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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Season 7 Primer

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.

SEASON SEVEN PRIMER

With just about one week until GoT Season 7 kicks off, the wait is officially over.  Though this year-long delay between seasons has felt like an eternity, it’s safe to assume that this wait will be well worth it. The seventh (and penultimate) season is sure to be nothing short of epic, spectacular, heart-pounding action from start to finish. Producers took an extra three months on this season, namely to wait for the right climate in the areas around the world they are shooting. After all, winter is here, and producers wanted to make sure the geographies they were shooting in were colder than ever before.

Before we jump into recapping where last season left off and where season seven will pick up, it’s important to step back for a moment and consider where we stand in this seven-year journey. It’s hard to believe how quick time flies and that it was seven full years ago that good old Ned was preaching that winter was coming, Daenerys was just a young girl with no dragons or army, the Starks were living peacefully in Winterfell, and the only battle that seemed to matter was the one for the Iron Throne. How things have changed. Fast forward seven years and Ned is dead, winter is here, Daenerys is now a Khaleesi with three full-grown dragons, and some of the much larger impending battles that are soon to unfold make the battle for the Iron Throne seem petty and insignificant.

So here we are…the the beginning of the end. With 60 episodes behind us, and only 13 episodes to go, it’s important to realize that we are truly embarking upon the final chapter of the Thrones saga. Everything we have witnessed over the last seven years has led up to this very moment. It’s the final act, and boy are we in for a treat. This season will consist of just seven episodes, and though that seems like we are being shorted from an already-brief 10-episode season, you can be sure that each of these seven episodes will be nothing short of spectacular. There will be no filler episodes and no time to waste. Each second of each episode will be carefully calculated and masterfully executed. Producers have even gone as far as to confirm that there will be two episodes that exceed the ordinary 60-minute airtime, one of which will be as long as 90 minutes! In short, you can think of each of these episodes as a full-fledged movie, and with a budget of approximately $15 million per episode, these 7 episodes actually far exceed the cost of producing an average Hollywood film (this season’s 7 episodes cost about $100 million, compared to average Hollywood budget of $60 million per film). Pretty incredible to consider.

So, my advice to all viewers in the coming days before the seventh season kicks off and we head towards the beginning of the end, is to spend some time appreciating thinking about all that has transpired to bring us to where we are today. Prepare mentally for the epic saga which is coming to a close. Think about all the magic we have witnessed over the last seven years. The powerful stories that have been told; the incredible character journeys and transformations that have unfolded before our eyes; the joy, the pain, the shocks and laughter we have experienced. For then, and only then, will you truly be able to savor season seven and the precious few moments we have left before Thrones comes to an end.

And now, let’s kick off the recap…

KING’S LANDING

The last few episodes of season six were action-packed, and things progressed very quickly around the world, but perhaps nowhere more so than King’s Landing. The final episode of last season was to include Cercei’s trial, where she would be tried for the sins she had confessed to the High Sparrow. Heading into the trial, the Tyrell’s appeared to be on top, with a weakened Cercei more vulnerable than ever. Many thought that she would be found guilty and perhaps even executed…boy was Cercei underestimated.

Cercei cleverly used her trial as an opportunity to secure all of her enemies in one place. She used stockpiles of Wildfire (which Tyrion previously used to fend off Stannis’ attack on King’s Landing), and blew up the Great Sept of Baelor, killing Margaery, Loras and Mace Tyrell, along with the High Sparrow and Faith Militant. In one fell swoop, Cercei took out her most immediate threats, once again showing that there are no lengths she won’t go to in order to eliminate her enemies and remain on top. However, there is another death that Cercei is responsible for — that of her last remaining child, Tommen. Realizing all the people that have just died in the explosion, and no longer able to handle the pressures of being King, Tommen jumps out of the window to his death. Without question, Cercei is directly responsible for her son’s death, ironically fulfilling the prophecy that Cercei had been told as a young girl (which was revealed to us nearly 20 episodes prior, in the first episode of season five), which stated that she would eventually lose all of her children.

With her enemies eliminated and the king now dead, Cercei takes the Iron Throne for herself, underscoring what she has demonstrated from day one — that she is the most cunning and capable, even as a woman in world ruled by men. And even though we’ve seen some evil kings to date (i.e. Joffrey), the Throne Room has a whole new darkness to it as Cercei ascends the Iron Throne, dressed in all black. Though she has always had an evil side, the one thing that humanized Cercei was her extreme love for her children. Having now lost not one, not two, but all three children, Cercei takes the Iron Throne, colder and more evil than ever before. With nothing left to lose, now more than ever, there is nothing Cercei will not do to avenge the deaths of her children. We know that at the top of her hit list will be the Martells of Dorne, who were responsible for the death of her daughter, Myrcella.

It will be interesting to see how things play out in King’s Landing with just 13 episodes to go, and whether or not season seven will end with Cercei still on the Throne. Moreover, there are big question marks around how  Jaime will fit into this new picture. Once willing to do anything to protect one another, Cercei and Jaime have become more and more estranged over time. Jaime’s character evolution and seeming desire to do good is fundamentally at odds with Cercei’s plans, and he will soon need to decide the man he wants to be.

THE NORTH

The North… Home to the Starks, Winterfell, the Wall, and the first line of defense against the impending White Walkers. There is no part of the world more significant to this story, so let’s recap where things left off.

For quite some time, House Bolton has claimed the North and Ramsay was calling the shots. Things started to take a turn for Ramsay and House Bolton when Sansa escaped (aided by Theon), who eventually reunited with her brother, Jon Snow. After being resurrected by Lady Melisandre, Jon is faced with the enormous task of taking down House Bolton and reclaiming the North. He is supported by the few remaining loyal brothers of the Night’s Watch, Tormund and the Wildlings, Ser Davos and Sansa.

In the penultimate episode of last season, we witnessed the Battle of the Bastards, where Jon’s army defeats Ramsay and reclaims Winterfell. In truth, it was Sansa that won this war and not Jon. Having been exposed to Ramsay and his sick games, Sansa knew their enemy better than Jon, and tried to warn him not to fall into any of Ramsay’s traps. Sure enough, Ramsay baited Jon into a trap by putting his little brother, Rickon, in between their armies, where Jon had the chance to ride out and save him. Sure enough, Jon Snow took the bait and fell into the trap. After a bloody and brutal battle, Jon and what was left of his army, was surrounded by the Bolton’s with death just moments away. Then, Sansa, Baelish and the Knights of the Vale appear, taking down the unsuspecting Bolton army. Ramsay retreats behind the walls of Winterfell, where he is eventually beaten by Jon Snow, before Sansa feeds him to the hounds.

There are a few very significant takeaways here leading into season seven. First and foremost, the Starks have reclaimed Winterfell and a good chunk of the North. They have gotten many of the Northern houses to pledge their allegiance, an effort that was led by the young Lyanna Mormont. In the final episode, Jon was hailed as the King in the North, much the same as his older brother Robb was years before. However, unlike Robb who faced battling an army of men, Jon knows all too well that there is an impending war against the dead, and the North will be the first line of defense in protecting the rest of the realm against the darkness that is coming.

Another important takeaway is the relationship between Sansa and Jon and the role that Baelish will play in the near future. Sansa could have told Jon that she had written Baelish and secured the Knights of the Vale, but she chose not to. Through all the traumatic experiences she has endured (Joffrey, Ramsay, Baelish, etc), she has become wiser and learned to play the game. She trusts nobody, not even her own blood, and would not let herself be vulnerable as she has been so many times before. The Knights of the Vale were her last line of defense — her safety net — and she would not tell anybody about this, not even Jon. Although they reclaimed Winterfell, Sansa did not appear too pleased that Jon was being hailed the new King in the North, and she had subtle interactions with Baelish which alluded to the fact that she may have other plans in mind. Those plans could include joining Baelish on his quest for the Iron Throne. When Sansa finally asked Baelish the question we’ve all been wondering — what exactly it is that he wants — he finally came right out and told her that he wants “everything there is,” including to marry her and rule over the Iron Throne together. Keep an eye on Baelish’s role as he has been a master manipulator behind the scenes and still likely has a few tricks up his sleeve.

BRAN KNOWS R+L=J

On the topic of Jon Snow and the Starks, the season six finale had arguably the biggest reveal in Thrones history, though many had seen this coming for quite some time. That reveal is a simple equation: R + L = J, short for Rhaegar (Targaryen) + Lyanna (Stark) = Jon Snow, the theory that Rhaegar and Lyanna were Jon’s biological parents. In the final episode, we witnessed one of the most famous scenes from the books — The Tower of Joy — and learned what Ned Stark found out 20+ years ago. What is most interesting is that it is Bran that found out the true identity of his brother, and not Jon Snow himself.

After the three-eyed-raven that had been guiding Bran dies and Bran is told he now must become the raven, Bran’s vision takes him to the Tower of Joy, where the younger Ned ascends the tower to find his sister Lyanna, bloody and dying. After many years of hearing about Lyanna, we finally get to see her. Before she passes, she tells Ned that he must take her baby and protect him. If they figure out who he really is (a Targaryen), they will kill him, she says.

First, we now understand that Ned raised Jon to be his own, even though he in fact was not. This point backs to the nobility of Ned’s character and what a great man he was. So much so, that he made up a story which reduced his character, claiming that he had a relation with a whore who gave birth to the bastard Jon Snow. Of course, when you consider Ned’s character, this story never made any sense, as his defining characteristic was his morality. What’s more, his wife Catelyn always resented Ned for this, and every time she saw Jon Snow, she was reminded of this “affair” that Ned had. She hated Jon Snow because of something that never actually happened. In reality, none of it was true. Ned never had an affair and Jon wasn’t a bastard. But Ned had to protect Jon Targaryen. If anybody found out he was Targaryen, especially Robert Baratheon, he would have likely been killed.

So, looking back, it’s pretty powerful to think of everything Ned did to protect Jon Snow. But, looking forward, there’s even more to consider. First, like we said, Jon is a Targaryen. Moreover, he’s half Stark as well, which is quite genetic makeup, arguably the two greatest families. He could be the link between uniting the strength of the North with the power of his Aunt Khaleesi and her Targaryen bloodline. Yes, Khaleesi is Jon’s aunt (her older brother, Rhaegar, was Jon’s father). And perfect timing as Khaleesi is headed to Westeros with her dragons and all. Naturally, this begs the question of when Jon will find out who he is and what type of union might follow between Khaleesi and Jon.

ARYA

Sticking with the Starks, Arya went through quite a journey in season six, and seems to have emerged as the person she will be for the final stretch of the story. For what seemed like an eternity, Arya trained to become nobody. She was instructed that in order to become nobody and learn to become a Faceless Man, she would have to strip herself of her identity as Arya Stark. She spent years in brutal training, only to realize in the end, that she was Arya Stark. If you think about the transformation, it feels like a waste of time, but then again maybe Jaqen H’ghar was pushing her to become nobody in the hopes that it would actually make her somebody — Arya Stark — and a stronger version of that somebody.

Having now reclaimed her identity and appearing stronger than ever (not to mention trained in the ways of the Faceless Men), Arya appears back on Westeros and crosses another name off her list. She slits the throat of Walder Frey, the man responsible for a good chunk of the Red Wedding that killed her brother Robb and mother Cat. What’s next for Arya is anybody’s guess. Now that she’s in the Riverlands of Westeros, she’s not terribly far from Sansa or Jon, and with Winterfell reclaimed, perhaps she’ll go reunite with her siblings. Or, even better yet, perhaps she’ll reunite with the Hound, who is also not far away. Which takes us to…

THE HOUND

After Arya leaves the Hound for dead in the finale of season four, I was heartbroken. Not just because the Hound was my favorite character, but because the bond that had developed between these two characters was unlike any other, and I couldn’t believe it was coming to an end. So I refused to believe the Hound was dead, and 17 episodes later, it was magical to learn that the Hound was still alive! He had fallen in with a small religious village and living a simple life, removed from the violence with which we have come to associate him.

That quickly changed though as a few rogue members of the Brotherhood Without Banners slay the village. The Hound eventually catches up with them as they are being held by the leaders of the Brotherhood Without Banners, Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion, whom we had also not seen for several seasons. In the end, they grant the Hound his wish of killing these murderers, and the Hound agrees to join them in their mission. It is interesting to see the Hound join Thoros and Beric, as these were the very men he fought in a trial-by-combat many seasons prior. Worth noting, in that trial-by-combat, he killed Beric, though Beric was quickly brought back to life by the Red Priest, Thoros. We know that Thoros has been able to bring Beric back many times before, once again demonstrating that the Lord of Light does in fact have true power, and also highlighting the importance of the role that Beric, Thoros and likely the Hound will have to play in the coming episodes.

KHALEESI & CO.

So after five seasons of wandering through the desert and freeing a bunch of slaves, my least favorite story line, Khaleesi’s, finally advanced to where we all had hoped it would. But before we dive into that, let’s quickly recap the squad that she has assembled overt he years. Khaleesi has Grey Worm, in command of 8,000 Unsullied soldiers and Daario Naharis, in command of 2,000 Second Sons soldiers. On top of that, she has thousands of Dothraki soldiers that she won over after defeating the Khals and walking through fire. Her original advisers, Ser Barristan Selmy and Ser Jorah Mormont are both gone, with the former dead and the latter banished to find a cure for his greyscale disease. In their place, Khaleesi has received new counsel in the form of Tyrion and Varys. Tyrion has quickly become Khaleesi’s most trusted and wisest adviser, and in the finale episode, she names him Hand of the Queen. Khaleesi also has Missandei, who has has a slow-developing romance with Grey Worm, which has seemed like a waste of time, but could impact things as they unfold.

Adding to this crew that she had for most of season six, Khaleesi strikes a pact with Yara and Theon of House Greyjoy. Yara and Theon pledge their allegiance to Khaleesi and promise her their support and 100+ ships, if she will allow them lordship over the Iron Islands when she sits upon the Throne. Khaleesi agrees, but explains something very powerful: they will leave the world a better place than they found it. This means that the Ironborn will not be able to go back to their savage ways of raiding the mainland, stealing, raping and pillaging. Yara reminds Khaleesi that this is their way of life, but Khaleesi does not budge on her terms. She also reminds them that all three of their fathers (the Mad King, Lord Tywin and Balon Greyjoy) were ruthless men who brought much evil into the world. The parallels that were drawn between the previous rulers of their powerful houses and the next generation of rulers is very important to consider.

What’s more is that this scene is a direct allusion to Aegon Targaryen and his Conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, during which he made very similar pacts with the powerful houses of Westeros. Like Khaleesi did, he granted them lordship and autonomy over their regions of Westeros, so long as they pledged their allegiance to him — the new Targaryen king that would unite all of Westeros for the first time. Those who refused ultimately suffered catastrophic losses, while those who bent the knee (House Stark, House Tully, House Greyjoy, etc) were allowed to live in peace and oversee their lands and smaller-houses autonomously. 300 years later, Khaleesi is once again striking similar pacts as Aegon Targaryen did before her.

But back to the Greyjoys for a minute — it is important to remember that the reason Yara and Theon struck this alliance with Khaleesi is because they are on the run from Euron Greyjoy — their uncle who killed their father and is now on the quest for power. From what we’ve seen of him, and what the books have also described, he is a crazy man that will do anything to achieve what he wants. It will be interesting to see what alliances he forms, and one can only guess that he may join up with the Khaleesi’s number one enemy — Cercei and the Lannisters.

And if 3 dragons, tens of thousands of soldiers, and a new fleet of ships is not enough power for Khaleesi to storm Westeros, let’s not forget that it looks like she will also be backed by two more very powerful houses — House Martell and House Tyrell. In the finale of season six, we see Lady Olenna meeting with the Sand Snakes (who have recently killed Prince Doran and taken control of Dorne), telling them that all she has left in this world is the opportunity to avenge the deaths of her son, Mace Tyrell, and grandchildren, Margaery and Loras. She has come to the right place, as the Sand Snakes too have longed wanted revenge against the Lannisters for the role they played in murdering several Martells.

As a refresher, during Robert’s Rebellion, after the Mad King was overthrown, Tywin Lannister ordered The Mountain to kill any remaining Targaryens in King’s Landing. At the time, Prince Rhaegar (The Mad King’s son/Khaleesi’s oldest brother) had been wed to Elia Martell (The Red Viper/Prince Doran’s sister) and had two babies, which were half Martell and half Targaryen. Following Tywin’s orders, The Mountain raped and killed Elia Martell, before killing her two babies. House Martell has wanted revenge against House Lannister for many years, and most recently, The Red Viper had a chance to avenge these deaths when he battled The Mountain in Tyrion’s trial-by-combat. Unfortunately, he lost and was killed by the Mountain, only furthering the revenge that the Sand Snakes and House Martell seek against the Lannisters.

So, Lady Olenna, representing House Tyrell, the largest and arguably most powerful/wealthy house in Westeros today, is banding together with the Martells in their quest for revenge. Conveniently, Lord Varys joins the scene offering “fire and blood” if they join Khaleesi, who also wants revenge against the Lannisters. Assuming they join her cause, Khaleesi now not only has dragons, a fleet of ships and likely the largest army in the world, but also backing from two of the most powerful houses in Westeros (and partial backing from a third, House Greyjoy). It’s hard to imagine that anybody will be able to stop her.

SAM TARLY AND THE CITADEL

In the final episode of last season, Sam Tarly arrives at the city of Oldtown which is the second largest city in all of Westeros, and by far the oldest, dating back thousands of years. The most important feature of Oldtown is that it is the home of the Citadel, where the ancient Order of the Maestars train and study to become wise scholars. So, what is the significance of Sam finally arriving to the legendary Citadel? Well, for starters, we know that the Citadel houses tens of thousands of books which cover the history of the known world. We see the massive library that Sam walks into and it is magical to consider the rich detail of the history of the world that is contained inside those books.

In the war that is to come against darkness and death, humanity will certainly need to band together. But having a chance to win this war will require more than just soldiers — it will require wisdom and knowledge. This is likely where Sam will come into play. First, we already know that Sam killed a White Walker back in season three, using the Dragonglass that he found. Not only does this make Sam one of the very few humans alive to have killed a White Walker, but it provides him with the knowledge that Dragonglass can be used to kill the White Walkers. He will likely be able to use this knowledge, and other wisdom that he’ll need to discover from the Citadel, in order to support Jon Snow and the rest of humanity in their battle against the White Walkers. There was another very interesting reveal in the finale episode last season regarding Sam and the Citadel, and what we might have seen when he entered the library — you can read more about that here.

THE BIG PICTURE

As this recap comes to a close and we’ve recapped where things left off in season six, let’s quickly look forward to “the big picture” and the stage that has been set for season seven. The biggest takeaway is that many smaller sides are coming together to form larger alliances, and we are likely to witness some very big battles this season — bigger than anything we’ve seen to date. In the past, there were so many different games being played by so many different players. There were fights for land, houses, religion, and of course the Iron Throne. But now, as we approach the end, these smaller and less significant games will all start to come together, as will the players involved. And, as this recap has more or less outlined, we can already see the teams that are coming together.

The biggest battle that seems imminent is that between Cercei, who holds the Iron Throne, and Khaleesi, who is coming for it. With her, Khaleesi will likely be joined by houses Tyrell, Martell and part of Greyjoy. On her side, Cercei will have the power of the Lannister army, possibly the other half of House Greyjoy (if Euron joins with Cercei) and likely some other players that will join Cercei’s fight to keep the Targaryens away from the Iron Throne. In short, most of the great houses of Westeros have picked sides and a massive battle is in store.

In the North, Jon Snow is rebuilding his own northern fleet and gaining the backing of many northern houses. It will be interesting to see what role he and the North play in the battle that will take part in the south, and if they get involved at all, or solely focus on the larger war that he knows is coming — the war against death and darkness.

There are of course tons of other players to consider and it will be great to see how they pick sides, as it seems inevitable that eventually, as the many games narrow down to just one or two, everybody will have to choose a side.

OTHER THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

As we know, Thrones and it’s story arc is quite detailed and intricate. Characters and plot-points are sometimes introduced in certain episode, and then not touched upon again until many episodes, or even seasons later.There have been countless instances of this, and it is this depth of plot development that is so unique to Thrones. So, as we come into the home stretch with just 13 episodes left to go, you can bet that we are going to have a bunch of “Aha! moments” where something from a long while ago, that we probably forgot about, comes back into focus. So here are some interesting tidbits to keep your eye on:

  • Gendry, who we’ve not seen in many seasons, could turn out to be a very significant character that will reemerge at some point in the near future. We have not seen Gendry since Lady Melisandre and Stannis held him prisoner in the third season so that Melisandre could use his King’s Blood (remember, he is the son of King Robert Baratheon). After Melisandre convinced Stannis that they must execute Gendry as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light, Davos undermines their efforts and sets Gendry free. Gendry took off in a small row boat, never to be seen again. But here’s what we know. First, Gendry has King’s Blood which is in important. Second, Ser Davos went through a lot of trouble and risked his life to save Gendry, so it probably wasn’t for us to never see Gendry again. Third, and arguably most important, with the recent death of Tommen (who was actually a Baratheon), Gendry is officially the last living Baratheon that we know of. When the show started, House Baratheon was one of the most powerful, with many important players (Robert, Stannis, Renly, etc). Historically, House Baratheon has been one of the most powerful houses for hundreds of years. Yet today, it has become all but extinct. Enter Gendry, the last living Baratheon who represents the possibility of reviving this once powerful house. And yet, there is one more very interesting tidbit about Gendry to consider. We were first introduced to Gendry as a bastard boy who was the apprentice to Tobho Mott. Before coming to King’s Landing and serving as a master blacksmith, Tobho Mott was originally from Qohor (in Essos), a city that is famed for producing blacksmiths that are masters in forging Valyrian steel. In an early episode, while in King’s Landing, it is mentioned that Tobho has the ability to reforge Valyrian steel. Though we never saw him do it, and it was only touched upon for a brief moment, it is entirely reasonable to consider that Tobho may have passed on this ancient skill to his apprentice, Gendry. If that is the case, Gendry would be one of the few men alive with the knowledge and ability to forge Valyrian steel, which makes him all the more significant as Valyrian steel weapons will be needed to defeat the White Walkers in the coming war.

  • Jorah Mormont is another character that is out there somewhere, though we haven’t seen him in some time and can’t be sure what he’s up to. We’ve not seen him since midway through the sixth season, at which point Khaleesi ordered him to find a cure for his greyscale, so that he can stand beside her as she retakes the Seven Kingdoms. There are some definite question marks here around whether or not he’ll be able to find a cure and whether he’ll ever reunite with Khaleesi. There is another intriguing scenario to consider — the distinct possibility that he somehow makes it back to Westeros and House Mormont, which is currently being led by the young Lyanna Mormont. Since Lyanna has pledged her support to Jon Snow/House Stark, if this did happen, Jorah could end up aligning with Jon Snow. This would be particularly powerful as Jon Snow was trained by Jorah’s father, Lord Commander Mormont, and fights with Longclaw, the Lord Commander’s Valyrian steel sword, which he gave to Jon because with Jorah banished from Westeros, he had no heir to pass it onto. It’s a very interesting scenario to consider.

  • The Prince That Was Promised: You can read more about The Prince That Was Promised here, but in short, 8,000 years ago the Long Night came, which is regarded as the longest winter ever known to man — one that brought cold and darkness to an entire generation. During the Long Night, the White Walkers came from the deep North and nearly pushed humanity to extinction. A great battle took place, led by the legendary warrior, Azor Ahai, who fought with a flaming sword called Lightbringer. Azor Ahai fought back the White Walkers, at which point the Wall was built to prevent them from ever invading again. When Azor Ahai died, it was prophesized that at some time in the future, the White Walkers would come again, and Azor Ahai would be reincarnated as the Prince That Was Promised, to once again lead the fight against darkness. Since the beginning of the show, Lady Melisandre believed Stannis was the Prince That Was Promised and destined to fight back the White Walkers, but she turned out to be wrong about that. Since then, some have thought Jon Snow to be the Prince That Was Promised, while others have noted it could be Khaleesi. Whether or not the show will definitively answer this is TBD, but it’s an interesting theory to keep your eye on.

  • Speaking of Lady Melisandre, there are some rather large question marks surrounding her and what role she might play in the future. Having once believed Melisandre was an all-knowing priestess who could interpret the words of the Lord of Light, she revealed herself last season to actually be an old decrepit woman, who has masked her appearance through the use of her potions and elixirs. She has shown clear powers many times, whether it was the ability to birth the shadow that killed Renly Baratheon or her ability to resurrect Jon Snow, but she was also wrong many times, particularly about all the faith she put into Stannis. After being banished from the North by Jon Snow for sacrificing Princess Shireen, where will Melisandre surface and what role will she play in the final hours of this story?

  • To say Direwolves are important to this story would be an understatement. After all, it was the very first episode of this series when the Starks found the six Direwolf pups, one for each child. Sadly, four of the six have been killed throughout the years. But, the good news is that there are still two living Stark wolves, one of which we have not seen since the first season!  Jon’s wolf, Ghost, is the only one that has been in the picture recently. But, Nymeria, Arya’s wolf, we have not seen since midway through the very first season. After Cercei ordered Nymeria to be executed for biting Joffrey, Arya set Nymeria free so they could not execute her (instead, they executed Sansa’s wolf, Lady). With Arya back in Westeros, and very close to the place where she originally set Nymeria free, it is worth keeping your eye out for the possibility of Arya and Nymeria being reunited.

  • Benjen Stark is also out there somewhere. After disappearing north of the Wall in season one, most of us probably forgot about Benjen altogether, and it was not until five years later, in season six, that Benjen makes a surprise return. Benjen aided Bran and Meera on their journey north of the Wall, but had to part ways once they passed south of the Wall, as he explained the Wall had ancient magic preventing the dead from passing through (thus also revealing that he is technically dead). Benjen is particularly significant because he is Ned’s brother, and thus the closest thing any of the Stark children have left to a parent. The fact that he is half-dead and has knowledge of fighting the White Walkers reveal that he will likely play a role in the war that is to come.

  • What did Varys hear in the flames? This is another important question that has been touched upon a few times throughout the seasons, most recently last season when Tyrion and Varys are visited by Kinvara, the High Red Priestess of Volantis. She asks Varys if he remembers what he heard from the flames and who the voice was that he heard, the night that he was mutilated. She is referring to what Varys revealed in an earlier season when he told the story of how he was drugged by a sorcerer when he was a small boy. As he lay helpless and paralyzed, the sorcerer castrated him and tossed his “parts” into the fire. Varys recalls hearing a voice call out to him from the flames, but adds that he was drugged and in much pain, so he could not make out what he heard. Many seasons later, this resurfaces when Kinvara visits them and tells them that she will spread the word that Khaleesi is the one who was promised (alluding to her belief that Khaleesi is the Prince That Was Promised), and the one who will fight back the darkness with her dragons. Varys is skeptical of Kinvara, as he is generally skeptical and averse to “blood magic” due to what happened to him as a child. He challenges Kinvara, noting the other Red Priestess, Melisandre, had said something similar of Stannis but was wrong. Kinvara responds to Varys, and asks “Do you remember what you heard that night? You heard a voice call out from the flames, do you remember? Should I tell you what the voice said? Should I tell you the name of the one who spoke?” Is it possible that Varys heard the voice of the Lord of Light when he was just a small boy, and has been unknowingly serving the Lord of Light ever since? It’s hard to imagine what he actually heard, but clearly it was something important, and could be something we find out in the coming episodes.