What does the Night King’s flaming spiral actually mean?


In the Game of Thrones season 8 premiere, “Winterfell,” Tormund Giantsbane, Beric Dondarrion, Dolorous Edd and others found something horrifying at Last Hearth: young Ned Umber, the lord of the castle, pinned to a wall, dead. The Night King had been here. Around his body, the White Walkers had arranged human arms and legs in the shape of a spiral. It’s extremely creepy.


Los Angeles Dodgers Justin Turner Game Of Thrones Night's Watch Bobblehead
Los Angeles Dodgers Justin Turner Game Of Thrones Night's Watch Bobblehead /

Los Angeles Dodgers Justin Turner Game Of Thrones Night's Watch Bobblehead

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The spiral is one of mankind’s most ancient religious symbols and therefore loaded with mythological meaning, but exactly what is its significance to the Night King and the White Walkers? Let’s discuss.

We first encounter the Night King’s symbol-making hobby in the very first episode of the series, “Winter is Coming.” A Night’s Watch ranging party stumbles on the scene of a wilding massacre. The White Walkers have constructed a ghastly circular symbol (not a spiral) with a vertical line down the middle, made of body parts arranged in the snow. There are also heads on sticks and children staked to trees.

When the scout brings the rest of the patrol to the location, the awful display appears to have vanished, and the White Walkers attack. This scene introduces the White Walkers’ propensity for using dismembered body parts to create…let’s call it art, although their intentions are an absolute mystery.

The next time we see White Walker art is in the season 3 episode “Walk of Punishment,” directed by showrunner David Benioff. This time, it’s the seven-armed spiral that will recur again and again, this time made of horse parts. The men who rode them are likely now members of the Night King’s army of the dead.

Although the imagery is shocking and powerful, we gain no insight into its history or meaning here. “Always the artists,” Mance Rayder says.

In season 6’s “The Door,” Bran uses his powers to see into the distant past to watch the Children of the Forest create the Night King by stabbing a man with a dragonglass knife. They do it at a weirwood tree surrounded by a seven-armed spiral made of stones. This appears to be the origin of the White Walkers’ art projects, although we still don’t know what exactly it means.

The show returns to the spirals in the season 7 episode “The Spoils of War,” where Jon takes Daenerys into the caves underneath Dragonstone. It’s full of drawings by the Children of the Forest, who chronicled their alliance with the First Men to fight the White Walkers during the Long Night.

Both the Night King henge and the cave spirals are created by the Children of the Forest, so the symbol appears to have originated with them.

This brings us to “Winterfell,” the seven-armed spiral is made from human limbs staked to a wall, with little Ned Umber in the center. When Ned reanimates as a wight, Beric Dondarrion stabs him with his sword and sets the spiral afire. “It’s a message from the Night King,” Beric says.

So what is the significance of the seven-armed spiral? In human mythology, the spiral and triskelion are among our oldest recorded symbols, so their reach into the recesses of the human subconscious are deep. They’ve appeared in neolithic Celtic burials (as old as 3200 BCE), pre-Columbian Central American petroglyphs and roof tiles of the Chinese Tang Dynasty (7th-10th century). They’re everywhere, from the ziggurats of Babylon to the Glastonbury Tor.

Newgrange Entrance Stone en:User:Nomadtales [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]
Newgrange Entrance Stone en:User:Nomadtales [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)] /

Although it’s always difficult to intuit the meaning of symbols used by long-dead cultures, it is likely that spirals represented ideas associated with the cosmos and, because they’re most often found at grave sites, the

birth-death-rebirth cycle


Does the seven-armed Night King’s spiral have a specific relationship to the Thrones story? Actor Richard Dormer (Beric Dondarrion) doesn’t think so, as he explains in a Huffpost interview: “The spiral means something,” he says. “It’s the thing that they leave everywhere, so you can read into that in the universe. It’s the universal building structure of life, like, you know, spiral galaxy, swirling coffee, the way water goes.”

“I think [it’s] George R.R. Martin being very clever on a subconscious level, dipping deep into the human psyche, and we’re probably not even going to know why they do that,” Dormer continues. “I think that’s genius. It makes us think really deeply about images and things, and it just opens up the whole world … It’s like a spiral, a continuum, a thing that is eternal. That is all around us.”

Show creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss are in agreement, as Benioff explained to Time:

"One of the things we learn from these cave paintings is that the White Walkers didn’t come up with those images, they derived them from their creators, the Children of the Forest. These are patterns that have mystical significance for the Children of the Forest. We’re not sure exactly what they signify, but spiral patterns are important in a lot of different cultures in our world, and it makes sense that they would be in this world as well."

It’s all part of the much greater, unseen and unknown Thrones mythology. The seven-armed spiral is a reminder of the Night King’s creation, a symbol of his growth, power and evolution. Thrones (and fantasy stories in general) are always willing to dip into the immense potential of ancient human symbols, including the subconscious power of the number seven, which we’ve seen everywhere in the show.

Remember the divided circle from the series premiere? It’s different from the spirals that follow, and that must be intentional. What is the significance of a circle with a line drawn through it? As British archaeologist Miranda Aldhouse-Green tells Huffpost, a broken circle “might be a symbol of division, of breaking the circle of life and of time.”

“The circles with lines or crosses and the spirals are well-known as prehistoric European ritual symbols,” Aldhouse-Green continues. “They appear on stones in Neolithic (New Stone Age) passage graves, and seem to be symbols of light in the darkness of death and also may represent life after death.”

“Life after death.” Aldhouse-Green’s explanation may be the most effective theory regarding the spiral’s relationship to the Night King and Game of Thrones. The Night King has simply inherited the Children of the Forest’s seven-armed spiral as a psychologically powerful symbol of his own creation (life-death-rebirth) and identity, and he likes to use it as a grisly calling card to say “I’m all-powerful, and I’m coming.”

And it has nothing to do with the Targaryens.

UPDATE: Okay, a minute after this post was written, “Winterfell” writer Dave Hill gave his take on the spirals to the New York Post:

"As we saw with Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven, the spiral pattern was sacred to the Children of the Forest, who created the Night King by sacrificing a captured man in a spiral “henge of stones.” The Night King then adopted the symbol as a sort of blasphemy, like Satan with the upside-down cross."

Ah, so the spirals are a sacred Children of the Forest symbol the White Walkers have perverted. Fascinating stuff.

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