In Beyond The Wall, the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones season 7, viewers were given an exciting new revelation about the deadly White Walkers. Kill one of the icy villains, it transpired, and all of the wights created by that particular Walker will instantly drop dead. (Well, permanently dead.)
Regenerating resistance leader-turned-wight hunter Beric Dondarrion was quick to take things a step further, speculating that if the Night King himself were to be eliminated, all of his creations – the entire army of the dead and possibly the Walkers too – would disappear too. “Kill him. He turned them all,” he urged Jon Snow.
As theories go, Dondarrion’s is a fairly tempting one, that hints at a neat resolution to the series and a climactic final battle between the Night King and one of our heroes (most likely Jon). It also seems unlikely that the episode would have included this line, or allowed the character to voice the thought, if it wouldn’t later prove significant. But would the showrunners, not to mention George RR Martin, who wrote the famously brutal source material novel series, really make things quite so easy for us?
Our own (joyously, unashamedly crackpot) interpretation of the scene is that, while the “kill the Night King, kill his army” theory may indeed prove to be the case, it’ll come complete with its own tragic catch.
What if the Night King, one of the First Men, was a Stark – and what if killing him to magically wipe out all of his creations/descendants/ followers will also wipe out all of the remaining Starks (Sansa, Arya, Bran and Jon, whose mother was Lyanna Stark)?
Is there any reason to believe something like this could happen? Absolutely not, but we’ve nonetheless compiled some “evidence” for season 8 following the Night King's rampage through the Last Heath (Umber-planted death spiral and all). Enjoy!
The 'Stark sacrifice' theory
For us, the main reason this “Stark sacrifice” theory makes sense is a purely emotional one. You can spend hours combing through the novels and the series, looking for intricate clues about why so-and-so is a “secret Targaryen” or whatnot – but, if there’s one thing that Martin is a real master of, it’s the devastating, gut-wrenching, utterly shattering twist.
The Red Wedding, is a prime example of something that few fans saw coming: a brutal annihilation that also made perfect sense within the context of the story. Nobody concerned, from honourable Robb Stark, to greedy Walder Frey, to cool, pragmatic Tywin Lannister, acted out of character.
Likewise, the horrible, painfully simple, hiding-in-plain-sight Hodor revelation from season six was planned by Martin all along, carefully set up from the very first book. So was Shireen Baratheon’s monstrous death, which is yet to take place in the novels.
According to showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, there’s one final “holy sh– moment” coming – and it’ll take place in season eight, “from the very end” of the story.
It’s a bit of a long shot, but Jon discovering that he’ll need to sacrifice not only himself (because let’s be honest, we all know Jon would sacrifice himself in a second) but also his family to defeat the Night King would be an appropriately huge twist, that would definitely fit the “holy sh—” bill.
Jon not discovering this fact, but going ahead and accidentally destroying himself and his family anyway – and Bran knowing the truth, but keeping quiet because it’s the only way to end the Walkers – would also be equally devastating.
Finally, it would also be a beautiful counter-twist. Throughout the past seven seasons, we’ve gradually learnt more and more about Jon’s heritage, with all the clues building up to the big revelation that the “bastard” is really the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, eldest son of the Mad King.
Thanks to the annulment and remarriage revealed in episode five of season 7, we also now know that Jon is the rightful heir to Westeros, with a stronger claim to the throne than Daenerys.
Imagine if, after all this, it turned out that it was the Stark side of Jon’s inheritance (through his mother, Lyanna) that was the truly significant one.
There’s a definite thematic connection between the White Walkers and the Starks
On a superficial level, we know that the Starks are more resistant than other families to the cold, that they are strongly associated with their Northern home, and that they own (well, used to own) a family sword named Ice – echoing, perhaps, the frozen weapons of the White Walkers.
We also know that the Starks and other Northerners, unlike many of the other great families of Westeros, are directly descended from a race known as the First Men, who co-existed with the Children of the Forest back when the Walkers were first created. It’s therefore perfectly possible that the man we saw being turned into the Night King could have been an ancestor of the Starks.
In both the show and Martin’s books, however, there are also deeper clues that the family may have ancient links to the White Walkers.
First, we know that the great Wall, ostensibly built to keep the Walkers out after the end of the Long Night, was raised by a Stark named Brandon the Builder. Martin has confirmed, however, that magic, as well as manpower, would have been used in its construction – suggesting that the Wall may well have been built as some kind of mutual truce, and that the Walkers could have played a part in this.
According to legend, it was also Brandon the builder who decreed that there must always be a Stark in Winterfell, again suggesting that some kind of magical pact may have been formed with the Walkers, motivated perhaps by a secret connection between the otherworldly race and the Starks.
So far in the novels, the White Walkers (or Others, as they are more commonly referred to) have no leader, and there’s no direct equivalent to the Night King character. It’s unclear whether or not this will change in future books.
There is, however, an ancient, legendary character called the Night’s King. In the world of the novels, he’s little more than a folk tale: a commander of the Night’s Watch who fell in love with a beautiful, pale-skinned woman, with “eyes like blue stars”, and instigated a 13-year reign of terror before finally being deposed by a Stark named Brandon (a descendant of the Bran the Builder who built the wall) and the King Beyond the Wall.
If supreme storyteller and oldest-person-in-Winterfell Old Nan is to be believed, however, the Night King was himself a Stark, perhaps a brother to the man who finally defeated him. This, coupled with the fact that this possible-Stark had a relationship with a woman who sounds a lot like a female White Walker suggests that, in the books, the Starks could still be directly descended from somebody with close links to the Others.
The show, meanwhile, has gone out of its way to hint that the First Man who became the first White Walker, the Night King, has an intimate connection to Bran Stark.
It could fit in (just about) with the ‘Bran is the Night King’ theory – but could also work without it
First, we have to understand the 'birth' of the Night King.
He was an ordinary soldier transformed into an undead monster by a dragonglass dagger plunged in his chest (no coincidence, surely, that the substance is lethal to Walkers). The fateful deed was carried out by the Children of the Forest when their war against the First Men (colonisers of Westeros circa 12,000 years before the events on the show) had started to go badly and a secret weapon was required. So they created the Game of Thrones equivalent of the atomic bomb– an ordinary man become death, destroyer of worlds.
This was explained in one of Bran’s scariest flashbacks. In the distant past, we saw the Night King-to-be tied to a Weirwood tree, struggling in terror. Leaf – the Forest Child later to sacrifice herself so that Bran and Meera could escape the Walkers and their leader – stepped forward and pushed a magical blade into his sternum. He screamed as his eyes turn an inhuman blue-on-blue.
"It was you!" Bran said to Leaf, emerging from his trance. "You made the White Walkers."
"We were at war," she responded.”We were being slaughtered. Our sacred trees cut down. We needed to defend ourselves."
Some Thrones fan have suggested that Bran could be the Night King, as well as various other “Bran Starks” from history. According to the theory (and this is a heavily condensed version) the warging, time-travelling Stark would have travelled back to various points in history, attempting again and again to help defeat the White Walkers.
Eventually, he would have travelled back in time to try and prevent the Children of the Forest from ever creating the Night King in the first place – and instead found himself trapped in the body of the man they stab with the dragonglass dagger.
Since then, the theory argues, he has been magically imprisoned, made to live as the Night King for thousands of years.
If this is indeed the case, and Jon is eventually forced to kill his own brother (well, cousin), it could provide the “bittersweet” ending that George RR Martin has previously promised fans, as well as the shocking twist that the showrunners have promised is on the way.
But, given Bran’s absence from the show in previous seasons, compared to the relative prominence given to Sansa and Arya’s storylines, it also feels likely that a bigger, more horrifying sacrifice could be on the cards.
Of course, we’ve no way of telling exactly how this would work, and it’s really all pure speculation. But, regardless of whether or not the Night King really is Bran, a magical connection between the White Walker leader and the Stark family – one that ties their lives to his – certainly isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.
Beyond The Wall (arguably) foreshadows the theory
Okay, so we’re reaching a bit with this one. But bear with us.
In Beyond The Wall, immediately after suggesting they kill the Night King, Dondarrion tells Jon that they both must have been brought back by the mysterious Lord of Light “for a reason”.
The Hound then asserts that every Lord he’s ever known has been “a c---“, and that the Lord of Light probably isn’t any different. The scene then cuts, immediately after this line, to a scene with Sansa.
Join the dots, and there’s arguably a message here: Jon was brought back by the Lord of Light for a reason (to kill the Night King) – but the Lord of Light is a bit of a c---, meaning there’s probably a catch. Does the cut to Jon’s family hint at what this catch could be?
The Night King doesn't speak
In elevating the Night King from quasi-mythic figure to full-fledged Big Bad, show-runners David Benioff and DB Weiss have taken one of the most significant deviations yet from the source material and positioned the White Walkers at the very heart of the drama.
Weiss recently explained their version of the Night King in an interview with Deadline:
"I don’t think of the Night King as a villain as much as, Death. He is not like Joffrey, or [Ramsay]. He’s not really human anymore. To me, evil comes when you have a choice between that and good, and you choose the wrong way. The Night King doesn’t have a choice; he was created that way, and that’s what he is.
"In some ways, he’s just death, coming for everyone in the story, coming for all of us. In some ways, it’s appropriate he doesn’t speak. What’s death going to say? Anything would diminish him. He’s just a force of destruction. I don’t think we’ve ever been tempted to write dialogue for the Night King. Anything he said would be anticlimactic."
Perhaps anticlimactic to a series-ending, Stark-shaped reveal...
The best and most out-there Night King fan theories
As well as the previously-mentioned “Bran is the Night King” idea, shared on Reddit in 2017, there are a number of other theories about the White Walker leader and his (possible) eventual demise.
Judging by recent events on the show, however, we’re not too convinced that things will play out this way. While Daenerys has definitely shown some tyrannical qualities of late (not to mention an unfortunate penchant for burning people alive), the series seems to be moving her in a different direction, showing her resolve not to follow in the footsteps of her mad father.
Others believe that both the Night King and Daenerys will turn out to be a force for evil, and that Jon Snow (who, as a Targaryen-Stark, is “half ice” and “half fire”), will be forced to find a balance between them, possibly even destroying them both.
It’s also been suggested that we’ve all been focusing far too much on Jon and Daenerys, convinced that one or other of them, or possibly both, will turn out to be the great hero prophesised by Red Priestess Melisandre. One Redditer, however, recently suggested that the clues instead suggest that Jaime Lannister will be the one to take down the Night King.
“If/when Cersei dies (possibly by Jaime's hand), I do not believe he will have a want or a will to move on. He will look back at his life and know that he has not accomplished a ton and he will not want to die the Kingslayer...unless that king is the Night King,” a user wrote on the forum.