What are the amazing secrets hiding behind the Crypts of Winterfell?
Of all castles and structures in AWOIAF, none is more haunting and impressive than Winterfell. Built eight thousand years before the story started, Winterfell started out as a vast expanse of land with walls all around it, crypts and a tower.
Brandon the Builder, the legendary Stark from the age of heroes, is told to be responsible for advising on the architecture of the seventh castle for king Durran Godsgrief, Storm’s End, the one castle that survived the wrath of the sea god throughout history; building High Tower, the seat of House Hightower in Oldtown, a tower so high that it towers over the wall itself; and also the Wall, the magical structure that marks the limit of the world. Although I don’t personally believe Brandon the Builder built the Wall, it does seem that he was involved in some part of it.
The Stark is a family that comes from a long line of heroes and that has a significant amount of magic in their history. Beyond the evident warging that all Stark children do to their respective direwolves, they have their line traced further back than any other family in the story. The members of that lineage have done impressive deeds and their words point to the significance of their role in the events to come.
The title of "king" is of major importance. A king is a person who rules over a place or a people. The king of Westeros, rules over the Westerosi. Kingship came with strife, wars, and more often than not, with conquest. Unknown to the reader is the reason why the Stark family is called "kings of winter", seeing they neither ruled or controlled said season. Unless they did control the Winter, but not the season and that is likely the reason why Winterfell came to be.
The regions in the world have castles aptly named for their historical significance or description. Easily enough, the Red Keep is a castle built with red stones; Storm’s End is the castle where the Storms ended; Riverrun is where the river runs; on the wall, the eldest castle is named the Nightfort, as it was a fort for the Night’s Watch as well as the place that was the seat of the “Night’s King”, as per the description offered in a few Bran chapters, one Samwell and one Jon chapter, and then again in A World of Ice and Fire, often referred to alongside the corpse queen, so the Nightfort at that time was the fort of the Night’s King. The names continue on to describe Casterly Rock, the rock where the Casterly lived; Dragonstone, the stone castle of the Targaryen; the Tower of Joy, where prince Rhaegar was happiest, and so on and so forth. Winterfell, however, is not the castle furthest north, it’s not the coldest castle either. As a matter of fact, it was built over hot springs. Considering the immense efforts necessary to build high walls and towers eight thousand years ago, the question that requires consideration is not if Winterfell is where the season falls, but rather why build such high walls surrounding so much land to have inside it one single tower. Towers were originally built to offer men standing atop it a higher ground to see from a better position. It is clearly described that within the walls of Winterfell, there were hills and valleys. An amazing architect like Bran the Builder could put together constructions like Storm’s End at the edge of a rock and High Tower at a time where construction couldn’t easily stand the test of time, could level all land but couldn’t level the land that would be his own family’s keep? GRRM is a writer who pays attention to every detail but wrote Winterfell entirely incongruous. Or perhaps he did write it filled with logic and harmony and we, readers, aren’t paying attention.
The Wall was built and supported by the realm as it served as means for punishment for men. As a matter of fact, throughout my life, men who raped were given the option of going to the wall or being castrated. Thieves lost their hands, traitors lost their heads, agitators lost their tongues… And those who weren’t willing to have their body parts removed, would go to the wall, which served the realm and rid it of criminals at the same time. If those criminals came from wealthy families, they could be exiled. The Wall serves as a prison system of sorts where the criminals worked rather than simply staying enclosed at the cost of the realm and the system works as excellent punishment considering living conditions are harsh and the penalty for deserting is death.
The only thing that fans seem to miss is that George R.R. Martin has always made it clear that he is a conscientious objector of war and throughout his books he shows clearly that wars hurt everyone, the rich, the poor, the land, women, children, animals… Everyone dies, whether that person has a rightful claim or insurmountable power, strong armies, cunning and control, everyone suffers, and everyone dies at wars and everyone suffers with that. It didn’t matter if Robb Stark was rightfully avenging the injustices done against his father, it didn’t matter if Ser Jaime was defending his family, it didn’t matter if Joffrey was king, it didn’t matter if Theon was brave, it didn’t matter if Lord Commander Mormont’s cause was just… War hurts everyone and the consequence of war can be seen throughout the books in so many of Lady Arya’s, chapters, then Lady Brienne’s, lady Catelyn’s, ser Jaime’s and ser Davos’s. It is hard, therefore, to accept, that after such clear message that wars are evil, the books have to end in yet another war.
Although the Wall could work as a correctional facility of sorts to men, there seems to be a piece of history missing in what concerns the end of the Long Night all those years ago. The story is told to point out that every single encounter has a reason for happening. Every single action has a reaction, and nothing seems to be dismissed. The stories are very tightly connected, and nothing stands alone. The end of the Long Night leaves too many open questions. Evidently, the Wall was built to separate the world, and it is not for nothing that Brandon the Builder is mentioned in every single book to date. His importance is incredible and the truth of his myth hides in the crypts of Winterfell, but although Brandon the Builder had vast experience in building, he had done that with rocks. What can be maintained as real is that nobody who is successful with what they do will change methods without a legitimate reason. It is said that Brandon the Builder then, without any such experience in dealing with ice or its unique properties, a man who obviously understood that ice could melt, went ahead and built a wall of ice to protect the world against ice creatures. That logic is surrounded by absurdities. It is said that Bran the Builder built the wall with the assistance of the Children of the Forest and Giants and protected it with ancient spells and sorcery. Why would Brandon build it using ice considering it was not a widely available material? On that note, if we stop to consider it for a minute, which creature has the power to manipulate ice? Not to mention, the Others have ice spiders and I’m sorry to point it out, but in Westeros, spiders climb walls. Why can’t ice spiders climb an ice wall?
Surely the maintenance of the Wall is not easy. Does the Night’s Watch even notice if a fissure is created in the middle of the wall facing north? Does the wall heal itself? How come Wildlings can’t put together that between gravity and heat they could melt that thing down and no horn would be necessary? Furthermore, it’s been eight thousand years of people walking on the wall, keeping fires atop it, summer, summer rains and all sorts of wear and tear that are simply expected, but the wall is not falling and it is clear to the reader that there aren’t enough men to keep the wall, which suggests that entire segments of it haven’t been checked or preserved for many years, but the structure isn’t weaker or falling apart. That is to say, the wall most definitely holds magical properties. But how come the Others - who basically will ice structures into existence and have created magically resistant and amazingly strong, armours and weapons – and who were still around as the wall was being built, didn’t kill the builders and made them work for their cause instead? It seems to make better sense to say that the Others built the wall themselves. Not only do they have the capacity and the skill, but also, where would Brandon get all that ice? If they were breaking ponds and rivers, the wall would have dried several of those and it would still not be enough, after all, we are talking of three hundred miles wide and seven hundred feet tall. (that is 482.8 km wide per 213 meters tall). And what could make the Others agree to a pact with men or what could make men get an upper hand against the Others when we’ve seen since the very prologue in A Game of Thrones that we don’t stand a chance against them? That is the part that becomes more evident , which is the clear possibility that although the wall served as a correctional facility/military camp for men, Winterfell was built to keep the Others.
It is clearly stated throughout the story that the Others are more than simply winter creatures, but that they bring the winter and are referred to as Winter themselves. Once again, king is the one who rules over a place or a people and the Starks were called “The kings of winter”. They lived in a warm keep built over hot springs called Winterfell and their words sound like a warning: “Winter is coming”. There was originally no castle in their vast expanse of grounds. Instead, they had high walls, a tower and crypts. Despite the warmth of the hot springs in the land, and the warmth was considerable enough that even lady Catelyn described the walls of her chambers as warm to the touch, the crypts were always cold. The inconsistency of that cannot be ignored. How can one go down, which means closer to the source of the heat for the springs, but get colder? Equally, why chose that location if they were primarily only a place to keep the body of their dead? Keeping the bodies in warmth seems less than ideal.
Old Nan gives us plenty of great answers when she tells her stories to young lord Bran, explaining that the Great Others hated warmth and iron. The vaults of Winterfell coincidently had both, warmth due to their unique geographical location and iron, which were the swords across the laps of every statue in the crypts. Built like a prison, with a tower to keep watch, the land didn’t have to be leveled because it wasn’t built to become a residence. It seems that Winterfell has its name following the same tradition of the other keeps in the land, that one was the place where Winter fell. It is rather interesting the convenience of the story that parts of the crypts have collapsed blocking access to the lower chambers. It is also interesting that there must always be a Stark in Winterfell.
As magical people and surrounded by the magic of the Children of the Forest who helped with so many issues back in the day, it seems that the Stark that must always be in Winterfell is there for a reason. The Starks are the “kings of winter” and their presence is guaranteed by the same blood magic that the Children seem so comfortable with performing. The Wall also had plenty of blood sacrifice, which means the magic stands the test of time because of said magic, however, when Winterfell is found with no Starks within its walls, something radical starts to happen and although the characters cannot see it, as they can’t be in two places at once, the readers have no way of missing it. Winterfell is cold. So cold in fact that both Theon and Jeyne, used to the north, suffer with it. It’s cold enough that men are dying, and winter is so severe there that the snow is sufficiently high to bury standing men. On the wall, however, Jon clearly states that it is cold, but not “dangerously cold yet” and the sun was still bringing warmth to the wall.
It seems that the Great Others fell in Winterfell, making the Stark family kings of Winter. As they had a pact and not the end of the Others, they kept the words as a warning: Winter is coming. Will men understand the meaning now that the Others have returned?