In a television show full of death, magic and prophecies like Game of Thrones, everything has a hidden meaning. Especially the reoccurring spiral symbols. The haunting mark was a catalyst for fan theories and subtle foreshadowing of the impending Army of the Dead that the humans would finally have to face in Season 8, but their meaning lies in their rich history.
The symbol is first seen in the very first episode of the series, back when everyone was none the wiser to what was actually hiding Beyond the Wall. A man of the Night’s Watch finds an abundance of corpses lying in a circular pattern, and while it’s not the exact spiral design, it’s still creepy enough to remember as one of the very earliest indications of the White Walkers. In Season 3, Episode 3, Jon Snow and a crew of Wildlings find a spiral of dead horses laid in the woods. Mance Ryder casually comments on the motif, clearly showing that this is often seen beyond the Wall, where the White Walkers live. In the Season 8 premiere the symbol is seen again, as the young Lord Ned Umber is found nailed to a wall surrounded by limbs representing the Night King’s artistic vision. Yet before this threat, Game of Thrones actually featured a flashback describing the origin of this particular spiral design.
The Spiral Symbol’s Origins
It’s worth noting that the spiral motif wasn’t original to the White Walkers, but to the Children of the Forest. The Children, a possibly extinct race in the Game of Thrones continuity, were the first inhabitants of Westeros. Jon and Daenerys discover drawings in a cave on Dragonstone which depict the alliance between the Children and the First Men to defeat the White Walkers in the War for the Dawn, along with the ancient symbol, distinctly showing how sacred the symbol was to the Children.
Bran also finds the pattern made out of stones under a weirwood tree where the Children created the first White Walker, who would ultimately become the Night King. The sequence shows the Children driving a shard of dragonglass into a heart of a man to create White Walkers — all to protect them from the invading First Men.
The White Walkers Stole The Symbol
Eventually the White Walkers broke free of the Children’s control and became figures of fear in Westeros. The Night King led the group of ice creatures from Beyond the Wall and into the land of humans, where they waged war to turn every human into a creature of death. The show doesn’t explain why the Night King steals the Children’s sacred symbol, but the writer of the Season 8 premiere, Dave Hill explained that the Night King adopted it “as a sort of blasphemy, like Satan with the upside-down cross.” By those standards, the Night King chose the established symbol of the Children as an act of rebellion and a display of power over the Children.
Although the cave depicts the union between the Children and the First Men, it doesn’t portray the full truth. The Children hid the fact that they created the White Walkers for thousands of years until Bran met them during his training as the Three-Eyed Raven. The Night King could possibly be using the symbol as a revenge against the Children, for turning them into blue, icy creatures. It could also be a reminder to the people of Westeros of their defeat in the War for the Dawn, foreshadowing what they believed to be another victory. It could also just be a symbol of rebirth, as that’s what a spiral signified in ancient cultures.
There’s even the possibility that the symbol is connected to the Targaryens. By comparison, the House Targaryen motif is eerily similar to that of the White Walkers with the dragons formed into a circular motion. Though Game of Thrones never made that connection, the prequel series House of the Dragon could address the coincidental resemblance if relevant to the overall story. For now it’s simply just a haunting reminder to the Children and mankind of the damage the White Walkers created both as humans and the dead.