The Night King Needs to Become Just Another Player in the Game of Thrones (Commentary)

The “Game of Thrones” Season 7 finale provides a great opportunity for the show’s apocalyptic threat to become an actual character

(Note: This post contains spoilers for “Game of Thrones” through Season 7, Episode 6: “Beyond the Wall.”)

“Game of Thrones” keeps giving viewers more and more reasons to fear its ultimate bad guy, the Night King. In the latest episode of Season 7, “Beyond the Wall,” the show raised the stakes even more: The Night King now has an undead dragon as part of his massive army of the dead.

But the Night King remains mysterious, elusive, and, well … weird. The sixth episode of Season 7 is as good a demonstration of that weirdness as any, when the Night King chased Jon Snow and his band of Westerosi warriors into an indefensible position, stood there watching them for at least a full day, and then somehow took out one of the dragons belonging to Daenerys Targaryen.

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This whole development has, somewhat understandably, confused a lot of viewers. Lots of “Why would the Night King do X and not Y” tweets, blog posts, and analysis articles have popped up in the meantime.

The simple answer is, somewhat obviously, that there’s a lot more about the Night King that we haven’t been told. And we need “Game of Thrones” to start filling in the blanks.

Let’s start with “Beyond the Wall,” an episode told from the perspective of Jon and his team that seemingly obscures a lot of tiny, meticulous trap-setting by the Night King. As Jon and Co. head north, they ambush a White Walker and his group of a dozen or so wights, separated from the larger army. Immediately a question leaps to mind: Why would the Night King need to send a White Walker out wandering around with a team of zombies?

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We never find out what that White Walker was up to, because the good guys descend and kill almost all of them. In fact, Jon slays the White Walker, and instantly all the other wights crumble. The team later theorizes that destroying the White Walker that raised those wights kills the wights as well. That’s an interesting tidbit of information that will greatly change Jon’s strategy in the coming war. Kill the Night King, and you kill the army of the dead. Or so it seems.

The White Walker and all his wights seemingly die when Jon slashes the Walker with his Valyrian steel sword, but one wight survives. It’s another curious detail. Of the entire group of wights conveniently separated from the rest of the army with a single White Walker to lead them — itself something we haven’t seen the before, since leaderless wights have attacked our heroes no problem in the past — one conveniently doesn’t disintegrate when the big guy dies.

It’s almost as if the Night King is baiting a trap, leaving a wight among the group that will be perfect for Jon to capture, allowing him to think he’s accomplishing his mission while the army of the dead successfully closes in.

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When the wight screams and brings the army of the dead down on Jon and pals, they manage to get to the center of a frozen lake. The Night King will later demonstrate his acumen with long-range ice spear-throwing, and yet the heroes get to stand on a rock, surrounded by ice, water, and an army of the dead, until the cavalry arrives.

Taken this way, it seems pretty obvious the Night King was waiting on Daenerys and her dragons, and an opportunity to kill one or all of them. Makes sense, given that the dragons are probably the only major trump card the living have against the dead.

And maybe the Night King didn’t slaughter Drogon, who was definitely in range of ice spears and moving a lot less, because he’s thinking like Littlefinger — let your enemies destroy themselves. Eliminate Daenerys and Jon and you destabilize their armies, but you might galvanize the rest of Westeros under a single ruler, or at least fewer rulers. Leave them alive (and with a couple dragons), and the chances they’ll still war over a meaningless throne while you continue to consolidate your power increases.

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The trouble with all this thinking is that it assumes a lot about the Night King that “Game of Thrones” has yet to show. It centers on him knowing a lot more about the world than it appears. But until “Beyond the Wall,” it was tough to tell just how much he might know about the rest of the world, and what he’s doing with that theoretical info

Season 7 suggests the Night King has powers comparable to those of Bran Stark. He proved he’s at least on a similar playing field when he was able to grab the boy while Bran was doing his greensight out-of-body thing, and that interaction actually physically harmed Bran back in the real world. The Night King identified Bran when he did his raven warg thing. And his actions in “Beyond the Wall” suggest at least a degree of knowledge about the forces he faces, if not a foreknowledge of what they might be doing.

What we need now is for “Game of Thrones” to contextualize all that info. It doesn’t necessarily need to lay down the rules of the Night King, since his villainous mystery is part of what makes him frightening. But we could do with the show paying attention to the Night King as a character, instead of just a person-shaped force of evil. What is he planning? What is he trying to achieve?

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Up to now, everyone on the show has made declarative statements about what the White Walkers are after, without any real evidence to back them up. They want to break the Wall. They want to march south. They want to kill everyone. But why, exactly? What’s the driving force between killing everyone in Westeros? And if just eradicating everyone was always the goal, why wait thousands of years between attempts? Why wait even one year after the last dragon vanished?

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last few seasons, and especially from Seasons 6 and 7, it’s that the Night King isn’t just mindlessly murdering and raising the dead. He’s planning and manipulating.

The question, then, would be how to make the Night King into an actual character at this late stage. We actually believe there’s an excellent opportunity for that in this week’s season finale, since nearly every important character and one of the Night King’s undead minions will all be in the same place for the first time in the series.

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What’s been holding the Night King back from being thought of as a character is that he doesn’t speak — a fact that will probably need to change. The problem, though, is that he’s only ever directly interacted with a main character one time, when he grabbed Bran’s arm during Bran’s vision in season 6. The Night King is isolated, so he hasn’t really had any other opportunities, but with the major players of Westeros gathered around Jon Snow’s capture wight he may be able to finally reveal himself in a way that even a living skeleton doesn’t quite accomplish.

It’s simple: the Night King could possess the wight directly, similar to how Bran wargs into animals, and speak through it. It’d be a hell of a dramatic thing, the Night King delivering an immensely creepy speech declaring his intentions, punctuated possibly by bringing the Wall down in a clamor that could be felt even in the South of the continent. Some sort of personal airing of grievances that provides meaningful insight into the Night King’s character would make it even better.

The ideal outcome here would be for the Night King to be perceived as just another player in the game of thrones, albeit a more fantastical king than the other monarchs we know. He needs to transition away from simply being an apocalyptic force of evil — it’d be one last big genre subversion for a series steeped in genre subversions.