Stannis Baratheon may have corrected underlings who used “less” when they should have used “fewer,” but when winter is coming, does anybody in Westeros really have time to worry about a misplaced apostrophe? They should, as it turns out, because that bit of punctuation totally changes who the main villain of the series is. The Night King and the Night’s King are two completely different characters … probably.
The Night King
The main villain of HBO’s Game of Thrones, the pointy-headed White Walker who gave Jon Snow the universal “come at me, bro” gesture during the battle at Hardhome is the Night King — no apostrophe. A lot of what he can do and what he wants is still a mystery, but here’s what we know.
The Night King is the leader of the White Walkers and the grand commander of their undead army of wights. The show hasn’t 100 percent confirmed it outright, but it seems likely that he’s also the first White Walker. During one of Bran’s visions in Season 6, he saw the Children of the Forest create a White Walker by driving a dragonglass dagger into a captive human’s chest, turning his eyes blue. The man was played by Vladimir Furdik, the same actor who has played the Night King since Season 6. Chances are, the reason he plays both roles is because they’re the same character. (So, uh, he’s probably not secretly a time-traveling Bran, you kooks.)
It’s unclear exactly when this transformation took place. As Leaf, Bran’s Child of the Forest friend, explains, they created the White Walkers to fight the First Men. The main conflict between the First Men and the Children of the Forrest took place over the course of 2,000 years, beginning a little more than 12,000 years before the main events of the show. It would make sense then that the Night King is from that era. There is one complicating factor: In the books, White Walkers first show up in recorded history after this war ended.
So, it seems like there are three explanations for this: Either the show changed up the timeline (which could have much bigger implications), the Children of the Forest created them after achieving peace with the First Men, or they made them during the war, but they didn’t really see action until after it was over, when the Children lost control of their creations.
The Night’s King
In contrast to the Night King, who is bearing down on the Wall in the present-day timeline of Game of Thrones, the Night’s King (with the apostrophe) has never been seen. According to myth, the Night’s King was the 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. This would mean that he existed about 8,000 years before the current timeline of the show.
The Night’s King supposedly fell in love with a cold woman with blue eyes beyond the Wall. Sounds like a female White Walker, though we haven’t seen any evidence of them in the show. He married her, styled himself the Night’s King and her the Night’s Queen, and ruled over the Wall for 13 years, sacrificing brothers of the Watch. Eventually, the combined forces of a Wildling King-Beyond-the-Wall and a Stark king took him down.
The Night’s King is long dead — if he ever existed in the first place. He’s a half-mythical figure, like Bran the Builder, whose supposed grand castles and works were actually constructed over the course of many lifetimes.
So, sounds simple enough. The Night King is the first White Walker and a present day threat, the Night’s King was an evil, human mythical figure.
There’s a Small Problem …
It gets a little complicated, because in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books, the Night King doesn’t exist. Or, at least, we don’t know about his existence yet. In the books, the White Walkers are still largely an off-page threat. They appeared in the very first chapter, at the Night’s Watch’s disastrous battle at the Fist of the First Men, and when Sam killed one, but not in much else. Book-readers don’t know if the White Walkers even have a leader, let alone if he’s a Night King or Night’s King.
Martin, responding to an inquiry from the Game of Thrones Wiki, largely dodged the question if there was a direct connection between the Night’s King he wrote about and the Night King of the show.
“As for the Night’s King (the form I prefer), in the books he is a legendary figure, akin to Lann the Clever and Brandon the Builder, and no more likely to have survived to the present day than they have,” he said.
So, between this and the apparent onscreen origin of the Night King, we can conclude they’re two different characters. If there’s a connection between them or a significance to the similar names, we might find out later this season (or when the next book comes out, if it ever does).
Game of Thrones Season 7 is currently airing on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. Eastern on HBO.