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Game of Thrones Theories: Who Is Coldhands?

Updated on January 13, 2013

So Who Is Coldhands?


Coldhands is a mysterious character in George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels. He first appears in A Storm of Swords, when he came to the rescue of Night’s Watch brother, Samwell Tarly, his companion Gilly and her baby whom SamwellTarly is helping to return to the relative safety of the wall following the collapse of the Great Ranging beyond the wall after the attack on the Fist of the First Men. Arriving out of nowhere riding a giant elk, Coldhands seems to be able to control ravens purely by the force of his will. He goes on to help Samwell Tarly and Gilly to safety, returning them to the wall. Physically Coldhands seems to be very similar to the wights that are found beyond the wall- he has dead eyes and his coldhands are also suggestive of a creature that has died and is being kept alive by some dark old magic. He even smells dead; we’re told of “a faint whiff of rot”. However he seems to be a lot more alert than Wights and is also acting seemingly kindly. That’s all very well, but exactly who is Coldhands? The precise identity of Coldhands has not yet been revealed by George R R Martin, making “who is coldhands” one of the many mysteries of the Song of Ice and Fire series. But there are some fairly large clues that can help us to answer the question who is Coldhands.


Coldhands Dance with Dragons


The Coldhands Games of Thrones character also features in Dance with Dragons. Having successfully been delivered back to the wall, Samwell and Gilly are charged by Coldhands with climbing up into Nightfort and sending back Bran, Hodor and the Reeds, who have just arrived there on their long trek north from the ruins of Winterfell. Coldhands then takes Bran, Hodor and the Reeds on a long journey north that ultimately sees Bran delivered to the three-eyed crow and the children of the forest in the far north of Westeros.


Clues as to Who Is Coldhands


The Coldhands Song of Ice and Fire character seems to have been a member of the Night’s Watch at some point in his past. The clues for this theory of who is coldhands are numerous- he dresses all in black for one thing, and also refers to Samwell Tarly as “brother”, the term used by brothers of the Night’s Watch when addressing each other. Coldhands’ close relationship with ravens is also redolent of the Night’s Watch, who keep the birds for communication purposes, and who are informally known as Crows themselves. So if Coldhands used to be in the Night’s Watch that helps us a little, but which member of the Night’s Watch- again, who is coldhands?


Is Benjen Stark Coldhands?


One popular theory as to who is Coldhands is that Jon Snow’s uncle and Ned Stark’s brother, Benjen is Coldhands: the Benjen Stark theory. Benjen Stark was the first ranger of the Night’s Watch until he disappeared during a ranging North of the wall, searching for the missing ranger Ser Waymar Royce. Benjen Stark has so far not been seen in Song of Ice and Fire since his disappearance in A Game of Thrones. His disappearance and that of Waymar Royce are one of the motivations behind the Great Ranging organised by Lord Mormont. This long period that he has been missing means that he could indeed have died and been turned into Coldhands during the intervening period. Benjen Stark would of course be immediately recongisable to his nephew Bran and to Hodor, and the fact that Coldhands keeps his face covered at all times therefore adds weight to the idea that Benjen Stark is Coldhands, reinforcing the Benjen Stark theory.

But is Benjen Stark Coldhands or is that too simple a solution to such a lovely mystery? There are a couple of little hints that we might be looking in the wrong place if we just assume that Benjen is Coldhands. Whatever has happened to the dark brother who has become Coldhands, we get the impression that it will have taken a long time, a glacially, epically long time, not just the few months that have passed since Benjen Stark disappeared. For one thing, the Child of the Forest tells Brandon Stark that Coldhands’ death occurred “long ago”- given that the Child of the Forest is ancient in the extreme, this seems an unlikely description to give to a chap who has died in the last couple of years.

This argument against Benjen Stark being Coldhands might just be GRRM trying to throw us off the scent- after all “long ago” is a fairly ill-defined phrase at best and hardly represents conclusive evidence as to whether Benjen Stark isn’t or Benjen Stark is Coldhands. Moreover, as an argument against Benjen being Coldhands, this “long ago” death also discounts most of the other potential candidates for who is Coldhands.


Who is Coldhands: Other Candidates


You will recall that Benjen Stark’s disappearance occurred when he was North of the Wall ranging in search of a missing brother of the Night’s Watch, Ser Waymar Royce. Like Benjen Stark, Waymar Royce still has not returned and nor has his body ever been recovered. This means surely that Ser Waymar is as likely a candidate for Coldhands as Benjen. We actually see Waymar Royce become a wight during the prologue to a Game of Thrones, the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. In this passage of events we see Waymar disbelief his colleague Will, who claims that a group of dead wildlings have risen again, before being killed himself, being turned into a wight and then killing Will. Some theories as to who is Coldhands posit that either Will or Waymar could be Coldhands.


There’s little to support the notion that Benjen is Coldhands over either of these other two candidates, other than the fact that it would seem to make more sense to the story that Coldhands should turn out to be such a relatively central character, one of the Starks rather than either of these relatively peripheral characters. There’s also the fact that we sort of know what happened to Will and to Waymar Royce: they became wights. And since they became wights, surely they should act as normal wights, not as the seemingly beneficent and intelligent Coldhands acts. What happened to Benjen Stark is a mystery that is still to be resolved, as is the question of how did whoever is Coldhands become Coldhands, and structurally speaking the idea that Benjen is Coldhands is a neat resolution to both the question of what happened to Benjen Stark and the question of who is Coldhands.


You will recall that Benjen Stark’s disappearance occurred when he was North of the Wall ranging in search of a missing brother of the Night’s Watch, Ser Waymar Royce. Like Benjen Stark, Waymar Royce still has not returned and nor has his body ever been recovered. This means surely that Ser Waymar is as likely a candidate for Coldhands as Benjen. We actually see Waymar Royce become a wight during the prologue to a Game of Thrones, the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. In this passage of events we see Waymar disbelief his colleague Will, who claims that a group of dead wildlings have risen again, before being killed himself, being turned into a wight and then killing Will. Some theories as to who is Coldhands posit that either Will or Waymar could be Coldhands.

There’s little to support the notion that Benjen is Coldhands over either of these other two candidates, other than the fact that it would seem to make more sense to the story that Coldhands should turn out to be such a relatively central character, one of the Starks rather than either of these relatively peripheral characters. There’s also the fact that we sort of know what happened to Will and to Waymar Royce: they became wights. And since they became wights, surely they should act as normal wights, not as the seemingly beneficent and intelligent Coldhands acts. What happened to Benjen Stark is a mystery that is still to be resolved, as is the question of how did whoever is Coldhands become Coldhands, and structurally speaking the idea that Benjen is Coldhands is a neat resolution to both the question of what happened to Benjen Stark and the question of who is Coldhands.

Who is Coldhands: Ancient History


A couple of final Song of Ice and Fire Coldhands theories touch on the identities of characters who don’t directly appear in front of the reader, but whose life stories are related by other characters as part of the sprawling epic prehistory that George RR Martin has created for his world in a Song of Ice and Fire.


Brynden Rivers is one of the earlier Lord Commanders of the Night Watch. Nicknamed Bloodraven, Brynden Rivers was a bastard son of King Aegon IV, born about 125 years before the events related during the Song of Ice and Fire books. As well as being Lord Commander, Bloodraven also served as the Hand of the King, and his notoriety and skill with magic made him an early possible contender for the identity of Coldhands. However, when Brandon Stark eventually meets the Three Eyed Crow during A Dance with Dragons, there are a great many details about the identity of the Three eyed Crow that cumulatively make a fairly cast-iron case for the idea that Brynden Rivers is the Three Eyed Crow. These include the fact that the Three Eyed Crow appears to Bran as someone with white hair, pale skin and one eye- a fairly precise description that matches Brynden perfectly. There’s also the fact that the Crow tells Brandon that he was named Brynden- fairly indisputable there.


The final candidate for the identity of Coldhands is the Night’s King. Another former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, the Night’s King predates even Brynden Rivers’ times by years uncountable, and was the thirteenth Commander of the Night’s Watch, living during the age of heroes, only a few years after the wall itself was built. This would certainly count as “long ago” when the Child describes the time that Coldhands died. The Night’s King overstretched his authority as Lord Commander, committing untold atrocities, and ruling almost as a King from the Nightfort until the King in the North managed to overthrow him. There’s nothing to suggest that the Night’s king isn’t Coldhands, and Bran’s recollection of Nan’s stories about him during his trip northwards are certainly handy from GRRM’s point of view, introducing this historic character shortly before Bran meets Coldhands for the first time. But there is a small snag with this particular answer to the question who is Coldhands- Coldhands is by all accounts, and according to all his actions, benevolent, and so far as the ancient tales of the Night’s King go, he was far from good. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Night’s King couldn’t be Coldhands, but it does suggest that either the tales of the Night’s King’s evil nature are exaggerated, that he has mellowed over the centuries since his death, or that Coldhands might yet surprise us.


Share your Coldhands Theories


So what do you think? Who is Coldhands? Is Benjen Stark Coldhands? What are your favourite Coldhands theories? Let us know below...



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    • kw colorado profile image

      kw colorado 4 years ago from colorado

      You've convinced me...I was of the opinion that Coldhands must be Benjen Stark, but now I think that he must be Night's King. That would fit with the way that GRRM has some of his destructive and selfish characters gradually grow to redeem themselves from past evil deeds, (Jaime, Theon, for example).

      Conversely, Martin also has his unselfish and beneficent characters gradually become comfortable with murder and oathbreaking (Catelyn, Rob, Stannis, Tyrion, Jon Snow, and Arya).

      So in my opinion, the Night King's past history of atrocities does not preclude his becoming a force for good in the time of the story.

    • Edward William profile image
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      Edward William 4 years ago from UK

      Do you think? I'm stlil not sure. Definitely agree about GRRM constantly making us switch our allegiances as good characters find it impossible not to do bad things and bad characters reveal understandable reasons for their horrific actions. It's like he enjoys toying with us like that.

      If the Night's King is Coldhands, what do you reckon has happened to Benjen? Is Benjen even dead?

    • kw colorado profile image

      kw colorado 4 years ago from colorado

      Benjen, I think, will turn up interacting with Jon Snow in Jon's next incarnation. I think that Jon will come back as some kind of intelligent, vaguely beneficent undead cold person. Benjen will act as a guide for Jon.

      If I'm wrong, and the Night's King (I'm going to refer to him as NK) is not Coldhands, but remains as a power-mad sorcerer, then NK may be directing the wight army in its invasion of the southern lands. In that case, Coldhands and Benjen would be trying to fight back against that. I think that Bran's role in this would be as communicator, letting the various characters know what's going on so that they can eventually work in concert.

    • Edward William profile image
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      Edward William 4 years ago from UK

      That's the best outline of what will happen to Jon I've read yet- walking talking thinking but dead. He's already cold and calculating and relentless this would just take that to the next level without making him any less likeable.

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      John Davis 4 years ago

      I'm of the opinion that Coldhands and the Three-eyed Crow are just the first taste of a something completely new (old?). We haven't really seen anything about what's really going on beyond the wall and why there are wights and Others and what powers/drives them. I think Bran and crew are the "in" into this world for the reader and that the next book will develop the whole idea.

    • Edward William profile image
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      Edward William 4 years ago from UK

      Sounds pretty feasible to me.

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      Evan James 4 years ago

      Wasn't there a story about a member of the Night's Watch that had a child with one of the wights/white walkers (I am a little hazy on it)? I was under the strong impression that Coldhands was that child.

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      Chris 4 years ago

      My first impression of coldhands was "This has to be Benjen" but upon reading the whole series over again and reading many fan theories online I am not entirely sure. One thing I am convinced of is that coldhands is a Stark.

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      hargrove 4 years ago

      Could Coldhands be the son of the Night's King? Is said that he married a wight so couldn't that be his son?

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      J5Dubv 4 years ago

      Could Coldhands possibly be Bran the Builder... He built the wall to protect mankind from the Wights and Winterfell. Perhaps he still works today against them and the Great Other the god of darkness. His name may have been Brynden... he died long ago... and seems to be a benevolent figure who was around when the Children still inhabited lands south of the wall.

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      Josh 3 years ago

      Maybe BloodRaven is warging into a white walker or a wight

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      Adam 3 years ago

      I would go with the theory of Night's King. Bran remembers the story just before meeting him, Bran also sees a vision through Winterfell's tree where a man's throat is opened in the sacred wood. Coldhans hides half of his face but what if the reason for doing this is to hide his throat. And now imagine, if the Starks executed him in Winterfell which I strongly believe they did, maybe his magic made him into a wight. And that explains why the Starks put iron swords on their graves telling that they keep the spirits inside. The tradition might have started out of fear of Coldhands. And we know that maybe iron really keeps the dead from turning into wights, because Jon ties some bodies with iron chains but they never return to life. It also seems poetically correct of him cooperating with a legendary Targaryen like Bloodraven, because that truly makes a tale of ice and fire. Finally he tells ''Your monster, Brandon Stark'' what if he just told his name to Bran? The old nanny insisted that his name was Brandon and in books those things happen for a reason. So yes, I would vote Night's King, unless he is someone we've never heard off.

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      John L 3 years ago

      Coldhands must be the Night's king . His story of brutality and savagery should be drawn by his adversaries and comrades for two reasons.

      First as lord commander he was binded by an oath to follow a chastised life. Yet again he surrendered himself to the graces of his night's queen , a female other. Night's watch appeared to be quite strict with its own rules, at an extend that murder jon snow only because of his attempt to avert the order's neutrality.

      Second the tale explicitely states that upon consorting with his Queen, he surrendered his seed and his soul at the same time. This point of the story is covering a rather unique event that could explain the unique nature of coldhands: of a man that became a wight without being resurrected by a white walker's hand but by having sexual intecourse with a white walker woman. So this point can easily give an answer of the unique wight coldhands is, due to the uniqueness of relation the night's king developed.

      As such a tale was made to conceal the fact that a man turned alive into a conscious wight and at the same time erase any memory of the night's king from the records of the watch , as this might have been involved in a very serious precedent against the traditions that holds the watch committed and in place.

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      Tyler 3 years ago

      http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Brynden_River...

      read all the descriptions. Bloodraven is bloodraven. He lost an eye and would show it open to the world, bloodraven/three-eyed crow has a root through one eye. Usually wore white and red which are the colors of a weirwood and was lord commander of the night-watch. He was also said to be a sorcerer.

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      Violet 15 months ago

      Random one but who started the nights watch? Who had the first idea to use ravens?

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