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Starks Are Back in Winterfell, But the Future of the North Is as Murky as Ever


Dear Jon Snow,

You’ve got a big heart, my dude. You care about your family, even the members who treated you like trash and didn’t tell you the cavalry was coming. That’s commendable. It’s, dare I say, Ned Stark–like. But it makes you dumber than giant shit. Worse, it gets people killed. What happened to staked trenches on the flanks to prevent a classic Carthaginian envelopment? What happened to “make him charge at us”? And why did no one teach Rickon to juke?

Still, cool battle. I dug the Agincourt-meets-Cannae-meets-Braveheart vibes. I enjoyed the symbolism of beloved characters fighting for their lives while scaling mountains of anonymous dead bodies. I’m glad I got to bear witness to Wun Wun going out like a boss.

On to the questions.

John asks, “Jon Snow = The Leeroy Jenkins of Westeros?”

Without a doubt.

Adam asks, “Where does Jon sit on the Westeros swordsman power rankings?”

At this point, he’s probably the most skilled living warrior in the world. My Westeros-Essos (living) warrior power ranking:

  1. Jon
  2. Brienne
  3. The Hound
  4. Daario
  5. Tormund
  6. Loras (Nonimprisoned version. Important note: Loras, though skilled, is primarily a tournament knight.)
  7. Grey Worm

*The Mountain doesn’t really count. He’s not a particularly skilled foe; he’s just huge.

Ben asks, “Is Sansa pregnant?”

Nah. If Sansa were pregnant, she would be showing by now. Though Thrones has played fast and loose in its compression of time and distance, we can still use the travels and activities of various characters since Sansa’s escape as a calendar of sorts.

To help us cement that time frame, here’s a probably incomplete list of people going places and doing things since Sansa and Theon fled Winterfell: Sansa and Jon crisscrossed the North and assembled an army; Yara and Theon sailed from the Iron Islands to Meereen (a journey of months) with a stopover in Volantis; the knights of the Vale mustered and rode to Winterfell; Dany freaking walked to Vaes Dothrak, joined the dosh khaleen, killed all the khals, returned to Meereen (by dragon, so that probably didn’t take too long), and broke the army of the Wise Masters; and Brienne and Podrick rode down to Riverrun from Castle Black where they found themselves involved in a castle siege.

Moreover, there’s been none of the requisite plot setup that one would expect to see in a pregnancy arc. No Sansa inexplicably feeling unwell, no mysteriously baggy dresses and no whisper sessions with Melisandre. The only “evidence” supporting the “Sansa is preggers” theory is Ramsay telling Sansa that he’s “part of” her now right before he became part of his dogs. How the hell would he know she’s pregnant?

Say it with me: “Sansa is not pregnant!”

Corey asks, “Why didn’t Sansa tell Jon that the Vale might be showing up?”

I’ve been puzzling over this. There are no easy answers, but there are several ways to read the situation:


1. She wasn’t sure they were actually coming. This is the least Game of Thrones-y option. Sansa never received a return raven, so she didn’t want to get Jon’s hopes up or have to explain her complicated relationship with Petyr Baelish.

2. Sansa is making a play, as Littlefinger suggested she do. Until the battle, she had no army, only her sworn sword Brienne, who wasn’t around at the moment. That made her vulnerable. By withholding information about the Vale knights, she weakens Jon’s Wildling power base. And, if her half brother should happen to perish in the fight, joining Rickon Stark in the great big godswood in the sky, so much the better. Consolidating her hold on the North would be that much easier. In the books, Robin Arryn displays an attachment to Sansa that’s best described as a crush. If that carries over to the show, she could leverage Robin’s feelings to push Littlefinger out of the picture.

This analysis is thematically congruent with the show’s overall tenor of scheming, betrayal, and murder most foul. But it also goes against everything we know about Sansa as a character. And it requires her to be absolutely sure that the Vale knights were on the way. There’s a third option that may be the most likely:

3. The show didn’t accurately gauge how Sansa’s secrecy would track in the larger context of the battle. People die on Game of Thrones all the time; maybe the showrunners had become so inured to carnage and were so eager to portray Sansa as an independent figure that the deaths of thousands of nameless Stark loyalists didn’t register as being TOTALLY HER FUCKING FAULT. Like, Sansa really got several thousand dudes killed because she didn’t say “Let’s just chill for 15 minutes, I texted somebody” to Jon.

The trailer for the season finale shows Jon and Sansa having a discussion about trust. Hopefully we get our answers then.

Rahul asks, “Am I wrong, or would Rickon be here if he at least tried to zigzag?”


Tomas asks, “Who is the head of Winterfell now that Rickon is dead and Bran is presumed dead?”

Assuming Bran never returns, Sansa, as the oldest surviving nonbastard member of the House Stark (Arya comes after her in the line of succession), would inherit Winterfell and overlordship of the North. Generally, the noble houses of Westeros follow the male-preference primogeniture inheritance traditions of the continent’s dominant Andal culture. Under these rules, a lord’s oldest male child inherits the lord’s lands and titles. If there are no living male offspring, then the oldest daughter becomes the heir. If the lord dies without children, inheritance passes to his brothers. If there are no children and no brothers, the lands pass to the sister. If there are none of the above, we got a problem.

That said, MANY FAMILIES IN WESTEROS DO NOT FOLLOW THE SPIRIT OR LETTER OF THESE RULES! There are no lawyers in Westeros and the laws of inheritance exist primarily to resolve succession squabbles before they escalate into regional warfare. It’s about stability, not bureaucracy. Lords can do pretty much what they want on their own lands as long as no one complains. The late Maege Mormont, for instance, passed the lordship of Bear Island to her bad-ass daughter Lyanna (in the books there are five Mormont sisters) even though Maege’s husband — Lyanna’s father — is ostensibly still around. Foppish idiot Mace Tyrell holds the titles of Lord of Highgarden and Warden of the South, but everyone knows that his mother, the Lady Olenna, is the real power in the Reach. Then there’s Dorne, where female inheritance and acceptance of bastards is the norm.

At the end of the day, it’s not the laws and traditions that decide the issues in Westeros — it’s the ability to project power through violence. Aegon the Conqueror had no claim to Westeros, but he had dragons. Robert Baratheon became ruler of the Seven Kingdoms because he defeated Prince Rhaegar in battle, not because he was the heir.

Littlefinger has this much right: Sansa will need an army of her own if she really wants to hold the North.


Richard asks, “Will there be any repercussions for Sansa killing Ramsay from Jon? You’d think he’d have some value alive, no?”

As stated above, Sansa is the putative head of the Stark family (until Bran shows up). She can do what she wants. And, in any case, Ramsay was the last Bolton. There’s no one to ransom him to and no reason to keep him around.

Chappel asks, “Sansa told Ramsay his house was going to disappear. Are there any living members of House Bolton, or have they truly been all wiped out?

The Boltons are done. Sansa and Jon would be wise to use the Bolton lands as a reward for the lords and knights who supported their cause (assuming any of them freaking survived) and as an enticement for those still on the sidelines to join their cause. Lyanna Mormont, Lord of the Dreadfort, does have a certain ring to it.

Liam asks, “Now that they have won back the North, what do Jon and Sansa do now? Take revenge on the Freys?”

There’s no time for the Freys. The Umbers and Karstarks, assuming they don’t take a knee, are a different story. But the top priority for Sansa and Jon is to unite the North, bind up its wounds, ensure the integrity of the food supply (winter is coming!), and get everyone ready to fight the White Walkers.

Raul asks, “If the Targaryen features are so prominent and important, why are they thrown out the window when it comes to R+L=J?”

The trademark Targaryen purple eyes and silver hair are less important in the show than they are in the books. Dany’s eyes, for instance, are not purple. And, anyway, in the Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon formulation, Jon is only half-Targ.

Brad asks, “What was that pile of wood Davos was looking through? What was the meaning of that toy stag?”

Davos gave the stag to the late-Princess Shireen. The Onion Knight was very fond of the princess and his Etsy store is most definitely popping. He had no idea that Stannis had her burned alive as a victory offering to R’hllor. Davos now knows what happened to Shireen and will rightly lay the blame on Melisandre.

Jan asks, “Is there a particular reason why Wun Wun never used some sort of giant warhammer thingy? Sure seems like it would have helped against that nasty Spartan/Thibodeauean trap formation.”

Giants have been known to carry whole trees as clubs. I guess Wun Wun didn’t have time to fashion one.

Alana asks, “What happens if the White Walkers get someone who is not fully human, like the Mountain, or if they get someone who has already died, like Jon or Beric? Are they protected from becoming wights?”

In order to become a wight, a person or animal must be dead-dead. As in: meat. Though Jon and Beric were once fully deceased, they are alive now. The Mountain is basically Cersei’s personal wight, but he’s not meat. If any of them were to fall in battle against the White Walkers, I would expect them to be raised as wights.

Derrick asks, “What is the Seven’s view of the other religionsthe Old Gods, the Drowned God, etc.? And why did the Targaryens allow these religions to exist when the Faith of the Seven was the original religion?”

The Faith of the Seven is not the original religion of Westeros. It’s predated by the Old Gods, the weirwood-based religion of the Children of the Forest and the First Men, by many thousands of years. Around 6,000 years ago, the Andals began migrating to Westeros from Essos, bringing the Faith of the Seven with them. By the time of Aegon Targaryen’s invasion, the Faith was the dominant religion of the southern kingdoms of Westeros; the Old Gods were primarily worshipped in the North, where the blood of the First Men was strongest. The borders between the two beliefs are porous. Centuries of intermarriage has fostered strong ties between both cultures and religions. Cat Stark, for instance, hailed from the Riverlands and therefore worshipped the Faith, while Ned and the rest of the Stark family kept the Old Gods. Many southern castles have godswoods containing weirwood trees. Such relationships were, and are, common throughout the Seven Kingdoms.

After his invasion, Aegon converted to the Faith in the interests of diplomacy more than any deep religious feeling. A genocidal religious war simply wasn’t in anyone’s interest.

Still, it is notable that Westeros has such a strong tradition of religious coexistence when the history of the continent is mostly people killing each other en masse. My theory is that’s because in Westeros, unlike in our world, membership in a specific religion or ethnicity doesn’t impart any marked socioeconomic advantage.

HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.