Valyrian steel is a form of metal that was forged in the days of the mighty Valyrian Freehold. When fashioned into bladed weapons, the steel can hold an especially keen edge, remaining sharp forever without the need for honing.
Aside from its sharpness, Valyrian steel is recognizable by its strength and light weight in comparison to ordinary steel, as well as by a distinctive rippled pattern visible in blades made from it. Along with dragonglass, Valyrian steel is one of the few known substances that can kill White Walkers, although this property is not widely known, apparently not even to the White Walkers themselves. Since the destruction of Valyria, the majority of the surviving Valyrian steel weapons serve as heirlooms in the various noble Houses of Westeros.
- "No one's made a new Valyrian steel sword since the Doom of Valyria."
- ―Jaime Lannister
Like much of the Freehold's recorded knowledge, the secret of forging Valyrian steel was lost in the Doom of Valyria. After this point, creating new Valyrian steel weapons became impossible, so the original method can only be speculated: Some stories claim that the metal was imbued with magic spells and forged with dragonfire, though no one can confirm or deny this. Whatever the case, the material was expensive even during the Freehold's apex, so by the time of the Doom, Valyrian steel swords such as House Stark's Ice were already valued heirlooms passed down from one generation to the next in powerful noble families.
Skilled smiths can reforge Valyrian steel weapons by melting down existing ones, but it's a difficult process. The master-blacksmiths of Qohor are among the very few who can accomplish this feat, but even they don't know how to create entirely new Valyrian steel, and are famously secretive about how the reforging process works. Two smaller Valyrian steel swords can be made out of a larger greatsword, or a large greatsword made by melting down multiple smaller swords, but the amount of Valyrian steel in the world is finite and extremely rare.
Some maesters also bear a Valyrian steel link in their chain, a sign that said maester has studied the "higher mysteries" - magic. This field of study, however, is mostly theoretical, and its primary purpose is to demonstrate that magic, if it ever existed, is now extinct.
Known Valyrian steel weapons
Extant Valyrian steel weapons
- Heartsbane, the ancestral sword of House Tarly. It was taken by Samwell Tarly before leaving for Oldtown, and Sam gave it to Jorah Mormont to wield in the Battle of Winterfell.
- Ice, the ancestral greatsword of House Stark. Captured by House Lannister when Eddard Stark was taken prisoner, and used by Ilyn Payne to behead Lord Stark at Joffrey Baratheon's command. After the Red Wedding and defeat of House Stark, Tywin Lannister had it melted down into two smaller longswords, one given to his son, Jaime, the other to his grandson, Joffrey Baratheon.
- Oathkeeper, the first longsword made from Ice. It was given by Jaime Lannister to Brienne of Tarth, who named it and now wields it in service to Sansa Stark.
- Widow's Wail, the second longsword made from Ice. It was given to Joffrey Baratheon as a wedding gift, who named it to suit his petty cruelty. Following his death, it was eventually reclaimed by Jaime, who unlike Joffrey is actually capable of using it in combat.
- Lady Forlorn, the ancestral sword of House Corbray.
- Longclaw, the ancestral bastard sword of House Mormont, given by Jeor Mormont to Jon Snow.
- Unnamed Valyrian steel dagger, wielded by an assassin who attempted to kill Bran Stark with it. It previously belonged to Petyr Baelish, who lied about losing it in a bet to Tyrion Lannister. Littlefinger recovered the dagger from Ned's chambers, and would attempt ingratiate himself with Bran years later by gifting it to him. Bran, being crippled from the waist down, felt the dagger would be wasted on him, and so he gave it to his sister Arya Stark, who had just recently returned to Winterfell at the time and now carries it. She uses it mostly as an auxiliary blade, as her favored weapon is still the rapier Needle (which is made of castle-forged steel). Arya uses the dagger to kill the Night King, whose death causes all the other White Walkers and their wights to be destroyed, winning the Battle of Winterfell and ending the Great War.
Lost Valyrian steel weapons
- Blackfyre, the ancestral sword of House Targaryen, once wielded by Aegon the Conqueror, lost during the Blackfyre Rebellion.
- Brightroar, the ancestral sword of House Lannister, lost by King Tommen II Lannister on his expedition to Valyria.
- Dark Sister, a longsword of House Targaryen, held by Visenya Targaryen, lost during the Blackfyre Rebellion.
In the books
In A Song of Ice and Fire novels, only the blacksmiths of Qohor are skilled enough to reforge Valyrian steel. The Season 4 premiere of the TV series, however, oddly had Tywin say that only three men in the known world know how to reforge it, and that he hired a blacksmith from Volantis to reforge Ice into two other swords. In the books, Ice was reforged by Tobho Mott, a Qohorik master blacksmith who moved to King's Landing years ago, and to whom Gendry was apprenticed. This is all the more strange because Mott was actually introduced in the TV series in Seasons 1 and 2, so it is unclear why the TV series would then shift away from this plot point (it's possible that the actor was unavailable for Season 4). Either way, the "Histories & Lore" animated featurette from the Season 2 Blu-ray set had already stated that it is the blacksmiths of Qohor who are famed for their ability to reforge Valyrian steel.
According to legend, Valyrian steel was forged with dragon-fire and infused with magical spells - some say with blood magic, literally requiring "fire and blood" (like House Targaryen's motto). Having been forged with dragon fire, Valyrian steel is incredibly resistant to damage from normal fire.
As in the series, the maesters of the Citadel possess some meager skill with the material, if only to provide Valyrian steel links to the few maesters who study magic. Only 1 in about 100 Maesters has a Valyrian steel link in his chain, and the archmaester of the field also possesses a ring, a rod, and a mask made from the metal. The rarity of such links isn't because it's a difficult practice to master, but because most Maesters are notoriously anti-magic, while others even refuse to believe such a force still exists in the world, or that it ever did to begin with.
In A Feast for Crows, Samwell Tarly tells Jon Snow about old annals claiming that "dragonsteel" is lethal to the White Walkers, like dragonglass - they both suspect that "dragonsteel" is another name for "Valyrian steel", but haven't been able to put it to the test yet. This would be contradictory as the Wall and Winterfell existed thousands of years before Valyria was even founded, unless, perhaps, it did not actually originate in Valyria. In the show, this it is confirmed that the two are the same when Jon Snow kills a White Walker during the massacre at Hardhome.
Although Valyrian steel blades are scarce and costly, several hundred of them are known to exist in the world, approximately two hundred in Westeros alone. Most of them are swords, but there are a few daggers and axes as well. Valyrian steel can be identified by its unusual dusky color, distinctive rippled pattern, and the extreme sharpness of the blade.
There are hundreds of Valyrian longswords in the world, but only a handful of Valyrian arakhs. One of those is carried by Caggo, one of the captains of the Windblown sellsword company.
In addition to those mentioned above, other Valyrian steel weapons include Red Rain (House Drumm) and Nightfall (House Harlaw).
Brightroar, the Valyrian sword of House Lannister, was lost in an expedition to Valyria centuries ago. An attempt to find it, led by Tywin Lannister's younger brother Gerion, apparently ended in failure, with no-one returning from the expedition. At least three times Tywin offered to buy Valyrian longswords from impoverished lesser houses, but his offers were firmly rejected. The little lordlings would gladly part with their daughters should a Lannister come asking, but they cherished their old family swords. This is what Jaime was referring to in "Two Swords" when he says that Tywin has wanted a Valyrian steel sword in the family for a long time.
Suits of armor can also be fashioned of Valyrian steel, and would have been worth a kingdom even before the Doom. While Valyrian steel swords are rare in Westeros, Valyrian steel armors are even rarer - Euron Greyjoy is the only known person in Westeros who possesses such armor, which is enough to convince even his enemies that has indeed successfully returned alive from the ruins of Valyria.
Behind the Scenes
- Valyrian steel shares many of its legendary traits with real-life Damascus steel: Both metals display a flowing water pattern, both were reputed to result in exceptional quality blades at the time, and like Valyrian steel, the true method for crafting Damascus steel has been lost, meaning that true Damascus steel weapons can no longer be crafted. Notably, even modern interpretations of Damascus steel are expensive, and a sword made using such material can easily cost twice that of a handmade sword from traditional or high-carbon steel.
- The famous Japanese Mokume-gane metalworking technique also resembles the description of Valyrian steel and may have origins from Damascus steel. It shares the distinct pattern of Damascus steel and Valyrian steel, but the method was not lost and often considered superior to Damascus steel (likely because it continued to be perfected to the present day). The actual type of steel used historically in Japan to make swords is called Tamahagane.
- A different, but related, inspiration could be Ulfberht swords. Both types don't always follow medieval middle European designs and the origin of their metal came from Asia (India in the case of Damascus steel and through the Silk Road in the case of Ulfberht). The same applies to rust protecting technique e.g. found with the Sword of Goujian and others.
- In the show, the flowing water patterns are only visible in close-ups of the props, which would be true of Damascus steel swords as well, given how fine the patterns are. Some Valyrian steel swords are mentioned in the books as having unusual colors (i.e., dusky red and light violet), but this detail has been largely omitted from the swords seen on screen.