20

In both the Song of Ice and Fire books and the TV series there are references to a mysterious land called Asshai-by-the-Shadow. In the TV series, both Ser Jorah and Quaithe (the woman with the mask) mention this place. Furthermore, in the TV episode "A Man Without Honor", Quaithe is shown to be covering a man in tattoos "to protect him from the shadow".

Is this merely a throw-away line, or are there any other hints (books or TV) that there is some real danger in Asshai? Is it ever explained what "the Shadow" is, for that matter?

The only thing I can think of is that both Quaithe and Melisandre come from Asshai, so at least we know that dangerous people do come from there. But is there some other "great danger"?

(I know there are more details in the books, which I've read, but I can't remember much and I don't have them with me.)

  • 2
    Why the downvote? – Andres F. May 19 '12 at 12:38
  • It's also where the dragon eggs came from. – Marcus Swope May 21 '12 at 21:32
  • Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe it was the original birthplace of dragons? Wasn't that in the first or second book? – user10889 Nov 19 '12 at 18:29
  • 1
    Quaithe said she was tattooing that man to protect him from the Doom of Valyria, not a "shadow". – user16410 Aug 2 '13 at 21:56
  • @user16410 Just checked the script and you're right, of course. But it doesn't change the gist of my question. – Andres F. Aug 3 '13 at 2:51
15

Asshai is a city in the far south-east on the continent of Essos (the largest of the three known continents). Beyond Asshai lies the Shadow Lands, this is the reason Asshai is referred to as Asshai-by-the-Shadow.

Both the city and its people have a negative reputation throughout the region. This is most likely due to the fact that residents of the city that are practioners of the arcane arts openly practice these arts. We see this with both Melisandre and Quaithe. It is worth noting that the Dothraki view the Asshai people as the "spawn of shadows". This could possibly indicate that even the Dothraki fear the city's inhabitants, or it could simply be due to the city's proximity to the Shadow Lands.

As far as the Shadow Lands, very little is know about the inhabitants or the general activity of the region. The land is said to lie "under the Shadow". This is allegedly where Illyrio purchased the three dragon eggs.

As yet, the books have not gone into detail as to what "the shadow" is.

  • It's pretty obvious: It's the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie. – sampathsris Apr 4 at 3:29
17

There is more insight of Asshai-by-the-shadow on the World of Ice and Fire, which allows us to understand why it is considered such an ominous place and why some people might be afraid of it.

  • The entire city is black and has an unpleasant feeling to it.

Travelers tells us that the city is built entirely of black stone: halls, hovels, temples, palaces, streets, walls, bazaars, all. Some say as well that the stone of Asshai has a greasy, unpleasant feel to it, that it seems to drink the light, dimming tapers and torches and hearth fires alike.

  • It is clearly mentioned that nothing is forbidden. People are free to practice their spells without any constraint.

The dark city by the Shadow is a city steeped in sorcery. Warlocks, wizards, alchemists, moonsingers, red priests, black alchemists, necromancers, aeromancers, pyromancers, bloodmages, torturers, inquisitors, poisoners, godswives, night-walkers, shapechangers, worshippers of the Black Goat and the Pale Child and the Lion of Night, all find welcome in Asshai-by-the-Shadow, where nothing is forbidden. Here they are free to practice their spells without restraint or censure, conduct their obscene rites, and fornicate with demons if that is their desire.

  • No one rides in Asshai. Animals that come by ship, die.

An account by Archmaester Marwyn confirms reports that no man rides in Asshai, be he warrior, merchant, or prince. There are no horses in Asshai, no elephants, no mules, no donkeys, no zorses, no camels, no dogs. Such beasts, when brought there by ship, soon die.

  • Despite the fact that Asshai is a tremendously huge city, the population is very little, and no one can be seen at night or during the day.

Yet, the population of Asshai is no greater than that of a good sized market town. By night, the streets are deserted, and only one building in ten shows a light. Even at the height of day, there are no crowds to be seen, no tradesmen shouting their wares in noisy markets, no women gossiping at a well.

  • People that walk the streets have their faces covered.

Those who walk the streets of Asshai are masked and veiled, and have a furtive air about them.

  • There are no children in Asshai.
  • Those who sailed beyond the city never returned.

Is there any truth to these grim fables brought back from the end of the earth by singers and sailors and dabblers in sorcery? Who can say? Lomas Longstrider never saw Asshai-by-the-Shadow. Even the Sea Snake never sailed so far. Those who did have not returned to tell us their tales.

  • People believe that there are twisted creatures in lairs near the mountains

On its way from the Mountains of the Morn, to the sea, the Ash runs howling through a narrow cleft in the mountains, between towering cliffs so steep and close that the rivcer is perpetually in shadow, save for a few moments at midday when the sun is at its zenith. In the caves that pockmark the cliffs, demons and dragons and worse make their lairs. The farther from the city one goes, the more hideous and twisted these creatures become[...]

  • There is Stygai, the corpse city, in the heart of the Shadow, where no one dares to go.

[...] until at last one stands before the doors of the Stygai, the corpse city at the Shadow's heart, where even the shadowbinders fear to tread. Or so the stories say.

All the quotes are from the aforementioned book, pages 308,309

  • +1 Thanks for the background from a World of Ice and Fire, especially since I don't own the book. It's unfortunate that all this information isn't in any way mentioned or referenced in the novels proper :/ – Andres F. May 20 '16 at 23:39
  • @AndresF. Some of them are. The thing is that there is so much info, that it cannot be told in the novels, along with the main storyline. They'd have to be more than double in size. – Shevliaskovic May 20 '16 at 23:45
  • Some, but not most of what you quoted (unless my memory fails me, of course). As a matter of personal opinion, I don't believe in "Extended Universe" sort of works -- if GRRM writes about some mysterious city in his saga, it should either be left intentionally mysterious or fleshed out in the novels. If it cannot be fleshed out, then it wasn't very important :) – Andres F. May 21 '16 at 0:59
6

The danger of Asshai wasn't explicitly stated in the books. But, we do see the power of Melissadre and other red priests. It seems that we are supposed to be unsure of what exactly gives these sorcerers their power.

The land far to the east of Westeros seems to be viewed with one part contempt and one part fear by most of the people that we read about in the books. Past occurrences such as the "Doom", dragons, and old Valyrian magic hint at danger that we, as readers, have yet to uncover.

1

Dragons do originally come from the shadowlands. A reference is made to it by Dany in A Storm of Swords, when she recalls that the dragon eggs were brought from those lands.

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Asshai is a mysterious far-away place famous for its magic. And magic is usually dangerous.

  • 1
    I thought as much, but what is this "Shadow" supposedly near or in Asshai? The TV series also makes magic far more common in my opinion, with Pyat Pree openly practicing it in Quarth. – Andres F. May 19 '12 at 12:40

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