From caretakers to schemers the Order of Maesters are more than meets the eye. Season 6 Revisited explores the two sides of the maester’s chain.
By Ryan Colantonio // RetroZap’s Season 6 Revisited tackles last season’s biggest reveals and their implications on the story moving forward. This week dives into the two archetypes of Oldtown maesters. Of course, prepare for material from all books and seasons.
Benign vs Corrupted
Through six seasons the show’s portrayal of maesters has been consistently two-fold. On one hand is the benevolent Luwins and Aemons. On the other stands the stuck in their ways bureaucrats that viewers finally met in last season’s finale. What’s interesting is that these two differing factions are now cemented in the show’s canon. This means that as the story progresses the showrunners can’t pick just one side to represent the entire Order. Now, let’s article looks back on the development of this duality and how Season 7 continues the trend.
Caretaker, Mentor, Friend
The evolution of the maesters dichotomy begins with the introduction of Maester Luwin. Never once callous, or absorbed in Citadel bureaucracy, Luwin is a trusted and integral member of House Stark. Ned heeds Luwin’s council even regarding his most private of matters, such as the poisoning of Jon Arryn. A close fatherly figure to all of Ned’s children, Maester Luwin faithfully serves the Starks until his death.
Similarly, Maester Aemon of Castle Black is a close friend and mentor to Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly. Always ready to offer advice or inspiring anecdotes, Aemon helps both characters grow from boys to men. Aemon, once offered the Iron Throne, embodies the Order’s ideals of service to the realm more so than any other character. Committing the ultimate sacrifice, Aemon willingly joined the Night’s Watch to remove himself from any bloody Targaryen succession.
The line of benevolent maesters continued with Dragonstone’s Maester Cressen in Season 2. Luwin’s replacement at Winterfell, Maester Wolkan, appears to be the newest addition to the club.
The Order’s more corrupt side begins to take shape with the introduction of Qyburn in Season 3. Despite his obvious ill-will and unnatural curiosity, a number of his misgivings seem to ring true. The Season 4 Histories & Lore material sums up the Order’s nefariousness quite well, stating that maesters “study without learning.” Technological advances are noticeably scarce in the lore of A Song of Ice and Fire. In fact, there’s evidence that the world may have been more advanced before the Doom of Valyria. While magic, unnatural seasons, and centuries of warfare are likely at fault, the Citadel is not without blame. As the supposed collection of the world’s greatest thinkers, the Citadel’s failure in scientific achievement is extremely suspicious. Whether linked to corruption or foul play, this preservation of status quo goes against the Order’s most fundamental principles.
A maester’s chain is a symbol of their service to the realm. And yet, fans have seen that this chain doesn’t necessarily prevent maesters from serving themselves. In a Season 3 deleted scene viewers learn that even a Grand Maester, the Citadel’s representative on the King’s small council, repeatedly acts in his own interests. Placing these interests over his service, Pycelle has continuously aligned himself with the strongest house at the time. In A Clash of Kings, Pycelle even admits to letting both Jon Arryn and King Robert die to protect House Lannister.
Likewise, A Feast for Crows repeatedly hints that the Order harbors some over-arching hidden agenda. Feast’s ever-mysterious Marwyn believed that this agenda was a world without magic. Considering the Order’s fondness of the status quo, a hatred of magic would actually make sense. Conspiracy theories aside, the maesters’ absolute devotion to the realm is certainly questionable.
In the coming seasons, maesters will have more screen time than ever before. As Sam studies at the Citadel, he’s sure to come upon both Oldtown archetypes. Something that would immediately make him of interest to both factions is the Glass Candle Initiation Rite. Confirmed as show canon via Histories & Lore, this ritual involves acolytes attempting to light a dragonglass candle. Of course, new recruits are meant to fail the ritual, signifying that some mysteries are simply beyond comprehension.
The problem is, Samwell Tarly isn’t exactly your typical recruit. This is someone who’s killed a white walker, interacted with greenseers, and now possesses a Valyrian steel blade. If there was ever anyone to successfully, possibly comically, complete this ritual it would be Sam.
It’s still up in the air as to whether the ritual will even make it onto the show. However, it would lead to some interesting possibilities given the supposed magical abilities of these candles. As described in A Feast for Crows, glass candles allegedly enable their users to see and communicate across continents. In the Wars to Come, this ability would be invaluable in the fight against the white walkers.
Then again, lighting a candle would also put Sam at odds with the Citadel’s un-learning clique. With Season 7 being the first significant Oldtown exploration, it’s unclear just how fanatical this faction will be. Besides persecution and expulsion, perhaps Sam would even be risking death.
Fans should be on the lookout for both ends of the maester’s spectrum throughout Season 7. With just 13 episodes left, there might not be enough time to fully explore the Citadel’s hidden agenda. Instead, it’s entirely possible that the showrunners intended the maesters dichotomy to come to a head with Samwell Tarly.
Having arrived at Oldtown, Sam is literally on the precipice of his attaining his lifelong dream. Could Season 7 present Sam with the choice between his duty and the allure of the Citadel? Luckily, he has Gilly, Baby Sam, and Heartsbane to set him on the right path.