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Several days after the end of director Miguel Sapochnik’s “The Long Night,” Game of Thrones nation remains in a state of shock over the climactic episode’s final twist: Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) killing the Night King, thereby ending the White Walker war forever. But what if she didn’t end the White Walker war forever? What if we’re all jumping to conclusions as quickly as Arya jumped at her latest and greatest murder victim yet?
Creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss didn’t go as far as to promise more White Walkers in the future of Thrones when they sat down for an interview this week on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, but when asked about the subject, they offered an answer that raises an eyebrow — my eyebrow, at the very least. Put your Valyrian foil hats on, and let’s go for a little ride.
Benioff and Weiss’ conversation with Kimmel covers a range of topics dating back to the writing duo’s time together in college, before moving into stories about their initial adaptation process with author George R.R. Martin — including the now-famous story about how Martin challenged the pair to correctly guess the identity of Jon Snow’s mother; the answer now lives on in the halls of Game of Thrones itself, as Snow wrestles with his true status as a Stark and a Targaryen. Watch the appearance here:
Following an amusing story about what Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) was actually saying beneath his mask during “The Long Night,” Kimmel came at Benioff and Weiss with three pointed questions about the state of the final season. Here they are, presented in reverse chronological order:
3. Will someone take the Iron Throne? “Possibly.”
2. Did Bran know that Arya was going to kill the Night King? “Possibly.”
1. Have we seen the last of the White Walkers? “Yeah, we’re not going to answer that.”
There’s not much to read into the possibilities behind “possibly,” because an Iron Throne answer is definitely coming down the line one way or another and the answer to the Bran question will most likely make itself known in episode four. The question about the White Walkers, however? It should be an open-and-shut case, given what we saw: Arya killed the Night King, and every other dead creature on the battlefield subsequently collapsed in a heap — including the other White Walkers, all obliterated in a huge show of icy death. It’s a pretty definitive extinction-level event for the Night King and his army, isn’t it?
Unless it’s not, and now is a good time to tighten the straps on those Valyrian foil hats.
Think back to the very first time Game of Thrones introduced the Night King. It was all the way back in season four’s fourth episode, “Oathkeeper,” a showy scene invented purely for the HBO drama, without any apparent roots in the books as currently published by Martin; no similar scene, certainly no Night King. “Oathkeeper” concludes with an inside look at the Night King’s glacial and palatial home, much further north of the Wall than ever seen previously. He and his other awkwardly quiet friends are hanging around in a semicircle, as White Walkers are wont to do, as one of their White Walker brethren shows up with a new companion in hand: the infant son of the late, not-so-great wildling Craster (Robert Pugh). Relive the scene below:
The scene concludes not only with the Night King’s debut, but with the Night King transforming this baby into … well, something else. It’s hard to precisely define “something else.” Is the baby a White Walker now? Is the Night King’s process for creating more creatures exactly like himself as simple as pressing his uncomfortably sharp thumbnail on another human being’s cheek, when the mechanism for his own White Walker transformation involved a huge shard of dragonglass being shoved into his heart?
We have seen the Night King raise the dead on countless occasions: the decimated corpses at “Hardhome” and as recently as “The Long Night,” not to mention the very famous example of bringing the very dead dragon Viserion out of a frozen lake and roaring back to afterlife in season seven’s “Beyond the Wall.” In all of those cases, however, we’re talking about the Night King giving new life to men, women and children (dragon included) who were already dead. With the exception of Craster’s baby, we have never seen the Night King transform a living creature into something new. Who’s to say that an already living creature like Craster’s child would die upon the Night King’s death, when it already had a life of its own? What if the baby, along with Craster’s other sons he offered to the White Walkers across the years, were all deliberately taken because they’re fail-safe options should the Night King’s mission fall apart? What if the White Walker threat really isn’t over — it’s just morphed into something far and new?
Again, remember that the Night King’s very existence is a show-only invention, as was the season three scene in which Arya first met Melisandre (Carice van Houten) — and we saw how instrumental that scene was to the eventual resolution of the Night King’s story. Since we know now the lengths Benioff and Weiss are willing to go to pay off their own non-Martin inventions, one wonders what they have in mind as far as answering the big lingering question still on the board following the Night King’s debut: What about that baby?
The White Walker rules and culture have always been purposely murky on Game of Thrones, hence why so many fans have tried to divine meaning out of the flaming sigils left behind on walls, all the possible old family roots behind the Night King, why time travel might be involved in his connection to the Three-Eyed Raven … you name it. Invest yourselves into those questions as much as you wish. Personally, it does feel to me like Game of Thrones is moving away from the White Walker conflict and onto an even more psychologically complicated battlefield: us, a human race that fought and defeated actual death now opting to fight within its own ranks once more. But somewhere out there, far north in the bitter cold, there may be something or someone stirring and waiting for its moment to rise. Right now, if it does exist, it’s probably just napping in a cold crib. Perhaps it won’t be ready to wake until the final moments of Game of Thrones, a chilling promise that no matter who wins the throne, a threat like the White Walkers will always be out there waiting for a new coalition to rise up against the challenge. But maybe it’s wide awake already, and the final three episodes will see a surprise influx of White Walkers attacking the realm. Who knows?
A few days before Arya killed the Night King, I openly wondered about the possibility of the White Walkers losing “The Long Night,” even at the final season’s relatively early midpoint. It only feels right to plant this flag too, just in case, no matter how unlikely. After all, given Benioff and Weiss’ own reluctance to fully shut the door on the White Walkers’ continued menace, why should we be so quick to put the issue to bed ourselves, until the greater story goes to sleep forever in just a few weeks?
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