One of the greatest mysteries surrounding the Night King and the White Walkers returned in Sunday night’s Game of Thrones Season 8 premiere, when we saw the same curious ancient spiral symbol that has served as a motif for their ominous presence since the series’ very beginning. The scene in question, which took place in House Umber, may be a bit confusing if you haven’t read up on the Night King’s spiral recently.
Here’s what you need to know.
Spoilers follow for Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 1.
Very late in the premiere, we catch up with Tormund and Beric Dondarrion as they enter some snowy building. We quickly learn that, per many assumptions and leaks about the episode, the Night King’s army has already ravaged Last Hearth, home to House Umber and the closest piece of civilization south of the Wall. They stumble upon Edd, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and soon find poor Ned Umber staked to a wall with a bunch of human limbs pinned around him in a spiral.
“It’s a message from the Night King,” Beric says. The castle has been ransacked, but there isn’t a single body beyond Ned Umber. Rather than add him to the horde of the undead, the Night King left him there, wreathed in spare body parts, as a message.
One of the episode’s earliest scenes reminded us of Ned Umber’s existence, all so he could suffer this gruesome fate. He was the one who asked for extra horses and carts so he could bring his people back to Winterfell from Last Hearth. This confirms that he made it back to his home, only for the Night King’s army to sweep through and kill everyone.
The Night King seemingly knew that Ned Umber was the one in charge, and he deliberately chose the leader for a reason. But what’s the deal with this and the other symbol?
Since the very beginning of the series, the White Walkers have mutilated bodies and arranged the pieces into either a seven-spoked spiral, spinning counterclockwise, or a circle with a line bisecting it down the middle. When these symbols appeared as cave paintings on Dragonstone in Season 7, series co-creator David Benioff explained in a behind-the-scenes video that they were originally used by the Children of the Forest.
“These are patterns that have mystical significance for the Children of the Forest,” he said. “We’re not sure exactly what they signify, but spiral patterns are important in a lot of different cultures in our world, so it makes sense that they would be in this world.”
In the first Game of Thrones scene ever, several men of the Night’s Watch see the bodies of Wildlings arranged like the circular symbol. In Season 3, we see the body parts of horses arranged like the spiral. When Bran wargs into the past and sees the creation of the Night King by the Children of the Forest, it happens at a weirwood heart tree that has stone monoliths arcing out from the tree, arranged exactly like the same spiral.
It would seem these magic symbols are part of the written language used by the Children of the Forest and are directly associated with the White Walkers. It’s therefore fitting that Season 8 would reintroduce the symbols here as a reminder of what’s to come.
The true meaning of these symbols remains a mystery on the show that may never be solved. Fans have plenty of theories, but the spiral having seven spokes feels parallel to the Faith of the Seven (the most popular religion in Westeros). The other symbol could imply a more monotheistic religion, which could connect to the Red God.
Here’s to hoping Bran can use his Three-Eyed Raven powers to greenseer an explanation for all of this.
Game of Thrones Season 8 airs Sunday nights on HBO at 9 p.m. Eastern.