Now that the Direwolf banner flies in Winterfell once more and Sansa and Jon walk its halls in their glorious furs, it’s time to re-examine the phrase “there must always be a Stark in Winterfell.” You might think it’s a simple House motto along the lines of “a Lannister always pays his debts,” but this is Game of Thrones. Enterprising fans have come up with theories for everything, and there are some elaborate and surprising ideas floating around about the need for Starks to occupy Winterfell. We haven’t had to give it much thought over the past few seasons, as the Starks have been flung to distant corners of the world, but now they’re home at last. And if we’ve learned anything from Season 6, it’s that it’s always possible fan theories are on the table. So why must there always be a Stark in Winterfell, anyway?
Because magic keeps the White Walkers away
One theory suggests that the same magic the Children of the Forest put in the Wall to repel the White Walkers and keep them out is also tied to Stark blood. The reason the White Walkers have been advancing, then, is because there hasn’t been a Stark in Winterfell for too long. Some even think the Children of the Forest put a curse on the Starks that postulates a Stark must remain in Winterfell if they want to maintain their fortune. In other words, when Sansa tells Jon “We never should have left Winterfell” she’s even more right than she knows.
If this theory is true, then the story’s endgame of the impending White Walker invasion intimately ties with “There must always be a Stark in Winterfell.”
Because otherwise undead Starks will rise up everywhere
Another theory suggests that deep within the crypts where Stark ancestors are buried — with poor Rickon being their newest addition thanks to his inability to run in a zig-zag; you had one job, kid! — the bodies are all wights or Others waiting to rise. This is taken from some choice descriptions in the books, like this one of Ned wandering the crypts in A Game of Thrones:
He was walking through the crypts beneath Winterfell, as he had walked a thousand times before. The Kings of Winter watched him pass with eyes of ice, and the direwolves at their feet turned their great stone heads and snarled.
If this theory is true, it means forget Lady Stoneheart or even Benjen Stark: We could potentially get confirmation on Jon Snow’s mother right from Lyanna Stark herself. Some suggest this bond between the Starks and the Others exist because the first Others were Starks — it would fit with the Night’s King’s backstory — and Jon will need to go down to the crypts and turn into an Other in the end. That would explain why he’s always dreaming about the crypts in the books. From A Game of Thrones,
Last night he had dreamt the Winterfell dream again. He was wandering the empty castle, searching for his father, descending into the crypts.
The craziest and most fun theory is that there is a dragon beneath Winterfell. If you think that sounds nuts, there is precedent in the books. From The World of Ice and Fire:
Yet the smallfolk of Winterfell and the winter town have been known to claim that the springs are heated by the breath of a dragon that sleeps beneath the castle.
This dragon would also be tied to another theory — resurrected Jon as the rebirth of the legendary hero Azor Ahai, and the dragon would be his sword Lightbringer. Given how elaborate it is, this theory is unlikely at best — but it sure would be cool.