Has Game of Thrones been hiding a secret curse since its very first episode?

Contains spoilers for the Battle of the Bastards

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This week’s Game of Thrones contained a particularly shocking moment, and just in case you clicked on this article by accident we’ll give you the chance to avoid finding out about it by letting you leave now, before this nice picture.

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Are they gone? OK then – we are of course discussing the death of Rickon Stark (Art Parkinson) in The Battle of the Bastards, the upshot of a cruel arrow game by Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) and Rickon’s own inability to zigzag culminating in one of the episode’s most shocking moments when he finally fell.

However, one fan has suggested that we needn’t have been quite so surprised by the sudden death – because if you go right back it was hinted at in the very first episode.

Think your way back to that halcyon time when Ned Stark was alive, none of us knew what Dorne was and Tyrion was actually blonde, specifically to the scene where King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) enters Winterfell’s courtyard to greet the Stark family. He doesn’t greet absolutely everybody, but notice who he does touch in the gallery below…

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Yep, that’s right – every member of the Stark family King Robert touches in this early scene later dies, from Ned all the way down to little Rickon, while those he doesn’t touch (Bran, Jon, Arya and Sansa) all survive to this day.

Sure, it could be a coincidence that he only touches Ned, Catelyn, Rickon and Robb, but just think about it – remember the piece of foreshadowing that took place in the very same episode, where a direwolf and a stag (the sigils of House Stark and House Baratheon) were found to have torn each other apart?

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It later became clear that this moment had great significance, as the Stark and Baratheon houses were indeed pulled apart later and almost completely destroyed – so who’s to say that the touch of the King couldn’t have been planned to have a similar foreshadowing effect, perhaps even connected to the dead animals’ message?

After all, it could be argued that it was indeed the King’s “touch” that ruined the fortunes of the Stark family – if it wasn’t for his desire to drag the Starks into the world of King’s Landing politics Ned would still be alive, Robb and Cat wouldn’t have gone to war and Ramsay wouldn’t have been in a position to kill Rickon. Really, as soon as he “touched” their lives everything started to go wrong.

It would also be a neat reversal of the historical practice of the royal or King’s touch, a laying of hands by French and English monarchs from the 11th century onwards that was (incorrectly) said to cure various diseases and conditions. How like Game of Thrones would it be to invert this real historical practice into something darker and narratively significant?

Of course we’ll probably never know for sure if this was an intentional plan (it’s not stated in George RR Martin’s source novels who he touches except Ned and Catelyn, but it never says he doesn’t touch any of the children) or just a coincidence, but if it is true we can at least take some hope. If those WERE all the Stark deaths we were supposed to get, Jon, Sansa, Arya and Bran still might stand a chance at making it to the end – and in this show, that’s about the best you can hope for.

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Game of Thrones season 6 concludes on Sky Atlantic this Monday at 2am and 9.00pm