To continue our coverage of the ubiquitous Game of Thrones, we delve into one of the least-understood group of characters -- the White Walkers.
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A full transcript of the video is below.
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In HBO’s Game of Thrones, one group of characters has the exclusive benefit of being dilemma-free - the White Walkers.
They seem hellbent on death and destruction, and so far it’s a job they’ve accomplished with phenomenal efficiency.
In many ways, the White Walkers feel rather out of place in the Thrones universe - a universe primarily defined by ambiguity.
Who are they? What are they truly after?
Both the books and the show open with a White Walker massacre, quickly establishing them as among the main antagonists of the series.
In their brief appearance, the White Walkers exhibit a penchant for ritualistic cruelty, excellent fighting skills, and the ability to re-animate the dead.
Wights - the “zombies” of the Thrones - operate on behalf of their overlords, rising in the middle of the night and causing havoc.
The Watch and the Free Folk have to burn their dead to prevent reanimation and further troubles.
Despite the real and present threat they pose, the White Walkers are not taken seriously by those from south of the Wall. Ned Stark dismisses the ranger’s first-hand account outright, and even Tyrion Lannister remains deeply skeptical.
When war breaks out in the south, it becomes even less likely that anyone would give the White Walkers the attention they deserve.
In fact, it takes the disastrous Great Ranging for the Watch themselves to realize what they’re up against.
Even with the help of the Free Folk, the Watch goes on to suffer another major defeat at Hardhome. These are not entirely futile encounters, however, as we do get to learn more about the White Walkers.
They are immune to conventional weaponry - which they shatter with ease - but highly vulnerable to dragonglass, as proved by Samwell Tarly when he stabs a walker - and Valyrian steel, as shown by Jon Snow.
We also witness the Night King who shows that the White Walkers multiply using Craster’s sons, and whose powers befit his position as the leader.
The origins of the White Walkers are unexplained until Season 6, when Bran witnesses their creation in his vision.
We learn they were created by the Children of the Forest, who were desperately in need of a powerful weapon in their war against men.
The ploy eventually backfired, and thousands of years later the Walkers are slaughtering the Children and men alike.
The Walkers, or pure evil, being created by good, the Children, gets at a key thematic focus of the show -- the interrelation of good and evil, and the balance between opposing elements, such as fire and ice, in general.
In a general sense, the threat of the mysterious Walkers represents our fear of the unknown -- the thing we don’t even know to be afraid of.
They were gone for thousands of years, and when they do return, people remain in denial despite ample evidence to the contrary. They appear only sporadically, sending wights in their place, and are more often referred to in harrowing, secondhand accounts.
The Walkers are also a direct representation of winter and death. They slaughter anyone in their way, and they literally bring the storm.
In some ways, the Walkers seem to embody fate. Like the winter that must eventually come, and death that must fall upon all living things, the White Walkers are an advancing danger we cannot stop or control, but it must be dealt with.
They are created for the benefit of their creators - just as coal, for example, powered the development of modern industry - but end up backfiring and causing substantial damages.
In addition to representing the backlash from our actions, like the unstable weather that results from climate change, they are an unstoppable force of nature.
And just as with weather changes, those most vulnerable to the elements are affected first, while those in more developed, insulated areas have the luxury of being able to ignore the problem.
Whether we associate the walkers with climate change, winter, death, fate or evil, most of all, , they’re a reminder of the bigger threat beyond our smaller in-fighting.
Instead of uniting in resistance, the potentially affected parties within the show spend more time bickering and focusing on their own short-term interests.
Those at the front of the battles lines can’t turn back the tides alone, without the unified help of all humanity coming together to face the bigger fight.
All of this leads us to circle back and ask, are the White Walkers really that dilemma-free, after all? Martin’s writing is all about subverting expectations and flipping the clichés tropes of fantasy, so he’s not going to give us a final climax and ending that’s just a traditional showdown between easily defined good vs. evil.
Like other groups in Game of Thrones, the White Walkers may fear for their survival. There are men living north of the wall, dragons are back in existence, and Valyrian steel and Dragonglass -- the only weapons that kill White Walkers -- are forged in dragon fire.
And since they apparently need infant human sacrifices to procreate, the sons of Craster may not be enough.
As we see Jon Snow lead the fight against the White Walkers, and Daenerys get to Westeros, we may discover that this fight of ice and fire has some unforeseen complexities.
And it’s unlikely that some of these characters will look up from their infighting any time soon.