Will The Winds of Winter finally introduce the Night King?
First revealed in Game of Thrones Season 4, the Night King made a lasting impression. He was menacing, lethal, and nearly invincible. The Night King commanded an entire army of White Walkers and wights, former humans who’d been turned into immortal ice creatures, simply by raising his arms in silence. Though he never spoke, it was clear his goal was to dominate Westeros and kill anyone who stood in his way.
Perhaps the Night King was a symbol of the Long Night, a prophecied period of darkness and terror. Or maybe his existence gave a face to the undead horde the Westerosi were terrified to face, a concrete villain they could attempt to defeat. Whatever the case, the Night King is unique to Game of Thrones and does not appear in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series. For now.
Martin’s novels do include the legend of the Night’s King, though the two characters couldn't be more different. However, knowing that the Others (as the White Walkers are called in the books) will play a larger role in The Winds of Winter suggests it might finally introduce the Night King to the novels.
The Night King, a history
Throughout the first few seasons of Game of Thrones, the White Walkers were likened to children's tales; "grumpkins and snarks," as the Lannisters derisively phrased it. Even the Night’s Watch, founded to guard the Wall and prevent the return of the White Walkers, was skeptical these creatures existed.
Samwell Tarly had a run-in with some White Walkers and lived to tell the tale, but it wasn’t until Season 5 that the Night King’s arrival cast aside all doubt about the White Walkers and their intent. The Night King’s first major show of power came after Jon Snow and Tormund Giantsbane attempted to evacuate Hardhome. The visit was meant to convince the Free Folk to fight alongside the Night’s Watch against their undead enemy. What resulted was a massacre at the hands of the White Walkers.
The Night King shows up just as Jon and Tormund are fleeing and raises the dead, all while his icy eyes are locked onto Jon’s. It was terrifying, but the Night King obviously had a vendetta and was showing off what he was capable of (we’ve all seen the meme). More important, his actions proved that he wasn’t simply a mindless puppet but a cunning enemy.
Game of Thrones Season 6 revealed that the Night King was actually the first White Walker, transformed by the Children of the Forest to combat the First Men (aka, the earliest human inhabitants of Westeros). That said, the HBO series never confirms the Night King’s true identity and it’s possible that his character was indeed influenced by George R.R. Martin’s Night’s King.
The Night’s King vs. the Night King
The spelling is not that far off, but an apostrophe makes all the difference.
While some have wondered if the Night King and the Night’s King are the same person, they’re not. The Night’s King was the 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. A man had no name. But, according to Old Nan’s stories, the Night’s King went by the alias of Brandon Stark. (Perhaps this is where all those theories about Bran being the Night King came from.)
Long story short, the Night’s King fell in love with a woman with very pale and cold skin, with “eyes like blue stars” and brought her over the Wall. The woman was never confirmed to be a White Walker, but it’s hard to think otherwise considering her description. He had the audacity to crown himself the Night’s King of the Nightfort and her the Night’s Queen. Their 13-year-long reign resulted in horror and disturbing occurrences, including sacrificing members of the Night’s Watch to the Others (the White Walkers), much like Craster was doing with his baby sons in Game of Thrones.
The Night’s King has never been directly mentioned in Game of Thrones. However, his story made its way into a special animated feature in the Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray, narrated by Rose Leslie’s Ygritte. The only thing the Night’s King and the Night King have in common was that they lived thousands of years before the current timeline of the books and show.
“For thirteen years, he and his queen ruled over his brothers, making sacrifices as black as their cloaks. Lucky for you southerners, the Free Folk rallied to a King-Beyond-the-Wall, as we will when need be, and marched on the ancient castle he had taken as his own, the Nightfort. With the help of the Starks, we killed the demon and cleansed your precious watch. An' then they thanked us, an' kicked us back across the wall. As you always have.” —Ygritte, Game of Thrones featurette
The Night King in Winds of Winter
The Night King has yet to appear in A Song of Ice and Fire, and it's possible he never will. After all, the Others have only shown up a couple times so far and remain a largely unseen threat. There have also been no clues as to whether the Others even have a leader.
Then again, Game of Thrones got far ahead of Martin’s series so there’s a chance that The Winds of Winter will catch up and bring the Night King to the forefront. What’s more, the author revealed that the next book will explore more of the far North, suggesting that the Others’ involvement in the storyline will be much greater than ever before.
The icy creatures are still considered myths, but the arrival of the Night King could certainly change that and turn the Others into a far more lethal threat. The Seven Kingdoms have otherwise been occupied with in-fighting, politics, and more. It’s possible the Night King’s introduction (hopefully in grand fashion) may finally get the citizens of Westeros to start taking the Others more seriously. If nothing else will unite them, maybe the Night King will.
It’s also possible Martin will combine the backstories of the Night’s King and the Night King, giving readers a far deeper backstory to the White Walker leader than HBO ever did. We don’t truly know what happened to the Night’s King; in-universe records of his existence have been destroyed and his name forgotten over time. Perhaps, the Night’s King will be revealed as the Night King and leader of the Others after all.
The Winds of Winter does not yet have a scheduled release date.