In 19 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
When Game of Thrones opens, the Children of the Forest have not been seen for thousands of years. In legend, the Children were the non-human original inhabitants of Westeros who fought a war with the First Men during the Dawn Age some 12,000 years ago. They were gifted when it came to magic, counting greenseers and wargs among their ranks, and they fought with the dragonglass weapons that our heroes now know can kill White Walkers. The Children carved faces into their sacred weirwood trees, and clashed with the human colonizers who sought to cut those trees down. After centuries of fighting, the two groups formed the Pact and brought peace to the continent. Thus dawned Westeros’s Age of Heroes.
In the many millennia that have passed since the Pact, the population of the Children has dwindled until they disappeared, and the memory of them turned to myth. When Bran asks about them in Season 2, Maester Luwin tells him that many in Westeros now believe the Children never existed at all. Much of the North does believe the Children existed, though, thinking they passed down the Old Gods, but most also hold that they must have gone extinct thousands of years ago.
“The dragons are gone, the giants are dead, and the Children of the Forest forgotten,” Luwin tells Bran in Season 2.
Then, in Season 4, as Bran, Meera, Jojen, Hodor, and Summer are set on by a group of wights, a Child named Leaf suddenly appears, hurling fireballs to save the group. Jojen doesn’t make it, but the Children escort the other four into a cave underneath a heart tree, where they find the Three-Eyed Raven and a small group of Children who have been living north of the Wall for centuries.
Bran and Co. spend Season 5 on the sideline, then pick up in Season 6 with post-puberty Bran continuing his training to become the Three-Eyed Raven. A few more Children are now present with Leaf, but before we can get to know them, Bran pushes his powers too far, bringing the Night King down on their location. Leaf self-sacrifices to buy the group time to escape, Hodor and Summer fall, and only Bran and Meera make it out alive. The Children presumably all perished in the fighting, and have not been seen since.
So is that it? The only known stronghold of Children on the show was destroyed, and there is no indication that any survived. Were the Children hidden from the realm for thousands of years only to go extinct almost immediately after they’re rediscovered? Were they just there to chuck some fireballs and then dip? Did the show just sort of breeze by the extinction of a sentient species?
Or could there be more Children out there, hiding in other caves and forests in forgotten corners of Westeros? Our heroes could use all the help they can get to defeat the White Walkers—if there are any Children left, now is the time for them to show themselves.
Why This Loose End Matters
As Bran learned in one of his flashbacks, the Children of the Forest created the Night King and the White Walkers. Bran saw them stick a dragonglass blade into the chest of one of the First Men, turning his eyes blue, in a last-ditch effort to turn the tides of their war with the First Men. “We were being slaughtered,” Leaf tells Bran. “We needed to defend ourselves.”
Thousands of years after that, the Walkers turned on the Children and marched on Westeros, bringing with them the Long Night and their signature bone-chilling cold. The Children then played a crucial role in defeating the White Walkers. According to legend, a human called the Last Hero ventured north with a group of companions, a dog, a horse, and a sword, seeking out the Children in the hope that their magic could beat back the Walkers. When his companions were killed, his dog died, his horse fell, and his sword broke, it looked like all hope was lost … until he found the Children and ended the Long Night in the Battle for the Dawn. The Last Hero founded the Night’s Watch, and the Children supposedly helped Bran the Builder construct the Wall, imbuing it with spells to repel Walkers.
If that all sounds vague and dubious to you, you’re not alone. Virtually everything we know about the Long Night comes from Old Nan’s stories and some of Sam Tarly’s research. The Maesters can’t even agree on whether the Long Night happened 6,000 or 8,000 years before the events of the show, and many believe it never happened at all.
But something happened all those thousands of years ago to keep the White Walkers at bay, and the Children may know what. More crucially, their magic may be needed to stop the White Walkers once again.
How Season 8 Could Address It
While every Child of the Forest who was on the show appeared to die back in Season 6 when Bran and Meera escaped from the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave, there’s no reason to assume that the cave was their only remaining stronghold in Westeros.
In A Game of Thrones, Osha tells Bran that the Children retreated north of the Wall, along with “the giants, and the other old races.” She was certainly right about that, and her confidence makes it seem like there may be even more Children camped out in the north.
In the trailer for Season 8, Jon and Daenerys appear to take her dragons, Rhaegal and Drogon, to the middle of nowhere:
This shot definitely isn’t anywhere close to Winterfell:
It’s unclear where exactly they are, but one possibility is that they’re beyond the Wall, as the landscapes here match those seen in the wild, unsettled North. But why would Dany and Jon go north of the Wall at this point, with the Night King heading south after breaching the Wall in the Season 7 finale? It could be to find the remaining Children. Bran could use his greenseer powers to locate any remaining Children, and Dany’s dragons would represent the quickest way to meet them.
It’s also possible that despite Osha’s statement, there are enclaves of Children hidden south of the Wall. When the Pact was made thousands of years ago, the Children and the First Men met on the Isle of Faces to record their union. The island is in the middle of a lake called the Gods Eye, just south of Harrenhal—not far from King’s Landing. The Children carved a face into every weirwood on the island (hence how it got its name) so the gods could witness the Pact, and thousands of years of peace between the Children and First Men followed.
When they made the Pact, the Children and the First Men also formed the order of the green men, a secret group that is entrusted with guarding the Isle of Faces and its weirwood trees. Though most of the weirwoods in the South were cut down in the ensuing centuries by the Andals, who arrived in Westeros long after the First Men, the weirwoods on the Isle of Faces still stand. The Isle of Faces is notoriously difficult to visit, with strong winds and flocks of ravens driving back would-be sojourners. As such, it is rumored that some Children survive on the mysterious island alongside the green men.
The heroes wouldn’t even have to travel to the Isle of Faces to confirm whether the Children remain there or not. We’ve written previously about how Howland Reed—father of Jojen and Meera, one of Ned’s closest friends, and bannerman to the Starks—traveled to the island in his youth. Meera left Winterfell and started making her way back to Greywater Watch in Season 7, so she may soon be trading tales of the Children with her father.
A return for the Children of the Forest could give Westeros’s heroes a valuable tool in the Great War to come. But it would mean more than just that: The Children could play a poetic role in the final season, saving Westeros from the threat that they created. Their inclusion could bring the story full circle, while their exclusion would leave us asking more questions.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.