House of the Dragon‘s first season featured one of the most significant revelations in all of A Song of Ice and Fire. Aegon the Conqueror came to Westeros because he “foresaw the end of the world of men” at the icy hands of the White Walkers, and he believed the only hope to defeat the darkness was a unified Westeros led by a Targaryen. We learned about Aegon’s Dream when Viserys shared the secret with his daughter Rhaenyra. It was a vision the family’s kings had only ever told their own heirs. Or so we thought.

House of the Dragon‘s season two premiere has indicated the Conqueror shared that secret with an outsider, the Lord of a family Aegon knew would be the first line of defense when a “terrible winter gusting out of the distant north” began: House Stark. And that shared secret deepens the binds between House of the Dragon, Game of Thrones, Aegon, Jon Snow, the Targaryens, and the Starks.

Aegon Targaryen stands over his Painted Table map of Westeros and points as his siters look on
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House of the Dragon returned by returning us to Winterfell at the outset of winter. Season two also began with the voice of Lord Cregan Stark. He said, “Duty is sacrifice. It eclipses all things, even blood.” Those were no mere words, either. He said them as part of a ceremony we’ve never seen on either Game of Thrones show before. When winter starts, House Stark sends one in ten of its own kin, drawn by random lot, to join the Night’s Watch.

Most members of that ancient order are made up of “doomed men who had their life as their only possession.” Game of Thrones viewers know those doomed men—often rapists, thieves, and cravens—usually aren’t the best Westeros has to offer. The Night’s Watch needs capable, honorable fighters and leaders to keep those men in line. The Night’s Watch needs Starks.

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Even without that ceremony, though, Starks have served in the Night’s Watch since its inception. The family’s members have often served as Lord Commanders.

What makes this new piece of northern lore so monumental is who began this tradition and when. This “sacrifice” changes everything we know about Aegon Targaryen’s interactions with the Starks and the North, and, therefore, the “bastard” who will one day unite the Realm against the White Walkers.

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With the ceremony complete, Cregan Stark brought Rhaenyra Targaryen’s oldest son and heir, Jace, to the top of the Wall. Jace was on a diplomatic mission to secure support of major houses for his mother’s claim to the Iron Throne. The two talked about the first time a Stark swore an oath to a Targaryen, when King Torrhen Stark bent the knee to Aegon.

The current Lord of Winterfell then assured the prince, “Starks do not forget their oaths.” The North will keep the vow Cregan’s father Rickon made to Viserys when the King named Rhaenyra his rightful heir. However, Cregan also said he has an even more sacred oath that limits how many men he can commit to the Queen’s cause.

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“My gaze is forever torn between north and south,” Cregan said. “In winter, my duty to the Wall is even more dire than the one I owe to King’s Landing.” Jace did not understand why guarding against “wildlings and weather” was more important than stopping the Hightowers and saving the Realm from a war that will rip it apart. That is until Jace gazed out past the Wall in awe.

Cregan then told the story about how Jace’s great grandparents, King Jaehaerys and his wife Queen Alysanne, once visited this very spot with his father Rickon. From there, the two Targaryens watched as their dragons, “the greatest power in the world,” refused to cross the Wall. The implication was obvious even before Cregan spoke again. “Do you think my ancestors built a 700-foot wall of ice to keep out snow and savages?” Lord Stark asked the prince. When Jace then asked what the Wall does keep out, Cregan told him: “Death.”

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The Warden of the North’s comments show House Stark, even millennia after the First Long Night, always knew what the Wall kept out. That exchange also reflected a memorable and ominous moment from Game of Thrones‘ pilot.

In the original series’ premiere a visiting Benjen Stark, member of the Night’s Watch, discussed whispers of White Walker attacks with his brother Ned. Unlike everyone in else Westeros would for many years, the two did not dismiss or mock those reports. They spoke of the possibility with the solemnity of a Stark who knows, and has always known, “winter is coming.” House Stark’s ancient words were always a reminder of the real threat out of the darkness plotting its return.

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That’s what makes the timing and originator of the Stark Night’s Watch ceremony so significant. That’s actually an understatement. It’s among the most meaningful pieces of lore ever introduced to A Song of Ice and Fire. To understand why, we need to go back to the start of House Stark and House Targaryen’s relationship, a century before House of the Dragon.

Aegon Targaryen had already conquered most of Westeros when he turned his attention to the King in the North, Torrhen Stark. Torrhen had marched 30,000 men into the Riverlands to take their stand against the larger force of House Targaryen. But by then, Torrhen knew what Aegon, his sisters, and their dragons could do, both good and bad. The Targaryens had already ended the lines of ancient houses who had not bent the knee while empowering those who had. Aegon bestowed honors on his new allies and spared their people.

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Not surprisingly, some northern lords still wanted to fight, even though they must have known on some level they would lose. Instead, the evening before the battle, Torrhen sent his bastard brother and maesters to treat with Aegon.

George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood tells us “all through the night messages went back and forth” between the camps. In the morning, Torrhen did not fight as most expected of the northerners. Instead, he knelt as the King of Winter and “rose as Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North” for King Aegon Targaryen.

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Why did Torrhen kneel? Wouldn’t a Stark—-leader of a family that traces its ancient blood back to the First Men, who defended Westeros against the White Walkers long ago, who held firm against the Andals—rather go out on his shield fighting than kneel to a foreign invader?

Those obvious questions have always made Torrhen’s decision seem an easy one to explain. He was a wise ruler who didn’t let his pride get in the way of saving the people he swore to protect. But those obvious questions are also why that explanation has always felt incomplete. Why didn’t Torrhen Stark, at least, offer to fight Aegon Targaryen in single combat? He might have died, but it would have been an honorable death that still kept northerners safe from dragon flame. Without understanding what he was fully saying, on House of the Dragon, Jace provided the reason why.

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The prince told Cregan, “Surely the great Torrhen Stark would’ve sooner died than bent the knee. Unless he believed the Conqueror could bring unity to the Seven Kingdoms.” Cregan said that was right, but it’s not completely accurate. Before Aegon no one cared about unifying the Seven Kingdoms, especially the North, which was unlike any other kingdom. Torrhen Stark would not have knelt to Aegon Targaryen in the name of unity.

Not unless he truly knew what Aegon was unifying the Realm against.

Everything House of the Dragon revealed about Torrhen Stark—from why he kneeled to the Night’s Watch sacrifice he began right after he knelt—can be explained by something unsaid in words during that scene yet so obvious when taken as a whole: Aegon Targaryen told Torrhen Stark about his dream.

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The Conqueror believed the battle with the White Walkers would begin in the North. He even personally called his prophetic dream “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

Aegon trusted Torrhen with the most important secret in the world because only together, Stark and Targaryen, did the living have a chance against the dead. We know Aegon was right. Jon Snow, the son and rightful heir to the Iron Throne born from the love Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark shared, was the only one who could unite the Realm to stand against the White Walkers. Jon Snow’s song, as the prophecy foretold of the Prince That Was Promised did, in fact, promise, was a song of ice and fire.

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Did Torrhen tell his own heirs? That seems unlikely based on everything else we know of House Stark, but he didn’t have to. The Starks always knew what was lurking beyond the Wall, which is why Torrhen believed Aegon Targaryen in the first place. It’s why Torrhen started making sure the Night’s Watch had men from his own family who could lead them. It’s why Cregan Stark can’t send all his men to help Rhaenyra Targaryen. Winter has arrived, and that means the Night King might come with it.

Like in season one with Aegon’s Dream, this enormous revelation does more than just connect both shows. It’s also bigger than even the Starks and Targaryens and how important Rhaegar and Lyanna’s love will be one day. Its beauty goes beyond even that of the wondeful symmetry it creates, as King in the North Jon Snow—secretly named Aegon Targaryen—will one day kneel to a Targaryen ruler in the name of uniting the Realm just as Torrhen Stark once did.

This revelation gets to the beating heart of George R.R. Martin’s massive story.

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Without this bond between Stark and Targaryen, these houses of ice and fire, death would have done what Aegon and Torrhen both feared. Together, they began crafting the song that would save the world.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist who got goosebumps during Jace and Cregan’s scene. You can follow him on  Twitter and   Bluesky at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.