Okay, this is it. This big one. The one we’ve concurrently anticipated and dreaded. The dead have arrived at Winterfell. Winter is no longer coming, Winter is here. What will happen? What will we see? Most importantly, who will make it through the battle? Here are my thoughts on these topics and more.
PREDICTION ONE: THE NIGHT KING WILL NOT BE THERE
At least not when the battle begins.
This one seems obvious to me. As Jaime said in the last episode, the Night King would never expose himself. He’s going to make as difficult as possible for our heroes. He is far more patient than that. He’s been waiting thousands of years! You think he is going to rush headlong into a battle just because he knows where Bran the Three-Eyed Raven is? Of course not!
One prime example of his patience? The battle beyond the Wall. Jon and company were completely surrounded by wights, and the Night King is there with his white walkers (one of whom he sacrificed in order to get Jon right where he wanted him) and simply waits. He doesn’t move until Daenerys shows up with her dragons. He then takes very careful aim at Viserion and kills him in spectacular fashion with one of three ice spears he brought with him. He also could have easily killed Drogon while he was on the ground with the remainder of Jon’s party clambering onto him to escape, but he didn’t. He had what he needed- a single dragon. He just wanted the rest of them to leave so they could hole up at Winterfell (along with the rest of the North) and have everyone in one place where he could easily overwhelm them with his massive army.
Why not have multiple dragons among his forces? Easy – because he is the only one who can control one by riding it. The walkers can’t do it because they lack the abilities the Night King possesses, and power as he may be I doubt he can warg a dragon and control it while also riding one. Dragons tend to do what they want, and while undead it might be a thrall of the Night King, he also has a massive army of wights with various creatures to control as well. Controlling a dragon, I assume, is not as easy as controlling people.
For a long time, I’ve thought that the Night King would skip this battle, although I’m starting to rethink this. He won’t be there at the beginning; he’ll let his army whittle down the Winterfell army and when the time is right, he’ll swoop in and attack. Of course, he can also do what Sam foreshadowed he would do and attempt to erase the history of man by destroying the Citadel.
Why do I think this? Well, mainly because there are a lot of people, places and things in the World of Ice and Fire that have real-world analogs. Wildfire is based on Greek Fire. Valyrian Steel is based on Damascus Steel. The conflict between the Starks and the Lannisters is based on the War of the Roses between the Yorks and the Lancasters. The Citadel is no exception, as it is clearly based on the Library of Alexandria, which was destroyed in a fire and it is unknown how much knowledge was lost. Sam did mention that the only true death was the erasure of all memory, and this seems like a direct line of reasoning to the destruction of the Citadel and all the books and scrolls (except for what Sam managed to smuggle out).
PREDICTION TWO: THINGS WE’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE
Something that I think we will see is something that was described in one of the first episodes as Bran was recovering from his fall. Old Nan was telling a story about the White Walkers and how they had all manner of undead creatures with them, including “packs of pale spiders, big as hounds”. I think that we will see these creatures, in addition to the undead giants and polar bears we’ve already seen.
Another thing we saw briefly at the very end of the last episode was close to a hundred White Walkers. To clarify the difference, the White Walkers are the ones with the beards who ride horses and came from Craster’s sons being sacrificed. Wights are the reanimated corpses of those who fell in battle or those who are already dead (more on that later). Craster bragged to Jeor Mormont that he had “ninety-nine sons. You ever met someone with ninety-nine sons?” and those are the Walkers we see leading the undead army. There are also other Walkers that represent the twelve Lord Commanders that served before the Night King (it’s rumored that he is the 13th), and I’m not sure if they count as part of the 99, but either way, there are a lot of them. They are more like generals, and I think they are down two because of the two that Jon killed. They are shown to be armored, where other Walkers are bare-chested although they all look essentially the same.
They are much more formidable fighters and have actual skill in battle, as opposed to the wights who, although they carry various weapons, are more of a swarming insect-like threat than actual free-thinking beings. This also lends a lot of credence to the hive mind theory that Beric passed on to Jon when he said that killing the Night King would cause a domino effect similar to what we’ve seen in films like Independence Day and The Avengers when the main source of the threat is taken out, all of the minions cease to function. This is also shown to a different degree in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but I’ll get more into the LotR parallels later.
I do think that if we see the Night King fight, it will be a spectacular battle. The Night King is currently portrayed by Vladimir ‘Furdo’ Furdik, who previously portrayed the White Walker that fought Jon in the season 5 episode “Hardhome” (where we saw the effectiveness of Valyrian Steel against the dead) as well as doubling for Ser Arthur Dayne during the Tower of Joy fight. This, plus his experience as a stuntman, leads me to believe that he is a skilled fighter so the battle between him and Jon will be incredible – maybe even better than the fight between Brienne and the Hound or the fight between Oberyn Martell and the Mountain. While we have seen him use weapons before – once on Brynden Rivers while he was trapped in his tree as the Three-Eyed Raven and once when he killed Viserion – but never in an actual one-on-one combat situation.
And just quickly, something we’ve never seen before shall come to pass in this episode. We will see the Unsullied show fear. When faced with the horror of the undead, even the staunchest warrior will feel their knees go weak and their bowels loosen. The Unsullied will be no different.
PREDICTION THREE: THE CRYPTS WILL NOT BE SAFE
This one seems pretty obvious to me. It’s Chekov’s gun; if a gun is shown in the first act, it must be fired by the end. Basically, you can’t repeatedly beat someone over the head with the idea that the crypts below Winterfell will be the safest place for the folks who are unable to fight and defend themselves. For me, this is basic math. The Night King can resurrect the dead no matter what their condition, even down to nothing but skeletal remains they are still able to fight and kill. Add this to the fact that the Winterfell Crypts are literally full of the dead, and sending anyone here seems to be counterintuitive to something done for safety’s sake.
However, there’s always a caveat to these things. I don’t mean to be the ‘well, in the books’ guy but…in the books when Ned is in the crypts he mentions something about feeling the dead stirring but being held back by the iron swords included with every statue. Apparently iron is also useful against the dead, but it is never mentioned in the show and only casually referenced in the books. If the showrunners decide to keep that plot as a book-only thread, then I do think we will see some craziness in the crypts as the long-dead (and recently dead) Starks rise from their graves and attack those huddling for safety within their walls. But who will we see? Headless Ned? Maybe, he does have a statue but there was no indication that his bones made their way back to Winterfell. Headless Robb? Doubtful, because he was also decapitated and a wolf’s head (probably Grey Wind) sewn onto his body and I doubt that after that disrespectful display the Freys or Boltons would have the decency to see that he was laid to rest in his family’s ancestral home. Certainly, Rickon will be there, Lyanna will be there, the various Brandon Starks should also be there as well. Remember, the crypts existed before the castle did, and there are levels upon levels of tombs of Starks who have been interred there for thousands of years.
One thing that is in the books as well as in the show is the fact that the progenitor of the Stark lineage Brandon the Builder built Winterfell as well as the Wall, and we know that the Wall had magical enchantments upon it that safeguarded it from the Night King. Those safeguards were lost when two things happened- first, the Night King was able to touch Bran in his vision of the past and when he acquired his dragon. Once those two things happened, the magic that kept the world of the living from being invaded by the dead disappeared and using the dragon he was able to rend a hole in it large enough for his army to march through – it would be impossible to get the entire army to climb the wall.
By that logic, the same (or similar) magic was most likely placed on Winterfell and its crypts because Brandon the Builder understood the threat that the dead posed should they ever breach the Wall. Perhaps that magic would wake the Kings of Winter to come to the defense of the living, but more likely it is the exact same magic that defended the Wall. This would explain why Bran told Sam to inform Jon about his true parentage because if he goes into the crypts the magical seal would be broken, much as the seal upon the Wall was broken when he crossed south with Meera Reed.
More on this in the next segment.