To Burn or Not to Burn – Why There is Power in King’s Blood


There is power in king’s blood!” How often have we heard this from Melisandre’s associates in some form or another? In fact, she seems to need the stuff for anything big. Certainly to indulge her dragon fetish. If there were a Westerosi soda named Kingsblood she’d chug it by the gallon. And she wouldn’t go through all that trouble to get Edric Storm or, potentially, Mance’s baby if it wasn’t special, right? In the words of illustrious god-emperor Donald Trump: Wrong! And here’s why.

Melisandre thinking about how she'd like to burn Cressen.

Melisandre at the burning of the idols.

First a disclaimer: Note that this article is primarily about the “A Song of Ice & Fire” books and not about the show.

Now, I’m going to start by discarding a few points here that we don’t have time to go into. I’m going to assume in this article that Mel does in fact have magical abilities and she’s not just a huckster, which is a possibility. I’m also going to assume that she’s not just bullshitting people when she says she needs king’s blood to perform magic. Alright? Got that? Read it? Did you read it too fast? Do you even remember? Maybe you should read it again. Okay? Okay then.

What the Hell is King’s Blood Even?!

So how does this thing work anyway? Do kings just have super special awesomesauce running through their veins? Is there a special seasoning involved? What even qualifies as kingsblood? Well, let’s take a look at the people we’re told have king’s blood, shall we.

We know Edric Storm’s blood certainly qualifies. What with Mel trying to burn him alive and all that, it seems rather clear that she believes he has king’s blood. His father; Robert Baratheon; took the crown by force, it’s true. But he did also have links to house Targaryen spread throughout his family tree, the most recent being his grandmother Rhaelle Targaryen. The most prominent being the founder of house Baratheon, Orys Baratheon, who was likely a half-brother to Aegon the Conquerer.

That is one hot Man-ce.

Mance Rayder is burned alive by Melisandre.

We know Melisandra was hella into the idea of burning Mance Rayder alive for his king’s blood. This despite the fact that, as Jon points out, Mance does not come from a royal lineage, nor has he ever sat a throne. Though he also says Mance’s blood is “no more royal than mine own” so, considering who his father most likely is, this may be a hint that Jon’s wrong.

Jon certainly does think that, at least to Melisandre, Mance’s son qualifies as having king’s blood. This is why he sends the child away with Sam to Oldtown. Although, as demonstrated earlier, Jon is not known for his expertise on matters of the arcane, so we certainly can question this.

According to Clayton Suggs, Asha Greyjoy too qualifies as having king’s blood suggesting that the red woman wants to sacrifice her, though he is the only one who ever mentions this. Until recently the Greyjoys had never even been kings as the former Ironborn kings were of different houses.

We can derive from all of these examples that the magical power inherent in the blood is passed on from any king, whether he obtained this power from a long royal lineage or by being proclaimed king, to any of their children.

It’s a Metaphor, Stupid!

This also makes it one giant metaphor for feudal succession. Just as the people in Westeros believe that temporal power is transferred through a bloodline from father to son (and sometimes daughter), so does the Red Woman believe magical power is transferred through a bloodline from father to son (and sometimes daughter, RIP future Shireen).

Eddard stroking his throbbing justice.

Eddard Stark about to execute a Night’s Watch deserter.

Why does Eddard Stark command an army in the first place? Why does he have the power, the right, to cut the head off of that Night’s Watch deserter? Why not Jason Mallister? Why not Greatjon Umber? Because Ned Stark is the son of Rickard Stark who was Warden of the North before him. Why is Joffrey’s power weakened and does it result in a huge war? Well, because he’s a nasty little shit for one, but also because he’s not recognised as being Robert Baratheon’s legitimate offspring. He’s not recognised as being part of that bloodline, and so he does not have not given the power that comes from it.

But why then, you might ask you perceptive little rasckal you, does Mance Rayder’s son potentially have king’s blood that can be used in spells? He’s not from some grand old bloodline (that we know of at least, wouldn’t be the first parentage reveal). Mance was only proclaimed king. So what gives Analyze, you arrogant prick? Well first, let me get some aloa for that burn. Secondly: it actually does make a fair bit of sense, but only if you dig a little deeper on George’s views on power.

What Is Power? Georgey Don’t Hurt Me. Don’t Hurt Me. No More.

Varys being a smug prick.

“Power resides where men believe it resides.”

George’s A Song of Ice & Fire books are, first and foremost, an exploration of power. What are the correct uses of power? Is it worth it to do the things we do to obtain power? What kind of person should wield power? But perhaps most fundamentally: Where does power come from? George’s answer to this question, I believe, is summed up most brilliantly by Varys the eunuch: “Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick. A shadow on the wall.”

So power is not something inherent to people. People only have power because other people believe they have power over them and so act accordingly. In other words, people fight in the armies of Eddard Stark and submit to his large and throbbing justice because they believe he has power over them. Because they believe that him being the son of Rickard Stark means something. That it is a legitimate way for rule to transfer from one person to another, one that everyone accepts.

Similarly, I believe, this is the case for magical power. It’s not that king’s blood has some inherent magical properties. It’s that people, like Melisandre, believe that it has these magical properties. That burning king’s blood or sad sacks of king’s blood (also known as royal bastards) in a nice glowy fire will power her magic. So central to Melisandre’s magic is not some real phenomenon or property, it’s belief in spite of reality.

How Mel Learned to Stop Worrying and Love King’s Blood

Sadly, she's not naked in this picture.

Melisandre demonstrates her power.

And it’s not like this would be new to Melisandre, as Melisandre is already keenly aware of this type of power. When we have the Melisandre POV chapter in “A Dance with Dragons” we see that she has myriad potions and pouches of powders with her at all times. To create green flames, to create lots of pretty fireworks, maybe to make Mance’s head spin like a disco ball and throw a rave. The point being, she herself is a product of this. Many people believe she has power. That she is this invincible sorcerer-priest who can make kings fall and fire up the birds. But they only believe that on the basis of a mummer’s farce. This, and its connection to king’s blood, may in fact be lampshaded by Jon when he asks, after seeing Stannis’ sword ablaze, whether he’s seeing an example of king’s blood. When, in fact, he is only seeing one of Melisandre’s tricks.

Now do I think Melisandre knows all this? Well, I don’t think she’s knows it’s a carefully constructed bit of symbolism dreamt up by the author, not unless she’s the Westerosi Deadpool. But I’m unsure whether she knows she doesn’t actually need king’s blood. It somewhat depends on who’s belief the power comes from. It may be that the power for Melisandre’s spells comes from her own belief that it works. That it’s maybe even a placebo effect. Or it may be that the belief of others, maybe large masses of people, is what gives it power. In which case she may simply, as she does with the powders, know that it’s a good way to harness the power of the masses. And, despite everything I said, it may even turn out that king’s blood has no magical effects at all. That it is simply another trick by Melisandre (something the leeches would support). But that, my dearest audience, is an article for another day.


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Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the episodes of the show. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. Game of Thrones is created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, belongs to HBO and was inspired by the book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin.

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