With an army of the dead arriving at Winterfell in Game of Thrones season 8, episode 3, could family patriarch Ned Stark rise from his crypt to join them? When Game of Thrones first began, it seemed clear that Ned Stark was the hero. The loving husband and father, newly appointed Hand of the King, hero of the rebellion... but, of course, Ned was shockingly beheaded at the end of the first season, marking the show as one that will happily murder the main characters.
Since then, fans have wondered if it's possible for the honorable Eddard to return (after all, this is a show where death isn't necessarily the end) and it may finally be happening at the Battle of Winterfell. Episode 2 ended with the White Walkers and their army of wights gathering on the road ahead of the ancient castle, and our favorite characters bracing themselves for a fight (and possibly for their deaths).
Ned did have a brief reappearance in a flashback/Three-Eyed Raven vision, when the audience (and Bran) learned the truth about the Tower of Joy and Jon's parentage, but this return would be Ned Stark in the flesh. Dead flesh, that is, if the Night King resurrects him from the crypts at Winterfell to fight in the White Walker army.
The Night King Can Use The Winterfell Crypts
Part of the plan that Team Winterfell has to keep people safe during the Battle of Winterfell is to put all the people who need protecting in the crypts (including Tyrion, Varys, and any other vital non-fighters). On the surface, this makes a lot of sense. The crypts are extremely well-protected, and as has already been shown when Theon (and then Ramsay) took the castle, they don't burn like much of the rest of the buildings, which is a serious concern given the number of dragons that will be involved in the battle. They are also relatively easy to seal off, preventing the wights from getting to anyone hiding there.
However, many fans have already pointed out that there's one serious flaw with this plan: the crypts are full of dead people - the Starks from days past. And the Night King has created his army by raising people from the dead. Rather than protecting the weak, putting them in the crypts may mean shutting them in with an army of undead Starks.
Why The Crypts Are (Theoretically) The Safest Place
Terrifying as the thought of the Night King raising the ancestral Starks is, there may actually be something already in place to prevent this. Several lines in the book reference a magical protection in place in the crypts at Winterfell, that would prevent the Night King from bringing anyone back to life. One of Old Nan's tales (the same tales that included the White Walkers themselves) says: "They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun, and every creature with hot blood in its veins." It's definitely true that wights hate fire, but the iron? That may refer to the swords that the Starks in the crypts are buried with.
These swords are traditionally left with each Stark in the crypt, and are described as being there to keep them from wandering: "By ancient custom an iron longsword had been laid across the lap of each who had been Lord of Winterfell, to keep the vengeful spirits in their crypts." At first, this seems to be a superstition against them coming back as ghosts, but given the connections that the Starks have with the Wall and the Walkers, it makes sense that it is actually to prevent them from being resurrected.
Whose Swords Are Missing?
If the swords work, that means the people hiding in the crypts are safe... but there's a problem with this: some of the swords have been taken. After Winterfell was taken by Theon, some of the swords were removed by Bran, Meera, Jojen, Osha, and Rickon when they were hiding there. Meera takes a sword from Rickard (Ned's father), Bran takes the sword from Brandon (his uncle, Ned's brother), and Osha takes the sword made for Ned. Without these swords, it may be that whatever spell would keep the dead in their tombs is broken, and either all the dead Starks can rise, or just those three... which means that Zombie Ned is in the cards.
Should Ned return as a wight, it would be a suitably brutal Game of Thrones twist: the hero of the beginning becoming an enemy of the end. One of the trailers also showed Arya, the unflappable assassin, running through the crypts with blood on her face looking terrified. Almost nothing scares Arya after her training, but seeing her resurrected wight-father might just do it.
Ned's return would also be a great fit with the way that the current season of Game of Thrones has been all about bringing things full circle. The first two episodes of the eighth season have featured multiple callbacks to the earlier seasons, and fans would love to see Ned one last time - admittedly, not quite like this. Zombie Ned would also need to be killed, which could be an interesting follow-up to Jon's reaction to finding out that he had been lied to about his parentage his whole life. Could Jon be the one to swing the sword and kill his undead 'father'?
Is Zombie-Ned Too Crazy, Even For Game Of Thrones?
Of course, this is all very much in the realm of speculation, and while anything can happen on Game of Thrones, that doesn't mean that it will. While Osha, Meera and the rest did hide in the crypts, the swords they took were a much bigger deal in the books than in the series, and the idea of the crypts being protected by magical iron may never come up. While it would be fascinating to see Ned Stark return, this may just be a little too much to add in to an already-packed battle sequence... but fans will just have to wait until the episode airs to find out.