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Season 8 of Game of Thrones has so far played the first two episodes of the season relatively straight. In the premiere, everyone arrived at Winterfell, and Jon learned the identities of his true parents. In last week’s “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” characters mostly waited around for the coming battle, while Jon told Daenerys the awkward news about his parentage. For a show that built its reputation on major plot twists, fans have started to become a little suspicious. Could last week have planted seeds for a significant hairpin turn?
Throughout the hour, no less than five characters stated that “down in the crypts” was the safest place for those not looking to face the Army of the Dead and held the best chance for survival. For viewers, this was a sign that the Winterfell crypts were probably the least safe place for anyone. After all, doesn’t the Night King control and raise the dead? What is a crypt, if not a cave full of dead people?
Add in next week's trailer, and Daenerys’ line, “The dead are already here,” and the tinfoil hats all came out en masse. Next week’s twist is that the dead in the crypts will rise and murder everyone, from Gilly and Little Sam to Davos, right?
Well, not so fast. The Starks aren’t just dead bodies, after all. Each of them has a statue to go with it. The A Song of Ice & Fire books make a point of mentioning that Ned started the tradition of putting full-sized figures of the dead down in the crypt, and the tradition continued when his body was brought home from King’s Landing. What if the dead don’t rise, but the statues do? From everything the books and show have told us, Lyanna, Ned, or even their older brother Brandon Stark, would not side with the Night King. If anything, fans should put money on those statues stepping up and defending their home.
It might sound a little kooky, but the idea of the “Good Guy Dead” is one A Song of Ice & Fire seems to be building towards by the time A Dance with Dragons concludes. Though the show has cut Lady Stoneheart, she’s the most prominent of these figures on the page. She may dispense vengeance, but she still seems like someone who, when faced with the Night King, would fight for the living. The Hound is another “Good Guy Dead” by this point in the novels, described as far closer to a shuffling corpse akin to his brother when he is spotted on the Quiet Isle in A Feast for Crows after Arya leaves him for dead. Of this little group, only Coldhands has made it on the show (sort of), reimagined as Half-Dead Benjen. However, the point stands. On the page at least, Martin hints there will be those among the dead who fight for the living.
However, it may seem a stretch for the crypts of Winterfell to find themselves housing an entire small infantry of Stark ancestors here for the defense of their home until one considers that Winterfell may be protected by magic.
Winterfell was built in the wake of the first Long Night, by Brandon the Builder, the founder of House Stark and the first King of Winter in the north. Brandon also was in charge of building the Wall. He and his team of men did that with the help of a group of Children of the Forest and a team of Giants. As both the books hint and the show has confirmed, there is magic embedded in the Wall, spells that keep the White Walkers on the far side. Now, I know this isn’t Fixer Upper: Westeros, but wouldn’t it make sense for Brandon to use the same magic to protect the walls of his newly built home? It stands to reason the Children of the Forest would work with their northern human allies, putting spells into the walls of Winterfell, which work… so long as the Stark family remains there.
"There must always be a Stark in Winterfell," gets thrown around a lot in the books, to the point where it’s second only to the Stark creed “Winter is coming.” In Season 5 it was a talisman for Sansa once she arrived home to find it occupied by Ramsay Bolton. The problem was, she kept saying “I am the Stark in Winterfell,” as if the phrase meant so long as Winterfell walls surrounded a Stark, said Stark would be safe from harm. A far more likely interpretation, given what viewers know about the way Children of the Forest magic works, is that the walls of Winterfell are safe, so long as a Stark is inside.
With that sort of magic defending both the living and the dead from the Night King’s influence, suddenly the Stark ancestors siding with their home and not the enemy, makes a lot more sense. That is, so long as there’s a Stark in Winterfell. The real question should be what happens when all four of them accidentally exit the premises.
With Jon on a dragon and Bran in the Godswood, that leaves Sansa and Arya to stay within the walls, and maybe keep the dead in the crypts on their side. However, knowing Arya’s penchant for fighting, and Sansa’s urge to defend her home as well, could the real ruse be drawing out all four living Stark relatives, leaving the castle undefended and the dead susceptible to the Night King, just when the living need them the most?