[Warning: this story contains spoilers for the season seven finale of HBO's Game of Thrones, called "The Dragon and the Wolf."]
The shield that guards the realms of men has finally shattered.
As of the season seven finale, "The Dragon and the Wolf," the great Wall of Westeros has been rendered meaningless. In the final scene, the Night King and the White Walkers rolled up to the Wall en masse, and used the undead Viserion to bring a huge portion of the Wall to the ground. Eastwatch is no more; here's hoping that Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and Beric (Richard Dormer) are still alive, at the very least.
The Wall's fall won't go down as the single most shocking scene in Game of Thrones history, or even the single most shocking finale scene in the show's run. (The Sept of Baelor's destruction still gets top honors.) It might, however, go down as one of the most tragically inevitable moments in the series. George R.R. Martin did not conceive of a gigantic ice wall built to keep monsters at bay without the intention of ripping the thing down some day. That day has now arrived, and the results are devastating for the men and women in the immediate vicinity.
Unfortunately, aside from the aforementioned Tormund and Beric, some of those men and women include the three surviving Stark siblings: Sansa (Sophie Turner), Arya (Maisie Williams) and Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright). Recall Sansa's words of wisdom, first uttered in a season seven promo, and finally stated in the finale: "When the snow falls and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives." It's a beautiful sentiment, especially in the wake of the Starks finally avenging their parents through killing Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen), but is it one that will ultimately hold weight?
With White Walkers in Westeros, it's only a matter of time before some of the land's most important monuments are crushed completely — and few monuments are closer to the Wall than Winterfell, the ancestral home of House Stark for thousands and thousands of years, the occasional Bolton takeover notwithstanding. If Game of Thrones hits the ground running with the White Walker threat as soon as season seven begins, then we could be looking at the total destruction of Winterfell before the final season premiere draws to an end.
It's a horrifying prospect on a number of levels, including the surface-level optics of the Starks losing Winterfell so quickly after they reclaimed the castle. There's also the potential of losing some of the Northerners we've grown to love, including Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey), or even Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray), who just arrived in Winterfell. Indeed, thinking it through, could Sam find refuge in Lady Lyanna and Bear Island? He did just rescue her cousin Jorah (Iain Glen) a few episodes ago, after all. Then again, Jorah isn't exactly the most welcome member of the Mormont family...
Anyway, the nightmare scenario is that the White Walkers stroll right up to Winterfell and take out one of the Stark siblings. There are few better ways for the final season of Game of Thrones to bear its fangs than by removing Arya from the board, or crushing the hopes of everyone who wants to see Sansa some day become the Queen in the North — or, even worse, both sisters falling under the weight of the wights.
For what it's worth, one of the Stark siblings looks reasonably safe as we head into the final season: Bran. As the new Three-Eyed Raven, Bran has repeatedly informed viewers (as he himself was informed) about his need to be ready for a greater purpose. That purpose has yet to manifest, unless you consider trading notes with Sam on the Jon Snow — er, Aegon Targaryen (Kit Harington) of it all (still getting used to the new name) as Bran's great calling. There's still some mythical meaning to Bran's magical quest, and last week's episode, "Beyond the Wall," gave us a great clue as to how it might play out.
In the books, there's a prophecy that reads, "The dragon has three heads." It's linked to the idea that three different people will be largely responsible for defeating the darkness represented in the White Walkers' agenda, and perhaps even suggests that these three heroes will win the day on dragonback. Jon and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) are the two most easily identifiable heroes in that regard, but as of last week, the Night King has claimed one of the dragons for his own. We witnessed the destructive power of that dragon firsthand in this finale. Still, there's hope yet that one of the human heroes can still take Viserion under his proverbial wings: Bran, who has the ability to warg his consciousness into other living beings. His higher purpose could very well involve hijacking the undead Viserion right out from underneath the Night King, which means he should survive at least as long as the final battle.
With any luck, all three of the Stark siblings will survive the developing White Walker invasion, not to mention the entire series. But the Night King's army will need to destroy more than just the Wall in order to make the full impact of their menace known. The North is the closest and likeliest breeding ground for that level of devastation, as well as the most thematically appropriate setting for the show's final conflict. Unless the Starks flee their home in the next, oh, five minutes? They're going to be right in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Of course, we know nothing about the Night King's true intentions, other than his established anti-life stance. He's proven to be a calculated and cunning strategist, one who bides his time and waits for opportunities to strike — like, say, having a very sharp ice lance on standby if ever a dragon happens to be flying overhead. In other words, is the Night King intelligent enough to know the value of the Starks? If he conquers Winterfell with the siblings still inside, will he keep Sansa, Arya and Bran alive as a means of taunting Jon, or some other unknown purpose?
Until the final season arrives, we have nothing but time to catastrophize and come up with disaster scenario after disaster scenario after disaster scenario. And Game of Thrones will most assuredly deliver on many of those disaster scenarios. Here's the one thing we can say about the consequences of the Wall's fall with absolute confidence: the final six episodes of Game of Thrones will feature some of the most devastating sequences of destruction yet, as necessitated by where the show has left the story in the season seven finale. Heading into the homestretch, we're about to see a Westeros fully steeped in apocalyptic action. Winter is here, and it's here to stay, if the White Walkers have their say.
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