With the penultimate season of Game of Thrones underway, the usual suspects are in tow. Cersei, Dany, Jon, and Euron dominate the conversation, but as they duke it out for the Iron Throne, deeper truths are coming to light. The dutiful Samwell Tarly is in the land of secrets itself: Oldtown, home to the maesters and their enigmatic world.
In “Dragonstone,” the opening episode of the seventh season, we find Sam on his journey to become maester of The Wall. Though he’s surrounded by the high-minded men of The Citadel, he’s tasked less with cerebral challenges and more with janitorial duties. Even when he gets to speak of White Walkers and the Long Night with Archmaester Ebrose (a mid-autopsy Jim Broadbent), he still ends up cleaning the remnant blood and guts. It’s a humbling introduction to what may very well be the most significant location (and unsuspecting protagonist) in this season of Game of Thrones.
Here’s everything you need to know about Oldtown, The Citadel, the grand maester conspiracy, and the magical tools a few maesters employ.
Oldtown and The Oily Black Rocks
Oldtown is the oldest city in Westeros and has been home to two foundational movements: the Faith of the Seven and the the Order of Maesters. The city is the fountainhead of influence in Westeros. Where the Faith built their Starry Sept, the Maesters used the Citadel to house their operations.
Though the Citadel may be a famous attraction in Oldtown, the Hightower is the attention-getter. Standing at over 800 feet high, it eclipses The Wall as the tallest structure on the continent. The skyscraper is built on Battle Isle, a land formation whose name has no explanation or confirmed history despite the many theories surrounding its genesis. More importantly, Battle Isle has a foundation made of “oily black stone” that some suspect is a variation of dragonglass, though many are too confounded by its existence to offer a satisfactory explanation. The plinth of Hightower shows no sign of human hand, “no hint of joint or mortar, no chisel marks of any kind.”
Curiously enough, this same black stone is found in ruined civilizations across the planet. The Seastone Chair is made of it, as is the Toad Stone, the chthonic buildings of Asshai, the City of Yeen, the Five Forts south of the Bleeding Sea, and several others. Maester Theron notes that each of these structures is located near large bodies of water. In speaking about the religion of the Drowned God, Theron posited that Hightower was created by the Deep Ones, “a queer, misshapen race of half-men sired by creatures of the salt seas upon human women.” To contrast those watery rumors, there are also the tales that arose out of Yi Ti, where legend has it that the Long Night began when a meteorite of greasy black stone fell from the sky.
Samwell Tarly may be knee deep in Maester excrement at the moment, but he’s just a few yards from the most secret substance in all of Westeros. If anyone knows the truth about those oily black rocks, you can bet the maesters have answers.
An Overview of Maesters and The Citadel
Think of the maesters as the Illuminati of Westeros. The Citadel is their church, and their bibles are the seemingly infinite (and chained) books strewn about the cavernous interior. It’s a fantastical Library of Alexandria. To avoid having an equally fiery fate as the library of yore, the Citadel’s central chandelier reflects light throughout the building, negating the need for candles. Though this was revealed in season six, it’s worth reminding that the rotating chandelier is the same one featured throughout the show’s opening credits. If nothing else, this connection hints at the maester’s indelible influence throughout Westeros.
As the guardians and purveyors of knowledge, maesters look to the Citadel to expand their horizons. It’s the place “where maesters earn their chains,” the outward signs of their expertise. These chains are color-coded to signify their knowledge: silver for medicinal knowledge and healing, black for ravenry, gold for economics, and so on.
There are four tiers within the Order: Maesters, Archmaesters, the Grand Maester, and the Seneschal. Though each rank has different responsibilities, they all work in tandem to protect their secrets and silently shape the course of history. While the majority of maesters and archmaesters stay at the Citadel, a select few are assigned to individual houses across the Seven Kingdoms. There, they are relied upon to deliver sound military, political, and economic advice, manage the messaging ravens of the house, and provide medicinal and healing techniques when needed. If your name is Qyburn, you take this responsibility a bit too far and turn Gregor Clegane into Zombie Mountain.
The point is, while the network of maesters and archmaesters protects the headquarters, they remain closely connected to every local house through their designated representatives. That’s like having a member of the Supreme Court in every major politician’s home.