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Game of Thrones, Battle of Winterfell: why there’s more to the Night King’s death than meets the eye

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Kayleigh Dray
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Game of Thrones: Night King a Targaryen?

A warning to GOT fans everywhere: this article is dark and full of Game of Thrones spoilers. Turn back now if you have yet to see ‘The Battle of Winterfell’ – aka episode 3, season 8 of Game of Thrones – or risk having the ending ruined in a very big way.

The Night King, aka the silent villain of Game of Thrones, has been the subject of much speculation for many seasons. Who is this strange being with eyes of icy blue? What is his purpose? And why oh why is he so obsessed with bring eternal winter to all of Westeros?

Unfortunately for fans who were desperate for more answers about the Big Bad of Game of Thrones, though, the Night King met his match in ’The Battle of Winterfell’. And it came, somewhat surprisingly, in the form of Arya Stark (Maisie Williams).

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It seemed, at first, as if Jon Snow (Kit Harington) would be the one to bring the Night King down. After all, the pair have history, and Jon was on the ground in hot pursuit of his blue-eyed foe for much of the episode. However, things shifted when Melisandre (Carice van Houten) pointedly reminded Arya that she’d prophesied that Arya would take many lives, including those of beings with blue eyes. In other words, she would use her assassination skills to go after the Night King.

And boy, did she ever! Just as the Night King was about to kill her baby brother Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), Arya pounced on him out of nowhere and stabbed him with her trusty Valyrian steel dagger. As in, yes, the very same Catspaw dagger that Bran gifted her at the end of season 7… and the very same Catspaw dagger which kicked off the almighty feud between Starks and Lannisters, sparking the war of the Seven Kingdoms in the process.

Check it out:

That’s right: not only did the Night King shatter, but so did the other White Walkers, wights, and even Viserion. Essentially, it seems as if the Night King is dead, the battle is won, and our heroes can take the fight to King’s Landing and drag Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) off the Iron Throne with their bare hands. 

Or so we hope, anyway. Because there’s a new school of thought which suggests that the Night King isn’t really dead, but simply out of commission for a spell. And the reasoning for this is all down to the fact that, when Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) attempted to burn him with her dragon’s fire – as is her way – he didn’t just survive, but walked away entirely unscathed.

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Could this encounter have confirmed the true identity of the Night King? And could it mean that the blue-eyed villain still has a part to play in events to come?

 What is the true identity of the Night King? And could he be a Targaryen?

As we all know by this point, Jon Snow isn’t actually Ned Stark’s bastard, but the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Ned’s sister, Lyanna. Which, as Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) pointed out in the season eight premiere, makes him the true heir to the Iron Throne… and the nephew of his lover, Daenerys Targaryen. Ew.

Now, though, people have begun to suspect that the Night King and Jon Snow also share a familial connection. Because, yup, they reckon that Rhaegar was somehow turned into the Night King after he was murdered by Robert Baratheon.

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Why does the Night King’s calling card look so similar to the Targaryen sigil?

In one of the last scenes of the season eight premiere, we saw Tormund Giantsbane, Beric Dondarrion and Eddison Tollett stumble into the snow-covered ruins of Last Hearth, home of House Umber. There, they found the corpse of little Lord Umber (we hardly knew ye, kid) strung up and surrounded by severed human limbs arranged in a familiar spiral pattern.

Naturally, Umber wasn’t dead enough: he’d been turned by the Night King and his followers into a blue-eyed member of their undead contingent, and stealthily made to take a bite out of our favourite red-headed wildling. Beric, though, stepped forwards with his flaming sword and set the child alight. 

As many eagle-eyed fans noted on Twitter, the resulting spiral of flames looked eerily similar to the Targaryen clan’s three-headed dragon sigil. 

Keen to dispel this theory, Dave Hill, the writer behind the opening episode of Game of Thrones’ eighth season, revealed his own thoughts on the meaning behind The Night King’s spirals.

“As we saw with Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven, the spiral pattern was sacred to the Children of the Forest, who created the Night King by sacrificing a captured man in a spiral ‘henge of stones’,” the writer told The New York Post

“The Night King then adopted the symbol as a sort of blasphemy, like Satan with the upside-down cross.” 

Hmm, intriguing –  and pretty solid, as far as theories go. Then again, that’s not the only clue which points to the Night King being the reanimated corpse of Rhaegar Targaryen.

Why can the Night King can walk through fire?

In the show, we have seen the Night King walk through fire multiple times. In the show, only Daenerys is implied to have this sort of immunity/resistance to fire. Does this suggest, then, that the Night King, like Daenerys, is a Targaryen by blood?

Why couldn’t Drogon burn the Night King?

Daenerys loves to shout “dracarys” at her dragons and have them burn her enemies to a crisp, as we all know. However, the silver-haired breaker of chains was left stunned when her murder method of choice failed to work on the Night King… especially as fire has frequently been shown as one of the few things that works against White Walkers. 

Why is the Night King able to ride a dragon?

In season seven, Viserion was shot out of the sky by the Night King during that now iconic battle beyond the Wall. The scaly monster seemingly sank to his death in an icy lake, as a horrified Daenerys watched from the skies above. Later, though, we saw the White Walkers use chains to heave the dragon’s corpse back onto dry ground, and the Night King uses his magic to revive him.

Come the end of the episode, the Night King was confidently sat astride his new zombie dragon, and used it to destroy the Wall. 

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So why is this such a big deal?

Well, as GOT fans know all too well, not just anyone can ride a dragon. Back in the old days, when the Mad King was on the Iron Throne, the Targaryens were the only people in Westeros to master the art of dragon-riding. 

Nowadays, we have Daenerys, who has been able to use her incredibly close bond with her dragons (she is their mother, after all) to ride Drogon whenever she wishes. Other than her, the only other person seen able to tame a dragon is Jon… who has Targaryen blood coursing through his veins.

Essentially, it seems as if one has to be a Targaryen to ride a dragon. So shouldn’t the same be true of the Night King?

Does the Fire and Blood prophecy relate to Rhaegar Targaryen?

As noted on Reddit, the new prophecy revealed in George R R Martin’s Fire and Blood (page 497) overtly suggests a connection between Rhaegar and the Night King.

“And talk was heard in camp of a prophecy of ancient days that said, ‘When the Hammer shall fall upon the dragon, a new king shall arise, and none shall stand before him.’”

A lot of people believed that this prophecy applied to Gendry (Joe Dempsie), being as he a) wields an axe in battle, and b) is the blacksmith bastard son of Robert Baratheon (otherwise known as ‘the hammer’). But what if it actually applies to the Night King himself? What if it refers to Robert’s slaying of Rhaegar Targaryen, and the latter’s eventual rising up to become the all-powerful Night King?

Presuming all of the above is true, how did Rhaegar Targaryen become the Night King?

We all know that Rhaegar was killed off long before the events of the first season even started. His death took place during the tumultuous time of King Aerys II, the father of Rhaegar, shortly after he married Lyanna Stark and impregnated her with his son, Jon.

There is a particularly compelling theory on Reddit, which suggests that Robert Baratheon killed Rhaegar Targaryen using the Catspaw dagger (as in, yes, the very same dagger which Maisie Williams’ Arya Stark currently has in her possession). 

“The ancient greenseers of the Children of the Forest, having seen in Rhaegar Targaryen everything they wish the First Men possessed — either by chance, or perhaps their design — follow Rhaegar to his fate that day,” the Reddit theory goes on to explain. “And in Rhaegar’s moment of death at the Trident, they are able to effectively save his mind within the core of a glass candle in the ancient past, only to wake again in the body of another. 

“The dragonglass we see being plunged into the man tied to the weirwood tree in the past, is actually a glass candle holding the mind of Rhaegar Targaryen.”

It continues: “The individual chosen is likely already an ancient leader of the First Men. He may have been abducted. He may have come with the Children willingly. In any event, the individual we see tied to the weirwood tree is likely someone of importance and influence, probably a King or Prince of the First Men — probably a Stark ancestor. The Children of the Forest selected this person to house the mind of Rhaegar Targaryen, either to imbue him with traits of Rhaegar, or to outwardly embody Rhaegar himself. They were trying to create a better leader for men, to herald a change in the aggressive, destructive mindset the First Men had embraced up to this point. Rhaegar may have indeed been The Prince That Was Promised, except he was a promised prince to the First Men in the ancient past.

“Obviously, something went terribly wrong… [and the Night King] is a crazed combination of two minds — the ancient Stark, and Rhaegar Targaryen — both alive in the same body.”

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So, is the Night King still alive?

Well, it certainly seems as if he is: the Night King shattered into pieces at the end of ‘The Battle of Winterfell’, taking his motley crew of undead shufflers right along with him. But are we really expected to believe that the final three episodes will wrap up the series without giving us anything more about GOT’s most iconic foe? The very first episode of the very first season was entirely focused on the White Walkers, after all, and fans still want to know more about what the mysterious icy warlord had been planning for Westeros, not to mention further details on his true identity and strange connection to Bran Stark. It seems impossible for the show to end without giving us these answers, and that could possibly mean the Night King coming back in some form or another in the remaining few episode. Even if it’s just in the form of a Bran ‘Three-Eyed Raven’ flashback.

Is the Night King really the show’s main villain?

The Night King might not necessarily be the villain we all believe him to be. Indeed, whether he is Rhaegar Targaryen or Bran Stark, there is the possibility his mission is to bring peace to Westeros in the long run. After all, the original purpose of the Children of the Forest suggests that the Night King will do something to restore things (you know, if he isn’t killed by Jon Snow or someone else wielding a handy piece of dragonglass).

Then again, maybe the Night King really is just a vengeful stranger hellbent on destroying the world for no good reason. It just… well, it just doesn’t fit with Game of Thrones as we know it if that’s the case. We’d be far more tempted to believe this compelling theory that the undead villain is actually a metaphor for climate change, and the show a lesson to modern-day leaders on how they need to stop focusing on petty matters of state and turn their attention to the state of the world.

But what if the Night King’s really dead?

Well, that would certainly be a big twist. However, Conleth Hill – who plays Varys in the show – feels that the Night King’s death won’t impact the drama of the show (despite GOT fans clamoring to know how an army of heroes going up against a “pregnant queen and a pirate” is going to keep them glued to their screens for the next three episodes). Indeed, the actor suggests the Night King wasn’t the Big Boss we all thought he was. Rather, he was just a taster of evil before we get to the main course: Cersei Lannister.

“There’s no talking to her,” he told TV Line, adding that “she’s the biggest threat to stability”.

“Even at the end of [Season] 7, there seems to be a coming together of everyone but her,” continued Hill.

Whatever happens, it’s surely not long until we find out the truth. Roll on the rest of season eight already: we need answers!

Images: HBO

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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