This post contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones’ “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”
The dead have finally arrived at Winterfell, and while the living aren’t at full strength (thanks Cersei) or completely focused (super timing on that whole “Aegon” thing, Jon), they do have a plan to defeat the White Walkers. The giant war council gave us a clear idea of how the living plan to both defend the castle and lure the Night King into a trap. We’re just not sure it will work.
The living are not going to hide behind Winterfell’s walls, nor should they. The White Walker army is at least 100,000 strong, and wight soldiers unburdened by their own safety would easily swarm the castle and overrun it. Winterfell’s forces will instead meet them in the field from a fortified position. They have built a massive, spiked trench they will turn into a ring of fire. This will help stop the wights, but not the White Walkers themselves. (We saw the Night King easily pass through fire outside the Three-Eyed Raven’s cage.) They also have catapults to shoot balls of fire into the dead, and caltrops (those big, static wooden Xs) to slow them down. Brienne also said they are fighting on “good ground,” and Winterfell’s elevated position should give them an advantage.
As for the men and women fighting, the Targaryen forces made up of Dothraki and Unsullied, the largest contingent in the living’s army, will take the center. Ser Brienne will lead the left flank, with the Knight of the Vale at the forefront reinforced by Northerners. On the right will be an entire company of Stark men, with a small force from Bear Island inside the walls and the Iron Born in the Godswood. All non-fighters will hide in Winterfell’s Crypt during the battle, which might be a disaster.
Unfortunately, as we can see on this map, the White Walker army is three to four times larger than the army of the living.
As for the living’s biggest advantage, their two dragons, Jon plans to keep them away from the field in hopes of luring in the Night King into a war-ending trap.
Bran the Bait
Bran is convinced he is the White Walker’s primary target, because Bran is the memory of a world the Night King wants to erase. He will stay “out in the open” (though still within the castle’s walls) where the Night King will be able to find him thanks to the mark he put on Bran’s arm. The goal is to lure the Night King there and kill him, because Jon believes it will lead to every other White Walker and dead soldier dying, like in season seven when Jon killed a White Walker and all of the wights he raised died too. This is why Jon and Daenerys will keep their dragons nearby, but not engaged in the fight, despite how much they could help. Jon thinks the dragons’ presence will make the Night King wary of coming close, no matter how much he wants to kill Bran.
If the Brandon Bait works and the Night King does enter the Godswood, Theon Greyjoy and his Iron Born will be there to defend the Three-Eyed Raven, and Jon also seems ready to also swoop in. Bran can always warg into a raven and let him know, or someone can blow a horn three times to alert Jon when the time has come.
Why This Plan Could Work
The living seem resigned to the possibility of defeating the White Walker army on the battlefield. Even with a fortified position, the sheer numbers of the White Walker army, combined with the fact they never tire, never feel fear, and grow in number every time they kill an enemy, makes it only a matter of time before they reach Winterfell’s walls.
Trying to delay that for as long as possible while they lure the Night King into a single showdown could end the Great War in a single blow; they can take away the White Walker’s greatest advantage. The dead have more soldiers, but they might all be beaten if Jon defeats one of them.
Why This Plan Could Fail
The living have enough men to adequately withstand a direct onslaught for a time, but appear vulnerable to being outflanked. The dead might reach Winterfell’s walls far too fast for the rest of the plan to work, assuming the main part of the plan isn’t doomed to fail anyway.
If Bran is wrong and he’s not the Night King’s primary target, or the Night King is too smart to fall into their trap, the living will be keeping their dragons away from the battle for no reason. They will give up their greatest advantage while needlessly sacrificing their best fighters, who will then rise up to fight against them.
Winter is here and with it comes the dead. We’re not sure the living can beat them.