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‘Game of Thrones’ Loose Ends: Which of Old Nan’s Stories Will Actually Prove True?

The Last Hero! Macumber! Ice spiders big as hounds! Nan barely graced our screens, but could her spooky wisdom forecast key events still to come?

HBO/Ringer illustration

In 20 days, Game of Thrones will finally return. And 35 days after that, Thrones will end. In less time than it seemingly takes Littlefinger to zip around to every corner of Westeros, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will deliver a conclusion to the story George R.R. Martin first introduced 23 years ago—and in that precious time they’ll have to answer half a hundred pressing questions: Who will live? Who will die? Who will tell Jon he’s doing it with his aunt?

Separate from those series-shaping questions are countless smaller but still crucial details that the show may or may not explore in the final season. These are Thrones’ loose ends: the characters, places, events, prophecies, and more that the story has made audiences wonder about over the past seven seasons but has yet to satisfyingly wrap up. In the run-up to the final season’s April 14 premiere, we’ll be digging through these loose ends, looking at why they matter and how they could affect the endgame as we count down the days to Thrones’ long-awaited conclusion.


The Loose End

Let’s rewind to early Thrones, all the way back to Season 1, and a speech that still rattles the bones. In the third episode of the series, “Lord Snow,” Old Nan tends to Bran following his fall from the tower and subsequent awakening from a coma. An exasperated Bran explains that he likes to hear scary stories best, and Old Nan responds with truly frightening fare:

Oh, my sweet summer child. What do you know about fear? Fear is for the winter, when the snows fall a hundred feet deep. Fear is for the Long Night, when the sun hides for years and children are born and live and die all in darkness. That is the time for fear, my little lord, when the White Walkers move through the woods. Thousands of years ago, there came a night that lasted a generation. Kings froze to death in their castles, same as the shepherds in their huts. And women smothered their babies rather than see them starve, and wept and felt the tears freeze on their cheeks. So is this the sort of story that you like? In that darkness, the White Walkers came for the first time. They swept through cities and kingdoms, riding their dead horses, hunting with their packs of pale spiders big as hounds …

At that point, Robb enters Bran’s room and interrupts Old Nan’s speech, and he tries to downplay the tale to his little brother, sharing with a smile, “One time she told me the sky is blue because we live inside the eye of a blue-eyed giant named Macumber.”

Bran is unmoved. “Maybe we do,” he responds.

That speech comprises the majority of Old Nan’s words throughout the series; she appears in only two episodes and speaks only five lines, besides brief flashbacks through the Weirnet in Season 6. (Actress Margaret John, who portrayed the elderly caretaker, died two months before the pilot aired in 2011.) Yet for a character with so little on-screen impact, she wreaks tremendous impact on viewers’ understanding of the story still to come.

Much of our understanding of the Long Night and Walkers’ tactics comes from this one speech. In the book version of the monologue, moreover, Old Nan begins to speak about a figure of yore called the “Last Hero,” who is believed to have turned the tide of the war and inspired the living to repel the advance of the dead.

All indications point to the legend of the Last Hero being true. Might Old Nan’s other stories be as well?

Why This Loose End Matters

Macumber is a complete invention by the show; neither his name nor idea show up in the books. If that myth turns out to be based in fact, it would represent a core, fundamental break between show-world and book-world, the likes of which haven’t really been explored thus far. The two mediums have deviated, of course, but not in such essential, elemental, world-building fashion. And no, the line isn’t a joking metareference to the story originating in George R.R. Martin’s head—the A Song of Ice and Fire creator has brown eyes.

The scary spider rumor, however, originated in Martin’s texts. In addition to their appearance in Old Nan’s stories, Sam reflects on their legend in the third book (“The white walkers of the wood, the cold shadows, the monsters of the tales that made him squeak and tremble as a boy, riding their giant ice-spiders, hungry for blood”), and the encyclopedic World of Ice and Fire notes that tales say the Walkers “rode monstrous ice spiders and the horses of the dead.”

Sam provides another bit of insight in the books when he tells Jon that, in reading about the White Walkers, he discovered, “Some stories speak of them riding the corpses of dead animals. Bears, direwolves, mammoths, horses, it makes no matter, so long as the beast is dead. … Some accounts speak of giant ice spiders too. I don’t know what those are.”

We don’t know what those are either, but we can guess; the name seems self-explanatory, after all. Or maybe it doesn’t—all the other creatures associated with the Walkers, from the undead men and women who make up their army to the corpses they reanimate as steeds to the giants they recruit to their forces, were “normal” folks (or at least “normal” for the Thrones world) made special only by virtue of their reincarnation.

Giant ice spiders don’t fit that classification. Unlike men, horses, and bears, they don’t exist in our world (or at least we’d better hope they don’t). And unlike giants, direwolves, and mammoths (and, via Viserion, dragons), we’ve never heard about or seen their like in the show in any context besides their association with the Walkers. So as silly as Sam’s comment appears at first glance, it hints at a deeper truth: Giant ice spiders would represent a new and fascinating—and in all likelihood terrifying—sort of creature for the Thrones world.

Plus, both Macumber and the spiders receive a second mention multiple seasons after their introduction in Old Nan’s tale. Once could signify a throwaway line, or maybe a joke; twice is a clear sign of foreshadowing.

In Season 4, a testy exchange between Tywin and Oberyn after Joffrey’s death goes as follows:

Tywin: Some believe the king choked.

Oberyn: Some believe the sky is blue because we live inside the eye of a blue-eyed giant. The king was poisoned.

Tywin: I hear you studied poisons at the Citadel.

Oberyn: I did. This is why I know.

Tywin: Your hatred for my family is rather well known. You arrive at the capital, an expert in poisoning, some days later my grandson dies of poisoning. Rather suspicious.

And in Season 5’s “Hardhome,” the concept of ice spiders reappears. When trying to dismiss legends that dragonglass could work against White Walkers as unreliable myth, the Thenn leader scoffs by way of comparison, “There are old stories about ice spiders big as hounds.”

In both cases, the callbacks to Old Nan’s tales slips into a tense conversation about something of far more urgent importance to the plot. But what better way to hide a bit of foreshadowing? In the latter conversation, the wildling warrior Karsi retorts to the Thenn, “And with the things we’ve seen, you don’t believe them?”

That notion should apply to show watchers just as easily. With the things we’ve seen, shouldn’t we believe that ice spiders exist, too?

How Season 8 Could Address It

By showing the darn ice spiders!

Do it, Thrones. Thrust a cluster of spiders the size of Ghost on-screen during the Battle of Winterfell. The fantasy genre has already proved capable of handling giant spiders in its most popular tales, from Aragog in Harry Potter to Shelob in Lord of the Rings. (Search for the spiders on Wikipedia’s “list of fictional arthropods” before bed if you want to inspire some eight-legged nightmares.)

Macumber, frankly, would require a more complex execution. Benioff and Weiss would risk ending Thrones with a strange bit of dissonance if that’s the route they choose—like they were trying to copy the comedic capper to Men in Black.

Any such decision would yield larger repercussions. We don’t know how the planet that contains Westeros and Essos came to be, why its seasons work the way they do, or really anything about the world’s creation story, whether by Big Bang equivalent or divine inspiration. Macumber would be an answer, though—and the definitive one, at least until Martin finishes his books—even if it isn’t the one Martin had in mind when he dreamed this world.