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In A Storm of Swords, Sam encounters Coldhands who leads them through the Wall via the Black Gate. He appears to have once been a Ranger of the Night's Watch, though it's clear he's now dead, and this is confirmed by Leaf in A Dance with Dragons. He kills pretty indiscriminately both men of the Night's Watch and wights.

Has this been addressed in A Dance with Dragons and I missed it? Is there speculation? I have my own thoughts as to who it might be, but I'd be curious to know if anyone else has a legitimate answer to this.

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1  
Spoiler alert -> Benjen Stark?! – Secko Feb 22 '14 at 23:23
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Coldhands is... completely ignored in the HBO adaptation of the book series, giving us a hint that he's not a terribly important character :) – Andres F. Aug 6 '14 at 12:13
    
@AndresF.: I've noticed that. Of course, he may still yet appear just not at the same time as he did in the books. – Meg Coates Aug 6 '14 at 17:39
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Boy, did my words come back to bite me in the...! – Andres F. May 31 at 23:16
    
He did not kill Men of the Night's Watch without a reason. They were deserters who had mutinied at Craster's Keep and deserved to die. – Aegon Jul 13 at 10:43

12 Answers 12

up vote 27 down vote accepted

There is speculation on who Coldhands is, as described here and here, for example. I'll discuss the The Last Hero and Benjen Stark theories. And also a theory of my own.

The Last Hero is the person from Old Nan's story about the Last Hero who went out into the cold north with a squad of men, and was hounded by the Others, seeing his friends, his horse and even his dog die. I believe she tells him this story right after he wakes up from his coma. Quote from the wiki:

Thousands of years ago, a winter fell like no other, and there came a night that lasted a generation. The Others came during that winter, and they hated fire, iron, and the touch of the sun. This was before the Andals had come, and before the women of Rhoynar, when the First Men lived in the lands they had taken from the Children of the Forest. The Others had slaughtered many, and couldn’t be stopped, so the last hero of the First Men set out to find the Children. He left with his sword, a dog, his horse and twelve companions. When only he was left, in despair of ever finding the Children, the Others closed in.

The connection between this hero and the Children, who we now know to be connected to Coldhands, somewhat supports the theory of them being one and the same.

The theory is also somewhat supported by Leaf saying "He died long ago", which may imply that "long ago" is too long of a time span to be anyone who died recently, seeing how she is reportedly very old herself.

One interesting piece of information about "The Last Hero"-Coldhands is that he knows about the Old Gate at the Nightfort, which only brothers of the Night's Watch may pass. Presumably, its existence is not common knowledge, and may imply that Coldhands lived long ago. Although it is easily thwarted by things like (Spoilers for ADWD):

It may be Bloodraven's/The three eyed-crow's knowledge, which is fairly believable, as we know that he is very well versed in magic, and knows the Wall well, having been the Lord Commander. And: Someone like Benjen Stark might very well have access to such rare knowledge.

However, while cold preserves, it does feel -- to me, at least -- a bit unbelievable that even an undead, stored in freezing cold, could last thousands of years.

The evidence of him being Benjen Stark, are even more meager. I believe all we have going for that theory is:

  • He is reportedly a former man of the Night's Watch, as evidenced by him calling Sam "Brother" and wearing black clothes.
  • He saves Sam, is an ally of the Children and the three-eyed crow, and seems to be on the side of the good guys.
  • His appearance in the story coincides with Benjen's disappearance.

All of which are pretty weak, as evidence goes. For example, he could easily be lying about being a black brother, or it could be some misunderstanding that he just never denied. Him being a "good guy" could simply be a direct effect of him being the three-eyed crow's minion. And of course, many people disappeared around the time Coldhands appeared, and plenty of black brothers died on the Fist, right before Coldhands appearance.

The single strongest motivating factor (not evidence!) for Benjen = Coldhands might be that people want it to be him: Rather than him being dead, having him reappear as a good guy, taking care of Bran. I myself am one such person, although I would prefer if he would reappear alive.

Hence, my theory largely stems from the happy moment when Sam was saved by Coldhands' flock of ravens, and I was thinking: "So this is what happened to Benjen!"

One idea that I do like is the combination of the two: That Benjen's fate is shadowing the fate of The Last Hero from Old Nan's tale; that his is a role that is repeated, much like Azor Ahai's.

A personal theory of mine (spoilers ADWD):

is that Coldhands could be a friend of Bloodraven, from his days in the Night's Watch. Since he was Lord Commander and a magic user, it could easily be one of his former brothers. Which would make sense of the connection between them, rather than Coldhands being just any random person. It would also support Leaf's statement "He died long ago." since Bloodraven is fairly old.

For a wild moment, I was considering if he could be Dunk, but that would be unlikely, as Dunk is known to have perished at Summerhall with Egg. We do know that Bloodraven aka Brynden Rivers came to the wall with the honour guard who escort Maester Aemon to the wall, so if this theory is correct, we could find Coldhands among those. There should have been some fairly important names in that group.

While this theory would be interesting, I am much more in favour of the Benjen theory. It feels right, and it feels better.

In short, there is no clear evidence as to who Coldhands is -- or was, before he died. I would say that many things point to his identity being irrelevant, since wights do seem to lose much of their personality when they die, and it is plausible that all we see of Coldhands personality is actually the three-eyed crow's.

My gut feeling is that Coldhands' (former) identity will be revealed. Mostly because GRRM built up some suspense around his character and purposely did not let Bran see his face. And also because I think we will know the fate of Benjen eventually, and as I said, I am a believer in the particular theory that binds those two mysteries together.

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+1 great answer! My vote is for Benjen as well. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long to find out. – Beofett Apr 5 '12 at 13:48
    
I admit, I am personally in favor of the Benjen theory. I proscribe to the "If an author is going to take the time to write about a shotgun over a fireplace, he's probably going to use it" dogma of writing, and I become irritated with authors who don't follow it. GRRM appears to follow it. So why bother with Benjen and his presence in the books at all, if he simply disappears never to be heard from again? It just doesn't make sense. At the very least, I agree with you that the two mysteries are tied together somehow. – Meg Coates Apr 5 '12 at 15:59
    
So...is Coldhands an Other, a wight, or simply another, as yet unexplained, reanimated corpse that swears no particular allegiance to anyone? – Meg Coates Apr 22 '12 at 16:34
    
I think it is safe to say that Coldhands is someone who died, who has been reanimated, and is probably controlled by the Three-eyed crow. – TLP Apr 22 '12 at 18:22
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So why bother with Benjen and his presence in the books at all, if he simply disappears never to be heard from again? Martin doesn't follow the usual tropes, in fact he often subverts them. It could very well be that Benjen is simply dead, that we will never know the circumstances, and that Coldhands is simply a dead brother. That said I'm very much in favour of TPL's theory, and hope it works out that way :) – Binary Worrier Aug 6 '14 at 11:55

There is no answer in A Dance with Dragons. Like you said, it does appear he was a Ranger of the Night's Watch. In my opinion, think of a Ranger friendly to the Starks who went missing recently -- but I'll admit it's just speculation.

More speculation at The Tower of the Hand. My guess is the first option they mention.

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It turns out I was right, at least for the TV show :) Though I don't think it's automatically true the identity of Coldhands will be the same in the books... – Andres F. May 31 at 23:15

Its pretty obvious. Coldhands is the Nightking.

According to legend, the Night's King was originally a Lord Commander of the Night's Watch who found in the Haunted Forest a cold woman with bright blue eyes, seemingly a female White Walker. He took her to the other side of the Wall and declared himself "Night's King". For thirteen years the two ruled over the brothers of the Night's Watch, performing human sacrifices. The Free Folk rallied under the banner of a King-Beyond-the-Wall and marched against the Nightfort, which the Night's King had taken as his seat, defeating him with the aid of House Stark.

He fell in love with a woman "with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars", he chased her and loved her though "her skin was cold as ice", and when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well". Saying he gave her his soul probably means he died when having sex with her since she was a White Walker. Therefore, he can be around for thousands of years.

And the reason why he is hiding his face from Bran Stark....

"While on his way north, Bran Stark recalls stories told to the Stark children of the Night's King and the Nightfort by Old Nan, servant in Winterfell. She said some people believe the Night's King was a Bolton, a Magnar out of Skagos, an Umber, a Flint, a Norrey, or a Woodfoot, who ruled Bear Island before the ironmen came. However, she identifies the Night's King as a Stark of Winterfell and brother to the King of the North and hints his name too was Bran."

There is a high chance that if the Night King/Coldhand's name wa Brandon Stark as well, he would look like an older version of Brandon Stark, and Bran would be freaked out and probably draw the conclusion as to who Coldhands really is if he saw his face. This also explains why Coldhands knows Bran's name. Either Coldhand/Nght King has reformed, or he has some other trick up his sleeve.

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Coldhands is obviously Ser Duncan the Tall. In A Dance With Dragons, Meera asks Coldhands who the Three-Eyed crow is. Coldhands replies, "A friend." The Three-Eyed Crow is Brynden Rivers. Bloodraven. In The Mystery Knight, Dunk asks Ser Maynard Plumm who he is. Plumm replies, "A friend." Plumm is Brynden Rivers. Bloodraven.

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Show

In Season 6, Coldhands is revealed to be:

Benjen Stark

However that does not mean it would be the same in Books as well at this point in Show/Books schism. Show is heading in a completely different direction.



Books

It is currently unknown in Books who is Coldhands. George R.R. Martin has already rejected the theory that it is Benjen Stark in notes exchange with his editor.

One of our members has speculated that it could be:

The Night's King

I agree with him on this. But not for the reasons he has. So following would be my reasoning.

The following theory may contain spoilers. You have been informed. Scroll down on your own hazard as I won't be using spoiler tags for this.


Here is what we know about Coldhands:

  1. He is somewhere between the dead and the living.
  2. He died a long time ago according to Children of the Forest who live for centuries. So if CotF think he died a long time ago, it might actually mean ages in human time.
  3. He understood the songs of Children of the forest which means he can speak the Old Tongue of old races and first Men.
  4. He was a member of the Night's Watch and possibly a ranger.

But how do these pointers point to the Night's King?

Because:

  1. Fate of the Night's King is never explicitly mentioned. Books only mention that he was defeated and that his name was erased from all records. Why would George keep his final fate a secret if it was not going to be something huge?
  2. Night's King lived at least 8,000 years before the events of current timeline. If he was killed back then, he would definitely fit the bill of dying long ago.
  3. In the Age of Heroes, the First Men ruled entire Westeros and spoke the Old tongue. Andals and Rhoynar hadn't yet landed in Westeros. The old tongue is alive only beyond the wall now. It is unlikely that a Southern member of Night's watch could learn the language from Wildlings given the nature of limited and mostly hostile interactions NW men have with them. So it has to be someone who spoke it as his Mother Tongue. Night's King checks out on this count as well because as he was alive in age of heroes, he would have spoken Old tongue as his mother tongue.
  4. Night's King was the 13th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. He is described as a puissant warrior so it is plausible that he may have started his career in Night's Watch as a Ranger.

So what happened to Night's King after his defeat?

I believe he was sacrificed to the Old Gods in a religious-magical ritual which turned him into this undead existence and charged him with protecting realms of men from Others for eternity as his punishment for endangering humanity by consorting with them.

In A Dance With Dragons, Bran sees the following vision:

The Tree itself was shrinking, growing smaller with each vision, whilst the lesser trees dwindled into saplings and vanished, only to be replaced by other trees that would dwindle and vanish in their turn. And now the lords Bran glimpssed were tall and hard, stern men in fur and chain mail. Some wore faces he remembered from statues in the crypts, but they were gone before he could put a name to them.

Then, as he watched, a bearded man forced a captive down onto his knees before the heart tree. A white-haired woman stepped toward them through a drift of dark red leaved, a bronze sickle in her hand.

"No," said Bran, "no, don't," but they could not hear him, no more than his father had. The woman grabbed the captive by the hair, hooked the sickle around his throat, and slashed. And through the mist of centuries the broken boy could only watch as the man's feet drummed against the earth...but as his life flowed out of him in a red tide, Brandon Stark could taste the blood.

This is a very interesting passage. You can observe the following in this passage:

  1. The Weirwood tree was shrinking. The tree must have been around for hundreds of years. If it was shrinking that means Bran was going back in time, when that tree used to be a a little more than a sapling. That could literally mean many centuries, even thousands of years. He saw trees vanish and new trees take place. (Which will actually be old trees who were replaced by trees that vanish in this vision, in actual life. But the vision is going in reverse).
  2. Bran sees hard, tall and stern men. Old Stark kings are described as such. Bran recognizes few of the their faces from the statues built in crypts of Winterfell which confirms that these were Stark Kings and Princes of the old times.
  3. They are forcing a captive down to his knees in front of a Heart Tree. Heart Trees are very sacred and important in faith of the Old Gods. Why would they profane such holy place with blood? Unless they meant to sacrifice the man to the Gods themselves. To what ends though? What is the importance of this ritual?
  4. The woman holds a bronze sickle. First Men used Bronze weapons back in Age of Heroes which aligns with the timeline in which Night's King existed. After that, they also moved to Steel weapons like Andals, at least south of the Wall.
  5. Bran was centuries away. The man was sacrificed to the Gods and Bran could taste his blood.

The captive who was sacrificed here was the Night's King I believe. He was arrested after his defeat and brought to justice. The Victorious Kings did not just kill him, they sacrificed him to the Gods and punished him with turning him into an undead being, charged with fighting his former-allies (Others) forever. This is exactly what Coldhands is doing.

We do not yet know for sure but Cold Hands true identity will be pretty amazing, I bet.

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I used to subscribe to the Benjen Stark theory but the evidence isn't there. Benjen is described as having long legs and being gaunt - and that's before he vanishes on a Ranging. Coldhands is only described as having a broad back. Not completely contradictory descriptions necessarily but no similarities there. And wouldn't Bran recognise his uncle, even muffled up? He is a future greenseer after all. Also it's clear that Coldhands has been animated - for want of a better word - to help Bran and his party reach the Three-Eyed Crow. He's more likely to have some connection with the greenseer and it's also stated by Leaf that "[the wights] killed him long ago" which really rules out Benjen who could only have been dead a few months.

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It will be The Night's King who was also most likely a Stark, maybe even a Brandon Stark (as per Old Nan's story).

Martin loves to turn bad characters into redeemed antitype heroes. It makes sense that he would be working with good old Three Eyed Crow.

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Two answers here, that bring us to the end Season 6 of television show.

Show

Cold Hands has been revealed to be:

Benjen Stark

...

As seen in this video


Books

Unknown at this time.

However, there is a photo of handwritten notes from George R.R. Martin to Anne Groell, his editor.

grrm NO

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Personally, I think Coldhands is Azor Ahai. He disappeared after the Long Night, but when the Others rose again, so did he. When the Red Priests talk about Azor Ahai being reborn, they think it's someone else, but I think it's literal. Also, as he wielded Lightbringer and was all about fire, and is now wight-like, like ice, it works with Fire and Ice, a theme that I think justifies almost all theories

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This is more an answer on who he isn't. It has been speculated by fans that he could be Ned's brother whom we see on the first episode, Benjen. Today I saw this article on Huffpost TV that GRRM confirmed that Coldhands isn't Benjen Stark.

So we do not know who he is, we can only assume. All the theories mentioned could be correct, but at least we know that he isn't Benjen.

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I go with him being the last hero. Probably meaningless but fun tie-in, the Stark's sword Ice isn't the original. It's mentioned very early on that the name predates the sword. Who better to have cold hands?

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I see that many of these are old and so some of the information I have may be new. On the ASOIAF site there is an original manuscript where it is written that Coldhands is NOT Benjen. I would have loved for that to be true but I believe its as close to fact as we can get to say Coldhands isn't Benjen. And as for the Last Hero I don't believe the wall was built yet and therefore there wouldn't have been any Nights Watch and he couldn't have been a brother yet. I really like the idea of Dunk being Coldhands. I'm with the guy I think is TLP who posted way back in 2012.... Luckily, since 2012 GRRM has released his HUGE book of the history of Westeros and it finally becomes better known that the Tragedy at Summerhall had UNKNOWN deaths. Rheagar was BORN.... and it is believed that Dunk and Egg were killed in the fire. But GRRM doesn't leave loose ends like that for no reason. I believe there is a reason there is not a westeros historical record of exactly who died at Summerhall. (Its almost funny that there would be a historical records of a made up land in a made up time with made up people & seasons and it really take up this much of what I think about) And maybe I am wrong feel free to tell me if I am.
I found this site because I read on ASOIAF forum someone mentioning Dunk being Coldhands.... it was written a few weeks ago and with the info that GRRM and his publishers have let out we know now that Dunk was at Summerhall but we don't KNOW he died there. WHAT WE DO KNOW: CH isn't Benjen (broke my heart too im a sucker for Starks). CH must be a brother of the NW, Dead a long time.

Now when CH killed the ELk for food he said an prayer in an ancient language. So he was compassionate toward animals. Remember Dunk buried his horse, onlookers teased him and no one helped him dig the hole... he did it alone and buried him proper because he was a good horse who did him well. Dunk had the same compassion as CH. He took BR to the wall so he was there... at some point and could have gone back. What if he joined the NW because of guilt from Summerhall. Or as punishment for it. He was a Knight of the KG and his King died. Your in the KG for life maybe it was his only way out. AND LEST WE NOT FORGET... that BR is from Dunks time period and so bringing back characters from then is possible.

IF IT IS DUNK: The one thing I cant figure out is WHY NOBODY MENTIONS COLDHANDS BEING TALL! Do dead bodies shrink? Possible... right? Maybe him riding around on a giant elk, which would take a good sized man I think, is suppose to do two things. Distract the characters from mentioning his height because he is so high when riding and yada yada... AND suppose to subtly show you he is big.

Side note, the whole calling BR 'A Friend' and it showing that it must make him Dunk, I do get... because in Dunk's books Plumm calls him a 'friend' and its seriously & strongly believed that Plumm WAS BR with a glamour on... I just am not sure that BR would be a 'friend' to Dunk. He wasn't when the hedge knights stories ended. But more are to come... I do believe though that since Plumm could have been BR (I believe GRRM might have even confirmed Plumm was BR) when he called him 'a friend' that mayyyyybe BR warged this body and coldhands IS BR. As in that BR is inside him as a warg. This isn't my favorite theory but for this one clue I think it points to BR warging more than Dunk being CH. Dunk is still my favorite for CH.

Please correct anything thats wrong here and give me your POV. I'm not trying to discredit anyone I just see that this is old there is new info out but I really like the train of thought you all had going here! Id love feedback from you all.

And if anyone wants to take a crack at who the hell Melisandre really is... Im down!

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"On the ASOIAF site there is an original manuscript" - could you maybe add a link to this post? – Rand al'Thor Apr 10 at 19:33

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