his little brother, Rickon, and they for her. It is during this conversation with Osha that Bran hears the wildlings do not call themselves that name, but prefer the name “the free folk” (Martin 560). As mentioned before, the term barbarian does not have to be accepted by the people group labeled with it and in this same way, “Even the term ‘wildling’ indicates a savage,” and is not accepted by the people north of the Wall (de Ruiter 92). This name, used since the beginning of the novel, instantly labels those beyond the Wall as an “other” to the culture of the Seven Kingdoms. While this has been used to lead the people of the Seven Kingdoms to fear the free folk, Bran’s time with Osha reveals the humanity denied by the rhetoric. Osha’s integration into the society of Winterfell proves that the claims against the wildlings are not entirely true, that they are not a people of barbaric intentions as much as their intentions are to survive.
Osha warns that the true threat to Westeros is the Others, the undead white walkers who murder the living to grow their army. The citizen of the Seven Kingdoms who is still willing to keep the wildings out must also be willing for them to die and become part of a worse enemy army. The first sign the men of the Night’s Watch have that something is wrong north of the Wall is when they find two of their brothers dead: Othor and Jafer. There are unnatural aspects of the body, reminiscent of the prologue: “the dead white face stared up at the overcast sky with blue, blue eyes” and that the animals, including the horses, do not like being near these bodies (Martin 531). While there is a brief investigation, the men from the Seven Kingdoms would rather attribute the deaths to the wildlings than the white walkers (Martin 535). This is because the men of the Night’s Watch do not want to admit that a myth could be true. “Jon could have told him. He knew, they all knew, yet no man of them would say the words. The Others are only a story, a tale to make children shiver. If they ever lived at all, they are gone eight thousand years. Even the thought made him feel foolish” (Martin 536). The saying of the Starks, “Winter is Coming” appears to be coming true, but the winter coming is not a mere change in the season: it is an apocalyptic event. The only chance of surviving this coming winter is in the myths they have been told. When Jon is awoken to find the corpse of Othor has come alive and is attempting to attack Lord Commander Mormont in his sleep, the ensuing fight appears fruitless until he remembers Old Nan’s stories that the undead are vulnerable to fire. Jon successfully defeating Othor, the Other, prompts Mormont to admit, “We ought to have known. We ought to have remembered. The Long Night has come before. Oh, eight thousand years is a good while, to be sure… yet if the Night’s Watch does not remember, who will?” (Martin 632). As this danger has already been witnessed by the reader in the prologue, alluded to by Osha, and now confirmed by the Night’s Watch, it is clear that the fate of anyone north of the Wall is to be killed and become an undead reaver. For the Night’s Watch to continue to focus on the wildlings as the primary threat is to doom them to the fate of becoming white walkers, increasing the threat of an undead army to preserve the rhetoric of “othering.” The free folk, already recognizing the white walker threat, see the dangers of border crossing in a similar way to modern illegal migrants crossing the US-Mexican border as studied by Seth M. Holmes, “In this context, crossing the border is not a risk-producing choice, but rather a lack of choice, a determined process necessary to survive, in fact making life less risky” (159). It is for this reason that they seek to cross the border, either in small bands or with the gathered army under Mance Rayder. This problem, currently contained in the farthest reaches beyond the Wall, is foreshadowed as the true threat of the series.
Attebery asserts that any theory which deals with fantasy texts, like A Game of Thrones, must recognize three aspects of fantasy. The first is that it is a revival of “archaic” narrative forms, like the myth. The second is that it challenges the notion that literature is representational as allegory. The third is that narrative sequence is a neutral structure which provides “important elements like character-portrayal or societal analysis” (“Strategies of Fantasy” 34). In looking at A Game of Thrones as a cultural production which comments on the construction of the “other” in its world building, all three aspects of Attebery’s requirements are met. The novel creates and recreates cultural myths, borrowing from myths of supernatural threats. What it does differently, however, is depict a fantasy world in which the myths are not treated with serious thought. This ignorance causes magical problems to be ignored for the visible threat of the free folk. While they are hated for being violent raiders, their actual goal, as depicted by Osha, is survival from an evil mythological force. Considering the depth Martin borrows from myth, history, and real world metanarratives, Game of Thrones is able to “play” with rhetoric around shatter zones and othering. The method of telling the story from multiple perspectives reflects the real world by showing the divided priorities of the people of Westeros and allowing for important issues to go unresolved or, worse, unacknowledged. Only two characters, Bran and Jon, gain an understanding of the threat beyond the Wall while the rest are distracted with politics. The serial nature of A Song of Ice and Fire depicts a complex world with complex problems. As the first novel closes, the issue of the Others goes unresolved, ensuring that the threat will worsen as it is ignored, a foreboding message if applied to reality if threats which force migrants from their homes are also unresolved.
While some literary critics may refuse the possibility that a work of fantasy can do resistant cultural work, speculative fiction is able to capture the imagination in ways other literature cannot. The distance Game of Thrones has from reality allows for an easier philosophical discussion of practical ideas as they are enacted in created worlds. In a time period when the United States was purposefully making the crossing of their southern border more difficult, Martin published a work which depicted the outsider as human. Whatever faults can be attributed to the free folk, the character Osha shows the reader that the motivations are the human pursuit of survival. Osha’s humanity challenges the novel’s world view of otherness and allows for real world metanarratives to be analyzed through that challenge.

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