- "First time you've seen a giant, Jon Snow?"
- ―Ygritte to Jon Snow
Giants are a non-human race considered to be a legend by the inhabitants of the Seven Kingdoms south of the Wall. However, giants do actually exist in the furthest north Beyond the Wall. This is in contrast with both the Children of the Forest and the White Walkers, which even the wildlings claim to have not seen in thousands of years.
Maester Luwin tells Bran Stark that many people think that magical creatures like the Giants never existed at all. Luwin tells Bran that he thinks they may have once existed in ancient times, but that they have long since gone extinct: "the dragons are gone, the Giants are dead, and the Children of the Forest forgotten".
While approaching the camp of the Free Folk with Ygritte, Jon Snow sees a giant working. Ygritte tells Jon not to stare, as giants are very shy, but that their shyness can quickly turn into rage. She told him how she once saw a giant smash a man straight into the ground like a hammer to a nail.
Behind the scenes
Costume Designer Michele Clapton explained her approach to creating the clothing of the Giants:
- "I always think giants in costume look really corny. I wanted their upbringing to be different, as if as children, they were swaddled and wrapped in anything. And so on when they get bigger, they just keep wrapping and wrapping and wrapping. By the time they get to this age, they're just massively wrapped in fabrics and antlers and bones and grass. So the wrapping isn't clothes as we know them, it's protection. For me, that's what differentiates them from the wildling humans."
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, giants have a drastically different, more ape-like appearance. They tend to be about twice as large as a very tall human, about 12 to 14 feet in height, but not monstrously huge. A single giant is as strong as a dozen humans.
They generally resemble descriptions of the Sasquatch (Bigfoot) or Yeti. They wear no clothing, but instead are covered in shaggy fur pelts, which are thicker below the waist. The fur of older giants becomes grey and streaked with white. Their heads are thrust forward from their shoulder blades but they have very short necks. They have squashed-in faces with square teeth and tiny eyes amidst folds of flesh. Their eyesight is poor and they snuffle constantly, smelling as much as they see.
They have sloped chests, and their lower torsos are about half again as wide as their upper torsos. Their arms hang lower than a man's, while their legs are shorter than their arms, ending in splayed feet that need no shoes even in the coldest weather. The female giants look similar to the men.
Giants are generally not as intelligent as the average human, though they are sapient and capable of speech. They speak the Old Tongue of the First Men. The giants are physically capable of speaking the Common Tongue of the Andals, and can learn it after instruction, it's just that the giants live so far to the north away from the Wall that they haven't really encountered the Common Tongue before.
The giants do not have much in the way of advanced society or culture, barely possessing the most primitive Stone Age technology. They make and wear no clothing, because their pelts adequately provide all the protection they need. They do not generally possess technology more advanced than simply grabbing a large tree log and wielding it as a club. Some of them, however, are smart enough to tie large stone boulders to the end of the tree logs to make crude mauls. On a few occasions these are even sharpened to form basic stone axes. The giants ride huge mammoths as their steeds. The giants possess little if any large-scale political structure: they do not have kings, though particularly large, old and experienced giants who are veteran warriors often seem to act as basic chieftans or war-band leaders. A particularly large silver-back giant named Mag Mar Tun Doh Weg is the prominent ring-leader of the giants in Mance Rayder's army.
The giants inhabit the far northern regions of the lands beyond the Wall, where humans will not encroach on them, perilously close to the Lands of Always Winter. They once roamed all of Westeros, but were pushed further and further north when the First Men migrated to the continent, starting twelve thousand years ago. In the present day they are almost extinct, even beyond the Wall: by the time Mance Rayder unified all of the wildlings, there were only a few hundred giants remaining.
Giants are considered entirely mythical south of the Wall: Jon Snow recalls that in the nursery stories and fables Old Nan used to tell, giants were basically just big people, who lived in big castles, dressed in armor like knights, and were ruled by lords and ladies. Jon is surprised when he discovers that giants survive north of the Wall, not simply due to their existence, but because they do not match the legends he has heard, but are far more grounded and crude. This matches author George R.R. Martin's intent with the A Song of Ice and Fire series to deconstruct the literary tropes of High Fantasy literature, in which numerous different non-human races such as dwarves or elves are actively involved in the world. Instead, non-human races are so rare in Westeros that they are commonly thought to be just the stuff of legends. However even when Martin actually does start introducing non-human races with the giants, they are much more realistic and dirty than the kind of fantasy tropes that even Jon Snow was expecting. Jon sums up his assessment of the giants by noting that they actually kind of remind him of Hodor, the mentally challenged and incredibly tall stable-boy at Winterfell. Rather, Jon notes, giants are about twice as tall as Hodor, and about half as intelligent (though unlike Hodor, they can speak a full language).
Cultures and Peoples of the Known World
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