Time for some human geography about our favorite super-strong, zombie-creating would-be conquerors.
The White Walkers appeared in the very first scene of the very first episode of Game of Thrones. We were introduced to them before the steam punk map opening and the epic music you hum when you think no one can hear.
Winter is finally coming, and with it come the White Walkers. But now, five seasons later, we don’t know all that much more than we did before. Here’s what we know about the White Walkers…
The Land of Always Winter
We don’t know what all there is in the Land of Always Winter but we do know it is the domain of the White Walkers. We saw it briefly in season 4, episode 4, “Oathkeeper.” The White Walkers have been missing from Westeros for centuries. So long that most of the main characters believe them to be a myth. However, we know they are very real and they threaten the Wall and Westeros as Winter falls. It is even possible that the White Walkers cause the cold, (to refer to another fandom, similar to the way the Dementors in Harry Potter affect humans as they approach). They may be the reason the seasons in Westeros are out of balance.
What they have been doing for all this time remains a mystery. It is possible they were in some form of hibernation and only wake when an especially long Winter is coming. Or that they were simply happy to leave the humans alone for all this time. Or it is possible they woke because magic is returning to Westeros. Or maybe humans are just trespassing on their land too often. Whatever the case, something woke them, or reminded them of the humans’ presence. They are coming for Westeros.
Whites versus Wights
There are two different types of White Walkers, or at least what fans commonly refer to as White Walkers. In the books, it is far clearer than in the show, but the short version is that there are “Whites,” which are the humanoid, sentient creatures, and the “Wights,” which are the zombie people. The White Walkers (or “Others”) are the more powerful of the two.
The White Walkers for the most part look like old men. They ride dead horses or other dead animals. They come when it is cold, or else bring the cold with them. They can be destroyed using Dragon Glass or Valyrian Steel. They are not human, but they are definitely living creatures, not a special sort of zombie. They’re alive, and they wield a special form of ice magic used for (among other things) making their swords and spears that simply break regular steel like it’s nothing.
Wights, on the other hand, are corpses reanimated for the White Walkers’ purpose. The White Walkers can raise dead things to their will, like the dead horses and other animals they ride. The Wights are used as zombie troops. We’ve seen them a few times. A Wight attempted to kill Lord Commander Mormont in Season 1 and Jon burned it, prompting Mormont to give him Longclaw. We also saw an army of Wights dropping off of a cliff and attacking in “Hardhome” this last season.
Wights are not killed by Valyrian Steel or Dragon Glass – only fire can kill a wight. Without fire, the Wights make up an unstoppable army of the dead. How Wights are created seems to be dependent on the whims of the Night’s King. In “Hardhome,” he raised an army of Wights from the Wildling and Night’s Watch dead simply by raising his arms.
Unless his arm raise is coincidental it seems like the Night’s King controls the creation of Wights…
Creation of Whites and Wights
In the episode, “Oathkeeper,” Craster’s last son is left in the Haunted Forest as an offering to the White Walkers. A Walker takes him deep into the mystical Land of Always Winter and leaves him on an ice altar surrounded by a ring of White Walkers. One approaches and touches a finger to the baby’s face. His eyes turn a bright blue, confirming that the White Walkers turn Craster’s male children into White Walkers. This is also the episode where HBO accidentally revealed that the White Walker who transformed Craster’s son into a White Walker is the Night’s King. More on him below.
The Long Night and Azor Ahai
According to the legends of the series, eight thousand years ago there came a Winter that lasted a generation. The White Walkers apparently attacked Westeros at will and subjugated most of it until there came a hero Azor Ahai. There are many names for this warrior, but apparently he stopped the White Walkers with a flaming sword called Lightbringer. This event is called the Battle for the Dawn.
Following the White Walker defeat, Brandon the Builder and the Children of the Forest built the Wall to keep the White Walkers out of Westeros. (Or it was built as a territory marker in a Pact between the Humans and the White Walkers). Each successive generation of Night’s Watch built the Wall higher. In the present, the Night’s Watch does not have the men to continue to make the Wall higher or to even man all the castles along the Wall.
The Night’s King
According to legend, some time after the end of the Long Night, the 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch fell in love with either a White Walker or a Wight (probably a White Walker unless he was super into necrophilia). He brought her back to the Nightfort, the largest castle along the Wall and once their main stronghold. It is said he gave her his soul. Together they ruled from the Nightsfort for thirteen years. They made human sacrifices to the Others using a hidden gate (used by Sam, Gilly, Bran and Hodor in the present) and committed other unspecified atrocities.
The King of Winter (a Stark) and the King Beyond the Wall joined forces and attacked the Nightsfort and brought down the Night’s King, freeing the Night’s Watch from his rule. All record of his name was erased, but he may have been a Stark or a Bolton or of another major Northern House.
HBO revealed this was the Night’s King, but it may be a title within the White Walkers ranks that is passed down. Or, at least on the show, it may be the actual historical figure. It is unclear how long White Walkers live, but the original Night’s King would be several thousand years old by this point.
We saw a few parties of men be killed by White Walkers in Seasons 1 and 2, but in the final moments of Season 2 we saw the White Walker army moving toward the Fist of the First Men. We didn’t get to see much of it, but when we opened in Season 3 we found that the White Walkers had apparently massacred the majority of the Night’s Watch troops camped there. A group did survive and make it to Craster’s Keep, where many of them mutinied, but most died during the initial onslaught.
Later in Season 3, Sam killed a White Walker using a Dragon Glass dagger buried at the Fist of the First Men. In Season 4 we learned what the White Walkers do with Craster’s boys. In Season 5, we saw the White Walkers in action. The attack on Hardhome left many dead and the surviving Night’s Watch and Wildlings fled to the Wall. The Night’s King raised the slain to join his army of Wights. However, Jon killed a White Walker using Longclaw, and now we know that Valyrian Steel can kill them.
The Destruction of the Wall
What does all this mean going forward? It seems like this is setting up for a War for the Dawn, with the reincarnation of Azor Ahai at the head of the human army. The White Walkers seem like an unstoppable force coming for all the people of Westeros. The Wall is the last line of defense against them, but we have to remember, the Wall has never been tested by the White Walkers.
From here, we’re going to get into some really nitty-gritty stuff, so if you’re ready for some really serious GoT theorizing, check out this video on the White Walkers:
The video argues that the Wall may have been built by the White Walkers to mark the borders of the pact they made with the humans. It makes sense because the Wall is made of ice, which the White Walkers can manipulate.
If that theory is correct, or even if he isn’t, it is very possible that the White Walkers could destroy the Wall. It may offer no protection to Westeros. And especially if Jon Snow and Ser Davos leave the Wall next year, there are no competent characters left there to defend it anyway. And maybe the White Walkers could kill Olly. Damn kid.
There is some foreshadowing of this in the books. Mance Ryder, the King Beyond the Wall who was burned by the Night’s Watch, at one point has what he believes is the Horn of Winter, a horn with the power to shatter the Wall. He plans to use if if the Night’s Watch won’t let him through. Stannis arrives before he can, and it is not clear that this is the actual Horn of Winter, but in either case it seems unlikely the show will shoehorn in such a powerful magical object if it hasn’t introduced the idea of the Horn of Winter already. More likely, the White Walkers will simply destroy the Wall without the Horn of Winter.
This is something that could happen but will very likely not. In the leaked photos of George R.R. Martin’s original outline, the final battle of the series took place at the Wall. However, that outline also had Jon and Ayra getting together, Joffrey and Rob dying battle, and Catelyn going North of the Wall with Bran, all of which did not happen, so the outline may not mean anything anymore. Remember, the first book was first published way back in 1996.
Will we see more of the White Walkers in Season 6? Probably. We got a really good look at what they can do in Season 5 so we will probably get some more glimpses. The War for the Dawn will probably not begin in earnest until the final season however. But we have that to look forward to. Winter is coming…