Beyond The Wall

The Story Behind the Creepy Spiral in the 'Game of Thrones' Premiere's Scariest Moment

game of thrones season 8 spiral
HBO
This post contains spoilers for the Game of Thrones Season 8 premiere episode, "Winterfell.' Visit Beyond the Wall, our official Game of Thrones hub page for recaps, theories, spoilers and explainers.

The White Walkers love an art project, and the season premiere of the final stretch of Game of Thrones episodes only seeks to reaffirm that. In one of the last scenes of the episode, Tormund Giantsbane, Beric Dondarrion, Eddison Tollett, and friends, who somehow survived the Night King's attack on the Wall, are patrolling the Last Hearth and come across the latest creepy masterpiece from our undead friends. It's a small boy from the House of Umber, strung up and surrounded by severed human limbs, arranged in a familiar spiral pattern.

Earlier in the episode, we saw this child, Ned Umber, head of the decimated House Umber, being ordered by Sansa to bring his people to Winterfell as protection against the Night King's advancing army. Turns out that return journey to Last Hearth was ill-timed: It appears that the big bad -- last seen in the Season 7 finale burning down the Wall with his new ice dragon -- managed to intercept the boy. How? We're not exactly sure, but the upshot is that Ned's dead.

The moment allows for one of the most perfectly executed jump scares in series history, as the child's eyes open and his head turns behind our friends as they plot out their next move. But there's also probably greater significance to the symbol our undead friends left behind. The spiral and related shapes have continually popped up in iconography related to the White Walkers.

HBO

Where have we seen this before?

The very first time we were even introduced to the concept of the White Walkers -- during the cold open of the entire series -- they left a bunch of dismembered wildlings arranged in a circular pattern. Thus, the poor Umber kid's fate is, in some ways, a callback to the pilot.
 

But beyond that there are plenty more examples of this kind of creativity. When Mance Rayder's men, along with Jon Snow, stumble across a spiral of horse parts in the Season 3 episode "Walk of Punishment," he grumbles: "Always the artists," a grim joke at the White Walkers' proclivities.

HBO

The more useful explanation for where these designs come from stems back to the ancient Children of the Forest. When Bran journeys through time with the Three-Eyed Raven in Season 6 -- just before Hodor meets his unfortunate end -- there's an overhead shot of the Weirwood tree where the Children created the first White Walker. It's surrounded by stones arranged in that familiar spiral pattern. We later see that same image, covered in snow. There's undeniable significance to the fact that the White Walkers keep returning to this image of the spot where they were born when Children decided to stab a man in the heart in a misguided effort to stop their own slaughter. Update: In an interview with the New York Post,  episode writer Dave Hill explained that the Night King "adopted the symbol as a sort of blasphemy, like Satan with the upside-down cross." 
 

HBO
HBO

In season seven's "The Spoils of War," Jon takes Daenerys to the caves of Dragonstone where he shows her the carvings left behind by the Children of the Forest. There, he explains how the First Men and Children of the Forest banded together to fight their common enemy during The Long Night; He doesn't explain what the purpose of all those little swirls are.

HBO

So what does this all mean?

Honestly, even the Reddit theorizers are perplexed by this one, even though many think it's some sort of clue. Some have connected it to the Golden Ratio in mathematics, which would imply it references a harmoniously perfect ideal; elsewhere, that notion has been dismissed. Other speculation hones in on the fact that the spiral often has seven arms, perhaps a nod to the seven kingdoms. In an earlier post-episode talkback Benioff offered little explanation for its recurrence. "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, and it makes sense that they would be in this world as well."
 

What about the House Umber?

Poor kid, right? Well, there's maybe some sort of cosmic payback at work. Let's not forget the Umbers, specifically Smalljon, sold out the Starks to Ramsay Bolton, leading Rickon and Osha to their deaths. Sure, Ned pled fealty to the Starks, but karma's a bitch.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.