Warning: The following article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon episode 1, “The Heirs of the Dragon”
The first moments of Game of Thrones started with a group of the Night’s Watch scouting beyond the Wall, where they came upon a group of White Walkers and Wights. Over the years, the HBO fantasy show built up the Long Night as an existential threat to the Seven Kingdoms, and while that may have been dealt with in earnest by the end of the eighth and final season, HBO’s first spinoff series House of the Dragon is taking audiences some 200 years before the events of the main saga, leaving fans wondering if the Night King going to appear in that series as well. And if so, will we finally learn more about his enigmatic origins?
Before the Andals invaded Westeros and subjugated the First Men, the latter was in conflict with the Children of the Forest, a race of non-humans who were the original inhabitants of the continent. According to Game of Thrones, the Children created the first White Walker — the Night King — to combat the threat of the First Men, but when the two races came to a standstill, the White Walkers turned on them both.
In the Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin, it is revealed that the Children allied with the First Men to drive back the White Walkers, initiating the conflict that became known in myths of the ages as the Battle for the Dawn. At the end of it, the Long Night — an unrelenting winter that buried the crops and resulted in the starvation of tens of thousands of people — finally ended. The Children and the First Men helped Brandon Stark, known as Brandon the Builder, to erect the Wall between the Lands of Always Winter and Westeros. Bran also became famous for constructing Winterfell and reigning as the first King in the North.
Of the Night King’s involvement in the battle and his fate, nothing is known. But since he appeared in Game of Thrones, approximately 8,000 years after the war, it’s safe to presume that he’s been alive all these years and biding his time, waiting for an opportune moment to raze the Seven Kingdoms to the ground. Which brings us to our first question: Will we be seeing him in House of the Dragon, as well?
For those of you who’ve already seen the first episode, you know that the Long Night gets name-dropped out of the blue when Viserys I is talking to his daughter Rhaenyra about the prophecy that each Targaryen monarch has carried since Aegon’s conquest. The prophecy speaks of a never-ending winter that brings Westeros to doom in much the same way as Valyria — home to the Targaryens and Velaryons — fell more than a century ago. According to Viserys I, just like volcanic eruptions destroyed Valyria, so will an ice storm sweep through Westeros, engulfing everything in its path. The Targaryens refer to this as “The Song of Ice and Fire,” deeming it their duty to unite the Seven Kingdoms under one banner and prepare the world to face its inevitable downfall with a united front.
But the fact that the Targaryens are aware of the Long Night doesn’t necessarily imply we’ll get to see the Night King or any other White Walkers (or Others, as they’re called in the books) in House of the Dragon. If George R.R. Martin and co-showrunner Ryan Condal have intended this to be a recurring plot thread in the series, then the series might venture to Winterfell, showcasing what the sovereign of the never-ending winter and his innumerable minions have been up to all these years.
Another interesting proposition — since we’re just speculating here — is House of the Dragon actually ending with a cliffhanger that features the Night King when the Dance of Dragons has whirled to its tragic end. With no Targaryens and their host of dragons to bar his way, the Night King will be closer than ever to fulfilling his goal. What’s more, the show has the unique opportunity to finally explore who the Night King was and what he wished to accomplish by turning everyone into mindless husks of the undead.
By depicting Targaryens as being obsessed with this prophetic vision of doom, it makes sense for the family to have gathered any and all information about the Night King and the mythic Long Night. Before House of the Dragon premiered, fans had no reason to believe the show would, in any way, allude to Game of Thrones, much less its overarching antagonist. But now, it seems that Martin is playing a longer game, either setting up his remaining novels (The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring) or trying to justify the Night King’s existence by giving him more of a narrative backbone — something that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss should’ve done several years ago.