Editor’s Note: We first published this article after the Season 6 episode “The Door.” While some of the episode-specific references might be dated, the Children of the Forest lore is as relevant as ever.
In the latest episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, “The Door,” fans of both the books and the series lost a beloved character at the skeletal hands and cruel blades of the wights under the command of the Night’s King. This friendly fellow wasn’t the only soul lost* during the skirmish in the cave of the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow) but it was clearly the focus of this hour’s emotional torture thanks to a heartbreaking sacrifice.** However, the last stand of the shadowy, mysterious creatures known as the Children of the Forest was every bit as necessary to our heroes’ escape.
Game of Thrones seems to be in the process of explaining the mythology and history of the Children of the Forest bit by bit. Ain’t nobody got time for that. So we’re here to give you a primer on the backstory of these ancient, non-human creatures and dig into recent events to see if they fill in the holes in said story. If you need a refresher on last night’s hour, be sure to check out Kayti Burt’s recap here.
As we mentioned in our prequel article, we wanted to see more from the Children of the Forest, but not like this. This species has a foggy, piecemeal mythology revealed throughout George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, but there’s enough there to warrant some sort of mini-adaptation. The HBO show, however, is metering information out in interesting bits and pieces. Let’s look at what the books have laid out before getting into what the show has offered.
As the most-excellent A Wiki of Ice and Fire reminds us, the Children of the Forest–sometimes referred to as “little squirrel people,” “those who sing the song of earth,” or simply as the “children”–are an ancient, non-human species whose origins are unknown but who inhabited Westeros well before the arrival of the First Men some 12,000 years before the current era in the story. Their appearance is a strange combination of traits suited to life in the dark forests: nut-brown but dappled skin; large, well-attuned ears; clawed hands; and cat-like eyes that allow them to see in near total darkness. Certain members of the Children, known as greenseers, have magical control over nature and experience prophetic visions. Humans, too, can be born greenseers and wargs, with the Three-Eyed Raven and Bran himself as examples.
These greenseers–literally one born in a million–were reportedly responsible for using their nature magic to shatter the landbridge known as the Arm of Dorne in their war against the First Men, transforming it into the island chain dubbed the Stepstones. This war lasted 2,000 years and saw much destruction of the Children’s weirwood trees before a standstill resulted in the Pact between the races, signed on the Isle of Faces. This granted the lands of Westeros to humanity while leaving the deep forests to the Children.
After 4,000 years of relative peace, the two sides united against the Others during the Long Night, a war against the invaders from the Lands of Always Winter that was barely won by our heroes. The victory solidified the alliance between the two races, leading the Children to deliver a hundred obsidian daggers to the Night’s Watch every year in preparation for defense against another assault from the Others. However, the relationship between the races faded over the years–though the men of the North were certainly influenced by their ways–to the point that the Children became regarded as legends. But winter is coming once again…
Now we can get to the more recent events from the HBO show, notably the story featuring a Child of the Forest named Leaf and her role that spans thousands of years of history! Yes, if the events of “The Door” are to be believed, Leaf has been around for somewhere around 12,000 years since she had a pivotal role in the war against the First Men. How pivotal, you ask? Well, it appears that Leaf and her ilk made a habit of capturing men and turning them into White Walkers, including the creation of the Night’s King himself.