It Is Known: “The Winds of Winter”


Jon Snow (who dies and comes back to life), Beric Dondarrion (the previous recipient of R’hllor’s apparent fondness for resurrections), Benjen Stark (who cannot be saved from dying, but who is rescued from being raised again as a wight) – Game of Thrones’s sixth season has featured many characters who have faced down death in one shape or form and come back to tell the tale.

And lest this theme of resurrection get too lost in the narrative shuffle of what has proven to be a crazily wild year, the writing staff was thoughtful enough to include several more instances of more figurative rebirths: Arya Stark, who resoundingly turns her back on Essos, the Faceless Men, and the existential ideal of no one; Sandor Clegane, who emerges from his near-death experience more contemplative and in search of that elusive quality called meaning; and Theon Greyjoy, who returns to his home and (what remains of his immediate) family with the inadvertent goal of being a reformer, giving the ironborn their first female ruler (and a new, less-pillaging way of life).


But what is perhaps most interesting in “The Winds of Winter,” which inarguably has to go down as the show’s most dramatic and – in fear of uttering an overused word in the online space – epic finale, is how this central motif of death played out in a slightly different venue: houses or families, as opposed to individuals. This single installment sees a staggering array of familial institutions either die directly out or start to circle the drain, from House Baratheon (which is now completely extinct, with King Tommen’s death and Queen Cersei’s return to the appellation of Lannister) to House Tyrell (which is now left with a singular member: the elderly Lady Olenna, the Queen of Thorns) to House Greyjoy (whose older generation is dropping like flies and which doesn’t yet have a next generation to continue the family line). (And let’s not overlook those houses that were snuffed out earlier this season: Martell, which was annihilated in nearly one fell swoop, and the Boltons, which were triumphantly – and savagely – executed all throughout the year.)

This is a major reset in the Westerosi status quo, one that will result in an almost unprecedented changing of the guard: the title of Warden of the South now needs to pass from the Tyrells to another house. (Yes, the Starks lost the Warden of the North mantle to the Boltons, but only temporarily – and certainly through extraordinary means, as opposed to a hereditary dying out.) It is a development befitting the historic nature of the War of the Five Kings – never before has Westeros seen several simultaneous monarchs all vying for control of various parts of the kingdoms – and it’s also a move that befits the endgame of the series itself, as the remaining pieces get rearranged on the board for the final moves.


Indeed, as the War of the Five Kings, Game of Thrones’s opening conflict, makes way for the War of the Four Monarchs, the show’s closing conflict (assuming that the impending battle against the White Walkers gets folded into this internecine war, of course), the shuffling around of Great Houses is a necessary prerequisite for what will ultimately prove to be the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros’s final narrative composition; without the old guard falling, the emergence of King Euron Greyjoy, Queen Cersei Lannister, King Jon Snow (Stark?), and soon-to-be Queen Daenerys Targaryen would be utterly impossible, with either forbearers or authority figures blocking their turn at ever wearing the crown.

For as much as Game of Thrones is a story rooted in the inter-personal conflicts between individuals, it’s also a snapshot into the most intense period of Westerosi history – and, quite possibly, the time of its grand apotheosis or utter desolation.

Never has the fall of old houses – and the rise of the new – been more important.


You can view all previous It Is Known posts here. Or you can peruse my older column, Anatomy of a Throne, here.


  1. I wonder if Gendry will reappear next year. GRRM has said that Robert’s surviving bastards (though the show hasn’t cast the other two remaining ones from the books – I don’t think that’s a “spoiler”) will have a part to play in the endgame (in the books at least).

    Could Theon have fathered a child on the Captain’s Daughter in season 2 before he fell into Bolton Junior’s clutches? Of course such child would be illegitimate though I seem to remember in the books there was an occasion when (hundreds of years before the time of AGoT) an illegitimate child had succeeded in House Stark. I can’t remember exactly.

  2. Either: (Optimist)
    Azor Ahai saves everbody’s arse.

    Or: (Pessimist)
    Looks like they’re all fucked to me. For sure they will all have to bend the knee to Queen Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons, etc,etc, but hers will be a pyrrhic victory in that there will be nothing to rule over once the Others have trashed everything in sight.

    I think Osha had the right of it: get as far south as south goes and then build a big ship and set sail to find out what is west of Westeros.

  3. Excellent analysis. Looking forward to next season, I have a few predictions.
    1. The white walkers will get past the wall somehow (prolly after bran crosses it, executing the Magic the wall had to keep them from getting by, much as the WW were able to ambush the three eyed Ravens stronghold in “the door.” )
    2. The nights King will resurrect the old kings in the north from winterfells crypt. (That would be terrifyingly splendid)
    3. Arya will kill Jamie Lannister, steal his face and use it to ambush queen cersi, morbidly completing the prophecy that cersi’s Valonqar will choke the life from her!

    Out there as it seems, don’t put it past game of thrones to totally blindside you with twists and turns!

  4. Dame of Mercia:

    Could Theon have fathered a child on the Captain’s Daughter in season 2 before he fell into Bolton Junior’s clutches?

    I keep wondering about this loose end as well. In the books the captain and his ship are mentioned again, by the Mallisters when they join up with Robb’s army, but nothing about a pregnant daughter. It may be just a red herring, but a shred of hope lies therein anyway. Young Theon was quite the randy fellow, and could have by-blows all over the North for all we know (including, horribly, one or both of the miller’s boys he burned in place of Bran and Rickon). All he would need to do to legitimize one would be to marry the mother.

  5. Dame of Mercia,

    Now that Ironborn are back to the Kingsmoot days, they will choose their leader or take Asha’s children as heirs. Unless Theon’s bastard grows up to be a badass, (s)he’s got no chance. Asha could marry Qarl or Tris Botely or some other lord and have an heir. In ADWD,

    she does not get opportunity take moon-tea after having sex with Qarl. She thinks she should take moon-tea, but they are attacked by Stannis shortly afterwards. Afterwards Asha had too much in mind to think of moon-tea. I think in TWOW we’ll find Asha pregnant, and this may actually save her life – even Stannis won’t execute a pregnant woman.

    My hope for Robert’s bastards is that they will all become dragonriders and save Westeros. (Dany or someone will find and hatch more dragon eggs). That way Robert will have ‘actively’ done something good for the realm he ruled.

  6. if gendry, for whatever reason, should show up at winterfell, davos would know him as the bastard son of robert baratheon. jon, now being king in the north, would be able to legitimize his birth making him a true baratheon and heir to storm’s end, reclaiming the family name and line. one bastard proclaiming another bastard a trueborn? it’s been done before and no one other than sansa questioned it. tommen legitimized ramsey.

    my dear friend jorah,
    as president and founder of the daenerys targaryen friendzone club, i would like to submit my name to you for consideration of the position of vice president.
    recent event have caused me to realize we have much in common.
    sincerely yours,
    daario naharis

    sorry about all the ribbing i gave you on our road trip together while searching for her. it was all meant in good fun, mate. no hard feelings?

  7. “…never before has Westeros seen several simultaneous monarchs all vying for control of various parts of the kingdoms….”

    Actually that was the norm in Westeros for thousands of years pre-Aegon’s Conquest. The most recent 300 years where thjat hasn’t been the case is more of an unusual blip in contrast, and the War of the Five Kings was more like a return to normality.

  8. It’s interesting how this season saw the end of the legitimate, male line of many of the Great Houses. Martells, Tyrells, Tarlys, Baratheons, Boltons. I think Euron will never actually marry and produce a son through that marriage, so there goes the Greyjoy house too. Same with Jaime and the Lannisters (I don’t think Tyrion is a legit Lannister). The Starks are looking very iffy, because I doubt Bran will marry and produce a son. The Targaryen male line was long ago eliminated. So, no legit male heir to ANY of the houses soon….. 🙂

  9. All interesting perspectives, particularly when it comes to the new houses rising or the current Lordships or Ladyships prevailing. Remember on the first episode of the season, when Sir Davos sees the blood from Jon’s body be in the shape of a dragon. We now know that Jon is actually both a Targaryen and a Stark…

    What if he, the purely dark haired one, ends up marrying the Mother of Dragons with her platinum blond hair? Could that be plausible?

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