What does it mean? Where did it come from? Let’s investigate.
[Ed. note: Spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 5, “The Bells,” follow.]
The final scene of Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode sees Arya Stark wandering through the wreckage of King’s Landing. Miraculously, she’s managed to survive the ravaging of the city, and, just as Ben Affleck’s Batman saw a white horse in the ashes of Metropolis, Arya sees a white horse in what remains of the Red Keep.
That Arya survived seems improbable, so the fact that a horse also made it through the ordeal scot-free is particularly strange, to the point that it’s impossible not to theorize as to what the horse’s appearance may mean for what will happen on the final episode of the show.
The horse means Arya is Death
The most on-the-nose symbolism is that of death and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on it was Death,” goes the Book of Revelation.
It’s a fitting reference given Arya’s story arc and transformation into ruthless killer, perhaps indicating the fact that the last of her human tenderness — as per her surprise at Sandor Clegane effectively saving her life and her attempts at getting civilians out of harm’s way — has now dissipated. It also serves as something of a complement to her catchphrase (“What do we say to the god of death?” “Not today.”), perhaps indicating that she has now taken on that mantle, and now is the one who will take on the new Mad Queen.
However, it’s also a reference to Christian religious imagery that doesn’t totally jive with the high fantasy of Game of Thrones.
The horse is secretly a Stark family member
Some have begun theorizing that Bran (otherwise absent from the episode) warged into the horse and came to save his sister, while others have also pointed out that Ned Stark’s horse near the beginning of the series was a white one. Neither of these options seems totally out of the realm of possibility, though Bran warging seems more likely than Ned returning to the show. (If Ned was going to come back, it should have been in the crypt, right?)
The horse is just a horse
Of course, there’s always the chance that the incredibly convenient horse was just a horse. It might not actually have any significance to the show; it just happened to come along at a moment that doesn’t really make sense and begs for overanalysis.
That said, it’ll be disappointing if this is the door the show ends up taking, as it’s a striking moment in an episode that’s full of surprises, on a show that has a history of using animals in order to get points across. Jon abandoning Ghost in favor of a dragon is the biggest example of Game of Thrones’ animal symbolism. Arya’s direwolf, Nymeria, is still out there, but we haven’t seen her since season 7. Arya bonding with a new animal (not counting the Hound — sorry, too soon) seems like a hint. At any rate, it’s one more mystery to be solved in next week’s final episode.