Why the Night King should win Game of Thrones
No, this isn't a climate change metaphor
The Night King cometh. Since the finale of Game of Thrones' seventh season, fans have been left to mull over the ending shot of the army of the dead marching south. The blue-eyed foot soldiers can only be stopped with dragonglass or fire, and Cersei's army can be counted out. Everyone's doomed.
But we know everyone's not actually doomed, right? Jon Snow and his pals will band together to stop the White Walkers, and then turn their attention to overthrowing the Mad Queen Cersei. Who will ultimately sit on the Iron Throne is anyone's guess, but as The New York Times puts it, "George R.R. Martin has said the ending [of the show] will be 'bittersweet,' not 'weird and deflating.'"
The thing is, I happen to disagree with the idea that this rules out a Night King victory. The White Walkers should win because it would be the perfect, poetic encapsulation of the story's most deeply-ingrained beliefs.
The White Walkers have been portrayed as enemy number one since the opening minutes of the first season, when a skeletal, shadowy figure attacks three men of the Night's Watch who have ridden north of the Wall. The Walkers are a primordial depiction of evil, consorting with corpses and defying the laws of nature. Some people have taken to trollishly predicting that the White Walkers will subsume the continent of Westeros and everyone we care about will die: "It would be either the COOLEST or WORST ending EVER!!!" one person on Reddit declared. I'm not sure about that.
What it would be is the most appropriate and satisfying conclusion imaginable. Over its seven seasons, Game of Thrones has been a story about the right to freedom: Daenerys is the "breaker of chains," a dragon is "not a slave," and the vision of a better Westeros involves "breaking the wheel." There is no character who has suffered more brutally at the hands of a master than the Night King, who was originally human before being transformed into a White Walker by the Children of the Forest in order to fight off the First Men. The Night King eventually turned on his masters, only to be exiled to the frozen wasteland beyond the Wall by the Children of the Forest and the First Men, who joined forces to defeat him.
Sound at all familiar? The Night King is not all that unlike Daenerys Targaryen, returning from exile to unseat the regime that wronged her. Nor is he that different from the Unsullied, having undergone a painful transformation to be turned into a disposable puppet of war. While the Night King still bears a monarchical honorific, we don't know enough about wights to be sure they lack free will.
What we do know is that the grotesque and "unnatural" characters in Game of Thrones often have another side: Think of the disfigured but pure-hearted Shireen Baratheon, the mutilated face of the sympathetic Hound, or the ostracization of the sufferers of the hideous disease greyscale, as with Jorah Mormont. Maybe there is a similar upside to everyone in Westeros dying and being promptly reanimated by the Night King — as the Iron Born would put it, what is dead may never die. Plus, unlike the social stratification of Westeros, kings, queens, and smallfolk alike are equal in death. How's that for breaking the wheel?
Were the Night King to win, though, it would also mean the defeat of the characters we've come to love. There is a rather popular argument that this is the whole point, and that White Walkers are a climate-change metaphor (George R.R. Martin is on record saying the analogy, while he likes it, wasn't intentional). I don't think it's quite that complicated in the show, either: Have we not been repeatedly reminded that "all men must die?" As for that "bittersweet ending" famously teased by Martin: The actual good guys turn out to be the people we'd believed to be the enemies all along. Such a twist is not without precedent in Game of Thrones: We learn in Bran's vision that Rhaegar Targaryen did not abduct and rape Lyanna Stark, as was commonly believed, but loved and eloped with her. Are Jon Snow and company actually mistaken — the Robert Baratheons, if you will — in a similar scenario? I think there's plenty to suggest that's the case.
The only major issue with the White Walkers winning is our relative emotional attachment to the characters. So far, audiences don't know the Night King at all (I might term this "the Gendry problem"). He doesn't even speak. But intriguingly, HBO is already casting for a prequel series with the working title The Long Night, which would take place during the generation-long winter when White Walkers roamed Westeros. While on the one hand the show could be about the First Men teaming up with the Children of the Forest to banish the White Walkers behind the Wall, it could just as well flesh out the origin story of the Night King. As I've written before, Game of Thrones is an immensely popular franchise, and it would be in the showrunners' best interest to keep audiences hooked and hungry for more. Having the Night King win this season, would, if done right, be exactly the hook they need.
The likelihood of this actually happening, though, is admittedly pretty slim. More plausibly one of the four Valyrian swords in circulation will serve as a Westerosi Chekhov's gun, at some point finding its way into the breast of the Night King and conveniently vanquishing his entire army of the dead. Frankly the biggest reason I don't think the White Walkers will win is because it has been so heavily suggested in the promotions — what show would put its big twist right up front in the marketing?
What we do know for certain at this point: The Night King is marching south, slowly but surely. I, for one, welcome the dead.