History of Thrones: The Children of the Forest and the White Walkers

Prior to season six of Game of Thrones, we examined important historical events from the complex and controversial history of Westeros, ones that might tell us something about the story going forward.

We’re going to continue that deeper dive by looking at what we know about characters and events that are new and important to the show. However, know that if you leave the protective magic of this paragraph we can not keep you safe you from any information or theories you might consider a spoiler.

You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.


So the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers—from men—to fight men for them. We did not see that coming.

Before we get to the implications of that monster revelation though, why exactly did the children need protection in the first place? For those answers we need to go back to a time when there were no men in Westeros, during a time known as the Dawn Age.

“No one’s innocent really in this world, and there is just something really beautifully right about the idea that the great nemesis of mankind were created to protect the Children of the Forest from mankind.” – Showrunner  David Benioff

The First Men came from Essos 12,000 years ago across a land bridge into what we now know as Dorne (the exact time is at best an estimate, seeing as how there are no records from then), but before their arrival it was the domain of the Children of the Forest and the giants, a world without cities or rulers where unicorns roamed the land. We don’t know where they came from or for how long they lived free of mankind (one child says “a thousand thousand” man years), but we know they worshiped unnamed gods of the earth, carved faces into sacred weirwood trees to honor them (and to see through), and used magic to fight (though they also used obsidian bows and daggers).

The children have always been both small in physical stature (the giants call them “little squirrel people,” or “woh dak nag gram” for those of you that speak the True Tongue) as well as population. Bran is told in A Dance with Dragons, “The gods gave us long lives but not great numbers, lest we overrun the world as deer will overrun a wood where there are no wolves to hunt them.” What they lack in size though they make up in wisdom of the earth, superior power of the senses, and beautiful singing voices.

When the First Men came they did not come peacefully, battling with the children for two thousand years. The men rode horses, wielding bronze swords with shields of leather; they formed towns and built holdfasts, chopping down the sacred weirwoods. Their superior numbers and advanced technology made it so they naturally had the upper hand.

…Though not enough of an edge to defeat them. The children used their magic to break the land mass that led the First Men into Dorne, to prevent any more from crossing over. They even tried to flood The Neck to prevent them from moving further north (they failed there—though they did create the bogs and swamps the crannogmen call home to this day).

Finally—following two thousand years of fighting and bloodshed—the children and the First Men signed The Pact on the Isle of Faces, a peace treaty that ended the war and the Dawn Age. The First Men would come to adopt the nameless gods of the children (now known as the old gods), and the two races had peace for four thousand years.

This time period is known as the Age of Heroes, when the great castles of Westeros were built, legendary figures like Bran the Builder and Lann the Clever are said to have lived, and many notable families and kingdoms were formed.

It is also when The Long Night occurred, roughly 8,000 years ago (at which we already  took a deeper look). The last hero, with help from the children, defeated the White Walkers (known as the Others in the books) at the Battle of the Dawn, pushing them back into the cold lands of the far north.

Something obviously doesn’t add up here, time-wise.

If the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers to help them fight against the First Men, why did the Long Night take place two thousand years after the two sides made peace? Did the children and their small population become fearful of being completely overrun by mankind, forming the White Walkers as an army that could defeat men for them, without the children having to technically break the treaty? They likely imagined they’d be able to control their new weapon, so once mankind was eliminated by a stronger, icier version of themselves, the children could feasibly do away with them and return to their lands with impunity.

…Or, could it be that the White Walkers simply took that long to get their army together? While they can raise a giant army of the undead to fight with them (those zombie soldiers are called wights), actual White Walkers—the ones that can only be defeated by obsidian glass and Valyrian steel—are few and far between. It’s possible it took the first White Walkers thousands of years to form their army of White Walkers, during which time the children and First Men had made peace.

It’s also possible some children never accepted or trusted the peace, and did it on their own. Or that the peace was only so the children could buy time, after which they would resume their war.

Which is all to say: It’s not clear yet how the timeline fits together, but it is obvious that while the children did create a new creature with a surmountable vulnerability, they lost control over it at their own peril. (Sometimes Frankenstein loses control over his monster.) So when The Long Night came, the children were facing an even greater danger—an even stronger type of man—so they had no choice but to fight back against them with the First Men. Following the defeat of the White Walkers during The Long Night, the Children of the Forest promised the Night’s Watch 100 obsidian daggers annually. Which means they clearly knew their creatures were only defeated, not eliminated.

However, it’s also possible that the Children created the White Walkers not to defeat the First Men, but to have a weapon ready for the next men that came for them. For while they had made peace with the first invaders, the world was full of many more men, and the Children may have feared that next invasion. An invasion that did come, and pushed the Children from their home for good—the Andals

Who are the Andals, then?

The Andals, with their superior steel weapons, came to Westeros from across the Narrow Sea roughly 6,000 years ago, first landing in the Vale with the Seven-Pointed Star of their religion (the new gods). This next group of conquerors ultimately finished the Children off (as far as everyone knew), even though the First Men fought the Andals, too. (The First Men only managed to hold on to the North themselves, though most of the other six kingdoms are filled with families with the blood of both the Andals and the First Men.)

Note: Some maesters think the Andal invasion was 2-4 thousand years ago, not six. Exact dates aside, at the very least the Andal invasion marked the beginning of recorded history in Westeros.

The Children retreated far north of the wall—no longer considered a part of Westeros—eventually becoming nothing more than a legend to the men and women who lived there. So they weren’t wrong in believing that mankind was their enemy. The First Men waged war on them for two thousand years, and the Andals simply finished the takeover.

Wherever the story takes us next in the world of man, we know the big picture is now far more magical than all that. Mankind and its destructive ways forced the Children, in desperation, to turn towards something even worse, but something that is still, in many ways, mankind. For we have seen the enemy, and it is us. May the old gods and the new give men the strength to defeat its greatest foe.

What do you think about the White Walkers origins? What about the Night’s King? What does it all mean for the fate of mankind? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.

For more Game of Thrones goodness, check out what Littlefinger giving a dagger to Bran was all about, our reaction to the Dragon v Jaime battle, and a discussion of Season 7, Episode 4!

Featured Image: HBO

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