WARNING: Spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 2.
The living have a lot more to deal with than expected in Game of Thrones: just where have the new White Walkers come from? The phenomenal season 8, episode 2 ended the character development with the arrival of the Night King’s forces at Winterfell, and something stood out about them.
Previously, the Night King has been shown with a small posse of White Walkers – three in “Hardhome”, three in “The Door” and four in “Beyond The Wall” (with one apiece killed in the former and latter) – and a massive army of wights, which suggested he’s got a small group of lieutenants and a whole load of disposable foot soldiers. This only made him more intimidating, and harder to reach. However, the end of the latest episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”, saw dozens of White Walkers with the army of the dead outside Winterfell (and the Night King wasn’t among them, an entirely separate issue).
Where have Game of Thrones‘ new White Walkers come from? The answer is, partially, rooted in the Night King’s very first appearance, season 4’s “Oathkeeper”. The episode ended in the Lands of Always Winter with a White Walker taking one of wildling Craster’s sons up further north than we’d ever seen. After the child is placed on an altar, the Night King approaches and, with a touch, turns the baby into a blue-eyed monster. In the background of this scene, twelve other White Walkers can be seen. With the Night King and his new recruit, that’s a minimum of fourteen; and with only two confirmed killed after (as mentioned in the latest episode, Sam also beat one, but back in season 3) that means there’s always more than normally portrayed out there.
However, from a brightened up image of the ending of Game of Thrones season 8, episode 2, it’s clear the numbers were always greater than that. Although, even that shouldn’t be a surprise.
The White Walkers’ presentation in the show – especially once the Night King became the big bad who created them all – has been of a small but powerful group who find strength with their undead wights, but that doesn’t quite fit their backstory. Craster had many wives and, presumably, gave away just as many sons to the White Walkers, and that’s just in one man’s lifetime. The A Song of Ice and Fire books further suggest that the Nightfort had a secret passageway through the wall for sacrifices to The Others, meaning the White Walker numbers could be in the hundreds or thousands. The odds are already against the stragglers in Winterfell, but this could be something truly dangerous.
It’s likely the lack of full White Walker numbers in Game of Thrones episodes up to this point is a result of time and budget. They require both practical makeup and CG augmentation (for at least the horses), which can be time-consuming on a show whose massive budget is already stretched across the Seven Kingdoms. Four White Walkers are still imposing, and so having the others elsewhere during “Hardhome” or “Beyond The Wall” is an easy solution.
The real question after this week’s Game of Thrones is more about who isn’t at Winterfell: the Night King can’t be seen alongside the many White Walkers. Is he simply in the air with ice dragon Viserion, but could his plan – to kill Bran so as to weaken humanity’s link to the past – not be as simple as Jon has assumed?
Next: Game Of Thrones Drops First Hint Dead Characters Will Join White Walkers
Game of Thrones season 8 continues Sundays at 9pm on HBO.