The True Impact of the Night King

Heading into the Battle of Winterfell, I think most of us expected a blood bath of the most epic proportions. Game of Thrones has made a point about not caring about our feelings over the years causing me to question every wedding I attend now. Including my own. With something like Game of Thrones, I think that we’ve come to expect so much heartbreak in the form of character deaths that when those deaths don’t occur we’re almost disappointed. Sometimes that’s the twist though. Sometimes it’s to make you feel like our characters are safe only to drop the floor out from under us which I believe is coming. The victory at Winterfell came at a heavy cost, we lost around seven big reoccurring characters while leaving our main cast victorious and very much alive. There are only three episodes left to this final season. If you don’t think there’s heartbreak on the horizon then you’re fooling yourself. Maybe it’s with our best interest to enjoy this moment and mute the outcries. A week ago we were begging the show not to kill these characters and now we’re upset they’re alive?! That seems silly. They won and we should celebrate… at least for a week.

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HBO Game of Thrones

With every victory there comes defeat. A group that was unable to achieve their goal and that title fell to the Night King and his White Walker army. For seven seasons the Night King has been built as this force. The end all be all for the entirety of Westeros, and he was. Say what you will about Game of Thrones but there is a certain degree of ambiguity to the characters that live in this universe. A grey area if you will. No character is ever truly evil. If you look deep enough you can see something redeeming with every “villain” the show has provided. Even Cersei’s motivations have come from a sympathetic place. She wanted to protect her children at all costs. That’s why she turns on Ned. At that moment it’s not about the Throne but it’s about preservation. It’s about being a mother. Now that she’s lost her children you can argue that Cersei’s motivations are to avenge them. Maybe it’s to provide a better world for the baby residing in her belly currently. The point is that you if you look hard enough each character is given enough depth where there can be opposing views. That’s the beauty of the story. It allows for redemption within character arcs or just in the eyes of the audience. Jamie Lannister and Theon Greyjoy are the two biggest examples of this.

Throughout these seven seasons, we’ve only been given two genuinely evil characters. That little shit Joffrey and the Night King. The Night King is the embodiment of evil within the Game of Thrones universe. A general leading an army of the undead looking to thrust the world into darkness. To take away the past, present, and future of Westeros. Yeah, that equals a bad dude. There is still that grey area, being created by the Children of the Forest and all, but at the end of the day the Night King represents a clearly defined sense of evil in Game of Thrones and when you look at the depth of character within this universe… that’s not that interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, I have really, really enjoyed the hype of the Night King. There have been times that he’s circulated to the top of my favorite characters list and it was more than just being Ice Darth Maul. I loved what he represented and how he altered this narrative. With that being said, I never believed for a second that he would win. Game of Thrones has always been about the character and their personal arcs, and yes, some of those arcs are leading to a very uncomfortable seat, but a clearly defined battle between good and evil… good has to win because the more interesting stories involve the ambiguity of it all. The questions of how this character got here and what it means. Do they deserve it? What did it cost? The Night King winning, there’s no personal stake for him. He was created exactly for this purpose. Of course, he had to lose.

But… this doesn’t mean he was a waste of a character. Not even in the slightest.  

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With the Battle of Winterfell now over it seems that there is a population of the fandom who think that the Night King was all hype and served no purpose, and that’s upsetting. I would argue that there hasn’t been a character to impact the narrative greater than the Night King. We also forget that the Battle of Winterfell was not his first battle within this show, and over the course of seven seasons, the Night King has gained victory after victory establishing his dominance. It’s these past victories that made him such a force leading into “The Long Night”, and just because he lost it doesn’t make him a failed character or a letdown.

Let’s look at the history of the Night King for a moment. The first time we see him, not the White Walkers, he has one of Craster’s bastards and turns him into a White Walker through the use of his beautifully manicured nails. Right off the bat, he’s established this lore and mythology. This guy is working with some creepy death magic that instantly puts him on our radars as something that will have to be dealt with later. But the Night King is a master at bidding his time which also has helped make him a far superior leader than either Jon or Daenerys. In order to thrust the world into darkness, the Night King must first destroy the Three-Eyed Raven who represents the past, present, and future of Westeros. Up until Bran effed everything up, the Three-Eyed Raven has always been behind The Wall deep in the North. That’s why we haven’t seen the Night King until now. He’s been looking to accomplish his mission, and once he marks Bran the mission brings him through The Wall and towards Winterfell. Really quite convenient to the overall plan. Nice job Bran!

From here, the Night King has lead his army to vanquish a large portion of the Night’s Watch when they travel beyond The Wall. A small statement to remind us he’s out there waiting. Not to mention he shows up at Hardhome for the ultimate power flex. What made the Hardhome battle so captivating was how unexpected it was. This was the first real time we were seeing the Night King in action and it was clear that the odds of the living were minimal at best. The Night King and his army rip through the Wildlings and Night’s Watch at Hardhome almost effortlessly, and then just because, the Night King gives a tease of his power. Not only can he change babies into White Walkers but he can raise the dead like some sort of zombie Jesus. This is a general who has an army that is forever expanding. Within that instance, Jon Snow knows the score and it doesn’t matter how many people he’s able to amass, it probably won’t be enough.

Don’t forget either that the Night King killed a freakin’ dragon. No one on this show has been able to accomplish that, Bronn tried, and if there was ever a question of his dominance it should have died on the ice with Viserion. This was a statement beyond statements. One of the three remaining dragons in the world was killed at his hands weakening the arguable front runner to the Iron Throne in the most personal way possible. Then to make matters worse he turns Viserion into some sort of zombie ice dragon that he uses to destroy The Wall. A structure that had stood for centuries. This is seven seasons in and the Night King is undefeated. Not a loss. Not a blemish. This is Tiger Woods on Sunday with the red shirt and the look in his eyes. But now we’re questioning his validity? That makes zero sense.

Yes, the Night King loses the Battle of Winterfell but did he lose the war? Think about it? Up until Arya Stark bursts through the shadows with the greatest knife flip of all time, this battle was all but won. The Night King out lead both Jon Snow and Daenerys without breaking a sweat. I mean, if he can even sweat through all that ice. Not even dragon fire could stop this guy, and again he raises the dead to join his army not because he needs to but to establish the despair into his victims. It’s a move of tremendous arrogance and impact. The vanquishing of hope in a single arm raise. How are we even entertaining the idea that he was a chump?

Yes, Arya Stark killed the Night King with the Game of Thrones equivalent of destroying the Death Star. A one and a million shot that could only come from her. It’s a tremendous moment. My viewing party all cheered. But if you take a second and collect yourself, you’ll know the Night King was never meant to win. His arc isn’t to sit on the Iron Throne, he doesn’t care about the Throne! He’s an agent of chaos. Darkness… that’s all he cares about. A world that cannot move forward or backward. Fancy chairs don’t entice the Night King.

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While the Night King may be gone his impact will be felt throughout these final three episodes. We’re on the cusp of the last war, and the scoreboard has changed dramatically. If Daenerys hadn’t listened to Jon Snow, hadn’t seen the Army of the Dead, and followed her original ambitions she might be sitting on the Iron Throne right now. But because she strayed from her sole objective it has seemingly cost her everything. The Dothraki are gone. Extinguished in the night by the dead. The Unsullied numbers have been cut in half and that’s being optimistic. Her most trusted advisor dies defending her.  And most importantly, she’s lost a dragon. None of that happens without the threat of the Night King. Now Daenerys is facing a Cersei with the Golden Company and Euron’s armada dancing across her fingertips. The tide has shifted and she is clearly outmatched.

Not to mention the now complicated relationship between Jon Snow and herself. If the two aren’t in the North to fight the Army of the Dead, does Jon ever learn about his parents? But because he did learn Dany has to question everything about him. Even questioning his loyalty. Jon Snow is a threat to her and with the Night King gone, she can turn her attention to that nugget of information he dropped on her in the crypts. Daenerys has gone from the clear cut favorite to a gigantic question mark. The things we do for love…

The path to the Iron Throne has been forever altered because of the existence of the Night King. For him to be thought of as a lame duck character is shameful. I would argue that no other character has shaped the narrative more. The Night King may have lost the Battle of Winterfell but the ash he leaves behind will directly impact who sits on the Iron Throne by series end. And that’s what we’ve been waiting for. The payoff of these intense character beats. Will Dany turn on Jon? Is Tyrion working with Cersei? Can Sansa take the Throne? These are all more interesting questions because of our emotional investment. The Night King made for a fun foil but he was never the true threat. It’s hard to emotionally invest in a character with no true depth just drive. But it’s that drive that has left our characters tattered and frayed. New doors have opened and our characters are changed. His certainty as an agent of chaos feeds into the ambiguity of our cast of characters in his wake. With three episodes left nothing is certain, the depth of character is expanded, and the Night King lives on. The mark of a true villain is how he changes those around him. I think it’s time we stop questioning the Night King and start wondering how far his impact will reach.

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