Warning: This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones' season eight premiere.
Murdering a young boy, stapling him to the wall, and surrounding his corpse with the body parts of his family and friends definitely sends a message. But the Night King wasn't merely trying to scare to the living by giving the Last Hearth a new aesthetic. Who he killed, where he killed him, and how he left his body behind should frighten everyone in Westeros, especially the most powerful and important denizens of the Seven Kingdoms.
The Night King knows his enemies better than they know him. Plus, he knows who they are and where they live.
The Last Hearth was always in grave danger of the White Walkers, thanks to its proximity to the Wall and Eastwatch castle where the dead broke through. It's not surprising that the Night King murdered everyone there and left it in ruins, but the specifics of what he did there are far more terrifying. Of all of the people he killed at the Last Hearth, it was young Ned, Lord of House Umber, whom the Night King turned into decor.
But why him? How did the Night King, who has spent thousands of years far away from the realms of men, and who only just entered Westeros, know who was in charge of that castle? How did the White Walker leader know to pick that specific person as his "message?"
Somehow he knew who the head of House Umber and the Last Hearth was, and that means the Night King knows who the lords and ladies of Westeros are and where they live. By leaving Ned Umber's body behind, he announced to the living that none of them is safe. It doesn't matter how important they are, how many loyal bannermen have sworn to protect them, or how big their castle is, the Night King can and will get to them even where they most feel secure.
As if all of that weren't enough, the Night King "wrote" his message with his signature swirl pattern. The White Walkers have been arranging body parts of human and horse victims like that since the pilot. From the show's first episode:
When Mance Rayder found the remains of the White Walker attack on the Night's Watch at the Fist of the First Men:
We learned in season six where that distinct look came from, when Bran saw in a vision that the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers from a man. The same pattern surrounded the weirwood where the Children put the dragonglass dagger in his heart:
Every time the Night King uses this swirl pattern, as he did with Ned Umber, he tells the world he has not forgotten where he came from and why he was made. He has a long memory, and he's never lost focus on what he is meant to do. The Great War is just starting for the living, but the Night King has been preparing for this battle for thousands and thousands of years.
That particular part of his message might not even be for all of the living—just Bran—but it says a lot about the Night King's intentions.
Everything about Ned Umber's death speaks volumes. The Night King is not a mindless killer. He's powerful and smart, disciplined and focused, and he who knows who to kill and where to find them, which is the only thing he cares about.
That's one hell of a message to send.
Don't miss our full breakdown of Game of Thrones S8E1: "Winterfell" on All Kings Considered! Join Jessica Chobot, Dan Casey, and special guests Terri Schwartz (IGN) and Yolanda Machado (The LA Times, The Wrap) as they unpack everything from the premiere.