The crypts of Winterfell have long been an important location on Game Of Thrones, ever since Ned took Robert to visit Lyanna's tomb in the series premiere. But the crypts took center stage in the marketing for the show's finale season, leading viewers to wonder what's in the Winterfell crypts that might figure into the endgame of this sprawling saga? Surely there must be something important down there…
Suspicions that the crypts would play a crucial role in the final season seemed confirmed when the very first teaser for Season 8 featured Jon, Sansa, and Arya wandering through the dark cavern, past the tombs of their ancestors. Further trailers and promotional pictures featured the crypts in conspicuous ways. Then the opening credits sequence was changed, going inside the clockwork castles of Winterfell and King's Landing to tour their intricate interiors — including the Winterfell crypts. All signs point to that location playing a bigger role than ever in the final six episodes. But why? What could be down there?
As expected, the imaginative Game Of Thrones fan base has come up with a lot of theories about this. Are the crypts hiding something that will help in the battle of Winterfell? Something that will prove Jon's true identity? Something the Night King is after? It depends on who you ask. Here are seven of the most compelling possibilities.
1. The Great Other
It's known why many of the castles in Westeros got their names, from Casterly Rock to Storm's End… but why is Winterfell called Winterfell? Could it be because it's the location where winter… fell? The castle was built by the same architect who built the Wall — the famous Bran the Builder — so could he have constructed the ancestral seat of the Starks for similar purposes? Perhaps he built the castle with magical reinforcements around the resting place of the Great Other (the god of death and evil who opposes the Lord of Light, R'hllor) when he was defeated at the end of the Long Night. If so, perhaps the Night King is heading there to unleash his god from his stony tomb.
Then again, why would you go to the trouble to build a massive wall of ice… and then construct it a good hundred miles north of where you've trapped the Great Other? If this theory is true, shouldn't the Wall be south of Winterfell, between the Great Other and the rest of Westeros?
2. The Night Queen
There's actually no character in the books called the Night King who leads the army of White Walkers and wights, but the show invention does borrow his name from a figure of legend in Martin's stories: the Night's King, who was the 13th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, before he fell in love with a woman with icy skin and blue eyes. He abandoned his post and took over the Night Fort as his castle, where he ruled alongside his Night's Queen… until Lord Stark rode forth from Winterfell to put an end to his reign of terror. If the Starks defeated the Night's King, could they have imprisoned his bride — who's clearly meant to be a White Walker — in their own crypts?
While the show's Night King isn't the same as the Night's King from the books, perhaps he could be heading there for a similar purpose: to rescue his Queen.
3. A Dragon
It has been a popular theory among book readers for years that there may be something related to dragons in the deep dark spaces underneath Winterfell. Some think it's a hibernating dragon waiting to be awoken. The castle was built atop hot springs that are described as being heated by the same "furnaces of the world" that also heated the Fourteen Flames of Old Valyria — another place associated with dragons; could those hot springs be heated by the literal breath of a dragon?
Others think there's a clutch of dragon eggs down there waiting to be hatched, since old Westerosi rumor has it that a visiting Targaryen left some there during the Dance of Dragons. Still others think those eggs have already hatched, born in the fires after Ramsay burned Winterfell at the end of the second book, and are roaming the North somewhere waiting to be tamed.
4. Rhaegar's Harp
If the crypts don't contain something ominous the Night King is seeking to unleash, or a dragon waiting to join the fray, the most popular theory is that the tombs hold something that will help Jon Snow prove the truth of his Targaryen lineage. Opinions differ on what that something will be. One popular idea is that Rhaegar's harp is buried with Lyanna in her tomb; the crown prince was a famous singer who often strolled around King's Landing playing for the common people.
But the show hasn't put much effort into establishing Rhaegar's harp as a noteworthy item; besides a brief mention by Barristan in Season 5, Rhaegar's musical talents haven't been discussed much, and you would think they would have introduced Rhaegar's harp in one or two of Bran's flashbacks if they were going to bring it up again in the present day.
Part of the Azor Ahai prophecy states that "the prince that was promised will bring the dawn," and will bear a flaming sword called Lightbringer. What if those two parts of the prophecy are directly related to each other? There is an actual sword in the world of Thrones called Dawn: the ancestral sword of House Dayne, wielded by Ser Arthur Dayne of Aerys' Kingsguard, dispatched by Rhaegar Targaryen to protect Lyanna Stark — and their newborn child, Aegon (aka Jon Snow) — at the Tower of Joy. Ned Stark and Howland Reed defeated Arthur Dayne in combat, and the current whereabouts of the knight's sword are unknown on the show.
What if the legendary sword is waiting for Jon in his mother's tomb? What if takes more than dragonglass or Valyrian steel to kill the Night King? Dawn's blade is said to have been forged from the metal of a falling star. (What's a meteor made of? Ice and fire.) Perhaps Jon will find the sword, which will become Lightbringer, the weapon to defeat the Night King, and he will literally be the one to "bring the Dawn."
Maybe the secret of the Winterfell crypts is something a bit more pedestrian than any of those outlandish theories. In Season 2, Maester Luwin urged Theon to abandon the castle, telling him he knew secret ways out of Winterfell. Based on the Season 8 trailers, it appears that the women and children (and Varys) will seek shelter in the crypts during the Battle of Winterfell, Helm's Deep-style. If the battle is lost and the castle falls, perhaps there are tunnels through which they can all be escorted to safety. Not as exciting as a slumbering dragon, perhaps — but more useful than a harp.
7. Dead Starks
If nothing else, one thing is certainly lurking down in the crypts, and that's dozens of dead Starks. Remember, the Night King possesses an ability that could make that trivial fact quite significant: the power to raise the dead. While Jon and Dany and their armies are fighting the White Walkers outside the walls of Winterfell, could the Night King raise the dead that are already inside Winterfell? A double-pronged assault from both within and without could prove deadly for our heroes — especially those seeking "safety" next to the tombs of those dead Starks.
With only five episodes left in Thrones history, it shouldn't be too much longer before fans finally discover the secret of what's hiding deep beneath Winterfell.