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What does the Night King want? It’s a question on many Thrones viewers’ minds, even if the villain’s desires seem straightforward enough based on his violent past: he wants death and destruction, and plenty of it.
All the same, the motives behind the White Walker’s actions became fuel for the fire for several fan theories following the final season premiere, “Winterfell,” and one scene in particular: the spiral he placed on a wall in Last Hearth, rendered using the severed limbs of Northerners. Set aflame, it appeared to some as a mirror image of House Targaryen’s sigil, leading to a wild theory: the Night King is somehow distantly related to both Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). Is it more or less plausible than the other theory surrounding the Night King’s identity — namely, that he’s a Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) from the future, the product of some time-travel wonkiness a la the twist that surrounded the death of Hodor (Kristian Nairn) back in the day? Your mileage may vary.
Hang onto those theories as long as you wish. For my money, however, Game of Thrones has all but killed them both. In “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” the second episode of the final season, I believe writer Bryan Cogman well and fully articulated the Night King’s true desires once and for all — and they are as straightforward as one would expect for an avatar of death incarnate.
Midway into the episode, the forces of the living gather together to debate how best to defeat the Night King. Jon Snow posits a theory: kill the Night King, and the rest of the White Walkers will fall. “Getting to him may be our best chance,” he says. Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) suggests the Night King won’t knowingly expose himself in battle if he knows himself to be White Walker kryptonite. In response to that, Bran pipes up with a suggestion of his own: he will lead the Night King out of hiding.
“He’ll come for me,” says Bran, who goes on to reveal the Night King’s ultimate goal: “An endless night. He wants to erase this world — and I am its memory.” Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) punctuates the point further, giving voice to Game of Thrones‘ own overarching ethos about life, death, and the battle to hold onto humanity.
“That’s what death is, isn’t it? Forgetting, and being forgotten,” he says. “If we forget where we’ve been and what we’ve done, we’re not men anymore. We’re just animals. Your memories don’t come from books. Your stories aren’t just stories. If I wanted to erase the world of men, I’d start with [Bran].”
It’s not impossible that the Night King’s agenda is more layered than what Bran and Sam sketch out here, but it’s also not wrong to take it at face value. On the surface, the White Walkers have always been a stand-in for cold, unyielding death. From the earliest days of the series, they were seen as a parallel for the cost of war, an atomic reckoning, an unavoidable collision with climate change. Those themes have only been reinforced in recent seasons, with the revelation of the White Walkers’ origin: they were humans first, in conflict with the Children of the Forest, only to be transformed into frozen war machines. Their ultimate evolution into an unstoppable menace with nothing more than death on the mind resonates with the greater themes of Game of Thrones.
“The Three-Eyed Raven is firmly on the side of the living,” Isaac Hempstead Wright recently told The Hollywood Reporter. “We saw that the Children of the Forest, basically the Three-Eyed Raven’s minions, created the Night King, or at least the first White Walker. In a sense, then, the Three-Eyed Raven and the Children of the Forest are essentially responsible for everything that came next. It’s this weapon they created that got massively out of control. There’s a definite rivalry there, perhaps more on the side of the Night King, as he’s coming to try and destroy Bran.”
For the Night King, wanting to destroy his maker by killing the Three-Eyed Raven, and thereby crushing the thing the Three-Eyed Raven cherishes most — all life — feels like more than enough of a motivation. Anything more complicated than that — any kind of deeper Targaryen connection, for instance — feels out of sync with the information already revealed. “We don’t have time for that,” as Bran might say.
As for what’s going to happen next, now that the Night King and the Three-Eyed Raven have a date in the books? Well … what do you think is going to happen? Bran plans to hold tight in the Winterfell godswood, with no one but Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) at his side to protect him. It’s very bad news for Theon, not a likely candidate to walk away from a one-on-one fight with the Night King alive. As for Bran? Very bad news for him as well. We’re only at the halfway mark of the season, after all. Are we really going to see the Night King fall in episode three? Highly unlikely — but Bran dying and giving the Night King yet another huge win on the board feels tragically likely.
Then again, Bran isn’t really Bran anymore, is he? He’s stressed this point numerous times to anyone willing to listen to him. There’s also the old promise of the old Three-Eyed Raven still waiting in the wings, as he once told Bran: “You will never walk again, but you will fly.” As part of the plan to lure out the Night King, Bran and Theon aim to have dragons on hand. It’s easy to see the scenario in which the Night King kills Bran, only for Bran’s consciousness to transfer thanks to his gifts as a warg — either into one of the nearby dragons, or perhaps into one of the Weirwood trees.
Consider the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi: “If you strike me down, I’ll become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” In a series where Star Wars-level twists and turns are all the rage (see: Jon’s confession about his parents to Daenerys), Bran going full Kenobi on the Night King absolutely makes sense as the endgame approaches. The Night King unmasking himself as Bran’s real father, or as a time-displaced version of Bran himself? Frankly, I’d sooner bet that he’s Bran’s father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate — absolutely nothing.
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