Theory corner: Will the dead rise in the Winterfell crypts?


Well, Game of Thrones fans, we’ve arrived at the edge of what might be the series’ seminal battle sequence: the Battle of Winterfell. This will pit the combined forces of Houses Stark and Targaryen against the massive army of the dead. But if the odds against our heroes didn’t look long enough, the Night King may be hiding a trick up his frozen sleeve: as we know, Winterfell is built atop crypts that hold the bodies of long-dead members of the Stark family dating back farther than anyone can remember. With the Night King able to raise the dead, could Winterfell be facing a threat from within?


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It’s not a new theory. We’ve assumed for a while that the Night King would make it to Winterfell. We know he can raise the dead, so this just makes sense. But then Dany threw flame onto the fire with a line from the promo trailer for the next episode. “The dead are already here,” she tells Jon.

Of course, Dany could simply be referring to the army outside the walls, but she sounds alarmed. Would the Night King’s powers extend far enough to reach down into the crypts of Winterfell to raise the dead laying in rest there? We have to assume there is some sort of distance-related limitation to his powers; otherwise he’d raise every dead body ever buried.

If we reach back to season 5’s “Hardhome,” we see the Night King walk up to the edge of a dock and raise an army of undead wildlings spread out across the space of a small town.

It’s hard to draw definitive conclusions from that, but his resurrection powers have at least some range to them. Still, the Night King would probably have to get fairly close to the crypts to reach the long-buried bodies, probably in the teeth of Winterfell’s defenses. That doesn’t seem realistic for the Night King, but Viserion could solve that problem with a quick flyover.

So let’s say the Night King tries this trick. Are there even bodies left to raise? According to our good friend science, yes. Remember: wights don’t need to be freshly made corpses. As long as there are bones, they can rise again.

Bone decomposition is based on many factors, one of the most important being temperature. Insects play a large part in breaking down bones, but insects and other parasites are slowed down by the frigid climate of the North.

So far as we know, the Starks are laid to rest in a coffin, not buried in the soil. Between that, the lack of insect activity and the frigid temperatures, the bones of Stark ancestors could be preserved for a very long time. Just how long? Speaking in general terms, John Nicklin, former Dean at Portage College, brings the bad news: “Depending on the environment, bones can last centuries or millennia.”

So basically, every member of House Stark ever buried in the crypts could potentially be raised as part of the Night King’s army. And the best part? The Starks always buried the dead with a sword. Whoops.

As was mentioned multiple times in “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” the non-combatants will be sheltering in the crypts of Winterfell during the battle. If the Night King were to raise the bones of every Stark ancestor, it would be more than enough to massacre a group of women and children who would then become part of the Night King’s army in turn. And that lot could threaten the castle’s defenders from the inside. Plus it’d be terrifying to see, say, Sam or Gilly stumbling through the fog as a blood-thirsty zombie.

We’ve always assumed that the Battle of Winterfell would go poorly for our heroes, but if the Night King manages to raise the dead below the castle, we were thinking too small. Remember the bit from the season 8 trailer where Arya is running terrified through the halls of Winterfell from some unknown follower? Are you becoming as scared as we are?

And then there’s the creepy “Crypts of Winterfell” trailer HBO dropped before the season started. It certainly makes the crypts look ominous:

If this does come to pass, how far would Game of Thrones go? Could we see a headless Ned running around, or a zombie Rickon? And would undead Rickon have learned to zig-zag? We’ll have to wait until this Sunday to find out.

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