After almost two long years of waiting, Game of Thrones Season 8 has finally premiered on HBO. Our review of the premiere episode is here, but we have plenty more GoT goodness beyond that. We didn't learn anything new about the White Walkers from this episode, so read on for some speculation and questions we still have. For more theorizing, check out why the crossbow Qyburn gave Bronn matters, what weapon Arya asked Gendry to make for her, and 17 other Easter eggs, references, and callbacks to earlier episodes you might have missed. And for a deep dive into each episode of Season 8, check out GameSpot of Thrones with Westeros superfans Lucy, Ryan, Tamoor, and Dave each week as we count down the final six episodes of Game of Thrones.
The Winds Of Winter: George R.R. Martin Says Writing On Next GoT Book "Going Very Well Lately"If you take the events of the last few seasons of Game of Thrones at face value, the question "Who is the Night King?" seems easy to answer: He's an evil ice demon leading his forces south to annihilate the residents of Westeros with icy magic, rotting zombies, and even an undead dragon. That's pretty cut and dried.
But this is Game of Thrones, and in this complex fantasy world, explanations are rarely that simple. Who is the Night King, really--and what does he want? Why is he marching south? And is the Night King really evil?
Let's get this out of the way: The Night King is not, as one popular theory posits, Bran. Bran is not the Night King, and the Night King is not Bran. It's a stupid theory, and I would like to be done with it.
The entire purpose of the Three-Eyed Raven, which Bran has become, is to stop the Night King. If Bran was the Night King, why would the original TER have put so much effort into luring Bran into his cave and teaching him? If Bran is the Night King, his entire arc for the past seven previous seasons is completely meaningless and void.
That's not to say Bran is a hero in this story, as we've been led to believe. Bran could wind up being on the wrong side of this ultimate conflict, with his detached nature and the Three-Eyed Raven's dubious origins (the show made zero effort to explore the figure's backstory, so we have no idea who he actually is). But that doesn't mean he's going to go back in time, be transformed by ice magic, do nothing for thousands of years, and become a completely different person.
And just in case you're not convinced, Bran actor Isaac Hempstead-Wright shot it down personally, telling Radio Times the theory is too "obvious," "cheesy," and lacking in dramatic weight. So, yeah. Please stop with this.
Good or Bad?
Even once we accept that the Night King isn't Bran, we still know practically nothing about the character. Clearly he's a thinking, sentient being, and the White Walkers around him have a society and hierarchy all their own. They make armor and weapons, and they have their own culture and, presumably, language (we've never actually heard one speak).
So what is the Night King's true purpose? The stories passed down by humanity suggest that the White Walkers are a force of evil who arrive with the Long Night to murder everyone they can. But why? What are their goals? Why are they so hell-bent on traveling south?
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We learned during Bran's scenes in Season 6 that the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers in the first place to help them defend against the First Men, who were cutting down their forests as they settled Westeros. The White Walkers turned on the Children, who then joined forces with the Men to drive them back to the far north. So the story goes, but that doesn't really answer the question of "why." Hopefully the show elaborates on the White Walkers' background and goals more in Season 8, because if not, they'll be the first truly boring bad guys on a show otherwise filled with great and complex villains.
There's one other thing you need to understand about the Night King: He's an invention of the show. In other words, there is no "Night King" in the books. There's a "Night's King," who is actually completely different from the show's Night King; while if the White Walkers have a leader in the books, we've yet to meet him.
It's unclear whether the story of the Night's King in the books will have any bearing on the show's Night King, but it may be worth going over just in case.
In the books, the Night's King is a figure from legend and myth who is said to have lived thousands of years before the series' events. He was the 13th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch (for reference, Jon Snow is the 998th Lord Commander, so yes, a lot of time has passed). Legend has it the Night's King fell in love with a White Walker woman, took her as his bride, and ruled over one of the Watch's castles (the Nightfort) as a rebel of sorts, until an alliance of Northerners and Wildlings defeated him.
Author George R.R. Martin actually addressed the relationship between the show's Night King and the book's Night's King in a blog post in 2015: "As for the Night's King (the form I prefer), in the books he is a legendary figure, akin to Lann the Clever and Brandon the Builder, and no more likely to have survived to the present day than they have."
So yeah, according to Martin's own words, the Night King is an invention of the show, as the book's version is a figure from history who is no longer around in the present day. Whether the White Walkers in the books (or the "Others," as they're more commonly called) have a leader at all is something we might find out if George ever finishes the books.
And as for the Night King in the show? Hopefully we'll know more about him by the end of Season 8.