Game of Thrones fans are terrified that their favorite characters are going to die in this week's episode, but one popular fan theory may help explain which ones will make it out alive.
Warning! Spoilers through Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 3 lie ahead!
After two episodes spent preparing, planning and brooding in the walls of Winterfell, battle will finally be joined on this week's episode of Game of Thrones. Many fans expect there to be heavy casualties, especially based on the emotional high notes reached last week. Elsewhere online, fans have developed another interesting method of guessing who will survive the "Battle of Winterfell."
To understand this fan theory, we need to quickly outline two things: the faith of The Seven and a Trial of Seven.
The Faith of the Seven is the ubiquitous religious south of The Neck, where the new gods reign. Brought to Westeros by the Andals thousands of years ago, the religion proclaims that there is one god, but it is too great for humankind to understand. To make it easier, it is described in seven archetypal "aspects" — The Father, The Mother, The Maiden, The Crone, The Warrior, The Smith and The Stranger.
Meanwhile, the Trial of Seven is an ancient rite described in the source material novels, A Song of Ice and Fire and related texts. It is essentially a holy version of a trial by combat, allowing two teams of seven warriors to fight, thereby determining the guilt of a criminal or the winner in a land dispute.
So far, we haven't heard mention of a Trial of Seven in the show, although we have seen two major trials by combat. We have also heard a few mentions of "the old way," where two kings of champions decide a war in a one-on-one trial to spare the bloodshed of their armies. Jaime Lannister offered "the old way" to Robb Stark when he was taken prisoner, and Jon Snow offered it to Ramsay Bolton before the Battle of the Bastards.
So, this fan theory about who will survive the Battle of Winterfell takes all of that into account. It suggests that seven main characters will survive the onslaught, each one corresponding to an aspect of God from the Faith of the Seven. In the end, those survivors will face off against the Night King and six champions in a Trial of Seven for the fate of Westeros.
It is an interesting theory, described most succinctly by Reddit user EnjoyResponsibly earlier this month. It is worth noting that most of the main characters we are invested in do not even practice the Faith of the Seven, which author George R.R. Martin said is loosely based on medieval Catholicism. The worship of the old gods through the Wierwood trees is practiced in the north, particularly by Jon Snow. It is also the source of Bran Stark's Three-Eyed Raven powers and the magic of the Children of the Forest, who used it to create the Night King in the flashback we saw in Season 6.
Still, the show could unite these mythologies in the final battle, indicating that there is one essential truth that the many religions of Game of Thrones are all pointing towards. At the very least, it is an interesting way of guessing who will make it through this upcoming battle.
With that in mind, here's a look at seven characters that could match the archetypes of the new gods in the wars to come.
In the Faith of the Seven, The Father is often described as a judge and a protector. To many fans, this matches Jon Snow, who took the mantle of King in the North, not for power, but to unite and protect his people from the Night King.
Additionally, Jon was raised by Ned Stark, who taught him that "the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword." Jon has put this into practice, beheading Janos Slynt as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. He does not let others fight his battles for him, and in the end we may see him facing down the Night King himself.
The Mother is a nurturing, loving deity, and also protective of her worshippers. Throughout the series, characters have turned to her for mercy. Fans speculate that Gilly could survive the battle of Winterfell and come to embody The Mother as the show goes on.
Obviously, there are other choices for this archetype, but Gilly is actually a strong choice. Perhaps most importantly, she shares blood with many of the White Walkers, who were made out of Crastor's sacrificed children.
Still, if it is a trial by combat we are looking at, Daenerys Targaryen — the Mother of Dragons — could take on this role. However, many fans are convinced that the Khaleesi will have to die before this is all over.
Last week, Brienne of Tarth proved that it is possible to be both a maiden and a fierce knight. Brienne has literally been referred to as a maiden many times — albeit as a joke more often than not — and could be a strong ally in the War for the Dawn.
The Maiden represents beauty, love and innocence in the story. While that may call to mind a kind of Aphrodite figure, it is also a fitting descriptor for Brienne, who insists on being optimistic and idealistic even in a world that has proven to be bleak. However, for fans who are guessing character deaths based on emotional moments in last week's episode, Brienne seems almost certain to die in battle.
The Crone is a deity known for wisdom, foresight and at times even clairvoyance. She is often referred to as carrying a lantern, shining light to give her followers glimpses of the future where needed. To many fans, the obvious choice for the real-life Crone is Melisandre.
We know for certain that Melisandre has some level of clairvoyance, even though she has misinterpreted it throughout the show. We also learned that Melisandre is actually a wizened old woman back in Season 6, and uses magic to make herself appear young.
Melisandre has not been seen yet this season. She is not welcome in the North, where Jon said that if he saw her again he would put her to death. Still, if her powerful fire magic could help against the wights, he might find a way to change his mind.
Of all the characters on this list, Melisandre probably has the least regard for the Faith of the Seven. She is a zealot of R'hllor, the Lord of Light, and even makes human sacrifices to Him to fuel her magic. If she were identified as an aspect of the Seven, it would be a humbling moment for the Red Woman.
On Reddit, user H0use0fpwncakes suggested that Bran stark could be another strong candidate for this role. Bran is undeniably the key to defeating the Night King, and many other fan theories circulate around his contributions in the wars to come.
The Warrior represents strength and courage, particularly in battle — an important part of Andal culture. Many fans suggest that in the Trial of Seven, Sandor Clegane, aka The Hound, will fill this role.
Clegane represents the reality of what it is to be a warrior better than any other character. He is jaded by the whole culture of Westeros, even refusing to be knighted because he knows that the vows are not really upheld. Still, there are few who can defeat Clegane in battle, and he has shown courage in the face of insurmountable odds, magic, and even his greatest fear: fire.
To be fair, there are other strong candidates for The Warrior in this theory. They include Tormund Giantsbane, Jorah Mormont and Podrick Payne, to name a few.
The Smith represents "creation and craftsmanship" to worshippers, as well as the virtues of honest hard work. Obviously, Gendry is the easiest parallel here as the smith who made the dragonglass weapons for the upcoming battle.
Gendry's arc has been a compelling one, even if it was mostly consigned to the background. The young apprentice yearned for adventure, and did not like what he found. In the end, he ended up working the forge at Winterfell, where he found the best way to contribute to the survival of mankind.
Still, after last week's scene between Arya and Gendry, many fans expect at least one of them to die, lending a sense of tragedy to the battle. Arya will not go down easily, so most are betting on Gendry.
Finally, who better to embody The Stranger, the deity of death and the unknown, than Arya Stark? Arya trained with the Faceless Men overseas, worshipping the Many-Faced God of death. Yet it is heavily implied that the Many-Faced God and The Stranger are one and the same, particularly in the books.
There is no denying that Arya would be a huge help if a Trial of Seven is where this war is heading. She can adapt to any fighting environment with her eyes closed, literally. The only major loose end in her storyline is her departure from Braavos, where she stole the powers of the Faceless Men without joining their order. Many fans expect Arya to pay for this at some point, most likely with her life.
There is no telling whether this theory will play out in the coming episodes, or if it will be made explicitly clear if it does. It is true that intersecting mythology and religion is a major theme in both Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire, so it would make sense if this culture clash came to pass.
Still, there are those among us who cannot bear the thought of only seven survivors walking out of the Battle of Winterfell. Hopefully, there will be more, but we'll have to tune in this week to find out.
Game of Thrones airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.