Cersei Lannister once said that "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die." In a rare moment of wisdom from an alcoholic whose own questionable judgment has too often been clouded by bitterness, hate and an unfortunate taste for incest, that statement has been proven true more than once over the course of six seasons of a show which rarely shows any mercy to its key players.
Now, with Daenerys on the verge of a grand return to Dragonstone, a Lannister seated upon the Iron Throne with practically zero allies, and a freshly-formed but fragile Stark alliance in the North, the game Cersei spoke of has reached a turning point. The game of thrones will soon be won — but first comes death.
The question of who wins and who dies is one even George R. R. Martin may not know the answer to — and even if he does, those final two books are beginning to look horribly mythical. But a new theory posted on Reddit suggests that there's a clue to the eventual outcome of #GameOfThrones hidden in Martin's original title for the seventh and final book.
A Time For Wolves
It's worth pointing out that the theory is more relevant to the books than the TV show, which since Season 6 has been taking far more liberties with the source material — still, Benioff and Weiss have been armed with Martin's notes, so it's fair to imagine that the destination will be the same, even if the paths taken to get there differ.
Here's the thrust of the theory: Redditor zroberts1207 observes that 'A Time for Wolves,' the original title of book seven before it became 'A Dream of Spring,' could represent a major hint that the House Stark will be wiped from the great game before a winner is crowned.
For more epic 'Game Of Thrones' dissection:
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Probably the most compelling piece of evidence for this theory is a line spoken by Leaf, one of the ancient Children of the Forest who, in Season 6's epic 'Hold The Door,' sacrificed herself to keep Bran and Meera alive. In 'A Dance with Dragons,' Leaf tells Bran:
"The giants are almost gone as well, they who were our bane and our brothers. The great lions of the western hills have been slain, the unicorns are all but gone, the mammoths down to a few hundred. The direwolves will outlast us all, but their time will come as well. In the world that men have made, there is no room for them, or us."
If you're big into symbolism (and Martin sure is), you might buy the idea that the direwolves Leaf refers to are a metaphor for the House Stark, in which case "their time will come" in a conversation about death feels pretty ominous. But to analyse the sentence on a micro level (as in, the Starks' time will come within a couple of years, in the context of this battle for the throne) rather than to see the bigger picture (their time will come eventually, not imminently, because everybody's does and war is cyclical) feels a little foolhardy.
I think it more likely, though, that the entire conversation is free of subtext, and refers simply to the imminent extinction of magic and the mystical on Westeros, rather than specifically foreshadowing the fates of the Starks. On top of that, it would be dangerous storytelling ground to wipe out the one family for whom it's always been easiest to root in a series filled with selfish, largely unlikeable characters.
On balance, I'm dubious of this theory. Depending on how determined you are for the Starks to see vengeance done and ultimately emerge victorious in the great game (and I am), 'A Time For Wolves' could also be read in entirely the opposite way — as a sign that, having weathered various storms and seen their family torn apart by various outside forces, the rulers of the North will finally emerge resurgent.
Why else have we seen Arya, Bran, Jon and Sansa (particularly the female characters) go on journeys of self-discovery, training to be an assassin or becoming versed in the arts of politics and war? What was it all for if they're ultimately destined to die? While the young Starks have travelled those respective paths, their enemies, not least Cersei, have been spiralling, doomed to repeat the same mistakes. That doesn't feel like a logical series of events if you believe that the Starks are done for.
And if you really don't feel like committing to either outcome, you might point out that a genius like Martin probably wouldn't be stupid enough to put a massive spoiler in the title of a book announced long ago. There's every chance 'A Time For Wolves' (although clearly a reference to the Starks) actually represents something much more oblique than outright victory or defeat.
You can take a deeper dive into the Reddit thread here (or check out a similar discussion about Leaf's words here) and draw your own conclusions about whether the Starks will survive either the seventh book or the eighth season of Game Of Thrones.
Will the House Stark make it out of the great game alive, or were they always destined to die?