Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Night King confounded Game Of Thrones' viewers and readers alike upon his debut

Illustration for article titled The Night King confounded Game Of Thrones' viewers and readers alike upon his debut
Screenshot: Game Of Thrones
Season FourA guide to Game Of Thrones: season four

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

Enter the Night King

The episode

Oathkeeper” (season four, episode 4)

It’s easy to forget how lightly sketched the White Walkers were in the halcyon days of 2014. We knew they were out there, sure, and we knew that Craster was sacrificing his babies to them in exchange for his safety. Still, though we knew there were tons of them, we nevertheless knew little about their history, their wants, and, most importantly, their threat. It’s not as if George R.R. Martin offered any concrete answers in the first five books of A Song Of Ice And Fire. “Oathkeeper,” then, is notable for showing (two seasons later) what happens to Craster’s kids when they’re scooped up by the Walkers, but also for leaping ahead of Martin’s books to establish the beginnings of a mythology for these creatures. There’s a hierarchy on display here, too, or at least there looked to be, as the Walker who uses his coke nail to transform the baby appears to sport an ingrown crown of horns that represents some manner of royalty.

Now, of course, we know that’s the Night King, the leader of the Walkers who can transform dragons as easily as he can babies. We know him as a creation of The Children Of The Forest, and the slayer of the Three-Eyed Raven. We know him as a much greater threat than the Lannisters could ever have been. Then, though, the Night King’s arrival was watched with cocked heads and furrowed brows, with old viewers crowing about how that scene wasn’t in the books while new ones simply tucked it into their back pockets. “That’ll matter eventually,” they said, eager to hear more of the Red Wedding’s fallout and less of this ice zombie bullshit. It’s the political maneuvering of Westeros that won over fans, yeah? Nobody wanted a Walking Dead knock-off.

Still, though many bristled at the show’s hard turn into horror, the Night King’s introduction remains chilling. Michelle MacLaren shoots both the horse-bound Walker and the Night King himself from the POV of Craster’s baby, which puts the audience at a childlike disadvantage. Sure, the CGI isn’t as sharp as it would be in future seasons, but the scene’s eeriness comes not from the character design so much as the mystery: The 13 black-clad Walkers in the distance; the Night King’s slow march to an altar of ice; the way the baby immediately calms in his arms. No, we had no idea know how powerful the Night King was back then, but maybe we should have.

What we said then

The Night King’s debut was confounding enough that it was only glancingly mentioned in our “Newbies” review. “When it comes to that final scene, I’m just as flummoxed as you,” said our “Experts” review. “Notice how MacLaren uses a tight focus on the baby in the foreground to keep the black figures who seemingly menace him—and will eventually ‘adopt’ him—out of focus in the back,” it continued. “This is done to increase the mystery of what’s happening, but it has the added effect of suggesting the shadowy threats that all of Westeros is ignoring in favor of playing the game.”


Elsewhere in the episode

Two words: Ser Pounce. Yes, the fluffy one made his one and only appearance in this episode, crashing a hushed, moonlit encounter between Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) and Tommen Lannister (Dean-Charles Chapman), the newly minted king. “Aren’t you a proper fellow?” she asks, and, why yes, yes he most certainly is. Still, the heart weeps, what with David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ cold reveal that his royal floof was slaughtered by Cersei after she became queen. Rude. So rude.


In non-feline news, Grey Worm bonds with Missandei, then helps spark a slave uprising in Yunkai. Jaime and Brienne bid adieu, the former gifting the latter a sword forged from Valyrian steel (and a Podrick!). Finally, Jon makes plans to end the mutiny at Craster’s Keep, where Karl Tanner (Burn Gorman) chews the ice-slicked scenery to hell before taking Bran, Jojen, Meera, and Hodor hostage. We...completely forgot that happened.

Previously: The Purple Wedding

Next: The Red Viper tries to climb The Mountain


Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.