Ask the Maester s5e8: The Origin of the Nightâ€™s King, the Wights, and Dragonglass
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Game of Thrones!
So much happens in Game of Thrones s5e8!
Koa asks: â€śWhatâ€™s the difference between White Walkers and the zombies of the undead? Why arenâ€™t they all White Walkers?â€ť
There are two classes of frozen evil. The first isÂ the White Walkers. They have the power to raise the dead, their bodies are made of some kind of magical ice thatÂ is seemingly impervious to human weapons save those made of dragonglass or Valyrian steel, and they have some kind of human-like hierarchical structure. They are not actually undead, but exist as some kind of strange and inhuman form of other-life.
The secondÂ class,Â subservient to the White Walkers, isÂ the wights. Wights are basically zombies:2Â animal or human corpses thatÂ act as minions of the White Walkers. Potentially anything dead thatâ€™s within the range of a White Walkerâ€™s power can become a wight. Certainly any animal or human foe that falls in battle to the White Walkers and their wights will in turn become a wight. Bears, horses, mammoths, giants, peopleÂ â€”Â whatever. The old tales even speak of wights that were giant spiders. Unlike White Walkers, wights donâ€™t require special methodsÂ â€”Â such as dragonglass and Valyrian steelÂ â€”Â to kill. Putting them down is simply a matter of hacking and slashing the zombie corpse into small enough pieces that itÂ can no longer hurt anyone. Fire is the surest way to dispatch them.
As for why every ice zombie isnâ€™t a White Walker, hard to say. We know very little about the magical process that creates them. Does the process only work with babies, or could an adult, like the 13thÂ Lord Commander, be turned? Is there a limit to how many babies the Nightâ€™s King can turn in a given year or a given season? Is the Nightâ€™s King the only entity that can create White Walkers? We do not know. Clearly, though, something about the mechanism used to create White Walkers seems to limit their numbers.
Daniel asks: â€śIt seemed kind of odd how a huge mass of wights, who were blasting their bodies through the gates and walls to kill the Wildling/Nightâ€™s Watch brothers, would have allowed a little pond to stop them from going after Jon Snowâ€™s boat and the rest of the boats heading out to sea. Â Are they afraid of water, or were they just following the lead of the demon-walker guy in charge?â€ťÂ
Unless the show has changed this drastically, they were following the Nightâ€™s Kingâ€™s lead. They could swim or wade or whatever it is they do if they wanted to. As mentioned above, in the books, a message sent to Castle Black mentions â€śdead things in the woodsâ€ť and â€śdead things in the water.â€ťÂ
Charles asks: â€śNow that we know that a Valyrian steel sword can kill White Walkers, who are the other people who possess one, thereby being a threat to the Others?â€ť
Itâ€™s a very, very short list. Way too short to make a difference. In all of the North, we know for sure of two Valyrian weapons. Brienne, lurking outside Winterfell, has Oathkeeper â€” one of the two blades forged from Ice, the Stark family sword, which Tywin Lannister had melted down. And Jon, of course, has Longclaw, originally the sword of Lord Commander Mormont. The dagger used by the unnamed assassin in the attempt on Bran Starkâ€™s life in Season 1 was Valyrian, but who knows where that thing is now.
In the rest of Westeros, things donâ€™t look much better. Thereâ€™s Heartsbane, wielded by Samâ€™s dad, Randyll Tarly in the Reach. Lady Forlorn is not only a country-pop trio, itâ€™s also the name of the family sword of House Corbray of the Vale. Joffreyâ€™s Widowâ€™s Wail, the other sword forged from Ned Starkâ€™s Ice, is now presumably in the possession of King Tommen, who wouldnâ€™t cut a piece of roasted venison without asking his motherâ€™s permission first. The tiny Iron Islands boast two Valyrian steel weapons: Nightfall is the family sword of the Harlaws, an ancient and powerful Ironborn house; and House Drumm hold Red Rain, which their ancestor Hilmar stole from some unnamed knight, thus earning Hilmar the sobriquet â€śThe Cunning.â€ť Finally, rumor has it that tiny and ancient House Celtigar have, among the many treasures overfilling their castle on Claw Isle, an ax of Valyrian steel.
Additionally, there are a half-dozenÂ notable Valyrian weapons whose whereabouts are unknown. Most famous of these are the original Lannister family sword Brightroar, lost when King Tommen II disappeared in Valyria back in the day; Blackfyre, the sword of Aegon the Conqueror, which is probably in Essos somewhere; and Dark Sister, the sword of Aegon the Conquerorâ€™s more martial sister-wife Visenya, which was last known to be held by the Targaryen great bastard Brynden Rivers. Brynden was sent to Castle Black back in 233 AC, and he eventually rose to Lord Commander. If Lord Brynden was allowed to take the sword when he took the black (which seems highly unlikely), thereâ€™s a chance he may still have it with him under the great weirwood far beyond the Wall.
As for making more Valyrian steel, dragonfire is often mentioned as being part of the process used to make the weapons, along with a careful folding of the metal and treating it with some kind of magic. So, while the reappearance of dragons theoretically makes forging new weapons possible, because of access to their fire and the reawakening of magic tied to the rebirth of the beasts, itâ€™s the spellcasting part of the equation that remains a problem. Notably, the TargaryensÂ â€”Â in the roughly 150 years of their nearly 300-year reign in Westeros during which they possessed multiple dragonsÂ â€”Â never forged a new Valyrian weapon. Considering the rarity of the weapons, it seems certain that they wouldâ€™ve forged more steel if they knew how. Obviously, the spells used to create Valyrian steel were not well known, even among the Valyrian elite.Â
Kristen asks: â€śA couple questions about dragonglass: Is dragonglass manufactured, or is it a natural resource? Do you need dragons to create it? Is it similar to Valyrian steel, in that thereâ€™s a finite amount of it in the world, and itâ€™s only controlled by a fortunate few?â€ť
Dragonglass is a naturally occurring, volcanic glass, described by the Maesters as being â€śforged in the fires of the gods, far below the earth.â€ť The Nightâ€™s Watchâ€™s records from the Age of Heroes tell us that the Children of the Forest used to supply the Watch with 100 daggers per year. Also, we know that the tunnels under the castle of Dragonstone on the island of the same name (which is still held by Stannis Baratheon) are rich with multicolored, boulder-size deposits of dragonglass. The Valyrians called dragonglass â€śfrozen fireâ€ť and were known to use it to create mysterious black candles. For what purpose, no one really knows. I would assume that the ruins of Valyria, formerly the land of numerous magical volcanoes, would contain plenty of dragonglass for anyone brave enough to go get it.
I guess itâ€™s possible that Dany could use her dragons to create dragonglass through concentrated and controlled fire-breathing on the right kind of igneous rock. But if she could control her dragons like that, then a much easier and more direct way to kill wights and White Walkers, it seems to me, would be to simply have the dragons breathe fire directly on said wights and White Walkers.
James asks: â€śWhat ever happened to Benjen Stark?â€ť
Unknown, in the books and the show. For those who donâ€™t recall, Benjen Stark went on ranging beyond the Wall in Season 1 and never returned. I assume heâ€™s dead or some form of sort-of-dead as there are a lot of things that can kill a person out there.
Ashley asks: â€śCan we get some more background on who [the Nightâ€™s King] is? What was his deal with taking babies and why is he showing up now?â€ť
For book readers, one of the thrills of watchingÂ Game of ThronesÂ has been the vicarious pleasure of watching the premium-cable masses ride our beloved Martin World Roller Coaster of blood and sadness. Thatâ€™s evident from the numerous YouTube videos of unwittingÂ Song ofÂ Ice and FireÂ virgins losing their collective shit as the ambitions of King Robb and House Stark disappeared in a cloud of arterial spray. As the show moves implacably past the novels, it will be interesting to see how the hard-core book readers â€” some of whom may be troubled by potential spoilers or frustrated with changes made to the story â€” react now that theyâ€™re riding blind just like everyone else.Â
All that aside, I lovedÂ â€śHardhome,â€ťÂ Episode 8 ofÂ Game of ThronesÂ Season 5, not for the Tyrion-DanyÂ tĂŞte-Ă -tĂŞteÂ (though that was great) or for the 15 minutes of terrifying wildlingÂ CastlevaniaÂ final-boss action (which was awesome), but because it finally revealed to everyone the longest of Martinâ€™s long games, which the show set up in the first scene in Season 1. Itâ€™s the threat, both fictional and metafictional, that this meticulously crafted world of lords and kings, whichÂ we have all devoted so much time to following, is really just a house of cards standing in the path of an avalanche. That everything, despite Martinâ€™s protestations against charges of nihilism, means nothing.Â Whatâ€™s going on in Dorne? Not a lot. Everyoneâ€™s dead.Â In a way, it could be the greatest twist of all.
But I digress. The Nightâ€™s King!1Â The Battle of Hardhome is a scene that exists in the books,Â kind of. In the books, wildlings do mass at Hardhome, the Nightâ€™s Watch does send a fleet of ships to attempt to ferry them out, and everyone does come under attack by â€śdead things in the water.â€ť But all of that happens offscreen, so to speak. The reader finds out about the events at Hardhome via panicked raven messages that the expedition sends to Castle Black.
Letâ€™s assume thatÂ Game of Thronesâ€™sÂ Nightâ€™s King is the same person who is referenced in the books (which seems a solid bet at this point). The origins of the Nightâ€™s King are shrouded in mystery and shame and stretch back 8,000 years to the fabled Age of Heroes, not long after the Wall was raised by Bran â€śthe Builderâ€ť Stark. Some tales say the Nightâ€™s King was a Bolton, others say he was a Stark. Or he couldâ€™ve been a Skagosi or a Norrey or maybe a member of some forgotten house. Whoever he was, the folktales are specific about a few points. All agree that the Nightâ€™s King was once the 13th Lord Commander of the Watch, and that one day, while standing guard atop the Wall, he glimpsed a woman â€” with skin â€śwhite as the moonâ€ť and eyes a ghostly blue â€” in the woods on the far side. Later histories describe her explicitly as being a sorceress. And certainly there mustâ€™ve been something enchanting about her, because the Lord Commanderâ€™s thirst was such that he came down off the Wall, chased her through the woods, and joined her in an unholy union.
Now, in those days, the Watch was headquartered out of the Nightfort, the oldest and largest of the Watchâ€™s castles. Today, as a result of institutional decay, the Nightfort and all of the Watchâ€™s castlesÂ â€”Â except for Eastwatch, the Shadow Tower, and Castle BlackÂ â€”Â are abandoned. We actually saw the Nightfort in Season 3, when Sam and Gilly ran into Bran, Hodor, and the Wonder Twins there after the former group traversed the secret passageway that leads under the Wall and to the well inside the castle. Perhaps thatâ€™s how our 13thÂ Lord Commander brought his pale bride back to the Nightfort. Whatever the case, the couple made themselves at home by enslaving the sworn brothers using dark magic. The Lord Commander then declared himself the Nightâ€™s King, and with Pale Woman as his queen, they carved out an evil kingdom for themselves, with the Nightfort at its center, and reigned unchecked for 13 terrible years. The North, yâ€™all! Come visit! Foreshadowing the fight to come, it took an alliance between King Brandon â€śthe Breakerâ€ť Stark, and the (possible first) King-beyond-the-Wall Joramun to finally break the Nightâ€™s Kingâ€™s power.
Now, hereâ€™s where the theory that the Nightâ€™s King was/is an ancient member of House Stark gains some credence for me. After the Nightâ€™s Kingâ€™s overthrow, it was discovered that, among other atrocities, he had been making sacrifices to the White Walkers. If the Nightâ€™s King were one of theÂ Boltons, the Starksâ€™ ancient enemies, or a member of any other house, great or small, youâ€™d think the Kings in the North would be happy to trumpet that fact far and wide. That didnâ€™t happen. Instead, all the Watchâ€™s records pertaining to the time of the 13th Lord Commander were destroyed. Even speaking his name was forbidden, Voldemort-style. Who else would have the motivation AND the power to suppress the Nightâ€™s Watchâ€™s records except the Stark Kings in the North?
All of the above seems to fit the profile of the â€śEvil King Edgar Winterâ€ť we first saw last season taking one of Crasterâ€™s infant sons to the heart of winter to turn him, we think, into a baby White Walker. Still, thereâ€™s a lot thatâ€™s unclear about the Nightâ€™s Kingâ€™s relationship to the White Walkers and the Long Night. As you may remember, the original Long Night was the legendary generations-long winter that fell on the world like a headsmanâ€™s ax, under cover of which the White Walkers first appeared on their dead horses to lay waste to Westeros and who knows where else. It was the appearance of the White Walkers thatÂ spurred the formation of the Nightâ€™s Watch and necessitated the raising of the Wall, meaning the Walkers existed before the Nightâ€™s King. Perhaps, as withÂ any other kingdom, there have been numerous Nightâ€™s Kings. Perhaps the victory of humanity that ended the Long Night so diminished the White Walkersâ€™ strength that it took the Nightâ€™s King sacrificing children for some 8,000 years for them to build up their numbers again. Or perhaps thereâ€™s some deeper, natural cycle going on that we donâ€™t understand. Do the Walkers cause the Long Night or viceÂ versa? We donâ€™t know. For me, though, the most interesting question regarding the Nightâ€™s King is this: Whereâ€™s the Pale Queen?