Brow Beat

Giant’s Milk Made Game of Thrones’ Tormund Strong—But What’s It Really Like?

An investigation.

Jaime Lannister, Berric Dondarion, Tormund Giantsbane, and Ser Jorah gather at Winterfell
You don’t get a luscious red beard like that by drinking juice. HBO/Helen Sloan

On Game of Thrones last night, while Westeros’ dwellers used their last night in peace to sneak in a final glass of wine or roll in the hay, Tormund Giantsbane saw the perfect moment to recount a weird story from his childhood. When he was 10, the redheaded wildling says, he slew a male giant and then nursed at its wife’s teat for three months. “Thought I was her baby,” Tormund grunts, as Jaime Lannister, Davos Seaworth, and Brienne of Tarth look on awkwardly. “That’s how I got so strong. Giant’s milk.”

The origin story, which also explains Tormund’s surname, derives from George R.R. Martin’s third novel A Storm of Swords, in which Tormund reveals a similar history while traveling with Jon Snow. In that version, Tormund explains that, as a boy, he once sliced open a sleeping giant’s stomach and crawled inside—The Revenant–style—for warmth. The giant awoke to confuse Tormund for “her babe,” and proceeded to suckle him “for three whole moons,” he says, adding, “There’s times I miss the taste o’ giant’s milk.”

While Game of Thrones does feature actual giants on both page and screen, it’s unclear whether we’re meant to take Tormund’s story as real or invented—especially given his other nickname: Tall-talker. But veracity aside, we’re curious about one detail from the story: What, exactly, does giant’s milk taste like? If Tormund misses it so much—and is nostalgic enough to relay the memory to an audience that includes his crush, Brienne—the milk must be pretty good, right?

Aside from the fast food chain Wendy’s—who chimed in on Twitter to clarify to absolutely no one that their “Frosty is not made of Giant’s milk”—our biggest clue lies in a 19th century folktale from the Grimm brothers called The Young Giant. The tale tells of a very small peasant boy (born the size of a thumb) who grows large and supernaturally strong after being kidnapped and nursed by a male giant. In the tale, the giant’s milk is presented as a substance of both reverence and fear: While it bestows the boy with extraordinary vigor, once he returns home to his peasant parents, they don’t recognize him and mistake him for a dangerous stranger. The boy, meanwhile, is no longer satisfied by human food and is forced to leave in search of extra nourishment. Presumably, this is due to his new size—after being reared by a giant, he’s too big for ordinary meals to sustain him. But if he was fulfilled by giant’s milk for so many years, it does suggest that the milk has a magical nourishing quality. (Like Soylent, but good?)

Another clue as to the nature giant’s milk could lie in giant’s food, as diets do generally have a major effect on breast milk flavor. But in Game of Thrones, it’s not totally clear what giants eat. Along with rumors that they feast on human flesh, there are Old Nan’s fables of giants mixing blood into their morning porridge and gorging on bulls whole. Fortunately, it’s likely that these were only tall tales. Wun Wun, the giant we do meet, doesn’t fit the scary descriptions.

Given the White Walkers’ imminent arrival, we may never receive further insight into Tormund’s bizarre origin story, nor into the giant’s milk mystery. Then again, with Tormund, you never know—particularly if he continues to gulp down whatever’s inside that ivory horn.