I’ve lost faith in Game of Thrones over the last two seasons even if others haven’t. I was optimistic they’d fix the problems of season seven in the final year, but they’re worse than ever. One of my biggest issues was the anticlimactic ending to the Battle of Winterfell, when the living defeated the White Walkers were in a single battle at the last possible moment. It was so underwhelming some think it was intentional; the Night King’s story couldn’t possibly end that way after eight seasons of build. At first I thought those people were all insane, because the show doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt anymore.
But the hopeful part of me, the part that loves what the show was, thinks I’m wrong. Maybe the series still has something amazing and meaningful planned. Because there are plausible ways the Night King could make a powerful return for a wholly satisfying and logical conclusion.
There are different possibilities for how the Night King could come back without needing to much exposition in the finale. Bran could make a new one for instance. A version of that theory predates the eighth season, and all it would take is Bran putting a piece of dragonglass into someone’s heart, maybe even Jon, to make a new White Walker leader. Why would he do that? The world might need a balance between light and dark, a la The Dark Crystal; the Night King is a necessary evil, lest fire consume the world.
Or maybe Bran, bearing the physical touch of the Night King like Craster’s sons, is the ultimate sleeper agent, unaware of his ultimate fate to continue the icy line. There’s reason to be skeptical of both, but neither is without their merit. If we can imagine any plausible scenarios where the Night King comes back, there are certainly others we haven’t thought of yet.
More important than the “how” though is the “why”. Bringing back a vanquished foe, seemingly destroyed forever, right at the end could feel cheap. It’s like an unearned ploy to keep a sequel possibility alive. My disappointment in the show’s recent writing tells me that’s exactly what it would be. Still, my love for what the series once was thinks it could happen for the best possible reason – to complete the real story Game of Thrones has been telling since its very first scene.
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss knew where this show was heading when they planned the last couple of seasons. There was a moment with Beric Dondarrion and Jon Snow in the otherwise terrible “ Beyond the Wall” that felt crucial to the main theme of the show. As the two hunted a wight, Jon asked Beric if he questioned why they were brought back from the dead at all. The Lighting Lord didn’t have any answers, but he didn’t need them.
“I don’t think it’s our purpose to understand, except one thing: we’re soldiers. We have to know what we’re fighting for. I’m not fighting so some man or woman I barely know can sit on a throne made of swords,” said Beric. But season eight seems like it really does care more about who sits on the Iron Throne. The rest of their conversation, which came so close to the series’ end, still feels far more important and revealing.
Jon wanted to know what Beric was fighting for if he wasn’t fighting for a king or queen. “Life,” Beric said, “Death is the enemy. The first enemy and the last.” In a pre-Battle of Winterfell world where the White Walkers threatened eternal darkness, that idea felt like the single most important thing anyone on the show had ever said. Maybe they still are.
“But we all die,” Jon said to Beric.
“The enemy always wins, and we still need to fight him. That’s all I know,” Beric told him. And he’s right; we all die, even someone resurrected repeatedly, even a woman who lived for hundreds of years, and even the White Walkers. We can never defeat death, all we can do is fight against it as hard as we can for as long as we can.
So why would we think they could defeat the Night King, death incarnate. Yas, Arya put a Valyrian steel dagger in his belly and preserved the lives of everyone in the world, but she didn’t save them forever. It only makes sense she didn’t eliminate Death forever either.
I don’t know how much I actually believe in this possibility versus how much I want to believe in it because I’m desperate for the show to end on an amazing note, but I do know they laid the groundwork for it to happen.
Now I keep picturing the end of the series. I picture a coronation for someone on a throne made of swords, with all of the important people in the Realm in attendance. But in the final moments of the series, back in an empty Winterfell Godswood, the wind picks up a little. Then a lot. And suddenly there’s a blinding storm and out from the snow walks the Night King, reformed like the magical ice being he is, off to regroup before he returns in another five thousand years.
Because “death is the enemy”. It was the enemy we met in the show’s very first scene; it’s only fitting it should be the last one, now and forever. And if that happens, if the Night King’s seeming end was only anticlimactic because it wasn’t really his end, Game of Thrones will have delivered on the promise of the White Walkers story, and the entire series.
We are all going to die, but we can control what we do with the time we have. Do we want to fight over an Iron Throne and who gets called “My Lord” or “Your Grace?” Do we want to kill each other on battlefields and starve alone when winter comes?
Or do we want to fight the real enemy by living the best lives we can? The Night King’s return wouldn’t be cheap or unearned. It would having tremendous meaning and power, a satisfying conclusion for the show.
Maybe I’m foolishly optimistic to think something like that could still happen before the show ends forever. But life’s too short to give in to the darkness.