The article contains spoilers from ASOIAF, including a sample chapter of The Winds of Winter.
“The Other said something in a language that Will did not know; his voice was like the cracking of ice on a winter lake, and the words were mocking.”
A ranging beyond the Wall goes downhill fast after three sworn brothers of the Night’s Watch found more than they bargained for. Tasked with tracking some wildlings, young Will stumbles upon their corpses instead. But who butchered them? It doesn’t take long for the killers to show up and slay two of the rangers with ice blades.
Will falls to his knees, dismayed, and a dark figure throws something at him. It’s the head of one of the rangers, Gared. Before the screen fades to black, we hear voices that sound like cracking ice.
White Walkers do have a language! In the TV adaptation, it’s called “Skroth” and it was created by David J. Peterson, who also helped with the Dothraki and Valyrian languages.
Sadly, Skroth was dropped entirely from the show. Says Peterson:
“Basically, they just say, ‘Try to wow me.’ And then when my stuff doesn’t make it into the show, I figure, ‘Well, I failed.’”
I think the showrunners decided that the Night King and his lieutenants would be more scary if they remained silent. It is indeed unnerving to see those unnatural blue eyes and emotionless, dead-like faces.
There are noticeable differences, however, between the novels and the television show. The name was changed from Others to White Walkers, to avoid confusion with “the Others” from ABC’s Lost (who are mysterious but human nonetheless).
Their appearances also received an extreme makeover. Martin describes them as beautiful, like fairies or elves. That’s not the case with GoT’s White Walkers, and their gaunt, mummy-like looks. Certainly no one would mistake the Night King for Legolas!
Much like their book counterparts, the White Walkers have been lurking in the background for several seasons, increasing the size of their armed forces while the noble houses of Westeros wage war between themselves, ignoring the greater threat from beyond the Wall.
The novels have released information about them in dribs and drabs, offering only small peeks. After their appearance in the prologue of A Game of Thrones, which kick-started the plot, they were absent from A Clash of Kings, reappearing in A Storm of Swords in spectacular fashion: the fight against the wights at the Fist of the First Men.
Season 3 of the show glossed over this event because of budget constraints, but one of its most memorable elements (the undead polar bear) found its way to the TV adaptation in episode 6 of Season 7 (“Beyond the Wall”).
After the fight, when the survivors were retreating back to Castle Black, an Other attacks and it is then when Sam earned his “Slayer” moniker, stabbing the creature with a dragonglass dagger. This moment was kept in the show, albeit portrayed in a different way, at the end of episode 8 of Season 3 (“Second Sons”) when Sam prevents a White Walker from taking Gilly’s son away.
The scene wasn’t only an earned display of bravery from Sam, showing that he’s willing to risk his life to protect the people he cares about, but also showed that the White Walkers are vulnerable to dragonglass. Most importantly: they can be killed.
The Others didn’t make an appearance in either A Feast for Crows or A Dance with Dragons, the only exception being some wights during the latter’s prologue chapter, from the POV of Varamyr Sixskins. On the other hand, the show has been consistent in offering glimpses of the real enemy in every season. We got to take a look at the Land of Always Winter at the end of the fourth episode of Season 4 (“Oathkeeper”). We also saw the Night King for the first time, transforming Craster’s last son into a White Walker, thus confirming a long-running theory from the books.
The first proper confrontation came in Season 5, in one of the fan-favorite episodes, “Hardhome” (episode 8). Jon Snow and his crew barely survived the skirmish, but gained new allies and the knowledge that Valyrian steel can also kill the White Walkers. Plus, a hard look at what’s at stake if the army of the dead managed to march south, past the Wall.
Problem was, of course, that the Night King also managed to get some new recruits for his undead army.
The Night King as a character doesn’t exist in the books. So far at least. There’s indeed a character called the Night’s King, and when asked about it, George R.R. Martin played coy.
The confirmation that the Children of the Forest are the ones who created the White Walkers (the Night King being the first of them), shot down the theory that the two characters may be the same, or somehow related.
In the novels, the Night’s King was a Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch during the Age of Heroes, according to the legends anyway. He fell in love with a woman who had ghostly-pale skin, as white as the moon and cold as ice, and shining blue eyes. Based on that description, fans theorize the woman was an Other. The Lord Commander declared himself king, and made the mysterious woman his queen, and together they ruled the Nightfort (one of the currently abandoned castles of the Night’s Watch), demanding unholy sacrifices, until Brandon Stark, lord of Winterfell, and Joramun, the King-Beyond-the-Wall, put an end to their reign.
Neither this story nor the characters have been mentioned in the show, but it is narrated by Rose Leslie in one of the “Histories & Lore” featurettes from the Season 2 Bluray, with a couple of slight variations: that the Night’s King found her lover buried in ice, and that such story was made up by the free folk.
The Night King character was probably invented as a way to give a distinguishable face to these major antagonists, to serve as a nemesis for Jon Snow, and for the audience to root against. He also gives a sense of organization and leadership to the whole thing, because otherwise it would most likely look like your run of the mill zombie invasion.
Season 7 closed with the army of the dead finally breaching the Wall, thanks to the Night King’s new mount, and starting to pour into the Seven Kingdoms. The Great War is finally here.
What’s going to happen in the six episodes of Season 8 is anyone’s guess. If I was a betting man, I’d say the first half of the season is going to be about the battle against the Night King and his army, and the latter half will be a final confrontation with Cersei and the aftermath of both conflicts.
Bran has been at the center of many theories regarding the endgame. Many people think he’s really the Night’s King (already shot down by Isaac Hempstead-Wright, and really, this bonkers theory should’ve never taken flight, considering we saw the ‘birth’, so to speak, of the Night King).
Another theory suggests Bran was the reason Aerys went mad, and that the “Burn them all” was meant as an indication of what to do with the wights. Personally, I do not buy it. The Mad King may as well have shouted “Dragonglass!”
Any way of ending the conflict by time-traveling and preventing the White Walkers from happening, doing a ‘reset’ so to speak, would be unsatisfying in my opinion. I trust these characters will find a way to deal with the problem in present time. Maybe Sam will find something important in all the material he took from the library before leaving with Gilly?
I do think it’s possible that Bran will somehow warg into undead Viserion. I’m not really sure if it’s possible to warg into reanimated dead beings, but it would be one way to force the Night King to land and fight on his feet. The other possibility would be Rhaegal and Drogon fighting and defeating their undead sibling. But if either of them (or both) die during the confrontation, what would stop the Night King from claiming them for his army? Two dragons, or even worse, three, would render him unstoppable.
My personal Bran theory goes like this: the characters strap wildfire jars to his wheelchair. Then they’ll trick the Night King into coming for Bran, only to pull an Hector Salamanca on him.
All right, that was cruel. But being serious, unless he finds an important clue in one of his visions (maybe in a flashback of how the Children and the First Men defeated the Walkers during the Long Night?), I feel the dragon-warging theory is the most likely, as to how he could help. It would also fulfill the long-running fan desire to see him “flying” in the form of something far more imposing than a raven.
I think it’s likely that Jon will be the one who defeats the Night King, probably at the cost of his own life. If he does die during the battle, then maybe Beric Dondarrion will be able to bring him back the way he did with Catelyn in the novels. If not, then the hypothetical baby he’ll have with Daenerys will ensure the survival of House Targaryen. If Dany makes it to the end, that is- but I don’t think she’ll die. It is true that George said the ending would be “bittersweet,” but a victory for the Night King or Cersei would be a real downer. More bitter than sweet.
As to what’s in store for the Others in the books, George has promised that we are definitely going to see more of the Others. They do have to breach the Wall by the books’ end, if we consider that there’s only one more book after The Winds of Winter. Unless there’s a change of plans and an eighth book materializes.
An undead dragon (or an ice dragon) seems like a given, because I doubt the showrunners would have diverged from the story only to wink at fans who really wanted to see one. It is possible that there isn’t one in the books, but I don’t think it’s likely. Whether it is one of Dany’s dragons or not, remains to be seen. As discussed in my previous article, the Wight Hunt most likely won’t take place in the books, but that doesn’t mean the Others won’t get their hands on one of Dany’s precious fire-breathing children in some other way.
Perhaps the Greyjoys will be the ones who unintentionally make it happen, with the Dragonbinder horn. This horn, said to be made with one of the horns of a dragon, was allegedly found by Euron Greyjoy in the ruins of Valyria. Euron wins the kingsmoot with the promise that he’ll conquer Westeros by taking control of Dany’s dragons with the horn.
Whoever blows the horn dies (as we see when one of Euron’s men blows it and then collapses and dies later, with his lungs black, as if they were burnt), but the dragons will obey the horn’s master.
Victarion Greyjoy, a character that didn’t make it to the show, is currently in possession of the horn, and just reached Slaver’s Bay with the Iron Fleet, according to a sample chapter for The Winds of Winter.
If we assume there won’t be an undead dragon, that leaves us with the Horn of Winter, or Joramun’s Horn (there are lots of horns in this story, right?). It is said that this legendary horn (that hasn’t been found so far) can bring down the Wall, which turns it into a Chekhov’s Horn of sorts.
It can be only a story, or maybe the Others have it and will use it to destroy the icy barrier.
Should they have no Horn of Winter and no undead dragon, they can always climb the Wall with their ice spiders. Sadly, the spiders didn’t make it to the show, but arachnophobes around the globe sure are grateful. They sure sound cool in theory, but I can agree that the budget is better invested in the dragons and battle sequences. I mean, poor Ghost didn’t show up in the entirety of Season 7 (which is fine for me. A missing Ghost is a living Ghost. I do not want him to become a coat for the Night King).
Jon will definitely lead the charge against the Others in the novels, but his allies surely will be rather different than those in the TV adaptation. Tormund seems obvious, but the rest is more difficult to guess. Beric is dead, Thoros is with the Brotherhood and Lady Stoneheart (same for Gendry) and Davos is off trying to find Rickon Stark (this right here most likely means that the book version of “The Battle of the Bastards” will also be rather different. It is indeed interesting to realize how much ground there’s left to cover in the novels, whereas the show is about to reach the endgame). Whenever worlds collide in Martin’s story, I do not doubt it’ll be different than the screen version.
There’s much about the Others (and the White Walkers) that I doubt either the books or the show will answer, such as how their society works. Unless they only dedicate themselves to marching and killing anything that moves. How do they raise the baby Walkers? That is, Craster’s sons, after they’ve turned. Unless they grow up ridiculously fast, surely someone needs to take care of them.
I suppose they don’t need to sleep, to eat or to satisfy many other needs, but they aren’t reanimated corpses either.
Why aren’t there any female Walkers? It can be assumed that it’s because Craster only gave the boys up, so he could keep the girls, but was Craster their only provider? Is there a gender limitation to their magic, or some kind of bias? They don’t seem to be finicky when it comes to reanimated corpses for their wight army. Do they have a sense of humor, albeit a cruel one, or do they only laugh to make their victims feel nervous?
Nevertheless, it’s ok with me if we never find out the answers to these and many other questions regarding these creatures, since it adds to their mystery. When these sort of things get disassembled, and every part of them is explained, they stop being scary. Whatever makes the Night King tick (a desire for vengeance, or just an experiment gone awry?) I hope the show showrunners don’t reveal it.
I for one cannot wait for when the Night King unleashes the storm, despite it being more than a year away from our screens. I hope our beloved characters are ready for it!