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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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Spoiler alert -> Benjen Stark?! –  Secko Feb 22 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 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 at 17:39

7 Answers 7

up vote 23 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 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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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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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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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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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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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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