Game of Thrones: Who is the Night King?

Game of Thrones took the White Walkers and the Night King to Winterfell for a major battle. We look at the Night King's origin.

The Night King from Game of Thrones

Even after recent events on the show, the ending of Game of Thrones season 7 is still pretty badass, right? The Night King, a being of immence power and malevolence has taken poor Valerion and turned the cream colored dragon into a blue-eyed devil. And this frosty flyer brought down Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. The only harbor for the Night’s Watch lies in ruins and the army of the dead marches toward Winterfell. It is a grim cliffhanger, with the Night King all but cackling as he rides off into the horizon.

And it was one of those rare moments that made both book and TV fans poop their pants, mainly because this leader of the White Walkers hasn’t even appeared in the novels as of yet, but he is now embracing his destiny as the most chilling fiend on television. Yet where did this guy come from, exactly?

A Song of Ice and Fire’s Night’s King

The first time Game of Thrones fans saw this being was in season 4 as it turned a Wildling baby into a White Walker (or White Crawler?). While never encountered in the books, this fearsome foe has been alluded to there as well, often under the nom de guerre of the Night’s King. To be clear, his literary origin and backstory are likely quite different from what is occurring on Game of Thrones since season 6 revealed him being cursed by the Children of the Forest. However, there is likely still some basis in his evil from Martin’s original vision of his icy touch, which from the bits and pieces dropped in the novels, it appears the Night’s King lived in the Westerosi Age of Heroes. To give you an idea of how long ago this was, the Night’s King lived in the period just after the Wall was completed, about eight thousand years before the events of A Game of Thrones. The Night’s King was also the 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Think about that: ol’ ice horns was the 13th Lord Commander, and Jon Snow is the 998th!

As legend has it, when the Lord Commander ventured beyond the Wall, he met a beautiful woman with white skin whose touch could freeze the living.  She was also said to have eyes “like blue stars.”

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So as the Night’s King consummated his love with this mysterious woman, he lost his soul. The King and his ice bride took up residence in the Nightfort (remember that place where Bran and company met Samwell Tarly?). The Night’s King ruled there for 13 horrible years and performed all manner of black magic and unnatural atrocities, including sacrifices in the dark to the White Walkers. The horrors of this era came to their end when the King Beyond the Wall (a precursor to Mance Rayder) teamed with the King Brandon Stark (back when the Starks ruled the North) to defeat the former leader of the Night’s Watch.

After the defeat of the Night’s King and his enslaved Night’s Watch, the Wildlings and the Starks made sure that all records of this wicked entity were stricken from history, including his name. As a result Brandon became known as both Brandon the Breaker, and the King of Winter.

Now most of those stories came from Old Nan and were told to Bran Stark in happier times. All of these legends were related to readers through Bran’s memories, so this information all comes from the recollections of a boy remembering stories told to him when he was little older than a toddler. From these memories, fans can piece together somewhat of a clearer picture regarding the history of this fierce foe. For example, Nan mentioned to Bran that the Night’s King has been rumored to be a member of the family Umber or the family Bolton. After the acts the Night’s King committed in the past two seasons, we can believe the Bolton rumor, but the truth may even be more disturbing.

According to Old Nan, the Night’s King may in fact be (hold on to your small clothes) a Stark! If that isn’t enough, legend has it that the Night’s King was not just any Stark, he was King Brandon Stark’s brother—or possibly Brandon Stark himself! Could Brandon have possibly been rehabilitated in history books as a heroic “King of Winter” by the Stark family? Now how that connects to the crippled young lord of modern day Winterfell is anyone’s guess, but these whispers of the past are intriguing, and could give readers and viewers a hint on what role this awesome new villain could play in the future.

A Song of Ice and Fire - The Night's Queen
Fan art by wolverrain.

Game of Thrones’ Night King

On the HBO series, the Night King has a completely different backstory from what you just read above. Fans bear witness to the origin of the Night King (and what a thrill that was after years of fan whispers and speculation) in one of Bran Stark’s visions. Through Bran’s eyes, fans watch the Children of the Forest (an ancient sprite/ fairy like race that existed before the First Men came to Westeros) pressing a Dragonglass dagger into the heart of one of the First Men. The man’s eyes turn an ice blue as he transforms into the first White Walker—the Night King. In the ultimate bit of irony, the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers and their icy crowned monarch in order to protect themselves from the destructive ways of the First Men. As we know, the Children will later form an alliance with the First Men to battle the White Walkers that the Children foolishly created. Intending for them to be a barrier against the world of man, they instead created a monstrosity that will destroy us all.

So yes, the Night King was once one of the First Men forced to endure a horrific transformation at the hands of the Children of the Forest. Now as we race toward the end of the series, the Children’s mistake has become the mistake of man and the heroes, dragons, and even the villains of Westeros will soon face the Night King in all his terrible glory.