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A triumphant Night King launched a thousand memes

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Season FiveA guide to Game Of Thrones: season five

Month Of Thrones

We’re counting down to Game Of Thrones’ final season by distilling the fantasy epic to 30 essential moments. This is Month Of Thrones.

The moment

The Night King raises the dead, creates a meme

The episode

“Hardhome” (season five, episode eight)

If season four was Game Of Thrones at its most bloodthirsty, then season five was the show at its most brutally meme-abale. Well on its way to becoming a world-swallowing phenomenon, this was the season that earned the show’s first Outstanding Drama Series Emmy (one of a record-setting 12 wins that year), that inspired such insatiable hunger for early leaks that HBO halted advance distribution of all episodes, regardless of series, via DVD. It was no longer at the height of its storytelling prowess, and it was operating entirely without the source-material net, but Game Of Thrones was enough of a worldwide sensation in the spring of 2015 that it could generate a widely beloved internet goof from an otherwise bone-chilling development in the war between the living and the dead.

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I write, of course, of the Night King raising his hands (and the many fallen combatants of Hardhome) in Jon Snow’s general direction, a gesture of intimidation that’s also readily slotted into familiar online frameworks from “¯\_(ツ)_/¯” to the more traditionally confrontational “come at me, bro.” It’s the most indelible image from an uncharacteristically hectic battle, a moment of quiet defiance after 20 minutes of snarling, gnashing, and screaming. It’s unmistakably a taunt, from a character who’s just debuted in earnest. (“Hardhome” didn’t introduce the Night King, but it established his place at the top of the White Walker hierarchy.) From on high, he witnessed the Lord Commander discover a heretofore Walker vulnerability; separated once more by distance, he demonstrates just how many bodies Jon needs to run Longclaw through in order to keep the threat north of the Wall.

Just as the legions under the Night King’s command grow beyond any mortal’s control, so would the sight of the cocked-elbowed ice monarch spread. “The Latest ‘Game Of Thrones’ Episode Featured The Ultimate ‘Come At Me, Bro,’” read a Buzzfeed UK headline the next morning; building on the show’s award-ceremony clout, one variation on the meme wound up nominated for GIF of the Year at the social-media-oriented Shorty Awards. It was a perfectly postmodern moment, adding to a tradition of fan remixes that had already claimed “Brace yourself” and “You know nothing, Jon Snow” as part of the Internet’s shared vocabulary. But it had never taken hold so quickly, for a character we barely knew. And the web wasn’t even finished with season five, either: The spotlight moment for Westeros’ most judgmental nun was a mere two weeks away. To which the Night King might reply:

What we said then

In the immediate wake of the episode, however, it was a little harder to see the humorous potential: “The parting shot from the White Walkers’ master has more direct aim, as he strides to the edge of the dock and wakens the recently slaughtered. The point is chillingly succinct: The Walkers kill merely to replenish their infantry.”

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Elsewhere in the episode

Dany gave viewers her own words to endlessly recycle, pledging to her latest ally, Tyrion, “I’m not going to stop the wheel, I’m going to break the wheel.” It might not be as catchy, but Arya’s “Oysters, clams, and cockles!”—part of the disguise that puts her in close proximity to The Faceless Men’s latest target, an unethical insurance broker—has a nice sing-song-y ring to it.

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Previously: Lord Commander Snow
Next: Daenerys rides Drogon to safety

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