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The more languages we speak, the more we are worth. Knowledge of foreign languages is considered a great asset because it brings us success in life. Children learn them most easily through play and conversation. The place where we can all play with languages is the most common fantasy series – you remember we have learned Klingon in Star Trek, Elvish in Lord of the Rings, and in the Game of Thrones series we have Valyrian language.
“Valar Morghulis” literally means “all men must die” (alternative: all men are mortal). It is also a greeting in High Valyrian language used in Braavos, one of the nine Free Cities of Essos, located to the east of Westeros.
Fans of the series but also those who are yet to become sure know or have heard of this saying. If you want to know more about the meaning of this term, who uses it and why, and learn some more about the Faceless Men, as well as the meaning of the Valar Morghulis coins, keep reading and enjoy.
Is “Valar Morghulis” a greeting?
“Valar Morghulis” is a greeting in High Valyrian language used in Braavos, one of the nine Free Cities of Essos, located to the east of Westeros.
Not only does it lie to the north, it is the most fertile and also arguably the most powerful city of the shipwrights, made up of hundreds of small islands that are linked by bridges of stone. Titan of Braavos, the infamous House of Black and White, and the Iron Bank are among its most prominent features.
When someone says “Valar Morghulis”, they are acknowledging the finality of death. The other person will respond to the greeting with “Valar Dohaeris”, implying that everyone must serve their purpose in life before dying. Most people fail to see a deeper message in it, thinking about death as something negative and scary.
“Valar Morghulis” phrase was spoken for the first time, in season two of the Game of Thrones series, by Jaqen H’ghar, after he helped Arya to escape from Harrenhal.
To understand these two phrases you have to know how to interpret them, without taking them literally.
What is the meaning of “Valar Dohaeris”?
“Valar Dohaeris” literally means “all men must serve” and it is the response to the “Valar Morghulis” (all men must die) greeting.
The phrase was first mentioned in season three when Melisandre and Thoros of Myr greet each other in the Riverlands.
Who uses the phrases “Valar Morghulis” and “Valar Dohaeris”?
We have mentioned earlier where these phrases were used for the first time. Despite the fact these phrases are the customary saying in Essos, we like to particularly connect them with the Faceless Men.
The Faceless Men from the city of Braavos are the part of an assassination guild which members think of themselves as servants of the Many-Faced God, a God whom every religion serves, whose the whole world has no knowledge of.
They also have the ability to change their physical appearance, shifting their features so they appear as a new person altogether.
It was one of the oldest organizations known in the world, going back to the Doom of Valyria itself. They are descendants of slaves who lived and worked for generations in the Fourteen Fires’ eruption a thousand years ago, which destroyed the Valyrian Freehold.
The Faceless Men represents a sort of a cult of religious assassins that worship the Many-Faced God. They believe that death is a merciful end for the suffering person. Looking that way, death is a gift. An interesting fact is that they allow those who suffer to drink poisoned water, from their temple (the House of Black and White) to make them die painlessly.
On the other hand, killing for personal gain or out of anger or hate is forbidden to Faceless Men. They have to be hired to kill someone and it is not on them to choose who is worthy to face death.
The countless peoples from a hundred different nations each feared to lose their lives on a daily basis and came to believe that the various faiths all share the same reverence for death because of that fact.
They provided the “gift” of death to enslaved laborers but eventually learned to administer lethal doses to Valyrian bosses as well, turning themselves into talented assassins. Several hundred years later, the Faceless Men traveled to Braavos, which was founded by former Valyrian slaves who escaped their homeland.
Why does Grey Worm know about “Valar Morghulis”?
Grey Worm knows the phrase because he had learned the Valyrian from Daenerys Targaryen and her handmaiden Missandei.
Grey Worm (in Valyrian language: Torgo Nudho) is the chosen commander of the Unsullied, whose reputation for combat is absolutely impeccable.
The Unsullied are elite warrior-eunuchs, raised and trained in the city of Astapor, one of the three major slave ports of the Slaver’s Bay. These fighters are well-known for their skills and exemplary conduct in combat.
When Daenerys Targaryen gains control of the Unsullied, none of them knew the common language. This is largely shown by Grey Worm having lessons on Valyrian, from Missandei and Daenerys as well.
In the familiar scene when Melisandre (the Red Priestess and the King Stannis Baratheon’s close counselor) passed Grey Worm, she said “Valar morghulis,” to which he replied with the traditional “Valar dohaeris”. She was warning him that the future fight is not going to be easy and that he should be prepared for potential sacrifices.
Grey Worm and Melisandre were both well aware that a great many of their enemies will die, but they must still fight on. Grey Worm knows he must direct all his strength facing the White Walkers, while Melisandre has to fulfill the purpose with the role of assisting Arya, according to her premonition of the future battle.
What does Valar Morghulis coin mean?
First of all, it is not a coin for buying things.
If the person gives the iron coin to any Braavosi, using the phrase “Valar Morghulis”, she will be brought anywhere she needs to go.
When Arya met so-called Jaqen H’ghar, after she left Harenhal, he offered to take her to Braavos to meet the Faceless Men. Because she declined the offer, looking for her mother, brother, and sister, Jaqen gave her the coin telling her that if she ever needs to see him again, she must show the coin to a Braavosi and say the words “Valar Morghulis”.
Arya repeated these “magical” words often, as Jaqen H’ghar told her to do, even if she didn’t quite know what they properly mean.
Finally, Arya met a man called Ternesio Terys asking him for passage to the Wall. When he told her he was going home to Braavos, she showed him immediately the iron coin, using the phrase “Valar Morghulis”. The man pulled himself together at once, replying to the words “Valar Dohaeris” and offered her a cabin aboard his trading galleon the “Titan’s Daughter”.
“If the day comes when you would find me again, give that coin to any man from Braavos, and say these words to him – Valar Morghulis.” (Jaqen H’ghar)
The phrases we have spoken of, i. e. Valyrian language as one of the languages spoken in the Game of Thrones series are fictional languages and they became very popular among their fans.
After watching the movies and series we all wanted to speak Klingon, Elvish, or some other cool languages.
Were you familiar with the fact George R. R. Martin is not the original creator of the Valyrian language? He “borrowed” some phrases from J. R. R. Tolkein, so we can say Martin’s “Valar Morghulis” is related to Elvish phrases which are representing darkness and magic.
In this context, the phrase “all men must die” is not negative in its original meaning. The fact is all men are mortal and they have to take death as a gift. Responding with “all men must serve” means the acceptance to live the life as a servant to the Many-Faced God, who is going to decide when you die.
We can use these phrases in real life as well – we all know we are mortal and we will die one day. It is up to us to make the most of life by fulfilling the purpose for which we came to this world. Having left one iron coin over, to use it when needed, it will not be bad at all.
We hope this article was useful to you, especially for those who have not watched The Game of Thrones series. If nothing else, this was one nice language lesson. Until next time, Valar Morghulis!