The Book That Was Promised

Winds of Winter theory fixes Game of Thrones’ most disappointing villain

Has one legendary figure secretly been in front of us this whole time?

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Who is Coldhands?

That’s one of many questions that fans of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels are still waiting to learn the answer to.

Game of Thrones, the HBO series based on the Ice and Fire books, revealed that its version of the character was actually Benjen Stark, but Martin has already confirmed his version of Coldhands is definitely not. So who is he?

One popular fan theory suggests that The Winds of Winter, the long-awaited sixth installment in the Song of Ice and Fire books, will reveal that Martin’s version of Coldhands is actually a legendary figure that fans have only heard about up to this point in the novels.

Joseph Mawle as Benjen Stark/Coldhands in Game of Thrones Season 6.


The Theory — One of the leading theories about Coldhands is that he is secretly the Night’s King. To be clear: we’re not talking about The Night King from Game of Thrones but rather the legendary Night’s King written about in Martin’s previous Song of Ice and Fire novels, who’s said to have lived thousands of years before the events of the series.

The theory argues that the Night’s King has been cursed to spend the last several thousand years living as Coldhands beyond the wall as punishment for his alleged crimes. If true, this could explain why Coldhands shares all the physical traits of the White Walkers but hasn’t lost his mind and become a seemingly mindless member of the undead army that’s growing beyond the wall.

The Night King as seen in Game of Thrones Season 8.


The Legend of the Night’s King — In the books, it’s said that the Night’s King was the 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch who slept with — and wed — a creature many believe to be a female White Walker.

In doing so, he apparently lost his soul to her. Following their marriage, it’s said that the Lord Commander declared himself the Night’s King and this creature his queen. The pair went on to rule at the Wall for 13 years, committing various unspoken atrocities and performing human sacrifices to the other White Walkers throughout that time.

It’s also rumored that the Night’s King may have been a Stark, named Brandon. Combined, those details separate the character greatly from Game of Thrones’ Night King, who was eventually revealed to be the first-ever White Walker.

Taking all that into consideration, it does seem like a legitimate possibility that Coldhands could be the Night’s King. After all, the character’s alleged marriage to a White Walker would explain why he has all the physical characteristics of an undead wight. And it’s certainly possible that the Night’s King may have been able to reclaim his own sanity after his union was eventually torn apart and his rule defeated.

It would also be in keeping with the methods of the Children of the Forest (and of George R. R. Martin) to punish a character like the Night’s King by forcing him to live forever as a conscious undead being beyond the wall.

Benjen saves Bran and Meera in Game of Thrones Season 6.


The Inverse Analysis — As is always the case with these Winds of Winter theories, there’s no way of knowing whether there’s a kernel of truth to them until the book is actually, finally released. That said, this is an undeniably interesting theory and one worth considering — even if Martin has previously hinted that the Night’s King perished long ago in the books.

At the very least, it’d be a far more interesting, unexpected resolution to Martin’s ongoing Coldhands mystery than Game of Thrones’ Benjen Stark “twist” turned out to be. Plus, it’d give Martin the chance to deliver on the promise of the Night’s King in a way that the HBO series definitely didn’t.

The Winds of Winter will be released whenever George R. R. Martin finishes writing it.

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