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«Game of Thrones»: The White Walkers and the long night

White Walkers are the most feared evil in all of Westeros. Where do these terrifying ice creatures come from? And how can they be stopped?

When looking to scare children into being obedient, the mothers, wet nurses and Nans of «Game of Thrones» like telling stories. Scary stories. They’re often about werewolves, giants, wildlings – and White Walkers, the most feared evil to ever cross the world of ice and fire.

Then they all disappeared. For about eight-thousand years.

These days they’re another one of those horror stories that recount of a time long ago when a winter came that lasted a generation. A winter came that froze men to death, from kings in their castles to shepherds in their huts. A winter that was accompanied by a darkness known today as "the long night".

In that darkness the White Walkers came for the first time. They swept through cities and kingdoms, riding their dead horses, hunting with their packs of pale spiders big as hounds.
Old Nan to Bran Stark, Season 1, Episode 3

Not much is known about White Walkers. Only the ancient notes of Maesters – the scholars, historians and doctors in «Game of Thrones» – offer some clues to their origin and character.

The War of the First Men and the Children of the Forest

White Walkers are gaunt beings with white hair and skin as pale as milk. They carry crystalline longswords with blades that gleam a pale blue in the moonlight – just like their eyes. Their language resembles the cracking of ice. They walk on snow without sinking and are larger than normal humans and extremely strong. They are surrounded by cold and wherever they go a winter storm follows.

A White Walker.

White Walkers are supported by their Army of the Dead: Wights. Zombie-like creatures with blue eyes that only follow the command of the White Walker that created them. Wights used to be humans, animals or other creatures that were raised from the dead and transformed by a White Walker’s touch. Their weakness is fire; burned corpses cannot be revived.

The history of the White Walkers begins about 12,000 years ago - long before the long night. At this time Westeros is only populated by the Children of the Forest. Tiny humanoid creatures that live in nature. Then the First Men attacked, a wild but advanced people. To launch their invasion, they used the land-bridge connecting Westeros to Essos: the Arm of Dorne.

The Children of the Forest.

At first, the Children of the Forest were kind to the First Men. Then the humans began clearing whole forests and lands to do agriculture. The children were losing more and more living space. I all came to a head when the weirwood trees were felled – they’re said to contain the souls of dead Children as well as all their knowledge. They declare war on the humans.

The Children of the Forest fought with sticks, speers and dragonglass, also known as obsidian. But they stood no chance against the humans who rode on horses and used bronze armour and swords. They had one thing, however, that the humans never expected: magic. Animals and every being imaginable were unleashed. Finally, the mightiest mages of the Children – the greenseers – flooded the Arm of Dorne to separate Westeros from Essos.

In the south: The Arm of Dorne before it was flooded.

This prevented more humans from invading, but it wasn’t enough; too many of them had already entered Westeros. The Children went to their last resort.

The Night King

They created the first White Walker: the Night King.

The King of all Walkers

The Night King used to be one of the First Men No one knows who he was. The Children created him during a dangerous magic ritual. This involved stabbing a chained up human in the heart with an obsidian knife. His eyes turned blue: the Night King arose.

Unlike most White Walkers, the Night King doesn’t have white hair or a beard. He instead has jagged head resembling a crown. He possesses powers far beyond those of a normal White Walker.

He can turn human babies into Walkers by touching them – this is probably the only way for White Walkers to reproduce. The Night King senses when human-controlled animals – a power only Wargs possess – are near him. He can leave markings on animals and humans that break any protective enchantment. He can sense the location of these creatures as well.

Of course, the Night King can also turn corpses into Wights. The difference: He doesn’t even need to touch the body in question.

The Night King is without a doubt the strongest of all Walkers. Nevertheless, him and his kind can be destroyed by dragonglass or obsidian as well as Valyrian steel – both extremely rare materials with connections to dragons. If a White Walker dies, the Wights he controls do as well. It’s speculated but probable that Walkers created by the Night King can be killed in a similar way by destroying him.

The end of the war – the begin of the Long Night

So, the Children of the Forest created the Night King and the White Walkers to protect against the invasion of the First Men: as an ultimate but dangerous weapon, for when all else fails.

But this weapon is never supposed to be used.

The war, which had lasted for 2000 years, is causing high losses on both sides. In the end, wisdom and reason triumphed: a peace treaty ended the bloodshed. The men received the open country while the Children could live in the still remaining forests. Additionally, the humans swore to never again fell a weirwood tree.

It is said that weirwood trees contain the soul and knowledge of deceased Children of the Forest.

The Children marked the trees by carved faces with crying eyes into them. Later on, even the First Men would adopt the faith in the Old Gods from the Children of the Forest. A belief they would treasure and give on to their descendants over millennia: the Northmen, especially the Starks.

Starks, descendants of the First Men, seen here sharpening their sword under a weirwood.

But the peace lasts only 2000 years.

The Night King, created by the Children of the Forest, was somehow able to break from their influence – and the White Walkers attacked. Starting in the North they sweep through the entire world, bringing an endless winter with them. The Long Night, as it was called, was the longest winter the world had ever seen, lasting a generation.

It only ends after the First Men and the Children of the Forest again come together to banish the White Walkers and the Night King into the North. Then Bran the Builder - an ancestor of the Stark family - has a wall built of ice, 480 kilometres long, 91 metres high and reinforced by the powerful protective spells of the Children of the Forest.

The Wall is guarded by the sworn brothers of the Night’s Watch.

There are no more signs of White Walkers. Over the millennia they even manage to fade into obscurity, only being remembered in creepy tales to tell around the campfire. The same fate befalls the Children: ravaged by catastrophic losses, they to seem to vanish from the world. Until today.

While the story in Westeros ends with the Wall being built and the Night’s Watch being established to protect the South from the horrors of the North, people in the East begin sanctifying the man who led the armies against the White Walkers: Azor Ahai, the promised one, the Night King’s only equal.

His is the Song of Ice and Fire.

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Luca Fontana, Zurich

  • Editor
I'm an outdoorsy guy and enjoy sports that push me to the limit – now that’s what I call comfort zone! But I'm also about curling up in an armchair with books about ugly intrigue and sinister kingkillers. Being an avid cinema-goer, I’ve been known to rave about film scores for hours on end. I’ve always wanted to say: «I am Groot.»

2 comments

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User darnok16

Gratulation für die Forschung, für diese Serie muss man wohl ein Doktorat machen, oder man schaut einfach ohne alles begreifen zu wollen...

15.04.2019
User Luca Fontana

Kannst mich auch Maester Luwca nennen ;-)

16.04.2019
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