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Everything You Need to Know—and More—About the Crypts of Winterfell on ‘Game of Thrones’

The castle’s sacred subterranean space looks destined to play a pivotal role in the Battle of Winterfell. What could be waiting below—besides a ton of people who are about to find out that it is not, in fact, the safest place?

HBO/Ringer illustration

Early in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, as the Boy Who Lived prepares to enter the magical realm for the first time since he was a baby, his chaperone Hagrid imparts a bit of wizarding world wisdom: “Gringotts,” the half-giant tells Harry, “is the safest place in the world fer anything yeh want ter keep safe—’cept maybe Hogwarts.”

It’s an oft-repeated sentiment throughout Harry’s saga, as the masses seek comfort in the face of encroaching death. Yet, spoiler: From the moment Hagrid praises the protective worth of these fine institutions, calamity ensues. Gringotts witnesses break-ins, mind control, and the escape of a fire-breathing, ceiling-shattering dragon. Hogwarts, meanwhile, plays host to lethal beasts, abusive teachers, myriad cases of stolen identity, a tournament that leads to maiming and death, more aerial accidents than anyone but Hermione can count, the great wizarding war, and actual murder. And those are only the atrocities that fit onto the back of a chocolate frog card!

The “No safer place!” mantra is a myth masquerading as a truism, exposed time and again as a laughably naive dissociation from the blood-drenched reality playing out annually in Hogwarts’ halls. It’s also in jeopardy of passing the Misnomer Championship Belt this weekend, to the Winterfell crypts.

The crypts have featured prominently in Game of Thrones since the pilot, a signifier of Stark identity and a setting for some of the most crucial conversations in the show. We’ve seen Robert place a feather into Lyanna’s stone hand, a token of his undying, and deadly, love. We’ve seen Bran and Rickon and their protectors seek shelter from those who would do them harm. We’ve seen Sansa and Littlefinger speak, in front of Lyanna’s tomb, discussing the weight of the past. We’ve seen Jon challenge Littlefinger as an intruder, saying, “You don’t belong down here.” We’ve seen Arya and Sansa reunite in front of Ned’s tomb, speaking of the horrors that tore their family apart. When Sansa notes that everyone who knew Ned’s face is dead, Arya says, “We’re not,” a hallmark of the perseverance that fuels them. We’ve seen Sam reveal the truth of Jon’s parentage in front of Lyanna and Ned’s bones and Jon share that truth with Dany in the shadow of the mother he never knew.

We’ve always known that the Winterfell crypts would be elemental to this story, a representation of identity and legacy, particularly for Jon, who dreams of them throughout the books. In A Game of Thrones, the first installment in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, Jon tells Sam about such a dream: “The old Kings of Winter are down there,” he says, “sitting on their thrones with stone wolves at their feet and iron swords across their laps, but it’s not them I’m afraid of. I scream that I’m not a Stark, that this isn’t my place, but it’s no good, I have to go anyway.”

These nightly taunts stem from Jon’s sense of unworthiness as a bastard, but also point to his eventual parentage reveal. But the crypts are Jon’s place. As Jon tells Theon in Season 7, “You don’t have to choose.” Theon can be a Greyjoy and a Stark, and Jon can be a Targaryen and a Stark. The “Crypts of Winterfell” teaser trailer for Season 8 seems to reinforce this idea, placing Jon in the halls of Starkdom, alongside the family that no true name can rob him of.

It also provided an early indication that the crypts would be central in Season 8, a theme the rest of the preseason marketing campaign reinforced. The crypts also feature prominently in the main trailer, and the “Aftermath” teaser trailer appears to show Robert’s feather and a direwolf statue guarding the crypt entrance, among other associations blanketed in snow and wreckage.

But in the second episode of Season 8, the gorgeous “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” the subterranean graveyard transforms: From a harbinger and a lens through which viewers and Jon alike can consider the question of how the ghosts of the past shape one’s sense of self in the present into a blaring siren signaling that maybe the ghosts of the past are actually going to rise from their stone casings to brutalize the living.

Chekov’s crypts net eight (eight!) mentions in Episode 2, with Gendry telling Arya, “It’s going to be safer down in the crypts, you know”; Gilly telling a frightened townswoman, “When the time comes, you’ll be down in the crypts; they’re the safest place to be”; Gilly then telling the scarred Shireen proxy, “I’m going to be in the crypt with my son, and I’d feel a lot better with you down there to protect us”; that sweet young child replying, “All right; I’ll defend the crypt then”; Jon telling Bran: “We’ll put you in the crypt, where it’s safest”; Dany telling Tyrion, “You’ll be in the crypt,” because she needs him to make it through the battle alive; Sam telling Jon, of Gilly and Little Sam, “They’ll be safe, down in the crypt”; and Jorah telling Lyanna, “You’ll be safer in the crypt.”

Did they all go to a Hagrid TED Talk or something? Even one of the above lines would have amplified the already fevered cryptcentric speculation heading into Episode 3’s sure-to-be-costly Battle of Winterfell, but the volume of overt references to the crypt’s security, near-mirror phrasing across lines, and ensuing concentration of key but not plot-armor-protected characters in the dark depths makes the likelihood of something catastrophic, or at least highly relevant, emerging down below.

With the caveat that it would be a vintage Thrones flex to get the collective viewing public theorizing in one direction only to cut the head off that particular obsession, let’s explore what the crypts could deliver other than safe harbor on Sunday night.

Dead Starks Rising From the Grave

Back when he’s still deploying his first accent, Littlefinger angrily whispers, after Ned has released his chokehold against the brothel wall, “Ah, the Starks. Quick tempers, slow minds.” It’s hard not to think about that assessment, cruel though it was, as our favorite family sends legions into an enclosed space filled with dead bodies while a villain famed for raising the dead—it’s kind of his thing!—marches on their home.

In Game, Ned enters the crypts with Robert to visit Lyanna’s tomb. As he moves past the dead, Ned reflects: “By ancient custom an iron longsword had been laid across the lap of each who had been Lord of Winterfell, to keep the vengeful spirits in their crypts. The oldest had long ago rusted away to nothing, leaving only a few red stains where the metal had rested on stone. Ned wondered if that meant those ghosts were free to roam the castle now. He hoped not.”

This has always felt like a portent, as has another line, about one of Jon’s recurring dreams of the Winterfell crypts: “When he turned he saw that the vaults were opening, one after the other. As the dead kings came stumbling from their cold black graves, Jon had woken in pitch-dark, his heart hammering.”

Legend says that Bran the Builder raised both the Wall and Winterfell, among other structures; could the magic embedded into the Wall to keep out the White Walkers also exist in the crypts, perhaps in the swords that are thought to act as a barrier between the world of the living and the dead? And if they’re rusted or gone, does that mean their power is, too? In A Clash of Kings, Bran, Meera (who’s already with Bran by this point in the books), Osha, and Co. even take a few swords with them after escaping—including from Ned, Rickard, and Brandon’s tombs.

It’s reasonable to wonder what could even rise from the grave at this point. The ancient Kings of Winter are surely dust, and Ned, who lost his head, was boiled down to disconnected bones and packed into a box that seemingly took years to even reach Winterfell. But what about Lyanna? Or Rickon, who was only buried after the Battle of the Bastards? Some fans believe that a wight needs tissue or muscle fibers to move, but we’ve seen skeletal wights in action before. Here’s a clear glimpse, from Season 4’s skirmish in front of the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave:

If the dead, however decomposed, rise from their tombs, they’ll immediately be able to attack the most vulnerable, least-armed inhabitants of Winterfell. Unless one of High Septon Maynard’s shits or steps taught Gilly how to instantly turn a wealth of untrained townsfolk into capable warriors fit to battle the dead, that’s bad news. The risen would also surely spark a type of dread that our heroes have rarely had to face. Could the trailer shot of the typically fearless Arya running, seemingly in terror, be her fleeing not from the face of death that she just boastfully told Gendry she’s eager to meet, but from the face of a relative, animated anew by evil magic? Presumably, the heroes up on the battlefield know that the living who fall to the Night King’s army will also be risen, like Karsi, the Hardhome mom who promised her kids she’d be joining them in the boat in just one moment (cough, Grey Worm) only to become a blue-eyed servant of darkness mere moments later. As horrifying as that prospect is, it’s also almost inevitable in a battle that will not allow for routine breaks to burn the dead. Our friends in the crypts, however, are not ready to see whether Rickon can run in something other than a straight line now that he’s a corpse.

It’s also worth considering whether raising the dead of Winterfell could be a grievous miscalculation on the Night King’s part—if the Night King is actually at Winterfell and not splitting his forces, Whispering Wood style, to launch a sneak attack on King’s Landing. If the crypts are imbued with magic to prevent such resurrections, and were in fact constructed in part to combat the forces that originally ushered in the Long Night (more on this shortly), then maybe raising long-lost Starks could give our heroes an unexpected ally to swing a battle otherwise thought lost. In the world of ice and fire, swords, like Chekhov’s gun and John Wick’s pencil, tend to come into play once they’re introduced. Why bury the dead with blades unless they might need to wield them?

Rhaegar’s Harp

Not all great warriors want to be. In Season 7, before Dany agrees to let Jon mine the dragonglass, she says, “We all enjoy what we’re good at.” Jon replies, with sincere sadness, “I don’t.” Jon is a gifted warrior, and he’s spent much of his adult life fighting battles, but his gifts are a burden to him. He doesn’t love violence. Neither did his father, Rhaegar Targaryen, famed for his silver hair and the silver strings of his signature harp.

As a boy, Rhaegar always had his nose in a book, until one day, he saw something in a tome that changed the course of his life. Fans have long suspected that what he read pertained to the legend of the Prince Who Was Promised, given Rhaegar’s belief that he, and then his son, would be the prophesied savior. After, he famously pronounced, “I will require sword and armor. It seems I must be a warrior.”

And he was, winning the infamous tournament at Harrenhal, where he named Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Beauty. But he never loved killing. He loved music. Characters mention his harp and his melancholy songs time and again in the books, and we’ve also heard tell on the show of his affinity for serenades. Ser Barristan tells Dany about Rhaegar’s passion for music, and we hear Dany echo these words to Jon in Season 8, while standing in front of Lyanna’s tomb.

There’s no more fitting location for the observation, because for years, Thrones obsessives have felt with something bordering on certainty that Rhaegar’s harp is in Lyanna’s tomb. Ned Stark broke tradition by having statues made in the crypts for his sister Lyanna and his brother Brandon: Before that, only the kings and lords of Winterfell were enshrined in such a fashion. We know that Ned loved Lyanna so fully that he honored his final promise to her by raising Jon as his own to keep him safe from Robert’s wrath, despite the cost to his honor and his wife Catelyn’s happiness, and it’s possible that the statue is merely another sign of that love. As Ned tells Robert, “She was a Stark of Winterfell. This is her place.”

It’s also possible that the statue served another purpose: shielding proof of Jon’s parentage. The bulk of the realm believes, to this day, that Rhaegar kidnapped and raped Lyanna. Placing his harp, the symbol of his love and grace, with Lyanna would help cement that they were in love, married after Rhaegar’s secret annulment; Ned would not have placed a piece of the man who abused his sister in her tomb. We saw how Dany responded to hearing the truth from Jon: The word of Bran, a teenager who appears to have ingested too much CBD oil, isn’t going to be enough for many in the Seven Kingdoms. Sam’s copy of High Septon Maynard’s diary should be, but to some, like Dany, the fact that Sam is so firmly Team Jon will dilute the potency of his proof. It doesn’t appear likely that Howland Reed will show up to share his firsthand account of what transpired at the Tower of Joy, making every bit of supporting evidence essential.

Jon has already flown Rhaegal, the dragon named for his father. The showrunners have stated that in their world, only Targaryens can ride dragons. No one should need more proof, but these are stubborn people who, in some cases, enjoy burning their foes alive. Rhaegar’s harp would be compelling evidence for many, an embodiment of love and lineage. In Clash, when Dany travels through the House of the Undying, she sees her brother in a vision, with a woman and a baby he calls Aegon—a name, he says, fit for a king. The name his first son bore, but also the name Lyanna gave to his second. “Will you make a song for him?” the woman in the vision asks. “He has a song,” he replies. “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.” He then picks up a harp.

It’s possible that the show doesn’t have time, particularly amid the carnage of battle, to play out the string of finding Rhaegar’s strings. Perhaps the harp-like appearance of the O in the Game of Thrones logo will have to be enough of a nod for book readers. But if the Night King’s army breaks open the tombs, maybe something other than a skeleton can emerge.

In A Storm of Swords, Littlefinger tells Sansa, “A harp can be as dangerous as a sword, in the right hands.” From certain characters’ perspectives, nothing is more dangerous than the truth of Jon’s parentage.

A Way Out (or, Gulp, a Way In)

Winterfell is as vast as the burden Jon now carries, but the crypts are even more substantial, deeper, and wider than our current conception of the castle allows us to grasp. Because of its size and its ancient origins, the castle, crypts, and grounds contain many secrets, including passageways known to precious few.

In Season 2, Maester Luwin tries to convince Theon to take the black, where his sins will be forgiven. Theon notes, as the horn of attacking soldiers relentlessly blows, that he won’t make it 10 feet if he tries to leave the castle, where Northmen (whom we’ll soon learn belong to Ramsay) wait. “There are ways,” Luwin tells Theon. “Hidden passageways, built so the Lords of Winterfell could escape.”

Could these ways be in the crypts? We know that Theon will be in the Godswood protecting Bran from the Night King, but the fact that he possesses this knowledge and is back in Winterfell when it might be most crucial seems likely to bear fruit. Perhaps if our heroes lose the fight, the survivors will be able to escape through a hidden exit, climb aboard Drogon and Rhaegal—can direwolves ride dragons? Please?—and flee.

But a way out, of course, is by definition also a way in. And Theon isn’t the only one who knows the castle’s secrets. When Bran was a boy, he loved to climb, exploring every inch of the castle until he knew its secrets in a way uncommon to any man. He was, in this respect at least, the Three-Eyed Raven long ago. One example, from Game: “He knew you could get inside the inner wall by the south gate, climb three floors and run all the way around Winterfell through a narrow tunnel in the stone, and then come out on ground level at the north gate, with a hundred feet of wall looming over you. Even Maester Luwin didn’t know that, Bran was convinced.”

As Zach Kram, one of The Ringer’s greenseers, observed in his Battle of Winterfell primer, the link between Bran and the Night King could mean that if Bran knows the castle’s secrets, and those secrets include a way out of the crypts—where Bran, Rickon, Osha, Summer, and Shaggy hid from Theon in Season 2—the Night King could potentially gain that knowledge through his connection to the Three-Eyed Raven.

The showrunners have cited Helm’s Deep, the legendary battle in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, as an influence for the Battle of Winterfell; in that film—17-year-old spoiler warning?—a mammoth orc penetrates the previously impregnable wall with, in essence, a bomb he runs into a drain. The heroes are ultimately able to maintain some semblance of security in the fortress until Gandalf arrives with reinforcements, so this doesn’t necessarily point to a parallel of infiltrating the crypts and disturbing the sanctity within by creating a new entrance, but the Night King or his forces might be able to use a masked way in that already exists to enter by stealth and pursue their primary mission, or to prey on their foe by loudly blasting away this perceived sense of welfare, making the stronghold and its defenders vulnerable to infiltration.

The Great Other

It’s possible that the Night King has a target inside Winterfell other than Bran, who reveals in “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” that the Night King is coming for him, as he has “with many Three-Eyed Ravens.” For years, myriad theories have explored the possibility that the Great Other, the god of darkness and the counterbalance to the Lord of Light, could be imprisoned in the crypts—and that the crypts, and all of Winterfell, in fact exist to contain him.

Consider that, unlike with all other prominent castles in the story, we don’t know why Winterfell is named as such. We can logically deduce that it’s literally where Winter, a.k.a. death, cold, and darkness as embodied by the Great Other, fell. Winterfell is the seat of power in the North, and yet, as Kram explored in his battle primer, it’s not positioned near a coastline or a prominent river or lake, as most strongholds are. Maybe Bran the Builder chose this spot because the Battle for the Dawn, which concluded the Long Night 6,000 to 8,000 years ago, took place here.

The crypts are below the First Keep which, despite architecturally driven timestamp disputes, was likely the first structure in the castle and has expanded over the eons. They’re as old as the place itself. Perhaps the Starks earned the moniker “Kings of Winter” because they literally came to rule over Winter, and perhaps they say “There must always be a Stark in Winterfell” because that’s part of maintaining the magic that encases this force below. Detractors will fairly note that for a sizeable stretch of our story, there has not been a Stark in Winterfell—from Bran and Rickon’s escape in Season 2 to Sansa’s return in Season 5. But it’s not like things have gone swimmingly for the Starks, Winterfell, or civilization since then!

It’s also reasonable to note that we haven’t seen anything resembling the Great Other in the crypts so far, but for all the time we’ve spent in these undercrofts, we’ve only seen a fraction of them. In Game, Bran thinks, “The vault was cavernous, longer than Winterfell itself, and Jon had told him once that there were other levels underneath, vaults even deeper and darker where the older kings were buried.” Some of those levels are partially collapsed, making foot traffic highly unlikely, perhaps even impossible.

Yet there’s support for this theory beyond visual evidence: While the rest of Winterfell is positively toasty thanks to the natural hot springs that pump steaming water through the castle and lands, the crypts are frigid. In Game, Ned thinks, “It was always cold down here,” as he leads Robert down to visit Lyanna, and in this same stretch, he thinks about the stinging draft in almost personified terms: “He could feel the chill coming up the stairs, a cold breath from deep within the earth.”

In the “Crypts of Winterfell” trailer, we see that cold breath creep through the crypts toward Jon, Sansa, and Arya.

That mist could certainly represent the Night King or his army arriving, but it could also represent the unearthing of a force he’s come to Winterfell to unleash. Maybe the Night King is there to free the Great Other and finally bring a darkness that never fades. Or maybe the Night King is the Great Other. In A Dance with Dragons, Melisandre, champion of R’hllor, thinks, “Beyond the Wall, the enemy grows stronger, and should he win the dawn will never come again.” A subset of the Great Other theory states that the Night King is looking to free the Night Queen, a figure with whom Bran the Builder, the Night’s Watch, and the book version of the Night King (the Night’s King) are all associated. Perhaps the Night King’s true motivation is really his own version of “The things I do for love.”

There’s another potential application for some sort of Great Other theory: If Sam or Bran, in their search for ways to win this battle, discover proof of this entombment while perusing their scrolls and memories, respectively, they might be able to prevent the Night King from reaching his goal. And they might also learn how to use similar tactics to achieve the same feat that Bran the Builder and his contemporaries did, trapping the Night King. If he is in fact a Stark, that’d be a handy way to ensure there’s always a Stark in Winterfell.

A Dragon (or Dragon Eggs)

While the chill of the crypts could point to the entombment of Winter therein, the heat pulsing throughout the rest of the Winterfell could indicate the presence of a very different type of magic buried down below. In Game, we learn about the hot springs that keep the castle’s inhabitants warm: “The scalding waters rushed through its walls and chambers like blood through a man’s body, driving the chill from the stone halls, filling the glass gardens with a moist warmth, keeping the earth from freezing. Open pools smoked day and night in a dozen small courtyards. That was a little thing, in summer; in winter, it was the difference between life and death.”

The hot springs are more than just an alt-energy source of heat amid the chill: They’re evidence of a potential link to dragons and their magic. In The World of Ice and Fire, Maester Yandel notes that hot springs are heated by the “the furnaces of the world—the same fires that made the Fourteen Flames or the smoking mountain of Dragonstone,” two locations associated with dragons. (The Fourteen Flames are the volcanic range in the Valyrian Peninsula, which erupted and brought about the Doom, wiping out all of the dragonlord families other than the Targaryens, who had sailed to Dragonstone years before thanks to a prophetic dream.)

The townspeople of Winterfell and winter town believe that a dragon’s fire heats the hot springs, and though Yandel dismisses the claim as “foolish,” legends often prove to have basis in fact in George R.R. Martin’s world. Could Bran the Builder have tapped into a dragon’s power when forging the castle, perhaps as part of the magic needed to keep Winter at bay? Fire and ice, ice and fire. And if so, and the Night King’s attack breaks the foundation of the castle as it did the ground beneath the Three-Eyed Raven’s weirwood cave, could this dragon roam free at last?

Yandel also dismisses the testimony of Mushroom, a fool in service of the Targaryens, who claimed that Jacaerys’s dragon Vermax laid eggs at Winterfell when the prince went to treat with Cregan Stark during the Dance of the Dragons. Good Queen Alysanne also flew her dragon, Silverwing, to Winterfell, which is worth noting because Silverwing did not take to the North, refusing, three times, to fly over the Wall. Dany tells Jon in the Season 8 premiere that Drogon and Rhaegal don’t like the North; if they’re unequipped for battle, the arrival of a dragon long nestled in the cold could be what saves the North.

Eggs, of course, would need time to hatch. But what if they already have? In Clash, Bran sees the following vision through his warg bond with his direwolf Summer: “The smoke and ash clouded his eyes, and in the sky he saw a great winged snake whose roar was a river of flame. He bared his teeth, but then the snake was gone.” A “great winged snake whose roar was a river of flame” certainly sounds like a dragon.

A years-old theory notes that Winterfell, Dragonstone, and Valyria are the only locations in the books known to feature gargoyles, which could speak to a dragon-binding power in the stone. What if Ramsay’s sack and burning of Winterfell freed the dragon from its subterranean slumber? When Bran and Co. surface from their sanctuary in the crypts in Clash, Bran observes the following: “Stone and shattered gargoyles lay strewn across the yard. They fell just where I did, Bran thought when he saw them. Some of the gargoyles had broken into so many pieces it made him wonder how he was alive at all.” Once the gargoyles crumbled, the theory posits, the dragon could have flown. Offering further support, in the same book, over on Dragonstone, Davos observes: “Behind, the gargoyles and stone dragons on the castle walls seemed blurred, as if Davos were seeing them through a veil of tears. Or as if the beasts were trembling, stirring…”

Of course, the characters making these observations don’t know at this point that Daenerys has become the Mother of Dragons. Emblematically: Melisandre speaks throughout the books, and her time with Stannis, of the prophecy that Azor Ahai will “wake dragons out of stone.” Dany, the story’s chief contender other than Jon to emerge as the prophesied savior, literally woke dragons from stone when she brought her fossilized eggs into Drogo’s funeral pyre. It’s likely that the dragons who fulfill this prophecy are already a part of our story.

What’s more, the show has not set up a dragon or dragon eggs beneath Winterfell as the books have. Deus ex dragon could be a tough sell for viewers, especially while they’re trying to track the latest mythology reveals about Bran and the Night King and mourning cherished characters. It’s possible that the show’s version of this theory will be symbolic, because no matter what, there has been a secret dragon at Winterfell: Jon Snow.

The End That Jaime Foresaw in the Books

The highlight of the deeply moving “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” came when Jaime Lannister knighted Brienne of Tarth, beautifully culminating a shared arc that has served as one of the beating hearts of this story for seasons. Brienne’s naked joy after arising as a Ser, and the plain affection and admiration in Jaime’s eyes as he watched her do so, was a crucial reminder that people can change, choices define us more than labels and norms, and love can come in many forms.

It also felt like a death sentence for one of the two. If not for the mass belief that Jaime will fulfill the Valonqar prophecy by killing Cersei—which Brienne’s death in a battle Cersei compromised by refusing to pledge her troops to would surely fuel—his death would actually seem more likely here than Brienne’s. The show, remember, did not include the Valonqar line in Maggy the Frog’s prophecy. It did, however, feature a scene in which Jaime tells Bronn that he wants to die in the arms of the woman he loves.

That statement ultimately defining Brienne instead of Cersei would be the perfect conclusion for Jaime. And in the books, there’s some evidence, as Thrones scholar Joanna Robinson expertly outlines here, that it could come to pass—and come to pass below ground.

In Storm, after Jaime has lost his right hand, he falls into a long, portentous dream. While Jaime initially believes that he’s at Casterly Rock, he comes to realize that this is not his home; it’s not, in fact, a place he knows at all. “Below the earth his doom awaited,” the passage goes. “He knew with the certainty of dream; something dark and terrible lurked there, something that wanted him.”

Could this be the crypts? Though the features Jaime describes—sand, water—don’t match what we know of the levels of the crypts we’ve seen, other factors align. First, Jaime fears what may lie dormant and unseen: “There may be creatures living in it, hidden deeps …” The dragon? The Great Other? New wights?

More importantly, his dream features Cersei abandoning Jaime while Brienne stands by his side, determined to keep him safe. (And, for all the shippers out there, naked.) When Brienne asks Jaime what’s down there, he says, “Doom, only doom.”

Soon, the ghost of Rhaegar Targaryen arrives, accusing Jaime of failing to protect his wife and children. Jaime, of course, thinks he means Elia, Aegon, and Rhaenys, but now that we know Rhaegar married another woman, it’s possible to decipher this as a reference to Lyanna, who is in the crypts, and Jon, who could at some point retreat there too to help save those in peril during the impending battle.

As the shades of the old Kingsguard close in around him, Jaime’s dream ends with his death—a death in which Brienne is the last thing he sees: “Terror closed a hand about his throat. Then his sword went dark, and only Brienne’s burned, as the ghosts came rushing in.”

The Valonqar foreshadowing feels real, and seeing Cersei die at the hands of the very last person in the world who really loved her, because of her greed, hubris, and cruelty, would be delicious poetic justice. But so would Jaime giving his life at the site of one of his greatest sins (pushing Bran out of the window) and one of his greatest triumphs (abandoning Cersei to fight for the living, and in so doing, giving himself over fully to Brienne and goodness). We know that Jaime will be fighting under Brienne’s command out on the left flank, but certain shots from the preseason trailer place him inside of the castle, perhaps on the walls.

If the enemy breaches the crypts, and Jaime goes there to try to save those clustered within, he’ll be defending the innocent, as the words he just uttered to Brienne say a knight must, and as Jaime did so long ago when he killed the Mad King. Killing Cersei feels fitting for the man Jaime was for so long, but dying by proving his knightly valor, with Brienne by his side, the last light in his life as the darkness takes him, might be the better end for the man Jaime has become.

For Jaime and so many other characters, the question of choice and belonging has been paramount throughout this tale. No matter what plot function the Winterfell crypts serve during the battle, they’ll remain a key emblem of Stark identity in this story. In Game, Jon tells Sam, “Somehow I know I have to go down there, but I don’t want to. I’m afraid of what might be waiting for me.” Now, we’re all afraid too. But in Clash, Bran says, “That was our place. A Stark place!” We have to hope that after Sunday, it still is.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.

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