In Westeros, the Wall is a massive fortification-over 700 feet tall-spanning 100 leagues (300 miles) along the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms, defending the realm from the wilding human tribes that live beyond the Wall, as well as the White Walkers and their army of undead wights. As George R.R. Martin has acknowledged, the obvious parallel and inspiration for this structure is Hadrian’s Wall. For those of you who have never seen it, here is a look at Hadrian’s Wall:
Admittedly, time and weather have eroded Hadrian’s Wall to its foundations, so it is no longer as impressive as it was during its heyday, but, in its glory days, Hadrian’s Wall was sixteen to twenty feet high and covered seventy-three miles of what is now northern England.
Hadrian’s Wall was built during the Roman Empire and was aptly named after the emperor who ordered its construction. The wall was built to defend the borders of the Roman Empire from the savage tribes living in what is modern-day Scotland. It was this purpose that earned Hadrian’s Wall another one of its names: Pict Wall after one of the tribes the wall was designed to prevent from entering the Roman Empire. In other words just like the Wall of ice, Hadrian’s Wall was a barrier delineating where civilization ended and barbarity began. Hadrian’s Wall was the Roman Empire’s first defense and last bastion of civilization, much as the Wall is the Seven Kingdom’s best defense against what lives beyond the Wall and is the last outpost of civilization.
Just like the Wall in Westeros, Hadrian’s Wall was also equipped with numerous forts where the Roman soldiers stationed there could live in barracks, pray in temples, and clean themselves in bathhouses, much as the Night Watch has fortresses (some now abandoned) where their men can rest, eat, and sleep. Around these Roman forts, towns would develop, allowing Roman soldiers to purchase goods they were familiar with, sleep with women in brothels, and drink at taverns. These towns are similar in concept to Mole Town, where men of the Night’s Watch sneak out to spend an evening in debauchery, romancing whores or guzzling tankards of ale at a brothel.
While Hadrian’s Wall is not as impressive in stature as the Wall in Westeros, I can’t help but find the comparisons between the two compelling, and wonder if, since Hadrian’s Wall was constructed by the Romans, did the Valyrians build the Wall in Westeros? Although the books assure us that it was Bran the Builder, founder of House Stark, who built the Wall, I find myself a bit skeptical of this account, since the Wall seems to be more architecturally advanced than anything modern residences of the Seven Kingdoms can construct. Therefore, I can’t stop myself from speculating that perhaps the Wall is a remanent from the height of a more sophisticated culture, the Valyrian Freehold.
My theory that the origin of the Wall in Westeros may be Valyrian is the belief that-just as the true but often forgotten purpose of the Night’s Watch is to guard the Seven Kingdoms from the White Walkers-the Wall was likely built to keep the White Walkers from invading the Seven Kingdoms rather than to keep out the human wildlings.
Although the books do not state that the Valyrian Freehold extended to Westeros, I consider it possible that they did, since the bounds of the Roman Empire reached the province of Britannia (modern day Britain, which is often regarded as the real-world counterpart to Westeros).From my perspective there is also intriguing though circumstantial evidence that the Valyrians may have encountered White Walkers.
By this I mean the obsidian that can be used to defeat White Walkers is commonly referred to as dragonglass, a name which links it to the dragons Valyrians were famous for riding. More compellingly, Valyrian steel-a sharp metal that keeps its edge without honing known for its strength as well as its lightness, but the secrets of forging it have since been lost-is one of the few substances capable of vanquishing White Walkers. I find it remarkably convenient that Valyrian steel would just happen to be able to defeat the White Walkers by some sort of lucky accident. It’s much more logical for me to imagine that Valyrian steel may have been forged specifically with the intention of dealing with the White Walker threat. Essentially, Valyrian steel is a White Walker’s kryptonite precisely because it was designed to be: Valyrian steel was a weapon deliberately designed to destroy White Walkers, just as the wall was built to keep them from overtaking what is now the Seven Kingdoms. I suspect this truth will be uncovered, possibly by Sam at the Citadel or someone at the Wall, and the effort to figure out how to forge Valyrian steel will take a prominent role in the plot of the series going forward.