What’s Hiding Beneath the Crypts of Winterfell?

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have no knowledge of what is to transpire in this story. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.

After what has felt like an eternity of an offseason, the end is now in sight as we are just 2 months away from the final season of Thrones. Hard to believe this epic journey that has consumed us for the better part of the last decade will all boil down to just six more episodes. The early word is that the first two episodes will each clock in at the standard 60-minute length, while the last four will each be 80 minutes long. And so, as we set our sights upon the beginning of the end, HBO recently released an official Season 8 teaser, and boy was there a lot to take from it. In this post, we will break down the teaser and some of the significant takeaways. So, if you haven’t yet seen it, watch it below. And if you have seen it, watch it again!

For starters, let’s reestablish something we’ve talked about before: HBO and the Thrones writers/producers do not do anything by accident. There are no random choices in this show; from each character and location, down to every word that is spoken, everything is thoughtfully chosen to serve a purpose. Remember, Thrones producers are tasked with cramming nearly 7,000 pages worth of George R.R. Martin’s story into what will amount to a total of 67 episodes when all is said and done — that’s over 100 pages of super rich text packed into each episode — so there is absolutely no reason for the show to incorporate any fluff or irrelevant content. Every single thing you see and hear is carefully selected to be there for a reason.

With that in mind, it would be foolish to casually gloss over the above teaser and not give it a thorough examination. After all, this is the very first footage that producers are choosing to expose you to — and not just footage to tease any season — it’s to tease the final season. Again, consider that everything you just watched in this teaser has great significance, especially as we embark upon the conclusion of this epic saga. So, let’s jump in and analyze what I found to be two extremely important takeaways from this teaser: The first, a bold reminder that the Starks of Winterfell have always been, and will always be, at the center of this entire story; the second, the significance of the crypts of Winterfell, and what might be hiding within.

Let’s begin by breaking down the first 50 seconds of the teaser, in which we see Jon, Arya and Sansa walking beneath the crypts of Winterfell. For starters, this is a powerful reminder that the remaining Stark children (not including Bran, who has now turned into the Three-Eyed-Raven) are all reunited at their home of Winterfell. It’s hard to believe, but for the entirety of this story, we have only witnessed the children together at Winterfell for just one episode — the very first one! In just the second episode of the series, Jon leaves for The Wall, and the other Stark children start to go their separate ways from there. So, if nothing else, seeing Jon, Sansa and Arya back together at Winterfell, where it all started, and perhaps where it will all end, is incredibly significant.

But the teaser quickly reminds us that House Stark is made up of so much more than just the three children we see; the crypts of Winterfell lay rest to some of the most important Stark family members — ones that the teaser quickly brings back to life by replaying  some of their most important quotes. Though they may be physically dead, we get the feeling that their influence and impact is very much alive, and it is this very idea that gives such great drive and power to House Stark. What we can also take away is that three of the most influential members of House Stark (Lyanna, Ned and Catelyn) sacrificed their lives so that the present-day members of House Stark could serve their future purpose in the great war to come. As we see the statues of each of these dead members of House Stark, accompanied by their words, we are reminded of a rich history of Stark lineage, filled with great death and sacrifice, all of which is presented in a way that makes us feel like everything that has happened has been leading up to this very moment. Particularly, leading up to Jon’s final moments, given that all three quotes we hear in this teaser relate to him. So let’s dig a bit deeper into the statues we saw and the words we heard from some of the late great Stark family members.

The first part of this teaser shows Jon passing the statue of Lyanna Stark, who we know (though he doesn’t) to be his mother. As a quick refresher, in the finale of season six, Bran travels back in time to the Tower of Joy, where we see Ned arrive to his dying sister, Lyanna, who has recently given birth. In season seven, through another one of Bran’s vision, we see the joyous wedding between Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, confirming that Jon is half Stark and half Targaryen (and also debunking the idea widely spread across much of Westeros that Lyanna was kidnapped and raped by Rhaegar; rather we see that they were in love. This is hugely significant as it was Robert Baratheon who was in love with Lyanna and used the false premise that Lyanna had been kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen as the main justification to launch Robert’s Rebellion and overthrow the Mad King, setting the entire Thrones story into motion. But I digress…)

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While we as viewers, as well as Bran, know the truth of Jon’s parents, he himself does not. As he walks past the statue of his mother, we hear the words she spoke to Ned, as her soft and dying voice tells him, “You have to protect him.” Honoring the last dying wish of his sister, Ned does just this, and fools the world into thinking that Jon Snow is his bastard son. Ned was willing to sacrifice his own honor, the very thing he valued most, by making others believe he impregnated a whore who birthed his bastard son. All of this to conceal the true fact that Jon was not a bastard, but rather was half Targaryen. Had Robert Baratheon (or many others who believed the Targaryens to be a threat) learned this truth, he likely would have killed Jon. Thinking about the great lengths Ned went to in order to protect Jon, the impact it had on Catelyn Stark who hated Jon because she incorrectly believed him to be a reminder of the affair Ned (never) had, and then listening to Lyanna’s words one more time “You have to protect him,” provides such meaning to the opening of this teaser. And that Jon does not even realize this is his mother provides all the more poetic irony.

One other interesting thing to call out here is the feather that we see fly out of the hands of Lyanna’s statue (go back and watch the beginning of the teaser if you did not catch this). For one, we have to ask ourselves what is the significance of this feather? As we spoke about earlier, absolutely nothing is random or by chance in this story, so why show a feather flying out of her hand and landing upon the ground? (Later in the teaser, at about 1:04, you will see the feather again, this time starting to freeze over as the frigid air creeps in, but we’ll get to that later). So where did this feather come from?

Well, the answer is simple. In the very first episode of the entire series, we see Robert Baratheon place this feather into the hand of Lyanna’s statue. See below:

Of course, eight years ago, in the very first episode of this story, when we saw Robert place this seemingly insignificant feather in Lyanna’s hand, we thought nothing of it. And therein lies the genius of this show — eight years later, as we near the end, things come full circle as we once again see this feather.

But that wasn’t the only time we saw this feather. Four years later, halfway through the fifth season, we again see this very same feather. This time, it’s Sansa down in the crypts of Winterfell, and she comes across the feather which must have fallen out of Lyanna’s hand. She picks it up, dusts it off and places it back in her aunt’s hand. See video below at about 35 seconds in (feel free to watch the entirety of the video, in which Baelish and Sansa talk about Lyanna Stark, and Sansa repeats the incorrect theory that Rhaegar had kidnapped her Aunt Lyanna, to which Baelish smirks, insinuating he knows that is not the truth of what happened).

We need not spend any more time talking about the feather, but it is worth pointing out that there is likely a significance to it, given that we saw it in the very first episode, midway through this series in season five, and now again in the teaser for the final season. But while the feather may have a significance, let’s not forget Lyanna herself, one of the most significant Starks of all time — the one who forged a union with House Targaryen, gave birth to Jon and gave her life in doing so. Now, all these years later, we are reminded of her contribution to House Stark and hear her last dying words as her unknowing son walks past her statue.

Next, we see Sansa walk past the statue of Catelyn, as we hear her words, “All this horror that has come to my family, all because I couldn’t love a motherless child.” This quote comes all the way back from the beginning of season three, where Cat is talking with Lady Talisa. As a quick refresh, you can watch the clip below:

What’s most interesting is the juxtaposition of seeing Catelyn’s statue and hearing these words right after seeing the statue of Lyanna with her words. It was actually the first set of words we heard (Lyanna asking Ned to protect Jon) that caused the second set of words we heard (Catelyn believing she caused all the death that had fallen upon House Stark because she couldn’t love a motherless child). As we talked about above, Lyanna asking Ned to protect Jon led him to pretend Jon was a bastard child birthed out of wedlock. This lie caused Catelyn great pain, and as she talks about in the clip above, she even wished Jon death as a sick baby. But she soon changed her mind, and prayed to the gods to save him and swore that she would love him as her own if they did. Well, Jon did not die, but she confesses to being unable to hold up her end of the promise as she was unable to love him. She talks about him being a reminder of the affair Ned had. Again, this is all actually not true and she was completely mistaken in her belief of all of this (as most people were). In the end, like Lyanna, Catelyn died trying to protect her children, and seeing both their statues with some of their last words serve as an important reminder of the sacrifices they made to House Stark.

As the first two quotes both pertained to Jon, so does the third, as we see Jon walk past the statue of Ned and we hear “You are a Stark. You might not have my name, but you have my blood.” Of course, these are the final last words Ned will ever speak to Jon, all the way back in the second episode, as Jon says goodbye to Ned and departs for The Wall. In this scene, Ned also tells Jon that the next time they see each other, they’ll have a talk about Jon’s mother. But, as Ned gets killed at the end of this season while Jon is still at The Wall, they never get a chance to talk again, and Jon never learns the true identity of his mother. As we see the Herculean grandeur of Ned’s statue, it is again a strong reminder of the influential Starks that have come before, many of which gave their lives to lead up to this very moment. While the show started in The North and centered around House Stark of Winterfell, things quickly went awry for this honorable house, and as viewers, we probably lost sight of the importance of House Stark. In fact, after all the turmoil suffered, many of us probably wondered if we’d ever see House Stark really come together again. This teaser put that thought to rest, and then some. It boldly reminded us of the deep and rich Stark heritage — one that cannot be forgotten — and one that continues on within the living Starks of today. No doubt, just as the story started with the Starks of Winterfell, so too it shall end with them.

So, we’ve covered the first major takeaway from this teaser: House Stark and Winterfell have always been and will continue to be central to this story, particularly as we near the end. And, we were reminded of the strength of House Stark — much of which is derived from the deep lineage of Starks that have come before those alive today. But there’s another, perhaps more interesting, topic to dive into. The question is: What’s the significance of the crypts of Winterfell? After all, this teaser could have taken place in 50 other locations and still stressed the importance of House Stark — but it took place in the crypts. There must be a reason why.

From the past seven seasons, and even more so from the books, we know that the crypts of Winterfell are extremely important to the Starks. It’s the place where they bury their loved ones. But it’s certainly seemed as more than just a resting place for the dead — the crypts of Winterfell have always been wrapped in a veil of mystery — why? And why now, as we near the end of this story, would HBO choose to make this the only location that we see in the teaser. And perhaps the most important question is, what’s with the freezing air that starts to creep into the crypts towards the end of the teaser? Sure, at first glance, it could just be symbolic that Winter has come, that the Night King is near, that the White Walkers are coming, etc… Or, is there an entirely deeper and more revealing explanation? By starting to add up everything we’ve learned about the crypts throughout the seven seasons thus far, much of which was via character dialogue that viewers likely skipped over, and also sprinkling in some excerpts about the crypts from the early books, we start to see an entirely different view of what the crypts might be. The hypothesis: perhaps the crypts were built not just as a resting place for deceased Starks, but perhaps as a prison to keep darkness locked within. Let’s start to unpack this thing.

In order to consider the true purpose of the crypts of Winterfell, we must first reexamine their origin. That would require us to go back in time to The Age of Heroes, about 8,000 years ago (if you want some quick context on The History of The Known World, see here for a great timeline). It was at this time that The Long Night swept across Westeros — the longest winter that Westeros had ever seen — and with it came the White Walkers, who nearly wiped out all of humanity. Azor Ahai (aka The Prince Who Was Promised), led the great fight against the White Walkers, pushing them back into the deep north. It was at this time that Brandon Stark (aka Brandon the Builder, founder of House Stark), along with the help of The Children of the Forest and Giants, built The Wall, a defense to keep the White Walkers out. Subsequently, The Night’s Watch was founded to man The Wall and keep the realm protected from White Walkers.

So after humanity is almost wiped out and Brandon Stark builds a great magical wall to keep the realm safe, what does he do next? He builds the first line of defense south of The Wall: Winterfell. And what part of Winterfell does he build first? You guessed it — the crypts! If the very first thing the legendary founder of House Stark did after building The Wall was build the crypts of Winterfell, there must be major significance. In trying to understand that significance, it’s important to realize just how big the crypts were, which is hard to tell from the few scenes in which we’ve seen the Starks walking its corridors. But the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings, offers some more color on the crypts: “The crypts were located beneath Winterfell and contained the tombs of the members of House Stark. The cavernous vault is larger than Winterfell itself, with older Starks buried in the deepest and darkest levels. The lowest level is said to be partly collapsed. The statues have large stone direwolves curled at their feet. According to tradition, iron longswords lay across each lord’s lap to keep vengeful spirits within the crypts.

Let’s break that description down for a moment. First of all, it’s remarkable to consider that the crypts themselves are larger than the entirety of the Winterfell fortress. From the show, it’s always seemed like the crypts was simply a long hall lined with statues. But, the description above paints an entirely different picture and presents the crypts as an absolutely massive cavern of tombs that goes many levels beneath the earth. Surely, something this large and magnificent would not have been built solely to house the tombs of deceased Starks.

But, the last sentence of the description is perhaps most intriguing — that iron longswords lay across each lord’s lap to keep vengeful spirits within the crypts. It is this breadcrumb that makes me wonder what vengeful spirits George R.R. Martin was referring to? And the fact that it reads that they wanted to keep these spirits withinpresents an entirely new vantage point as to what these crypts may have been built for — not just a resting place for the Starks, but perhaps as a prison to keep dark spirits, perhaps those of the White Walkers, within. After all, remember that Brandon Stark built these crypts right after The Long Night. He would have just been returning from a long war in which humanity was almost wiped out by darkness — is it possible that he could have had White Walkers or other evil darkness that needed to be locked up somewhere? Perhaps it was even the Night King himself that needed a place to be buried. It’s hard to say for sure, but the description of the crypts in conjunction with it appearing to have been such a high priority for Brandon Stark to build, as well as the sheer size of the crypts, certainly makes it plausible that this was a place used to keep darkness locked up. But that’s just the beginning of evidence to support this theory…

The description above also reveals one more important piece of information — it talks about iron longswords being laid across each lord’s lap to keep the spirits within. But why iron longswords? Was there any significance to iron being in the crypts or did the longswords simply happen to be made out of iron? Well, later in that very same book, Bran has a quote where he states, “The door to the crypts was made of ironwood. It was old and heavy and lay at a slant to the ground. The door was located in the oldest section of Winterfell.” And just like that, we have another mention of iron in the crypts, seeming to demonstrate that there’s something to this whole iron thing. What’s more, Bran’s quote calls out that this ironwood door was located in the oldest section of Winterfell, which means it was the part that was constructed first by Brandon Stark, builder of Winterfell. So there you have it — iron longswords that sit across the statues to keep evil spirits within, as well as an ironwood door to the crypt that was built in the oldest part of Winterfell. So, clearly there’s a great significance to the iron in the crypts, and possibly as a means to keep evil within, but why iron? Have we ever heard that the White Walkers are averse to iron? Well, actually yes, we have — but I’m sure none of us caught it at the time.

You may recall Old Nan, the very old lady who used to sit bedside with Bran and tell him old tales. In many ways, she was a conduit to a lot of the ancient mythology of the Thrones world, and it was never clear how much of her tales were fact and how much were fiction. In one of those tales, she tells Brans about The Long Night, “In the darkness, the White Walkers came for the first time. They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun, and every creature with hot blood in its veins.” Of course, none of us could have known at the time that her reference to iron meant anything. In fact, without reading this post, even if you went back and watched that scene 100 times over, you still would not know that there was any significance to her reference of the White Walkers hating iron. It’s only when we start to put the pieces of the puzzle together does this dialogue seem to be significant. So combining this information from just a few parts of the books/show, we know: A) the statues in Winterfell had iron longswords across them to keep evil spirits within; B) the door to the crypts in the oldest part of Winterfell was also made of iron; and C) the White Walkers hated iron. Piecing this all together and it surely does not seem coincidental that the Starks had so much iron in the crypts, and it starts to become a real possibility that the crypts of Winterfell were some type of prison for the dead and the iron was there to keep them within.

So let’s go with this theory for a minute and assume the crypts are some sort of prison for the dead. What’s the significance and how does that tie back to what we saw in the teaser? Well, the back half of the teaser shows that winter frost starting to creep into the crypts. First thought is to assume that just represents that winter is here, the Night King is coming, etc… But what if there’s a greater significance that ties back to this theory? What if rather than this symbolizing the Night King or White Walkers coming into the crypts, it’s a foreshadowing of these dark prisoner spirits coming out? Just a theory, you might say. But what if I told you that Jon Snow had one dream and Ned had two, both of which alluded to this very idea? Again, let’s not forget, George R.R. Martin would not include characters’ dreams in the books without some purpose.

In the first book, George RR Martin tells us of a dream Jon had: “He was wandering the empty castle, searching for his father, descending into the crypts. Only this time the dream had gone further than before. In the dark, he heard the scrape of stone on stone. When he turned, he saw the vaults were opening, one after the other. As the dead kings came stumbling from their cold black graves.” In this dream, Jon flat out sees the dead kings coming out from their graves. Sure, this could just be a reference to past Stark kings that are coming alive, but it could also be a reference to Night Kings or kings of darkness. After all, the dream does mention “cold, black graves,” the type of grave an ancient White Walker would be climbing out of.

But it doesn’t stop there. In that very same book, Ned has a dream: “He was walking through the crypts beneath Winterfell, as he had walked a thousand times before. The Kings of Winter watched him with eyes of ice.” First, let’s point out the significance that there is yet another dream happening in the crypts. Second, let’s acknowledge the dark and ominous tone to the dream, similar to that of Jon’s. Lastly, it’s worth noting that George R.R. Martin calls out “the Kings of Winter” and their “eyes of ice.” Again, the Kings of Winter could refer to past Stark kings, or it could refer to previous Night Kings or Kings of the White Walkers. After all, why would Stark kings have “eyes of ice”? We know that it is the Night King/White Walkers that have these eyes of ice. Speaking of which, let’s rewind to the very first pages of the prologue of the very first book — the first words any Game of Thrones reader would have read — which is also the very first scene of how the show started. If you recall, Will, a deserter of the Night’s Watch, encountered a White Walker, and the book starts “Will saw its eyes; blue, deeper and bluer than any human eyes; a blue that burned like ice.” Interesting to consider that the series of books (and show) begins with Will seeing the icy eyes of a White Walker, nearly identical to the way George R.R. Martin describes the eyes of ice on the statues of the Kings of Winter that Ned sees in his dream in the crypts.

But if there really were some dark White Walker-esque spirits buried down in the crypts beneath Winterfell, why would they be creeping free now? After all, we established that they hate iron and the iron longswords + iron door should keep them contained. Well, what if that iron was starting to fade? Turns out Ned has one more dream in the first book that speaks to this very idea: “By ancient custom an iron longsword had been laid across the lap of each of who had been a Lord of Winterfell, to keep the vengeful spirits in their crypts. The oldest had long ago rusted away to nothing, leaving only a few red stains where metal had rested on stone. Ned wondered if that meant the ghosts were free to roam the castle now. He hoped not.” Another rather eerie dream which notes that some of these very old iron longswords had started to fade, which led Ned to wonder if the vengeful spirits were able to roam free. If Brandon Stark did in fact bury these first evil bodies 8,000 years ago when he built the crypts, it makes perfect sense that the iron would have started to disintegrate, possibly allowing these spirits to break free. Which again begs the question of the wintery ice we saw creeping into the crypts at the end of the teaser: was it a simple reminder of army of the dead that is soon to arrive to Winterfell, or was it an allusion to something more — dark spirits that have been prisoner to the crypts of Winterfell, that are finally breaking free.

Only time will tell, and perhaps the crypts will not turn out to be as significant as this theory assumes. But if I had to bet, I would say that there will be some sort of major reveal tied to the crypts of Winterfell before this story comes to an end…

 

 

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