What felt like a strong possibility at the end of Season 6 now feels like a red-headed certainty — as the penultimate chapter of Game of Thrones looms, Sansa Stark is the key player in the great game. Forget Cersei's power struggle in the South, forget Dany and her dragons — it's the political machinations of the North which will define whether or not the White Walkers face a united army when the time comes.
The second trailer for Season 7 is frosty and Stark-centric, voiceovers from Petyr Baelish, Jon Snow and Sansa layering intrigue on top of intrigue, and it's Sansa's words which are laced with the most darkly ominous of rings.
"When the snows fall, and the white winds blow, the Lone Wolf dies... but the pack survives."
While it's impossible to know who she's talking to, much less who she's talking about, it's worth pointing out that this exact phrase appears in three separate chapters of George R. R. Martin's books — and all are Arya's, not Sansa's. Twice in A Feast For Crows, Arya recalls Ned quoting that exact phrase, suggesting that Sansa's recital of the words might be part of her reunion with Arya. In the heads of the sisters, Ned was the lone wolf (in King's Landing), and at least some of his pack survived.
Three Lone Wolves
But why bring Ned's words back to life if they refer exclusively to the past, rather than acting as a warning for what's to come? The very deliberate placement of Sansa's voiceover over the image of Jon, alone on the battlefield, is clearly designed to convince us that Sansa is forewarning of her brother's death. It feels too obvious, though. Is Jon really a lone wolf? He has the full backing of the North and of Sansa herself, unless Lord Baelish really is successful in getting inside her head.
Perhaps the lone wolf the passage refers to is in fact Littlefinger himself. It's plausible — the husband and killer of Lysa Arryn has orchestrated more chaos and deception than any other player in Westeros, never revealing his true motives to anyone until the moment he shared his endgame with Sansa in The Winds of Winter. If that "pretty picture" of him on the Iron Throne and her at his side became reality, he wouldn't be a lone wolf, but that assumes Sansa would sooner show loyalty to a man she knows to be a treacherous snake than to her own brother. It's a stretch.
If Baelish is the lone wolf, his own voiceover at the beginning of the trailer can be read in a different light, his advice to Sansa — "Don't fight in the North, or the South. Fight every battle, everywhere, always, in your mind" — perhaps becoming the very words Sansa uses to destroy Littlefinger. Is there a more deliciously poetic irony than pupil usurping teacher?
If there's a third candidate for the shadowy lone wolf, Arya feels like a good fit. She's been entirely alone, unable to trust and forced to fight for survival. She was separated from the pack the moment she became a girl with no name and shed her Stark skin. Like Rickon, it could be that Arya was never destined to return to her family, and the sadness with which Sansa speaks the words feels appropriate if it's the death of her only sister being hinted at.
It's worth remembering too that Arya's direwolf, Nymeria, has been in the wilderness since Season 1 and will finally return this season. In the books, Arya has the ability to warg into Nymeria, much like Bran, but the show has skirted that plot point. If Arya does die, perhaps her soul will come to inhabit the direwolf. That said, it feels like it would be the ballsiest death of the entire series, and it feels like it might be a distraction from the web of trust and deception in which Winterfell is entwined.
Hopefully, the Season 7 premiere will shed some light on exactly where Littlefinger, Sansa, Jon and Arya are headed — and which of them has seen their last winter. Game of Thrones returns Sunday, July 16 on HBO.