A skinchanger is a person with the ability to enter the mind of an animal and control its actions. It is much easier for a skinchanger to do so if a bond exists between the two parties. A skinchanger able to enter the mind of a wolf or dog is known as a warg. The interaction between the skinchanger's and animal's mind will influence both personalities, with detrimental effects to the human if the animal’s influence is not fought. As yet, there has only been one known incidence of a skinchanger successfully entering another human's mind, and only a simple-minded one at that. This incidence was particularly traumatic to the person whose mind was entered, and difficult for the skinchanger. Such an event proves to be a moral and ethical dilemma.
An untrained skinchanger may unconsciously enter the mind of an animal, especially while sleeping, particularly if a bond exists. It is extremely traumatic if an animal is killed while its mind is inhabited by a skinchanger. If a skinchanger is killed while inhabiting a creature, a part of his consciousness will remain in the creature. Much fear and superstition exists around skinchangers, with many mistakenly believing them to be shape shifters. It is said the greatest of the skinchangers were the greenseers, who amongst many other things were also wargs. The greatest amongst them could wear the skin of any beast. One man in a thousand is born a skinchanger, and one skinchanger in a thousand could be a greenseer.
Notes about Skinchanging
Nature of the beasts, according to Haggon:
- Dogs are easy to bond with, because they are so much like humans and trusting; it becomes easier with time to enter one.
- Wolves are harder; one has to forge a lasting bond, much like a marriage. A man might befriend a wolf, even break a wolf, but no man could truly tame a wolf.
- Birds are very tempting, but a warg may soon lose contact to the mundane things of earth, and want only to fly.
- Cats are cruel and vain beasts and can’t be easily controlled, only forced.
- Elk and deer are prey; wear their skins too long, and even the bravest man becomes a coward.
- To eat of human meat.
- To mate as wolf with wolf.
- To seize the body of another man (this is the worst abomination).
Varamyr Sixskins did the first two of these and, as his human body was dying, attempted the third. Bran Stark succeeded at the third, entering the mind of his simple-minded companion Hodor on a number of occasions. 
A skinchanger can experience many deaths while in another body. It is only when the person's human body dies that the "true death" occurs. It is possible for the warg to live a type of second life, a much simpler life inside the mind of an animal he controls. In the second life, the skinchanger's memory slowly fades until nothing of the man is left and only the beast remains.
There have been few known skinchangers in modern times, with most people associating them with the legends of the children of the forest, particularly the greenseers.
The skinchanging ability is primarily seen amongst the current generation of Stark children. All of the children and their direwolves are said to exhibit common personalities, although in most instances this is entirely unconscious and is not likely to involve entering the animal's mind. The children are full wargs and can slip into just about anything, but Bran is the only one working on it.
- Bran Stark: Despite his young age, Bran is a more experienced skinchanger than any of his siblings. This is possibly due to his enhanced state of consciousness experienced when he was comatose after his fall. Initially he just enters the mind of his direwolf, Summer, during sleep and believes he is having vivid dreams. Once Jojen Reed arrives at Winterfell and recognises what is occurring, he began to instruct Bran on how to control his abilities. Since this time, Bran has been able to slip into his wolf during waking hours and control the body, instead of simply experiencing everything the direwolf does. On his journey to find the children of the forest, Bran and his companions are attacked by a number of wights. In order to save his own life and the lives of his companions, Bran enters the mind of his guide, Hodor, so that he can fight the wights more effectively. Bran, under the tutelage of the three-eyed crow, learns to enter a raven and later the great weirwood at Winterfell.
- Arya Stark: Whilst traveling, Arya experiences dreams of her direwolf, Nymeria, leading a wolfpack and attacking some humans. This corresponds to events in the area where Nymeria is believed to be, with the wolves becoming larger and more bold. She also enters the minds of cats when she is in Braavos.
Jon Snow: Varamyr Sixskins notes that Jon Snow is a strong skinchanger, but untrained in and unaware of his true abilities; he had known what Jon was the moment he saw the great white direwolf Ghost stalking silent at his side. Jon's ability has manifested few times, as he slipped into Ghost while scouting for wildlings with Qhorin Halfhand. Through Ghost's eyes, he spies on the wildling horde. When an eagle attacks Ghost, Jon wakes screaming. By A Dance with Dragons, Jon often has wolf dreams. Melisandre offers to help him with his abilities, but so far Jon has turned her down.
- Orell is a wildling raider and skinchanger who can inhabit the body of an eagle. This eagle is frequently seen before the main body of the wildling exodus, providing valuable scouting information. While inhabiting the eagle, Orell is killed by Jon Snow, causing the eagle, or the remains of Orell's consciousness, to despise him.
- Varamyr Sixskins is a wildling accompanied by three wolves, a snow bear and a shadowcat. Consequently, he is almost certainly the greatest skinchanger seen by anyone south of the Wall in living memory. After Orell's death, Varamyr takes control of his eagle, using it to scout during the battle of Castle Black. This eagle is killed by Melisandre while he is inhabiting it, causing him to go mad.
- Haggon was the mentor of Varamyr Sixskins.
- Borroq is a skinchanger who can inhabit the body of a boar.
- Briar was a skinchanger who could inhabit the body of a shadowcat.
- Grisella was a female wildling skinchanger who could inhabit the body of a goat.
- Brynden Rivers: Former Hand of the King and Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, now three-eyed crow and part of the roots of a weirwood. He mainly enters crows and ravens but can also see through weirwood trees.
- House Farwynd of the Lonely Light: The Farwynds are alleged to be skinchangers able to take the form of sea lions, walruses, and spotted whales.
- House Mormont: Alysane Mormont tells Asha Greyjoy, perhaps jokingly, that Mormont women are skinchangers who turn into bears and find mates in the woods.
- Gaven Greywolf, legendary a First Man skinchanger defeated by the Kings of Winter in the "savage War of the Wolves".
- The Warg King, defeated by the Starks in a war for Sea Dragon Point.
|“||Bran: You're a greenseer.
Jojen: No, only a boy who dreams. The greenseers were more than that. They were wargs as well, as you are, and the greatest of them could wear the skins of any beast that flies or swims or crawls, and could look through the eyes of the weirwoods as well, and see the truth that lies beneath the world.
|“||The free folk fear skinchangers, but they honour us as well. South of the Wall, the kneelers hunt us down and butcher us like pigs. ||”|
References and Notes
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- ↑ World Fantasy Con (Saratoga, NY; November 1-4, 2007) So Spake Martin
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 A Dance with Dragons, Prologue.
- ↑ A Storm of Swords, Chapter 40, Bran III.
- ↑ A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 34, Bran III.
- ↑ Trinoc*Con 8 (Durham, NC; August 3-5, 2007) So Spake Martin
- ↑ A Feast for Crows, Chapter 19, The Drowned Man.
- ↑ A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 42, The King's Prize.
- ↑ A Storm of Swords, Chapter 9, Bran I.