Game of Thrones ended the first episode of its final season in a way fans have come to expect: with fire and blood.
The season eight premiere was filled with happy reunions, tense stand-offs, dragon fly-bys, and a surprising amount of humor before creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff brought us something more familiar, and it came in the shape of a symbol that’s been haunting the show since season one.
Before the Night King and his army of undead foot soldiers finished raiding, pillaging, and murdering every member of House Umber at Last Hearth they left a particularly gruesome calling card for Tormund, Beric, and their merry band of Night’s Watch survivors to find. The young and very dead Lord Ned Umber was pinned to a castle wall with body parts strewn about in a distinct spiral pattern. When lifeless Ned is reanimated (because, magic) Beric lights him on fire, igniting the symbol too.
The visual is a striking one and though it could just be a method of instilling fear into the hearts of men (and, let’s be honest, fans as well) with only a handful of episodes left, it seems unlikely Weiss and Benioff would waste precious screen-time on anything inconsequential to the major storyline.
So, as is our way, let’s breakdown the symbol of the Night King, what it means, and what clues it offers to the villain’s ultimate endgame.
The Children of The Forest
We haven’t heard much about the Children of the Forest since Leaf and her cohorts died protecting Bran and Meera from the Night’s King’s army. Still, it’s important to remember that the same symbol the Night King keeps carving via dismembered body parts first belonged to the Children of the Forest, the ones responsible for the creation of the First White Walker.
Leaf explains to Bran back in season six why the Children used dragon-glass to kill men they had captured and brought them back to life through their ancient magic. They hoped to use the White Walkers against the First Men, pitting the living against the dead in order to protect their holy weirwood trees. The war between the Children and the First Men lasted thousands of years before the creation of White Walkers and it was only when they turned on their masters, when the Night King began murdering Children of the Forest and the First Men indiscriminately, that the two sides allied in their greater war against death itself.
Variations of the symbol have been around since the first episode of the series, but in a flashback to the creation of the Night King, we see how it’s connected to the White Walkers. The Godswood tree on which the first man was sacrificed stands at the center of the mystical pattern as the Children of the forest position themselves around it. This is how the first White Walkers were forged, and it seems, the Night King hasn’t forgotten.