Winter has come at last on Game of Thrones. To be sure, the autumn snows have already turned heavy in the North, and long before the April 14 release date was revealed, and the maesters of Old Town even confirmed as much in the season 7 finale where snow and darkness graced King’s Landing’s otherwise beatific rooftops. Yet it was in the Game of Thrones Season 8 teaser, which you can view below, that we finally saw the full implications in their grimmest and most nihilistic shading. Even without any actual new footage, it’s clear that death has at last come for House Stark, and it will stalk them to where they’ll eventually sleep forever.
The trailer is essentially an easter egg guide for the most faithful Game of Thrones fans, putting together all the irony, all the foreshadowing, and all the living Starks we treasure most—sorry, Bran. It’s simple in design but bleak in existential meaning. Starting with Jon Snow, the ostensible family patriarch as the King in the North, returning to a familiar set. He is in the crypts beneath the walls of Winterfell. There in the dark, all the Kings in the North whose names have been lost to time rest and wait—wait for their heirs to reclaim the universal birthright of Death and the company He keeps. Jon Snow should of course not really be the head of the Starks, as he is in public believed to be a bastard and in private is actually a Targaryen, one who’s rights are to the Iron Throne, not that of winter.
This reality is underscored by the first clue that goes all the way back to George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, which was published in 1996. “Promise me, Ned,” was the nightmare that haunted Lord Eddard Stark’s dreams in those pages, and which were given visceral life during season 6 when it was revealed his sister Lyanna Stark uttered them about Jon Snow—her son who was born to her after she married Prince Rhaegar Targaryen in secret. It is that same sister whom Jon Snow passes, and it is words whispered in that same breath, “You have to protect him,” that clings to his shadow like the affections of a mother he never knew. Further down, Jon Snow’s half-sister (but really cousin) Sansa Stark passes the statue that must have been only recently made of her mother, Catelyn Stark. Poor Cat was one of our earliest protagonists in the first three seasons that then met a gruesome fate at the Red Wedding, and it is her own regrets that flitter in Sansa’s seeming ear: “All this horror that has come to my family is all because I couldn’t love a motherless child.”
We doth think Catelyn is too hard on herself, for even if she was in on the secret that Jon was really Lyanna’s son, it would’ve just meant he was kept close enough by Robb to die at the Red Wedding alongside his cousin and aunt. Still, her coldness to Jon created a wound in the Stark family that only has begun to heal after they lost much, and Jon and Sansa were reunited in season 6. It would seem her future depends on doing what Catelyn could not, and loving Jon Snow for the good man he is, even if he really isn’t a Stark… and really if he does surrender Winterfell’s newly acquired power to his aunt Daenerys.
Meanwhile a reunion is teased but denied once more when Jon passes out-of-focus by Arya, who is unable to make eye contact with the half-brother she never had trouble loving. Arya already knows Ned Stark’s words before his apparent ghost mutters them in the dark beside his own statue: “You may not have my name but you have my blood.” Together, they are the three Starks who will decide the future of the House we’ve followed since the beginning, and maybe their entire world. Notably, Bran Stark is missing from the lineup, yet his presence is hinted at among the feathers that float around the teaser. They are the feathers of the Three-Eyed Raven, a supernatural mantle that Bran has assumed. He watches and supports them, but he is no longer one of them. And he too is as fallible as they in the face of Death’s icy touch.
For if they are the future of the Starks, is there a future at all to be had on Game of Thrones when they come face-to-face with their own mortality? Waiting for them on the back wall is three fresh graves. Robert Baratheon once mewled to Ned that Lyanna belonged on a hill and under a tree, not down here in those moonless crypts. But the dark is a friend to the Starks, and maybe the only one they have at the end of all things. And it does indeed appear to be the end of all things with three new tombstone statues; they’re of Jon, Sansa, and Arya.
Theoretically, the final season of Game of Thrones could very well end with all three of them joining their ancestors for the silence of eternity. And that bitter truth is hinted when their brother’s feathers are covered in the ice that comes. The Night King marches south. The Dead’s arrival to Winterfell is imminent, and with them comes a chill that will make all the adversity, struggle, and anguish we’ve seen turn these three children into persevering adults become meaningless. In the end, they may just be three more ghosts beneath Winterfell’s soon-to-be shattered walls.
Still, I think it is worth noting that while Jon reaches for Longclaw, we see Arya grasp her Needle. It was with Needle that the youngest of the three still viable Starks learned a valuable lesson from Syrio Forel so many moons ago. What do we say to the God of Death? Not today.
Aye, it won’t be today. But it may be soon, and it could be as bitter as a winter’s kiss. I suppose we’ll find out on April 14.