A skinchanger or beastling is a person with the ability to enter the mind of an animal and control its actions. A skinchanger able to enter the mind of a wolf or dog is known as a warg. It is unknown if skinchangers are synonymous with or different from shapechangers.
The interaction between the skinchanger's and animal's minds influence both personalities, with detrimental effects to the human if the animal's influence is not fought. It is much easier for a skinchanger to do so if a bond exists between the two parties. An untrained skinchanger may unconsciously enter the mind of an animal, especially while sleeping, particularly if a bond exists. It is 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. The greatest skinchangers were greenseers, who among many other things were also wargs. The greatest greenseers could wear the skin of any beast.
According to Haggon, dogs are easy to bond with, because they live in close proximity to humans and are trusting; it becomes easier with time to enter a dog. Wolves are harder, as one has to forge a lasting bond, much like a marriage. Birds are tempting, but a skinchanger may soon lose contact to the mundane things of earth and want only to fly. Cats are cruel and vain beasts and cannot be easily controlled, only forced. Elk and deer are prey whose skins can cause a man to become cowardly.
An unwritten code for free folk skinchangers, as told by Haggon, forbids them to eat of human meat and to mate as wolf with wolf. Seizing the body of another man is considered the worst abomination.
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.
The greenseers of the children of the forest inspired the first legends about skinchangers. Septons and maesters serving with the Night's Watch with the Wall recorded stories of skinchangers among the free folk found beyond the Wall.
According to ancient ballads, Gaven Greywolf was a skinchanger defeated by the Kings of Winter in the War of the Wolves. House Stark also defeated the Warg King in a war for Sea Dragon Point. Rose of Red Lake, one of the legendary children of Garth Greenhand, supposedly could turn into a crane.
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
Part of Orell lives on in his eagle, which attacks Jon. Varamyr claims the eagle, and when the bird is later burned by Melisandre during the battle beneath the Wall. Varamyr is almost driven mad.
A Dance with Dragons
When they are surrounded by wights, Varamyr attempts to take control of Thistle but the spearwife resists. The humans are killed by wights, but Varamyr begins his second life by entering one of his wolves, One Eye. Bran's direwolf, Summer, later forces One-Eye to submit.
In order to save his own life and the lives of his companions, Bran enters Hodor so that he can fight wights more effectively. Bran furthers enters Hodor in the cave of the three-eyed crow, using him to explore the cavern. Meera and Jojen are unaware of Bran's actions, and Hodor hides deep within himself. Under the tutelage of the three-eyed crow, Brynden Rivers, Bran learns to enter a raven and later the great weirwood at Winterfell.
- Jon Snow, who can enter his direwolf, Ghost.
- Arya Stark, who has wolf dreams with Nymeria and can see through the eyes of a cat.
- Bran Stark, who can enter his direwolf, Summer; a human, Hodor; a raven; and the weirwood at Winterfell.
- Rickon Stark, whose direwolf is Shaggydog.
- Robb Stark, whose direwolf is Grey Wind.
- Sansa Stark, whose direwolf is Lady.
- Borroq, who can inhabit the body of a boar.
- Briar, who could inhabit the body of a shadowcat.
- Grisella, who could inhabit the body of a goat.
- Haggon, the mentor of Varamyr.
- Orell, who can inhabit an eagle.
- Varamyr Sixskins, who inhabits three wolves, a snow bear, and a shadowcat.
- Brynden Rivers, the three-eyed crow and last greenseer.
- House Farwynd of the Lonely Light, alleged to take the forms of sea lions, walruses, and spotted whales.
- House Mormont, alleged to turn into bears.
- Rose of Red Lake, alleged to turn into a crane.
- Gaven Greywolf, killed by a King of Winter.
- The Warg King, killed by a King of Winter.
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.
—thoughts of Jon Snow
Orell was withering inside his feathers, so I took the eagle for my own. But the joining works both ways, warg. Orell lives inside me now, whispering how much he hates you. And I can soar above the Wall, and see with eagle eyes.
They say you forget. When the man's flesh dies, his spirit lives on inside the beast, but every day his memory fades, and the beast becomes a little less a warg, a little more a wolf, until nothing of the man is left and only the beast remains.
Slipping into a dog's skin was like putting on an old boot, its leather softened by wear. As a boot was shaped to accept a foot, a dog was shaped to accept a collar, even a collar no human eye could see. Wolves were harder. A man might befriend a wolf, even break a wolf, but no man could truly tame a wolf.—thoughts of Varamyr
The big stableboy no longer fought him as he had the first time, back in the lake tower during the storm. Like a dog who has had all the fight whipped out of him, Hodor would curl up and hide whenever Bran reached out for him. His hiding place was somewhere deep within him, a pit where not even Bran could touch him.—thoughts of Bran Stark
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 79, Jon XII.
- The World of Ice & Fire, Ancient History: The Dawn Age.
- So Spake Martin: World Fantasy Con (Saratoga, NY; November 1-4 2007), November 2, 2007
- A Dance with Dragons, Prologue.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 4, Bran I.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 73, Jon X.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 15, Jon II.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 9, Bran I.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 43, Jon V.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 68, Jon VIII.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The North: The Kings of Winter.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Reach: Garth Greenhand.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 28, Bran IV.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 39, Catelyn V.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 32, Sansa III.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 51, Jon VI.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 53, Jon VII.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 40, Bran III.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 76, Jon XI.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 3, Arya I.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 65, Arya XII.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 4, Bran I.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 13, Bran II.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 34, Bran III.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 3, Jon I.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 28, Jon VI.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 58, Jon XII.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 69, Jon XIII.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 19, Davos III.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 42, The King's Prize.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 45, The Blind Girl.
- So Spake Martin: Quite a Few Questions, February 01, 2001
- So Spake Martin: Trinoc*Con 8 (Durham, NC; August 3-5, 2007), August 05, 2007
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 66, Bran VII.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 20, Catelyn III.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 15, Sansa I.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 19, The Drowned Man.
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