Let’s talk about that fucking battle.
Every week this season, we’ve taken close looks at the background story and theories from HBO’s most metal show. This week I’m focusing in particular on the 20-minute battle scene that capped off the episode—by far this season’s highlight. Did I miss anything or get something wrong? Let me know below.
After the Night’s Watch and Stannis’ forces repelled Mance Rayder’s attack on the Wall in the Battle of Castle Black, thousands of wildlings fled north. They gathered here, at Hardhome, an abandoned village and wildling settlement located at the tip of Storrold’s Point beyond the wall.
At its peak, centuries ago, Hardhome was a bustling and even somewhat civilized fishing town that traded with the free cities. A maester named Wyllis spent three years there, protected by the chieftain Gorm the Wolf (“Mr. Gorm was my father—call me Gorm the Wolf”), eventually returning south to write the touristic wildlingsploistation “classic” Hardhome: An Account of Three Years Spent Beyond-the-Wall among Savages, Raiders, and Woods-witches.
And then one night around 600 years ago Hardhome was burned to the ground and its inhabitants disappeared or killed by invaders or forces unknown—possibly cannibal Thenns, possibly eastern slavers, possibly White Walkers, possibly NAFTA.
Here’s how George R.R. Martin describes it in the books:
Mother Mole, who has so far not appeared in the show, is a wildling witch and seer who has promised her followers that ships will come to rescue them from their Hardhome settlement.
The Lord of Bones
This is the Lord of Bones, duh. What else do you need to know?
The Meeting of the Elders
Are those dragons at the top of the hut?
Frankly there was probably a more diplomatic way that Jon could have answered the question about Mance Rayder’s death than telling his new friends that he killed their king.
This is Karsi. She is not in the books. She’s played by a Danish actress named Birgitte Hjort Sørensen whom you might recognize from Borgen or Pitch Perfect 2.
This is Loboda, a Thenn chieftain who is also not in the books. He’s played by a Bulgarian actor named Zahary Baharov.
Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun
This is Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun, a giant known (affectionately, I suppose) as Wun Wun. Wun Wun, who does appear in the books, is around 14 feet tall and is a vegetarian.
“I fucking hate Thenns.”
These are the ships Stannis loaned Jon Snow for the journey north. They’d have launched from Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, the easternmost castle on the wall, and then around Storrold’s point to the bay where Hardhome lies. (Jon has arrived at Hardhome rather quickly for what was probably 100 miles of land travel from Castle Black and 200 miles by sea, but I’m willing to let travel times be fudged if it means something will fucking happen on this show.)
Jon asks Tormund “How many are with us? 5,000?” I count around 50 masts—at a 100 people per ship, not including his own crew, that’s probably the limit that he can bring anyway. Obviously, as later events show, it doesn’t really matter.
“The fuck you looking at?”
Giants natively speak the Old Tongue, the language spoken by the First Men from whom most northerners are descended. Though everyone in the Seven Kingdoms—even the north—has since adopted the so-called Common Tongue brought to Westeros in the Andal invasion several thousand years ago, the Old Tongue is still spoken by giants and some wildlings, including Mance Rayder.
Remember these guys? Wights, the blue-eyed zombie warriors that make up the army of the undead threatening the north. They’re not to be confused with the White Walkers, who are also blue-eyed warriors or may or may not be zombies. Among other things, wights can seemingly be “killed,” or at least destroyed to an extent that means they can’t be resurrected (wildlings burn their dead so they can’t be re-animated). White Walkers, on the other hand, can apparently only be hurt by weapons made of certain materials; they also have much nicer clothes than wights.
The White Walkers
These are the guys you really gotta watch out for. The White Walkers are the leaders of the undead army, supernaturally quick and strong, and impossible to kill. They ride gross skeleton horses.
I’m not sure if this particular White Walker is one we’re supposed to recognize (he’s played by an actor new to the show), or if that would even matter.
Jon, looking as surprised and nervous has he always does, manages to kill the White Walker with his sword, Longclaw, a gift from his old boss, the late Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (Jorah’s dad). Longclaw, which was in the Mormont family for hundreds of years, is one of the last remaining swords on the continent, if not the world, made of Valyrian steel, and it seems clear that the material—magically forged with dragon flame—gives it the power to kill the White Walkers.
The problem is that there isn’t much Valyrian steel left. When the Valyrian empire collapsed after the mysterious Doom of Valyria, the technologies (not to mention the dragons) used to make the famous steel were lost. The only other Valyrian steel swords we’ve encountered in the show are Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper, made from the melted Valyrian steel of Ned Stark’s sword ice, and now in the possession of King Joffrey(‘s coffin) and Jaime Lannister, respectively.
The Night’s King
OK, this bitch you are supposed to remember. We last saw the Night’s King—presumably the leader of all the White Walkers—at the tail end of an episode last season, in which he turns a stolen baby into a White Walker with the touch of his finger.
We don’t know much about the Night’s King, but there is plenty of speculation. In the books, there is a legendary Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch about whom Old Nan tells Bran Stark a story:
As the sun began to set the shadows of the towers lengthened and the wind blew harder, sending gusts of dry dead leaves rattling through the yards. The gathering gloom put Bran in mind of another of Old Nan’s stories, the tale of Night’s King. He had been the thirteenth man to lead the Night’s Watch, she said; a warrior who knew no fear. “And that was the fault in him,” she would add, “for all men must know fear.” A woman was his downfall; a woman glimpsed from atop the Wall, with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars. Fearing nothing, he chased her and caught her and loved her, though her skin was cold as ice, and when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well.
He brought her back to the Nightfort and proclaimed her a queen and himself her king, and with strange sorceries he bound his Sworn Brothers to his will. For thirteen years they had ruled, Night’s King and his corpse queen, till finally the Stark of Winterfell and Joramun of the wildlings had joined to free the Watch from bondage. After his fall, when it was found he had been sacrificing to the Others, all records of Night’s King had been destroyed, his very name forbidden.
“Some say he was a Bolton,” Old Nan would always end. “Some say a Magnar out of Skagos, some say Umber, Flint, or Norrey. Some would have you think he was a Woodfoot, from them who ruled Bear island before the ironmen came. He never was. He was a Stark, the brother of the man who brought him down.” She always pinched Bran on the nose then, he would never forget it. “He was a Stark of Winterfell, and who can say? Mayhaps his name was Brandon. Mayhaps he slept in this very bed in this very room.”
No, Bran thought, but he walked in this castle, where we’ll sleep tonight. He did not like that notion very much at all. Night’s King was only a man by light of day, Old Nan would always say, but the night was his to rule. And it’s getting dark.
Because HBO has given this White Walker character—with his creepy skull crown—the name Night’s King, it’s hard not to imagine that the Night’s King of legend has made a reappearance as the leader of the White Walkers and the army of Wights. Not that it will make an enormous difference to the plot, necessarily? Nor will it answer the question of why the wights didn’t just try to swim to catch Jon Snow.