Tony Black on what might be in store for the surviving members of House Stark in Game of Thrones season 8…
The cyclical nature of Game of Thrones is none more apparent than with the nature and fortunes of House Stark. At the beginning, they were amongst the most solid, respected and noble houses of all Westeros, led by Lord Eddard, Warden of the North, with a burgeoning dynasty of children who would carry one of the most ancient bloodlines through into the next generation.
Powers, thrones and dominions ended up challenging that long-held fortitude. Ned was executed once his old friend King Robert Baratheon died and his (secretly illegitimate) cruel son Joffrey became King. His wife Catelyn was betrayed in the same ambush where their son Robb lost his life, the ‘Red Wedding’ of the Twins courtesy of Walder Frey. Their other children we tracked; Bran followed a vision quest beyond the Wall and underwent a unique psychic transformation; Arya went from impish tomboy to ruthless assassin thanks to a long road of brutality and training all the way from the Hound to the Faceless Men; Sansa suffered indignity, forced marriage and rape before rising up to help unite the North against the vicious House Bolton; and Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow suffered a long journey from being a lowly member of the Night’s Watch to becoming King in the North of a revived Stark banner.
All this we saw. The Starks destroyed, imprisoned, brutalised, murdered, hardened and in the end respected enough to fight back against their enemies and restore themselves to their home of Winterfell.
In the current season, Sansa and Arya managed to unite against the machinations of Peter ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish and put an end to his chaotic schemes for good, maintaining loyalty to the Stark name even in the face of Sansa having the potential for betrayal. Bran further and further distanced himself from humanity by tapping into the magical, weirwood network and ultimately connecting dots we already suspected which have a significant impact on Jon – namely that he isn’t just King of the North, but he is Aegon Targaryen, son of the secretly married Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, making him the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne, even beyond his aunt Daenerys Targaryen… who he’s now chosen to fall in love with and become the King to her presumed ruling Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
Attention must in season 8 turn to, as Jon described it, the ‘Great War’ given the Night King and his army have destroyed a chunk of the Wall and are now marching on the lands of men at long last. As the man who spearheaded the unification of the major powers of Westeros to face the undead, it will fall to Jon to lead this massive living army of disparate, arguing powers to stem the tide of invasion. We’ll come back to Jon later as, claims to the Iron Throne aside, there is one other significant mythological beat to play where he’s concerned. Possibly.
If Jon is off leading armies as he is wont to do, it will likely fall to Sansa to practically rule in Winterfell and continue balancing the fragile alliances in the North, working with Jon to help sell his alliance not just with the Dragon Queen but also the Lannister’s, the sworn enemy of everyone who came together under Jon (until she realises Cersei has betrayed them already). Littlefinger may yet haunt Sansa from beyond the grave next season, having planted the seed within her of distrust in Jon’s alliances, based on her own fears and weaknesses. Could she be tempted to move the Starks and their liege lords on a different course away from the battle against the armies of the dead? Could she consider alliance with Daenerys and her foreign armies too much? And could she also not much like her essential removal from power with Jon and Dany in a power alliance? Either way, do not expect the hardened Sansa to go gently into that good night.
A lot may depend on Arya and her relationship with Sansa. There’s some ambiguity as to whether they planned from the beginning to put on a mummers show for Littlefinger or if Sansa had a change of heart, but either way, Arya is no Lady of Winterfell and while right now she has a reason to help safeguard her Stark brothers and sisters, when the Great War truly begins Arya will have to choose whether she wants to be part of the Stark restoration or chart her own course. Truthfully, both could intertwine. Given we know Cersei is planning a betrayal of the united living force against the dead, and given Bran Stark can see all things present, if Arya becomes aware of Cersei’s betrayal it could well lead her on a quest to assassinate the Queen. She’s on her death list, remember, as is the Mountain. Gee, who would also be helpful on a quest like that? Maybe Sandor ‘the Hound’ Clegane, who is certainly on team Stark right now and wouldn’t it be fitting if these two teamed up to take out the major human threats to Westeros in Kings Landing? This would surely only mean one thing…
Lest we forget as well, Arya is also supposedly scheduled to run into Melisandre again, everyone’s favourite, tarty, mercurial witch. She has hinted she will return to Westeros ‘to die’ and told Arya seasons ago they would meet again, but just how their paths would cross and moreover why is an open question with no easy answer. Could her death come at the hand of Gendry? What if he too joins #squad member the Hound and his old friend Arya to take out Cersei? She did kill his biological father remember and given Melisandre tried to kill him, maybe Gendry will put her down if she provides a threat to Arya.
All this would of course be seen by Bran, and it’s around him some of the more fascinating theories are revolving. We know Bran’s powers as the Three-Eyed Raven aka Hal the sentient computer will mean a download of information to Jon about his parentage, and the very illegitimacy of Robert’s Rebellion, but what other purpose could Bran serve? He can move through the past but don’t we know everything we need to there? Haven’t all the major secrets now been revealed? Or perhaps not. Some believe in trying to take down the Night King, Bran could very well *become* the Night King, becoming trapped in the body of the First Man who the Children of the Forest infected with ice via dragon glass thousands of years before, during an attempt by Bran to change the past and prevent the creation of the White Walkers altogether. In other words, similar to what became of Hodor, a living, breathing paradox. It sounds out there but, y’know, it’s possible.
Putting aside claims the Night King’s features have actually been changed to resemble an adult Bran (which are a bit far fetched and probably just coincidence), there has been a concerted effort by the writers to hint about the powers and limits of time travel. Remember how young Ned *almost* heard Bran at the Tower of Joy? Something got through the fabric of time there, some echo. The original TER told Bran the past couldn’t be changed and if you stay too long there, you may never return. Were these hints at Bran’s fate? Would this also explain why the Night King seemed to know the original TER in ‘The Door’ and took a certain personal stake in killing him? What if Night King-Bran felt anger at TER for not telling him of his fate? Did he even know? In the Season 7 finale, Bran pointedly tells Sam Tarly he sees the past and present, but he leaves out the future, so perhaps the Three-Eyed Raven cannot see what is to come. The original may not have known Bran’s fate, his attempts to use his awesome power across time and space to end a war it’s possible in season 8 he fears the living will lose. Had the constructs of time travel not been discussed openly in the show, this would be hard to swallow, but a narrative precedent exists that may lend the Night King a deeper level of characterisation.
Let’s also not forget Bran’s mark, by the way, touched as he was in ‘The Door’ by the Night King through a green seeing vision. Many have speculated how the Night King could have seen him and grabbed him, which the original TER claims means a bridge has formed (and could possibly explain how the Walkers, having the power to destroy the Wall, can also cross it despite the magic keeping them at bay). If Bran *is* the Night King, it could further explain that connection. So don’t write this theory off just yet as, twistedly, it could end up key to Bran’s final arc and how they destroy the White Walkers in the long run.
Which brings us neatly to him who knows nothing, Jon Snow. Our hero of the story. Noble, handsome, strong, having literally died and been reborn, and also *whisper it* a little bit boring. Jon may not be the most interesting character but he’s the most crucial, with that nobility and pragmatism after many years beyond the Wall allowing him to stitch together the houses of Westeros and now the usurper herself, Daenerys, set to not just become his partner in war but also now his partner in bed. Despite the fact she’s his aunt, he’s secretly a Targaryen, and he’s technically going to piss her right off when she finds out his claim on the Iron Throne supersedes hers.
Let’s be honest though – there’s no way Jon is going to want to rule the Seven Kingdoms, even if such power is on a platter. He’s spent years gaining increasing levels of power and influence and either rejects it or uses it only for a greater purpose, to destroy the army of the dead. He wouldn’t even want to be supreme King, and he could well be the catalyst for democracy that Westeros so deeply needs. Before that, however, they need to defeat the Night King and that’s all tied up in ancient prophecy about the Long Night and the Prince Who Was Promised, who would yield a flaming sword and save the world of the living from the dead, as happened thousands of years previously. The new Azor Ahai. Most people are pretty sure it’s Jon and that’s why he’s been reborn, saved by the Lord of Light thanks to Melisandre at the beginning of season 6, but, well… isn’t that too simple for Game of Thrones?
For a start, Jon isn’t the only person to be reborn. Beric Dondarrion is still knocking about and he’s been reborn six times or so, and we’ve seen his sword power up with flame now fighting White Walkers. Daenerys could just as easily fit the Azor Ahai bill, the fire to Jon’s ice. There has even been glorious speculation that the saviour could be the Hound, who remember has too been granted visions in fire. So it’s not simply Jon who could be facing a destiny where he takes down the Night King, thereby destroying the army of the dead. What’s almost certain is that he’ll lead the charge, most likely ride the second of Dany’s two living dragons once he realises he’s Aegon Targaryen, and that he may well end up getting Dany pregnant with their heir to the Iron Throne – if it even exists by the end of the show. Will Jon die again? It could go either way. Many believe the fact he’s died once negates the possibility but don’t be so sure; Jon is certainly the Christ figure of Westeros and we all know what happened to him. His love affair with Dany is almost certainly doomed at least, not just because of their shared lineage, but because we know someone like Jon isn’t likely to get a happy ending. He knows too little for one of those.
Once Game of Thrones ends, just expect the Starks to be standing tall once more, in whatever fashion and whoever is left of them. The Song of Ice and Fire is as much about their rebirth as anything else. But will the lone wolf die so the pack survives?