The long-awaited Game of Thrones season eight premiere was nothing short of spectacular. As far as season openers go, “Winterfell” might just be the best premiere of the entire series, wasting little time and getting straight down to business. Not much time has passed for our Westerosi heroes but given the extended gap between seasons, Game of Thrones set aside some time to check in with certain characters — serving as a friendly reminder for the millions of fans worldwide who would not have time to rewatch all seven seasons and remember who’s who and what’s what. As with all premieres, “Winterfell” does much of the table-setting, artfully setting up the pieces and reuniting characters in preparation for what’s to come.
There may not have been any epic battles, but “Winterfell” features some monumental events from Jon finally riding a dragon to Sam delivering him the bad news about his true heritage. In between, there is also plenty of humour, intrigue, fantasy, and romance but arguably the two most important moments of the episode also brings with it, unspeakable horror.
In one of the episode’s earliest scenes, the young Lord Ned Umber asks Lady Sansa Stark if he could have extra horses and carts so he could bring his people back to Winterfell from Last Hearth. Like many of the characters in Game of Thrones, Ned Umber isn’t a character many viewers will recognize and given the short season, in order for any character to be awarded any amount of valuable screentime, chances are, that character would appear again and be play an integral part in pushing the narrative forward. Truth be told, in Game of Thrones, everything is meticulously planned and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the young boy does indeed make a second appearance in the episode’s final scene. Unfortunately for Ned, he would also suffer a gruesome fate as discovered by Tormund, Beric, and Dolorous Edd who arrive at the Last Hearth.
“Winterfell” Perfectly Mirrors the Game of Thrones Pilot
For those of you who don’t remember, the young boy is technically the Lord of House Umber whom Jon Snow pardoned last season. It is Tormund Giantsbane and Beric Dondarrion (along with the rest of the Eastwatch warriors who survived Viserion’s attack) who discover the boy nailed to the wall in the abandoned creepy castle shortly after their brief encounter with their old friend Dolorous Edd (Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch).
It’s a bloodcurdling scene as we see that the boy was crucified between a collection of disembodied limbs pinned around him in the form of a spiral — but it is also an important scene that confirms our heroes are indeed still alive and the boy did make it back to his home, only for the Night King’s army to sweep through and kill everyone in sight. And when little Ned wakes up and we see his eyes a pale blue, which confirms that the White Walkers are indeed the ones responsible for creating these symbols. The army of the undead are inching closer and closer to Winterfell but what we still don’t know is what these ghastly spiral symbols mean.
The Mystery of the Knight King and the White Walkers
The White Walkers are the deadliest and most mysterious entity in Westeros and one of the greatest mysteries surrounding the Night King and the White Walkers is the infamous spirals that have served as a recurring motif for their presence since the series began eight years ago. The undead army made their way through Lord Umber’s land, seizing their castle and killing anyone who stood in their way — yet the Knight King decided to leave only one body behind. Rather than recruit the young boy to his army of the undead or mutilating his body, the Night King left him there as a message.
“It’s a message from the Night King,” Berric says — but why?
There are plenty of theories floating around the internet and truth be told, nobody really knows the meaning behind the tableau imagery. What we do know, however, is that similar designs have appeared throughout the run of the series dating back to the opening scene of the Game of Thrones pilot. Since the opening minutes of the series, the White Walkers have mutilated bodies ala Hannibal Lecter and arranged the pieces into some form of a spiral pattern and upon rewatching all seven seasons prior to the season eight premiere, it has become clear what this all means.
According to the internet, the spiral symbols are part of the written language used by the Children of the Forest. We’ve seen the cryptic symbols in the season 6 episode “The Door,” after the Children of the Forest stab the Three-Eyed Raven with a shard of dragonglass and the camera pans up to reveal the pattern. The symbol also makes an appearance in “The Spoils of War.” when Jon ventures deep into the caves of Dragonstone — and prior to that, we see the symbol in “Walk of Punishment” when Jon visits the Fist of the First Men and sees the aftermath of the White Walkers’ attack on the Night’s Watch.
From the opening minutes of “Winterfell” — as we watch a young boy running through a crowd of people in order to get a better look at the visiting King and Queen, to the final moment that reunites Bran Stark and Jaimie Lannister — the Season 8 premiere mirrors just about every scene from the very first episode of Game of Thrones.
In retrospect, “Winterfell” is somewhat of a masterpiece in that it ties together the biggest foreshadowing of the entire series and a clue that appeared in the very first scene of the very first episode. If you remember, “Winter is Coming” opens with three men of the Nights Watch (Ser Waymar Royce, Will, and Gared) who travel beyond the Wall to investigate reports of wildlings in the Haunted Forest. Along the way, Will discovers mutilated dead bodies of wildlings laid out in a strange circular pattern. And if you remember correctly, the one and only corpse left intact just so happens to be a young girl pinned upon a tree — who like the young Ned of Umber pinned to the wall — is left behind not only as a message to whoever discovers the bodies, but also to symbolize the hierarchy of the Children of the Forest who reside there. As with every spiral pattern left behind by the undead, the symbol was intentionally laid out for someone to find and so it isn’t a coincidence that Will of the Night’s Watch is the only man left to survive after Royce and Gared are ambushed by twelve White Walkers. The White Walkers relied on Will to deliver the message to Ned Stark at Winterfell, thus sparing his life.
Brans Stark and Jamie Lannister
The prophecies, foreshadowing, and symbolism riddled throughout the entire series have allowed fans to speculate and theorize for years about how events will unfold and how the series will end. There are still plenty of mysteries left unsolved but the biggest remaining mystery is the motivations of the Knight King and the White Walkers — and it’s safe to say that these symbols left behind are somehow tied to how or where it will all end. The shape of these patterns, for example, is identical to the shape of Gods Eye lake, the location in which the Children of Men robbed the Knight King of his mortal life centuries ago, and turned him into the undead warrior he is now.
Ultimately, the answer to what these spirals are may never be revealed, but if I had to put money down, I’m willing to bet that these spiral patterns are indeed important to the larger narrative since they serve as messages, warnings, and direction.
There’s a reason Bran Stark allows himself to travel back to Winterfell. In “Winterfell,” Bran spends the majority of the episode waiting for someone in the Winterfell courtyard — an “old friend,” he says. At first, it’s not quite clear who he is referring to and many viewers would be forgiven for thinking he’s referring to Samwell Tarly, but alas that’s not the case. As it turns out, Bran has been waiting for Jaime Lannister, a very pointed callback to the end of the Season 1 pilot, when Jaime pushed him out the window all those years ago, crippling the boy and allowing him to tap into his eerie mental powers which have permeated the series since.
“Winterfell” may be full of laughs and warm reunions and it may have disappointed some, but it also reminds us of what is at stake, and how and why Bran Stark is and always has been the key to unraveling the mystery at the heart of the show. It also brings everything full circle and proves there is a deeper connection between the Kingslayer and Bran. Jaime Lannister was meant to push Bran to his death and he was destined to reunite with Bran all these years later. There are no coincidences in Game of Thrones. Everything happens for a reason and chances are, Jaimie and Bran will soon team up to put an end to the war. And if I am right, the question remains is Bran to be trusted or will Jaime be the true hero?
Anyone who has surfed the Internet in the past eight years would have come across plenty of fan theories revolving around Bran Stark, including some that position him as being Bran the Builder, the man who not only built the wall along with Winterfell, but used the magic of the Children of the Forest to keep the White Walkers at bay. Other theories suggest Bran Stark is the Night King himself, with fans believing that the White Walkers helped to build the Wall which is entirely possible given the fact that they’re masters of ice.
Bran Stark’s abilities as the Three-Eyed Raven are mysterious and powerful, and because his possibilities for Game of Thrones Season Eight are endless, fans have spent years analyzing his visions, and the purpose of the Three-Eyed Raven to find clues to what role he’ll play in this long-awaited conclusion. While I don’t buy into any of the theories mentioned above, I do believe that Bran is crucial to how the story will end and along with Jamie Lannister, he will be able to help stop the undead army.
It’s easy to overlook Bran since he’s spent the majority of his screentime away from every other major character and storyline in the series thus far — not to mention his disability renders him incapable of battle, so he’s forced to fight the great war with only his mind and not his bare hands — yes despite all this, Bran may be the most powerful man in Westeros.
Overall, every theory seems to connect Bran to every key moment in Westeros history. We know Bran accidentally destroyed poor Hodor’s mind by traveling to the past, and some speculate he did the same thing to the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, who was known to hear voices., so did Bran inadvertently drive Aerys into his murderous rage by whispering into his ear to “burn them all” – the phrase Jaime Lannister says Aerys repeated over and over again before his death?
Whatever the case, Bran’s attempts to rewrite history in the Game of Thrones universe never works out too well for him or anyone involved. And as the late Three-Eyed Raven’s warned, “the past is already written. The ink is dry,” so regardless if Bran can see events unfolding in the past, he can’t actually change the course.
George R.R Martin has frequently gone on record to say that ending of Game of Thrones will be ‘bittersweet’ and that he is not a fan of fantasy novels that oversimplify the nature of good vs evil. In his own words, “the greatest monsters in history thought they were the heroes of their story.” Isn’t it entirely conceivable that the White Walkers are not as evil as they seem? Again, I ask, can Bran Stark be trusted, or will he accidentally mess things up much like he did with Hodor?