Warning: This post contains full spoilers for Game of Thrones through the Season 8 premiere, “Winterfell.”
As we saw in the Season 8 premiere of Game of Thrones, “Winterfell” – which garnered the show’s highest ratings ever – the Night King is back on his death spiral bulls***t. Poor Ned Umber, the newly-annointed young lord of House Umber, was discovered inside his familial home, Last Hearth, as part of a sickening (if artistic) body part mural. Surrounding his corpse, which soon reanimated as a snarling wight, were bits and pieces of stray Umbers pattered into a seven-legged spiral – a known calling card for the White Walkers.
It’s not always clear if these spirals are left for people to specifically find or if they’re constructed just to exist on their own, but this tableau was harrowingly unearthed by Tormund, Beric, and Edd as they slowly crept their way through the carnage to the great hall of Last Hearth.
The sinister spirals left behind by the Night King and his undead legions have been a part of the series since the get-go. While the pilot episode, “Winter is Coming,” didn’t exactly give us a swirling circle, it did demonstrate that these monsters enjoyed making art out of their victims’ remains. Since then, the patterns and spirals have been seen in both large and small forms, consisting of dead humans and/or dismembered horses.
What do these spirals mean, ultimately? Well, we can’t say for sure. What we do know is that they originated with the Children of the Forest, who were the beings that created the White Walkers, most likely representing a cycle of life, death and rebirth – or something else inherently connected to nature and the natural world. The White Walkers have now borrowed these patterns from their makers and turned them into a horrifying hallmark, possibly perverting the original meaning of the symbol entirely.
We’ve compiled a quick and dirty slideshow for you to peruse, featuring all the spirals shown on the series so far. Now that the Night King has finally brought his war, and his icky artistry, down to Westeros, perhaps we’ll get a better idea of what the spiral markings actually mean. And why he insists on using chunks of human beings to realize his vision. Maybe he’s just a gross ghoul who enjoys the shock value of freaking out poor wildlings and peasants.
The first spiral we saw as viewers was a doozy. After the massacre at the First of the First Men, Jon Snow discovered that all the horses had been minced up and meticulously placed in a perfect pattern. Again though, who was this meant for? What were the odds someone was going to stumble across Horse Clumps in Snow, A Sorrowful Spiral? It’s possible that the designs are done out of twisted reverence for the forces that made the White Walkers.
When Bran was lurking in the past in the Season 6 episode “The Door,” and checking out the origin of the Night King, he discovered that the White Walkers were created by the Children of the Forest as a way to combat the First Men who arrived in Westeros. And like all miscalculated endeavors involving a diabolical weapon, the creation turned on its creators. The Night King – aka White Walker Ground Zero – was a man before the Children of the Forest stabbed him in the heart with dragonglass. In Bran’s vision, the pattern around the tree where the Night King was created had a seven-legged spiral, indicating that this symbol was part of the Children of the Forest’s gimmick – directly tied to their beliefs and theology.
THE MEMORY REMAINS
Bran eventually returned, via green-sight, to the present day scene of the Night King’s brutal birth, finding that the entire area had been engulfed in ice – and that the spiral remained intact. As the White Walkers slowly conquered the Far North, usurping the entire area from the Children of the Forest, they also consumed their former masters’ primitive iconography.
In Season 7’s “The Spoils of War,” Jon and Daenerys explored an ancient cave beneath Dragonstone that was filled with dragonglass and riddled with ancient carvings from the Children of the Forest. Some images depicted the White Walkers while others consisted of shapes and symbols resembling swirls and spirals. A story was being told in the imagery and these patterns were part of the language. Again, they are of mystical significance, but nothing specific has been explained to us… yet.
LAST HEARTH HORROR
After Beric Dondarrion stabbed the centerpiece, undead Ned Umber, with his flaming sword, the entire wall spiral that was mounted in Last Hearth caught on fire, creating quite the savage spectacle. The Night King was on the march and this specific spiral marked the defeat of House Umber and all others in the region.
THE GREAT WAR
The “Great War” poster for Season 8 may not be in a spiral, instead opting to use the Iron Throne itself as the design, but it’s still heavily borrowing from the White Walkers’ love of taking bodies and making a bold artistic statement. Here you’ll see all our favorite characters laid out as if they were corpses in one of the Night King’s terrifying tableau.
For more on the Game of Thrones Season 8 premiere, check out our interview with John Bradley on that long-awaited Jon Snow scene, all the callbacks to Season 1 we caught, our theory on what kind of weapon Arya asked Gendry to make, how the episode called back to Ed Sheeran, and how the opening credits changed.
Matt Fowler is a writer for IGN and a member of the Television Critics Association. Follow him on Twitter at @TheMattFowler and Facebook at Facebook.com/MattBFowler.
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