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|Children of the Forest|
Little Squirrel People (by the Giants)
|Average height||Average human child height at adulthood|
|Place of origin||Westeros|
|Habitat||Deep forests, swamps, caves of the continent (formerly)|
Beyond the wall (currently)
|Behind the Scenes|
|Universe||Game of Thrones|
|Created by||George R.R. Martin|
|Performed by||Varies by individual|
The Children of the Forest are a mysterious non-human race that were reportedly the original inhabitants of the continent of Westeros. They were already living in Westeros when the First Men migrated to the continent, 12,000 years before Robert's Rebellion.
The Children of the Forest were said to be humanoid, but when grown to manhood they were no taller than human children. Their facial features are very rounded and soft, like a very small child. They also have disproportionately large and expressive eyes (like a human baby's), which are set wider in their face than would be normal for a human child of the same height. They generally preferred to live in the depths of the forests in hidden villages, in crannogs of the swamps, or in caves. Thus they came to be known as "the Children of the Forest".
The Children of the Forest worshiped nature gods, the countless and nameless spirits of every tree, every rock, and every stream. Their religion devoted to the Old Gods of the Forest had no complex temples, but according to legend it was the Children that carved faces into the sacred Weirwood trees. These carved heart trees were the closest thing to a shrine in their religion. The Children of the Forest weren't very technologically advanced, though they were very woodcrafty and had a great knowledge of the plants and animals of the forest. They hunted using bows made of weirwood and used blades made of Dragonglass.
The wise men of the Children of the Forest were known as "Greenseers", who are said to have wielded powerful magic.
Legend holds that the Children of the Forest ruled Westeros for thousands of years before the arrival of the first humans on the continent twelve millennia ago. They inhabited the vast primeval forests which spanned most of Westeros before humans came and began cutting them down. According to legend, the Giants also inhabited Westeros at this time, and clashed periodically with the Children. Whatever history, wars, romances, or triumphs the Children may have had in the untold centuries that they inhabited Westeros, their stories have been forgotten.
Twelve thousand years ago, the First Men from the eastern continent of Essos migrated to Westeros by crossing a land bridge known as the Arm of Dorne. The First Men began cutting down the Children's forests, including the sacred weirwood trees, leading them into conflict with the Children. The two races fought a desperate series of wars for dominance for the next two thousand years, during which the Children of the Forest destroyed the Arm of Dorne and flooded the the Neck through the sorcery of their greenseers.
After two thousand years of violence, the Children of the Forest and the First Men fought one another to a standstill. The two races agreed to peaceful coexistence and signed the Pact on the Isle of Faces in Gods Eye Lake, granting the open lands to humanity and the forests to the Children. The Pact lasted for two thousand years before the enigmatic White Walkers invaded from the uttermost north, bringing death and destruction to both races. The Children of the Forest allied with the First Men to drive back the White Walkers in the War for the Dawn eight thousand years ago. After the defeat of the Others, the Children, much-reduced in number, are said to have helped Bran the Builder raise the Wall with their powerful magics to prevent the White Walkers' return.
The Children of the Forest never had a large population to begin with, and they took heavy losses in the struggle against the White Walkers, from which they never truly recovered. Over the following centuries they gradually declined throughout Westeros, until they had all but disappeared by the time the Andals invaded Westeros six thousand years ago. The few that remained were hunted or driven off by the Andals during their conquest of the continent, believing their magic to be an abomination to their Faith of the Seven. The Andals cut down the sacred heart trees in the south (except on the Isle of Faces), but the First Men of the North withstood their advance, and continued their worship of the Old Gods centered around the remaining heart trees there. The handful of Children that survived the slaughter were said to have fled to the far north, Beyond the Wall, where the Andals would never follow them. By the time that Aegon I Targaryen conquered and united the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros three hundred years ago, there had been no contact with the Children of the Forest for thousands of years ever since.
According to the knowledge of the maesters, the Children are either extinct, or never existed in the first place and are a purely mythical race. This is disputed by the people of the North, who hold that they inherited their worship of the Old Gods from the Children of the Forest, who were real and have long since departed the realms of men.
Secretly, a handful of the Children actually did survive in the lands Beyond the Wall, unseen even by the wildlings, hiding in vast underground caverns.
Maester Luwin tells Bran Stark that many people think that magical creatures like the Children of the Forest 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.
Leaf, one of the Children of the Forest, emerges from the cave of the Three-eyed raven to save Bran Stark and his companions from a group of wights. She leads Bran and his companions deeper into the cave as other Children peer at them from around corners, until they reach the Three-eyed raven.
After managing to kill one of the White Walkers with a dagger made of Dragonglass, Samwell Tarly reads through many of the old manuscripts at Castle Black trying to find out what makes it so special. He explains to Stannis Baratheon that the only thing he's found is some mention that the Children of the Forest used to hunt with dragonglass weapons.
Behind the scenes
Michele Clapton and the cast discussed the costume design of the Children of the Forest in Season 4:
Clapton: "I always thought the Children of the Forest should be really old children. Personally I took my lead from Jojen and Meera, their costumes have always been on the verge of being quite organic. And so the costumes that I've made are out of feathers and leaves.
Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Bran Stark): "It's all sort of greeny, huge, curls, all over the place [gestures to his head], but in a sort of very tree-like, root fashion.
Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Jojen Reed): "They look in some ways similar to wildlings, but they look more ancient, like more of an ancient race."
Clapton: "They don't have any way of fashioning clothes, how would they do that? So it's almost like, it's supposed to look like they've rolled in it. And this beautiful lichen, it's just sort of little bits of mold and lichen and things growing on them: they're like little trees, trees with feathers on them.
Benioff and Weiss wanted the Children of the Forest to look as non-human as they plausibly could on a TV budget. A child-actress does portray Leaf in the Season 4 finale, wearing full costume and hair prosthetics, but on-set she had black dots on her face used for motion capture: in the finished episode, her face is a full digital effect, based on her performance but deforming her face in several ways to make it appear non-human (i.e. her eyes are more widely set in her head than human eyes would be). The facial deformations went through about a dozen alternate designs, with several variant makeup designs for each of these basic outlines. The actress who played Leaf in "The Children" was 11 years old, but her face was digitally deformed to make her features much more juvenile: very large wide-set eyes; a more rounded, chubby, baby-like face, and a more prominent forehead.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, legend holds that the Children of the Forest ruled Westeros for thousands of years before the arrival of the First Men from the eastern continent of Essos, some twelve millennia ago.
Within the first novel, A Game of Thrones, it is speculated by songsters in the North that the Children might survive north of the Wall, though simply because no one is entirely sure what exists in the uncharted forests beyond it. Nonetheless, the Children have not been sighted in thousands of years, either by the Night's Watch guarding the Wall or even the wildlings that live immediately north of it.
According to myth, the Children were diminutive in stature and few in number compared to humans, but formidable in battle. Their greenseers wielded powerful magics and their wood dancers were skilled warriors. It is hinted that the enigmatic green priests of the Isle of Faces in the midst of Gods Eye know some of the secrets of the Children and their ways, and others (especially in the North) may know something of their ways.
Bran Stark discovers the handful of surviving Children of the Forest hiding in a secret, vast underground cave network beyond the Wall, guided by their member known as "Leaf". She later explains to Bran that there were simply never that many of her race in the first place, even before the First Men arrived. She believes that the gods made them this way as a counter-balance to their very long lives (which can last for centuries), so they would not exhaust the resources of their lands like deer overpopulating a woods with no wolves in it until they starve to death. They only sparsely inhabited Westeros, and they took severe losses against the White Walkers from which they never really recovered. When the Andals came they killed the few Children they encountered, and the survivors secretly fled beyond the Wall, where none would follow.
The World of Ice and Fire sourcebook (2014) revealed that the largest holdouts of the Children of the Forest at the time of the Andal Invasion tended to be, of course, the major remaining woodlands of Westeros south of the Wall, which are concentrated in The Stormlands (the Rainwood in the south and what would later be known as the Kingswood to the north). It was only in the Stormlands that the Children still had a population large enough to amount to any significant fighting force. They actually joined forces with the old First Men kings of House Durrandon to try to fight off the Andal invaders, a union known as the Weirwood Alliance. It was a slowly losing battle over several generations, however, and over time they could not replace their losses through gradual attrition, and dwindled away. Elsewhere, the Children also put up a determined resistance at a point in the central Riverlands some distance east of Riverrun known as High Heart - a large hill considered sacred by the Children, which was crowned with a ring of weirwood heart trees. Eventually they were defeated and the weirwoods cut down.
Physical appearance and comparison to elves
Although they occupy the position usually filled by Elves in other high fantasy media, George R.R. Martin has repeatedly insisted that the Children of the Forest are not simply his version of Elves, because "Elves have been done to death". While the Children are repeatedly described as "dark and beautiful" this is not in the same manner of Tolkien's Elves: the Children are described as being smaller than humans with nut-brown skin, large ears, and glowing gold eyes, slitted like a cat's. Their skin has spotted patterns, like a deer's fur. They also have 4 digit hands (3 fingers and a thumb) that end in small claws instead of primate fingernails. The Children did not weave cloth for garments, but wore shorts of woven leaves, and leg-bindings made of tree bark. They interwove vines and flowers into their hair. Their females hunted alongside their males. When Bran sees them, he thinks that at a distance they seem no older than himself or his sisters, though up close they carry an air of being far older.
Artistic depictions of the Children of the Forest in the "Complete Guide to Westeros" Season 1 Blu-ray featurettes depict them as nothing like stereotypical Elves, who usually inhabit graceful castles and are highly "civilized". Instead, the Children are depicted as being an aboriginal people adorned with totems and tattoos.
When the Children of the Forest finally appeared in the Season 4 finale of the TV series, they were played by child actors. They apparently don't have claws instead of fingernails - and appear with five fingers instead of four, contradicting both the books and artwork from the Blu-ray featurettes. Similar to how the giants in the novels are inhuman and more like depictions of a Bigfoot or Yeti, depicting the Children of the Forest as they are described in the novels would probably have required making them very expensive CGI motion-capture creations, so the TV series opted to use actors in prosthetics. However, they did attempt to push their design as non-human as possible on a TV budget, so while it isn't full motion-capture, actors playing Children do have a grid of black dots on their faces to digitally map their performance, and in the final version their facial features are pushed around to make them appear more non-human (i. e. rounding their features, making their eyes bigger, and then setting their eyes inhumanly far apart).