The reason the books and the TV adaptation (until the less nuanced final season) are so extraordinary is the sheer amount of layering and foreshadowing. We know the six direwolves were linked to the fates of the six Stark children but it’s easy to overlook there is also another brutal and bleak message in that scene where they find the dead direwolf and her cubs. This moment doesn’t just change everything for the children, it is when Ned AND Catelyn’s own terrible fates and the way they would die were clearly marked by the gods. Not only that, but Robert’s death and HOW he died, too. Can you spot how?
EXCERPT 1: He (Ned) seemed troubled. Snow crunched under his boots as he moved around the body. “Do we know what killed her?
“There’s something in the throat,” Robb told him, proud to have found the answer before his father even asked, “There just under the jaw.”
His father knelt and groped under he beast’s head with his hand. He gave a yank and held it all up to see. A foot of shattered antler, tines snapped off, all wet with blood.
A sudden silence descended over the party. The men looked at each other and no-one dared to speak.
The following chapter is Catelyn’s and she has always been more in tune with the old ways. She tells her husband the news that his oldest and closest friend, King Robert Baratheon is coming. Ned is happy, but Cat’s reaction is another hidden warning the readers.
EXCERPT 2: She wished she could share his joy. But she had heard the talk in the yards, a direwolf dead in the snow, a broken antler in its throat. Dread coiled in her like a snake.”
Of course, on the surface readers will assume it is just a wife’s dislike of the treacherous court and fear her husband will be taken hundreds of miles away from her to a position he does not want in a world he does not understand.
But both scenes are actually reacting to the deeper and darker warning from the gods – and it’s all to do with those antlers. Three deaths were predicted that day.
The direwolf is the symbol of House Stark. And House Baratheon? A stag, of course. The two mighty animals had killed each other when they bodies were found.
Robert may be Ned’s best friend but he is also his doom. Bringing Ned to King’s Landing seals his fate.
What is even more extraordinary is that the stag killed the direwolf by driving an antler into its neck. Ned dies by beheading and Catelyn dies with a cut throat.
That opening scene also foreshadows Robert’s own gruesome end. The direwolf had gutted open the stag and the Baratheon king died after being gored in the stomach by a wild boar.