There are many SPOILERS in A Girl’s list that answers the question “What is the organization Arya is in?” Don’t pay the steep price of being annoyed and come back when you’re caught up on the books and TV series.
The Faceless Men from the House of Black and White are one of the most mysterious shadow groups in A Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire. An assassin’s guild that will kill anyone you ask them to – you just need to pony up the majority of your fortune (if you’re wealthy) or give up your life, child, or something else precious to you (if you’re poor).
What is the House of Black and White? Well, strangely enough, it appeared along with Braavos and the Iron Bank at the Secret City’s unveiling 111 years after its founding by former Valyrian Freehold slaves. The windowless temple sits on a deserted rocky lagoon in Braavos. You have to take a small boat to get there. And you might not be let in when you arrive, even if you have the special iron coin of the Faceless Men and know the guild motto, “Valar morghulis,” or “All men must die.” Cheery greeting, guys.
Who’s the guy who blinded Arya that one time because she killed the wrong man? A Man cannot tell you who is Jaqen H’Ghar because he is No One. “Jaqen H’Ghar is dead.” And probably a hoot at a party. A Man probably forgot to bring the ice and cold cuts again. Since we first laid eyes on Jaqen (or did we earlier?), it seems like he’s gone out of his way to put himself in Arya’s path.
Did Syrio Forel, the First Sword of Braavos, tell the Faceless Men about his protégé? Or was Syrio Forel also a faceless man AND Jaqen H’Ghar? Maisie Williams asked the showrunners and was told no. Like we’re going to believe them after that whole “Jon Snow is definitely” dead thing. And now that Arya has blown her second chance at becoming a Faceless Man on purpose, just how crazy is that fight to the death going to be with the Waif? Oh, it’s going to be on.
Let’s drink from the poison fountain and take a closer look the origin of the Faceless Men, their Many-Faced God, their connection to the Iron Bank, if any, the House of Black and White, and their endgame.
What’s Arya’s Next Move?
So looks like Arya has said “Bye, Felicia” to the Faceless Men. If Arya survives her fight to the death with the Waif (she will, she has to, right?), Arya might apprentice with the mummers. It’s a good way to travel around and get access to one’s enemies.
Or was Arya’s going rogue Jaqen’s plan all along?
Origin of the Many-Faced God
The worship of the Many-Faced God originated from the Valyrian Freehold. The god made itself known when Valyria adopted slavery from their conquered enemy, Ghis.
Ghis tried to stop the expansion of Valyria and a series of wars broke out. Valyria prevailed because it had dragons. After razing most of Ghis, Valyria took on the Ghis practice of slavery. Valyria expanded its territory and had influence over the remaining Ghiscari colonies of Slaver’s Bay.
Valyria captured thousands of slaves from various lands from many different cultures and religious beliefs. The slaves built roads and worked in the mines of the Fourteen Flames. The suffering of the slaves was great and they called out to their various gods for mercy, death, or the death of their slave masters.
In the books, the Kindly Man tells Arya the story of how the Many-Faced God came to be. It is said that the first Faceless Man (could also be a he or she or both) heard these prayers to all of these gods with “a hundred different faces” and deduced that they were praying to one god with many names, or the Many-Faced God.
He determined that he would be “god’s instrument” and answer these prayers. The Faceless Man gave “the first gift” (death) to the most “wretched” of slaves, “the one who had prayed most earnestly for release.” Then he gave this “gift” to the slave masters. But we’ll get to that one later…
He then began training others to be Faceless Men. Which may or may not have involved blindness or getting beaten repeatedly in stick fighting.
Origin of Braavos and the Iron Bank
The slaves of Valyria revolted in 500 BC. They overtook the Valyrian ships they were sailing on and made their way to a remote, foggy lagoon. The land mass was hidden from dragon riders as well as passing ships. They called their Secret City Braavos. It was an open minded, slave-free city. To maintain their secrecy, they painted their ships with sea snail dye to hide their Valyrian identity. They also carried false charts.
The city was hidden from the rest of the world for 111 years until after the Doom of Valyria. Braavos was unveiled in an event called the Uncloaking or Unmasking of Uthero. Utero Zalnye was a big-time sealord and the elected leader of Braavos. He sent ships throughout the world to reveal the existence of Braavos and more importantly, the Iron Bank.
Zalnye had already told Valyria about the Iron Bank a few years prior. These current Valyrians couldn’t have cared less about a slave revolt that had happened over a hundred years ago, but to establish itself and pay reparations, the Iron Bank paid settlements to the descendants of the slaver Valyrians for the ships the Braavosi founders stole all those years ago. But they didn’t repay the value of the slaves that fled on those ships.
The name Iron Bank comes from the original vault, an abandoned iron mine on Braavos where riches and money were kept. The Iron Bank was established by 23 (16 men and seven women) traders and craftsmen. They each had a key to the mine vault. Their thousands of descendants are known as Keyholders.
The Iron Bank is one of the most powerful banks on the face of GRRM’s earth and has a reputation for collecting debts. It has backed rulers’ enemies when the ruler failed to pay back debts. This is why Tyrion is freaked out about how much the Iron Throne owed the Iron Bank. Thanks, Littlefinger.
What Tywin Lannister Knew About the Iron Bank
Tywin and Littlefinger know that no matter how cruel or ruthless you think you are, you never owe the Iron Bank, because terrible things will happen. “One stone crumbles and another takes its place and the temple holds its form for a thousand years or more. And that’s what the Iron Bank is, a temple. We all live in its shadow and almost none of us know it. You can’t run from them, you can’t cheat them, you can’t sway them with excuses. If you owe them money and you don’t want to crumble yourself, you pay it back.”
Tyrion used to enjoy saying, “A Lannister always pays his debts.” But the Iron Bank also has a saying: “The Iron Bank will have its due.”
The Connection Between the Faceless Men and the Iron Bank
Is there one? Many think that part of the Iron Bank’s might lies in the threat of sending a Faceless Man to collect a debt because after all, who can afford to pay their prices? The Iron Bank. And what are the Faceless Men doing with the money they receive from wealthy men? Are they giving it to the Iron Bank?
But the Faceless Men aren’t about money. They see death as a natural order to things and “give the gift” to high- and low-born on a sliding price scale. Their religion is their business.
Origin of the House of Black and White
Just as Braavos and the Iron Bank emerged from secrecy, so did the House of Black and White. The temple of the guild is on a deserted lagoon in Braavos. The first Faceless Men, trained by the original, built the House of Black and White. Their faces hang in the Hall of Faces.
The hall is empty save for the few souls who come to ask for help or “the gift.” There are no services. The Sanctum is filled with smells familiar and unfamiliar. The candles give off an aroma of something pleasant to each person.
What we do know is the House of Black and White set had a real effect on Tom Wlaschiha, the actor who plays Jaqen H’Ghar. “It’s an amazing set,” Wlaschiha said. “The stillness once the cameras were rolling, you could have heard a pin drop. I found myself automatically lowering my voice, like in a real church.”
House of Black and White Design
As with the TARDIS, many think the temple is larger on the inside than on the outside. The twelve-foot-high doors to the temple are white weirwood (left door) and ebony (right door). They appear to open without any help, at least in the books. There are no windows and the roof is black tile.
The priests and acolytes sleep in cells on the first level. Servants sleep on the second floor. The third level houses the holy sanctum and it is restricted. There is a Hall of Faces. This room contains the many faces collected by the House of Black and White.
In the center of the room is a pool 10 feet across filled with poisonous water. Those who drink from the pool are given a painless death. Those who are truly No One are unharmed. There are also statues representing the other religions of Westeros and Essos. Included among the 30 statues are the Stranger, a weirwood face of the Old Gods of the Forest, the Drowned God, the Lord of Light, the Black Goat of Qohor, the Lion of Night, and the Weeping Woman of Lys. The statues appear to be an homage to these religions, but in truth they signify that worshipping these gods is really worship of the Many-Faced God of death.
Who Are the Faceless Men?
Arya’s Journey to Become a Faceless Man
Arya, pretending to be a common boy, encounters Jaqen H’Ghar as one of three prisoners from the black cells of King’s Landing, bound for the Night’s Watch. When she stands up to Rorge and Biter, Jaqen observes, “A boy has more courage than sense.” He also calls her Arry, though she hasn’t introduced herself.
Later, Arya frees Jaqen, Biter, and Rorge from their burning cage as the Lannisters attack Yoren’s caravan. She encounters Jaqen in a Lannister uniform at Harrenhal. He says that since she has taken three lives from the Red God, she must give them back. She must name three names to repay the debt. Arya names The Tickler, Ser Amory Lorch, and then Jaqen’s own name.
She says she will take it back if he helps her escape Harrenhal. He kills a dozen men to allow her escape and then offers to take her to Braavos to become a Faceless Man. She declines his offer because she wants to find Sansa, her mother, and her brother. Jaqen gives her an iron coin and tells her to say “Valar morghullis” to any Braavosi. He then tells her that Jaqen H’Ghar is dead. As he leaves her, he turns back with another man’s face and says, “Farewell, Arya Stark.”
Much later, and after leaving a severely injured Hound behind to possibly die, Arya sails for Braavos.
We see Arya’s many trials and tribulations from her arrival to her blinding in Season 5 when she disobeyed her orders to kill an insurance salesman and instead kills Meryn Trant, a Lannister henchmen who had done many terrible things to her family and possibly killed her “dancing” instructor, Syrio Forel. For this obvious killing and for disobeying orders, she is struck blind and left to beg in the streets.
Arya is eventually allowed back into the House of Black and White if she’ll commit to being No One. She passes a series of tests upon re-entry, engages in stick fights with the Waif, learns her poisons, and then drinks from the poison pool. When she doesn’t die, she is given her sight back.
The acolytes are in service to the Faceless Men and provide mortician services as a way to serve the community. As we’ve seen, Jaqen also washes the dead, so he’s not above the task himself.
The acolytes remove the dead’s clothing and any weapons and store them in a vault in the House of Black and White. They have a large assortment of both finery and rags. The body is washed and the face is placed in the Hall of Faces to be used by the Faceless Men.
The acolytes learn how to tell if a person is lying by playing a lying game, and learn how to read people through their body language, among other things.
The Waif is an acolyte like Arya. She was the daughter of a widower whose new wife tried to poison her. She came to the Faceless Men to help fix her stepmother problem. This story may or may not be true because A Girl cannot be trusted.
Faceless Men Assassination Prices
The guild will kill anyone in the world for a high (a huge percentage of your fortune) or dear price, but always within the means of the person asking. The price is always worth it, as the guild of assassins rarely fails. And the death is made to look like an accident.
A poor man may ask for a death, but may have to give up his or her own life, or a child’s. Something precious to them. The wealthy are charged according to the profile of the target. Such a request is deemed a sacrament to the Many-Faced God.
Who Is Jaqen H’Ghar? No One. Anyone.
Jaqen is overseeing Arya’s training. But he’s also at the Citadel in Oldtown as Pate, a maester in training (in the books). How can he be in both places at once? Because Jaqen is just a face A Man wears.
Some fan theories suggest that Jaqen may appear to Arya as Syrio Forel one day, and that Syrio was always a Faceless Man, sent to watch over Arya, and her assassination of Meryn Trant (who may have “killed” Syrio), had a deeper meaning. Or perhaps Jaqen was sent by the Many-Faced God to land in those black cells so that he would meet her during Yoren’s trek to the Wall and eventually recruit her as part of a larger prophecy.
Tom Wlaschiha (Jaqen H’Ghar) has dodged the question saying, “It’s all part of a bigger plan. We still don’t know who Jaqen is and why he showed up in the story in the first place. It was never explained why he ended up in the black cells in King’s Landing and then went on that journey. It wasn’t a coincidence. It was all part of a bigger plan — that’s my theory.” That does not answer the question, “Sexy Jesus.” (Shout out to WinterIsComing.net for that nickname.)
But Maisie Williams (who plays Arya) asked showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff if Jaqen was indeed Syrio and this happened: “‘No, he is dead.’ I was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ So that put that to bed really quickly, but I guess we can all still dream.”
They also totally told us Jon Snow was dead, too.
Will Arya Kill Someone on Her List as No One?
Was the Doom of Valyria the Work of the Faceless Men?
First up, the Doom of Valyria was the ultimate ruin of the Valyria Freehold after the chain of volcanoes, the Fourteen Fires, erupted, burning most of its lands and creating the Smoking Sea, which made the freehold uninhabitable. Most of the dragons were killed and many of Valyria’s former foes prospered, including Ghis. We get a glimpse of it when Ser Jorah and Tyrion sail through it on the way to Meereen.
Funny how the annihilation of Valyria happened after Braavos was created as a Secret City. Remember when we talked about the Many-Faced God giving “the gift” to the slave masters? It’s not too crazy to imagine the former slaves of Valyria asking the assassins guild for Valyria’s total ruin. And it might have had something to do with dragon eggs, volcanoes, and killing the sorcerers who kept the volcanoes from erupting using magic. We know from the Targaryen dragon breeding program that attempts to use sorcery to hatch dragon eggs ended up with Summerhall burning to the ground.
Did Faceless Men drop some dragon eggs into every volcano of the Fourteen Fires and cause the whole empire to go BOOM? Did they kill the mages that kept the volcanoes from erupting? Maybe.
Will Euron Greyjoy Call Upon the Faceless Men to Kill Yara and Theon?
Are the Faceless Men For or Against the White Walkers?
The Poisons of the Faceless Men
Very Few Women Are Faceless Men
The Staff of the House of Black and White
The Faceless Men Are George R.R. Martin
GRRM said in May of 2016, “Once you’ve accepted that you have to include death, then you should be honest… and indicate it can strike down anybody at any time. You don’t get to live forever just because you are a cute kid or the hero’s best friend or the hero. Sometimes the hero dies, at least in my books.”
So… in conclusion, the Faceless Men and GRRM kill people, but they do have reasons. And we won’t know their reasons until they’re done. The price we pay is fan theorying our tails off between books, episodes, and seasons.