In this week’s edition ofÂ Game of Thrones Theorycrafting, we’re going to look at a well-known quote from Ned Stark to his youngest daughter Arya, and howÂ I believe this quote will play into Season 6. In A Game of Thrones,Â George R.R. Martin’s first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series,Â Eddard Stark finds himself facing the unenviable task of having to explain the meaning of death to his child, while at the same time teaching her not to hate her sister because family is more important than anything…more important even, than honor. Ned reminds Arya of House Stark’s wordsâ€”Winter is comingâ€”and then he tells her this:
“When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.”
I believe there’s a lotÂ more meaning to that quote than meets the eye. I thinkÂ it holds a clue concerningÂ Martin’s intentions to restore House Stark to its former glory, and to do it with the next generation of Starks…that is to say, the remaining living children of Ned and Catelyn, and to an extent, Lyanna.
As we look further into this theory, we must take a step back to the first Stark loss in A Game of Thrones: The death of Sansa’s direwolf, Lady. When Joffrey attacked Mycah the butcher’s boy in A Game of Thrones,Â it was Arya and her direwolf Nymeria who defended the lad, butÂ it was Sansa and Lady who paid the ultimate price. Metaphorically, Sansa decided to stray from her packâ€”she lied about what happened at the river’s edge, and because of that lie, Lady was executed.
The next Stark loss came at the end of A Game of Thrones, when Ned himself was beheaded. Many people would blame Sansa for Ned’s death, as it was once again the eldest Stark daughter who decided to go off on her own, turning her back on her pack and informing Queen Cersei of some of her father’s intentions to send her and Arya away. However, I believe this is too easy of a path to take, because while Sansa’s actions absolutely contributed to Ned’s downfall, it was Ned’s refusal of aid from Renly Baratheon that caused him to be woefully undermanned and unprepared for Cersei’s trap.
Had Ned listened to Renly and arrested the Queen, he could have manipulated the situation to his own ends, butÂ hisÂ honor caused him to go the route of the lone wolfâ€”ignoring his own lesson to Aryaâ€”and he paid the price for it with his head.
The next Stark losses came in rapid succession, with both Robb and Lady Catelyn dying just moments apart from each other at the Red Wedding. Again, the pattern repeated: Robb’s betrayal of his marriage pact with House Frey openedÂ the holeÂ Lord Tywin Lannister needed to worm his way into Robb’s inner circle, turning House Bolton against him in the process. Had Robb stayed with his pack and not sought to follow his heart and marry Jeyne/Talisa, he very well could still be alive at this point in the story.
To take this a step further, Robb’s direwolf Grey Wind was kept alone in a kennel during the wedding reception/mass murder that claimed the life of his master. The lone wolf died at the Red Wedding, both metaphorically and literally…George R.R. Martin’s work is full of these little layers.
The next loss for House Stark was the death of Lady Catelyn. Now, one must go back a bit further to find out where she strayed from the pack. When Catelyn and Winterfell’s Master-at-Armsâ€”Ser Rodrik Casselâ€”happened across Tyrion Lannister at the Inn at the Crossroads, she acts rashly and takes the son of Casterly Rock hostage, mistakenly thinking the Imp had attempted to murder her son Bran. This caused Lord Tywin Lannister to defend his House’s bruised honor, and the stage was set for The War of the Five Kings.
Her next mistake was to free Jaime Lannister from captivity. This caused backlash in the ranks of her Robb’s army. RobbÂ eventually lost the support of the Karstarks, had to expend resources and men to hunt the Kingslayer (to no avail), and lost the biggest bargaining chip the Stark camp had. Lady Catelyn would pay for these mistakes with her life.
Finally, let’s take a look at the last deathâ€”so farâ€”to befallÂ House Stark: the death of Jon Snow. Whether you consider him to be Ned’s actual bastard son, or you think of him as the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar, one thing remains true: he is half-Stark, and was raised in the North. Throughout the books and show, Jon demonstrated a Ned-like proclivity for being stubborn to a fault. In fact, Jon’s need to be honorable unto his last breath mirrored the death of Ned almost exactly. This is why it’s so frustrating to watch Jon make the mistakes he did as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.
In the books, it was Jon’s decision to letÂ the wildlings through the Wall and his plan to use their men and women to garrisonÂ the abandoned forts at its base that eventually caused his officers to revolt and murder him (we assume). In the show, it’s Jon’s decision to go to Hardhome to rescue the wildlings from the White Walkers that eventually leads Alliser Thorne to lead his fellow officers to murder Jon. The result is the same, as Jon decided to ignore advice from his friends, advisors, and fellow officers and struck out on his own, eventually paying the ultimate price. “He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold.”
Now let’s look at how House Stark has suffered as a result of failing to heed Ned’s words to Arya and turning from their pack:
- Arya’s direwolf is lost and Sansa’s direwolf is dead.
- Sansa is held against her will by the Lannisters in King’s Landing.
- Ned is executed.
- Robb is betrayed by his own men and killed.
- Lady Catelyn is killed.
- Jon’s men revolt and murder him for allowing the wildlings to pass throughÂ the Wall.
So how does this all tie into Season 6 of Game of Thrones? What does the pack have to do with a family that has been scattered across Westeros and the Narrow Sea? Ned’s words still ring true: the actions of the lone wolves have resulted in their deaths and the deaths of the ones they love. To triumph, the Stark kids will have to band together.
Warning: Spoilers for Season 6 Below
“When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.” I believe these words hold the key to what will happen to House Stark in Season 6, and possibly inÂ The Winds of Winter. We’ve already seen a picture of Kit Harington on set at Saintfield, Northern Ireland, where the production appears to be filming a massive battle scene, wearingÂ what appears to be the garb of House Stark rather than the blacks of the Night’s Watch. We also know that Art Parkinson (Rickon) and Natalia Tena (Osha) have been spotted in Belfast, so it’s safe to assume they’ll show up inÂ Season 6.
The last time we saw Rickon and his guardian, they were being sent by Bran to the Last Hearth, a castle ruled over by a powerful Northern family: House Umber. We know from casting rumors that more Northern Lords will be apart of Season 6, and some casting calls have given specifics:
Lord of Noble Northern House:Â This lord is a savage warrior who rules a house in the very far North. HBO is looking for someone with a Northern English accent and aÂ powerful physique who can tower over other cast members. He mustÂ be at least 180 cm tall, which is around 5 feet 11 inchesâ€¦Heâ€™s also described as having a beard and a violent temper. Heâ€™ll be appear in two episodes.Â (Sounds like an Umber lord to us.)
Lord of Northern Stronghold: This northern lord is in his thirties or forties and rules a vassal house household with a castle stronghold. Heâ€™s â€śruthless and calculatingâ€ť and will appear in three episodes.Â (Word is that this will be a lord from House Karstark.)
Book readers will be quick to point out that the Greatjon, the Head of House Umber, was captured at the Red Wedding, while his son the Smalljon was killed trying to protect Robb Stark. However, in the show, neither were at the Red Wedding, and are still alive so far we know. So, for the purposes of the show,Â Osha, Rickon, and Shaggydog are likely at the Last Hearth being protected by the Umbers, a house still fiercely loyal to theÂ Starks and the King in the North.
Next, we know that Sansa and Theon escaped Winterfell at the end of Season 5 by Thelma and Louise-ing themselves off the walls, and that Brienne and Pod are in the general area. Broken bones and twisted ankles aside, it would make sense for Sansa to want to go to the one place she knows she has family remaining: The Wall and her half-brother Jon (remember, although she now knows that Rickon and Bran are alive, she doesn’t know where they are). My speculation is that Sansa runs into Brienne and convinces her to take her to the Wall.
The wildcard in this theory is Jon. If Sansa arrives at the Wall before Jon’s resurrection, she may leave before he he can be brought back from the dead, and this theory could fall apart. However, if Sansa finds Jon alive, or sticks around long enough to see him resurrected, then she could help (in some way) to solidify his legitimacy as a Stark…she being a trueborn Stark and all.
Next, we would need Jon and Sansa to find Rickon. The Last Hearth got its name because it is the last castle travelers find before reaching the Wall, meaning it wouldn’t be that hard to get to for someone already at the Wall. Jon and company may need to flee the Wall after he’s brought back from the dead, especially if his brothers think he’s some kind of abomination. It’s at the Last Hearth that Jon and Sansa will reunite with Rickon, and the Stark pack will be together once again. (True, Arya is still in Braavos and Bran is in the far North, but I believe they will come into play later.)
The Starks must turn to their pack in order to survive the white winds, or else die as lone wolves. With three Stark children back together, the Northern Lords would have a newÂ King in the North to rally behind. Before reinstalling the Starks,Â the Boltons must be defeated, which is what I believe the filming in Saintfield is about. Our own Ani Bundel has even theorized that the Others/White Walkers will descend on the Northern hosts, which could mean that the Wall will have fallen…but that’s for another week, and another theorycraft.