Theory on Bloodborne’s Winter Lanterns and their relation to the Doll
Many have been quick to point out that the Winter Lanterns in the Nightmares1 Both of Mensis and the Hunters. wears a dress strikingly similar to the Doll’s in the Hunters Dream. As with all things Miyazaki, it is intentionally cryptic and vague as to why this is. VaatiVidya wrote out some notes on his theories of the Winter Lanterns, but I would like to throw in my own that I’ve been sitting on for a few months: The Winter Lanterns are the Proto-Dolls.
Creating your doll in 10 Eldritch Steps
First of all, we must deal with the creation of the Doll. She has the same looks and voice (actor) of Lady Maria, one of the first Hunters and Gerhman’s apprentice. Some unspecified event (Implied to be the massacre at the Fishing Hamlet) led to her (seemingly willingly) entering into the Hunters Nightmare, which let her retain her sanity unlike most other beings in there2 Somewhat similar to this is that at the start there are a few Beast Patients who opt not to fight you, and instead back away with arms raised. Given what we see with Ludwig, that Beasthood is a reversible process, my assumption is that a similar thing has happened with these patients. After being slain over and over again by the blood-drunk hunters, they restored their humanity (At the bonfire!). But unable to escape the nightmare or revert their appearance, they opt instead to simply hide away in a corner together, those motley few who have retained their sanity and are slain forever.. Her leaving drove Gehrman into a deep sorrow. Many interpret the meaning of this as Gehrman lusting for Maria, but I personally prefer to see it as a Father/Daughter relationship.
But it matters not, her death caused a melancholy for Gehrman that ended up causing him to contact the Moon Presence using the Three Thirds umbilical cord that we can find in the Abandoned Workshop. This led to the creation of the Hunters Dream in exchange for the Doll to be given life. But that seems a very extreme thing to do. Even for someone like Gehrman, who seemingly was in contact with Byrgenwerth and likely knew intimately of the existence of the Old Gods. To instantly contact something beyond their ken?
With one Doll found in the waking world and another set of clothes, it seems possible that multiple Dolls were created before the Maria-Expy we get in game. Even in a game that seems to draw heavily on romantic literature and its view on science, there seem to be very few Frankenstein Monster characters around. Without a previous example of how to create life, and with Eldritch power so easily available, Gehrman quickly turned to the Messengers. Like Provost Willem attempted to give himself Eyes on the Inside in order to see the true nature of the universe, Gehrman stuffed dozens of Messengers into a Doll, in order to give it life. But these multiple attempts ended in vain. They created the Winter Lanterns. They do not sooth, they incite madness. The amalgamation of eldritch power inside spawned a mass of tendrils and eyes and maws that only seek to consume.
And so the Gehrman turned to contacting the Moon Presence, giving the Doll life and creating the Hunters Dream. But it was in vain, he disappeared from the world[^4], the Doll disgusted him in its dissimilarity of Maria, and he was forever trapped in the Hunters Dream.
Flaws and Alternatives
The one fatal flaw in this is that the Messengers we see mashed in the head of the Lanterns are linked to the Dream, and could possibly not have been in contact with Hunters before the Dream was formed. Another is why they only exist in nightmare realms. Perhaps Micolash bought them with him when he created the Nightmare of Mensis, the madness the only true place they could reside. If we ignore my theory, then my personal favourite is the third in the Evernote document above, created by Chim_Cheree. It states that:
Regarding my theories on the Winter Lanterns, I’ve given them a lot of thought and usually just end up running in circles trying to explain their existence. Ultimately, I’m satisfied with the notion that they (and other creatures in the nightmare) are meant to be manifestations of a hunter’s fears, whether that’s the player hunter or the other hunters found in the area. Or, if you believe as I do that the Moon Presence is the puppet master of the hunter’s dream and all its flora and fauna, then the Winter Lanterns could also be nightmare distortions of your subconscious trying to communicate the hidden reality of the dream. The brain mass behaves like a parasitic host controlling the doll body just as the Moon Presence controls the dream; you can see its tentacles protruding from the dress’s sleeves, and the arms hang lifelessly until the mass tries the grab you. It also sings with two voices layered together, suggesting that the brain is a separate entity singing through the doll’s body.
Given that Bloodborne takes inspiration from 19th and 20th-century literature, it would make sense if it also drew on theories like Freud’s Id, the animal unconscious. Something primal, the beast inside, realises this isn’t right and is telling us to get the hell out of dodge, implied by the Frenzy buildup.
My theory isn’t perfect, but even if we get a sequel (I’m not sure if I want one, but I may write more on that later) I doubt it would ever be answered in a way that makes it undeniable. That is just how Miyazaki works. The cryptic bastard.