'Game of Thrones' Before the Storm: What Comes After the White Walkers?

Game of Thrones - Night King 2 - Season 8 Episode 3 - H Publicity 2019
Courtesy of HBO

As Game of Thrones rushes toward the finish line, time is running out for predictions about how David Benioff and Dan Weiss' fantasy epic will end. Enter: Before the Storm, a weekly column wherein The Hollywood Reporter's Westeros guru Josh Wigler and THR's chief TV critic Daniel Fienberg put on their Valyrian foil hats and muse aloud about the next steps of the story.

This week, Wigler and Fienberg broke down director Miguel Sapochnik's "The Long Night," written by Benioff and Weiss, on Wigler's Series Regular podcast. In addition to their thoughts on the technical feats and character deaths littered throughout the 82-minute battle episode, Wigler and Fienberg looked ahead toward what's coming next in Game of Thrones now that one of the central conflicts has been resolved: The Night King destroyed, thanks to some fancy knife work from Arya Stark (Maisie Williams). 

Ahead, read an excerpt from Wigler and Fienberg's discussion about how the early White Walker resolution reveals the true conflict at the heart of Game of Thrones. Read the first two editions of Before the Storm here and here.

Josh Wigler: The Night King is dead, and the White Walkers are dead. One of the very first things we see in Game of Thrones involves the White Walkers; the very first scene, even. How are you feeling about getting through White Walker territory with three episodes still remaining in the final season?

Daniel Fienberg: I guess my thought is the same with how The Walking Dead has always been a show where the zombies have been a threat, but the darker threat was the threat inside the human soul. I think "The Long Night" makes it clear that if you thought this show was going to be about a showdown between humans and zombies? You got that wrong. The entire series was a showdown between humans and humans — which is entirely fair, except one side has multiple dragons. I have said and will continue to say that dragons are cheating. That has been my problem with the show for a long time. 

This is where I stand on it: Game of Thrones was never supposed to be about the humans versus the zombies. Even if that's where the show started, the zombies were always an ephemeral threat and a symbolic threat. The real threat, as always, has been us. We had to move on. I don't know if the result was as messy as it could have been. Ultimately, this may have been too clean a defeat of zombiekind, unless you're one of the people whose job it is to clean up Winterfell the day after this battle. There's going to be a lot of blood and gunk and bodies.

Wigler: It looks like they're going with the funeral pyre approach, based on the photos for episode four. Expect a lot of ash at Winterfell on Sunday night. 

But we have three episodes left in the final season without a single White Walker to worry about, presumably, unless Cliff the White Walker was hanging back at headquarters and is now about to avenge all of his friends. I don't think that's something we're going to see. What do you imagine we will get into with the back half of the season? Is it really as simple as the characters looking inward, and we have to realize the problem was us all along?

Fienberg: Well, that's not simple! Again, dragons are cheating. The show's supernatural elements are fun, but the show has always been designed to be allegorical, whether it's the War of the Roses or whatever you want it to be. No matter what you want to relate it to, it has to come back down to humans, unless you buy into the idea that this is a show about global warming — which I don't know is an interesting or entertaining way to view the show. I don't think the show should be bottom-lined as, "It's a show about climate change." That's not an illuminating piece of information, and even if it is? Winter is not the bad guy. The bad guy is what we did to cause climate change: human behavior. 

I'm perfectly fine with that being what this comes down to: people's appetites for power, as opposed to a battle against an anonymous adversary where their particular goal was verging on irrelevant, because most of them had no agency anyway. That was [one of] the problems of this episode for me; once the adversary's goal is to overrun you, and that's their primary motivation without individual goals, then they become less interesting. The show made the Night King into a huge badass; he's the one we can recognize, so he's the one who is cool. I'm okay with it coming down to Starks versus Lannisters, even if there aren't many Lannisters still with the Lannisters. 

Wigler: For a long time, I wondered if Game of Thrones would deliver a resolution to the White Walker conflict before it delivered a resolution to the human conflicts that have also been a part of the series from the very beginning: Starks versus Lannisters, with a side order of Targaryen. Those three ingredients are all very much still in play. For someone who views Game of Thrones as a climate change allegory, I'm very much on board with your line of thinking: what causes a problem like that? That would be us, another conflict that must be untied. 

George R.R. Martin has often described his series A Song of Ice and Fire as ending on a bittersweet note. The two mediums will likely be very different from one another, should Martin finish the books; fingers very much crossed on that front. If the sweet aspect is expressing what we can do when we come together, that we can destroy something as impossible as the White Walkers, then the final three episodes will have more of the bitterness — that the things that stick in our craw and cause our anxiousness might win out over our better qualities. I'm curious to know the ultimate resolution to that question, but I think that question being the final conflict Game of Thrones wants to explore, and which Starks, Lannisters and Targaryens emerge from that rubble? I do think it's very much the core of the story we have been watching since the very first episode.

Listen to more of Wigler and Fienberg's conversation in this week's Series Regular podcast:

Follow THR.com/GameOfThrones for more final season coverage.