Since Game of Thrones’ very beginning, the White Walkers have been the supernatural threat from beyond lingering on the outer edges of our perception. The interpersonal political conflicts at the focus of the show have become petty distractions from the “great war” between the living and the dead. But the White Walkers themselves are fragile, easily defeated, incredibly slow, and don’t really do anything other than provide the Night King with an entourage to hand him spears as needed.
Sure, the White Walkers can seemingly dodge attacks with relative ease, they have incredible strength, and their ice weapons shatter normal weapons instantly. But they rely too much on these magical advantages, leaving the Night King himself to do all the dirty work.
Even worse, the White Walkers are incredibly vulnerable. These supposedly powerful ice battlemages suffer from a glaring weakness: They die instantly when hit with either Dragonglass or Valyrian steel. Normal combatants can take an assortment of stabs or slashes from a weapon before falling in battle. Jon’s had a harder time against Thenns than he has White Walkers.
So let’s take a look back at all the times that White Walkers proved how useless they are:
That One Guy From Season 1 Escaped Easily
In the first scene ever on Game of Thrones, three members of the Night’s Watch are venturing north of the Wall when they’re attacked by a single White Walker. Sure, the Walker is easily able to behead one of them. Mildly impressive considering he’s got a magic sword. But the Walker lets the third man, Will, go. He flees south of the Wall where he’s executed by Ned Stark as a deserter.
But why would a White Walker behead a human when they could kill him in other ways and resurrect him as a member of the undead army? And why would they even bother to let Will go? The only explanation is that they want to scare Will and let him go so he can spread fear, but he doesn’t even accomplish that. He’s killed before he gets far, and everyone writes his warning off as the ravings of a madman.
Why Didn’t that White Walker Kill Sam?
The finale to Season 2 saw Sam unable to keep up with his brothers in arms as they ran for the Fist of the First Men. Sam got caught in a blizzard and, taking shelter behind a rock, realized that an army of the dead was walking past him. One of the shirtless, bearded White Walkers looked him right in the eye and let him live!
We’re meant to assume that the White Walker didn’t register Sam as a threat — which is legitimate — but that icy warrior’s still missing out on a new member of his undead army by letting Sam live. Even more importantly:
Somehow, Even Sam Is Able to Kill a White Walker
Sir Davos needs to constantly remind us that he’s shite in a fight, but with Sam, you just sort of know that he’s as bad at fighting as he is good with books.
When a White Walker comes for Gilly’s baby — one that looks almost identical to the one that spared Sam not long before this — Sam bravely tries to fend it off. More or less accidentally, Sam stabs it in the back with a Dragonglass knife out of desperation, discovering their biggest weakness.
Did the White Walker not know what Dragonglass could do? Or more likely, perhaps it just had no idea that Sam had Dragonglass. Either way, careless. Totally careless.
Jon Defeated One Almost Accidentally
At the Battle of Hardhome, Jon had an admittedly hard time fighting against that one White Walker. He got smacked around, lost his sword, and came really close to dying. (But that never stops Jon!)
This White Walker wastes no time in gutting Jon’s Thenn buddy, but for some reason, rather than stab Jon through the back like a smart ice person would do, he tosses him across the room and swipes lazily at him with his ice lance. When he gets another opportunity to kill Jon, he instead whacks him with the blunt end of his lance. Is he toying with Jon? Just having a bit of fun?
When Jon picks Longclaw back up, all it takes is a block-parry-counter combo to kill the White Walker instantly. Amateur.
Even Meera Was Able to Get in on the Action
It’s often overshadowed by the whole “Hold the door!” bit and several important deaths happening in one scene, but a similar-tier White Walker strides into the original Three-eyed Raven’s den. His armor blocks the weak thrusts of a Child of the Forest, which he then kills. But he somehow gives Meera enough time to get an eagle-eyed spear right to his neck.
Meera’s proven herself time and time again as a capable fighter, especially with ranged weapons. But still.
Jon’s Able to Kill One in 20 Seconds Flat
Jon and his dream team in “Beyond the Wall” take a single White Walker and a small group of wights by surprise. By now, Jon’s proven himself as a terrific fighter, but a super-powered ice being shouldn’t be defeated so easily.
Why Didn’t the Other White Walkers Throw Ice Spears at Dany’s Dragons?
In one of Season 7’s most pivotal moments, Daenerys brings her three dragons north of the Wall to rescue Jon and co. and the Night King kills and resurrects Viserion. It’s a tragic scene that may or may not have been a brilliant trap set by the Night King. While the Night King is tossing magic ice javelins with impossible accuracy, his White Walkers … do absolutely nothing. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for them all to be tossing spears?
Given the Night King was able to one-shot a dragon, it seems possible that he’s the only member of the army of the undead who is that powerful. There appears to be a huge power drop-off in terms between the Night King and normal White Walkers, which is good news for the living.
If you trace the many failings of the White Walkers, you can chalk most of it up to just necessary plotting. The Night King’s army moves slowly and does almost nothing because it has to leave room for the many other stories to unfold on Game of Thrones. But still, based on how easily they go down with the right tools, do they really deserve their fearsome reputation?