Game of Thrones season seven has come and gone, but the post-show questions remain. Is Tormund okay? Will Daenerys and Jon produce an incest baby to begin a new Targaryen/Stark dynasty? And speaking of incest babies, is Cersei pregnant for real or is she making it all up? And perhaps most importantly: why is every single White Walker a man?
We’re not talking about the army of the dead—it’s those blue-eyed icy boys we’re curious about specifically. It’s all male, all the time. What’s up with that?
It’s possible they bought into a Westerosi version of that former Google employee’s infamous anti-diversity manifesto: “Only MEN are biologically suited for riding undead ice dragons and raising shambling zombie armies!” This being Game of Thrones, however, the explanation is actually rooted in the ancient history of Westeros, counterintuitive societal institutions, and, of course, families who are too close for anyone’s comfort.
First, we have to break down the different types of dead-ish humanoids living north of the Wall. There’s the Night King, the White Walkers, and the army of the dead. The Night King is the one with the little horns on his head who killed Dany’s dragon (still not over it, TBH). The White Walkers are his crew with the beards and armor, while the army of the dead — a.k.a. the wights — are the skeletons and rotting corpses who fight on their behalf. Only the army of the dead seems to contain any women (which makes sense).
In fact, there actually was one female White Walker, as legend holds. According to the books’ many Old Nan stories, the Night King was once a member of the Night’s Watch. Old Nan tells a pre-weirdo Bran Stark about a Night’s Watch brother who fell in love with a woman beyond the Wall “with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars.” He brought her to the Nightfort, where they ruled over the Watch and essentially made them slaves to their will. Together they ruled as the Night King and Queen before a coalition of the Night’s Watch, the Starks, and the wildlings took them down.
However, this doesn’t square with what we’ve seen in the show, which asserts that the Night King was created by the Children of the Forest. During his freshman year drug trip Three-Eyed Raven training in season six, Bran has a vision of the Children plunging a dragonglass dagger into a human man, which turns him into the Night King. They explain that it was a necessary measure to protect themselves against the First Men, i.e. humans. Hey, when a horde of much bigger beings with deadly weapons come at you, the only reasonable response is to create an icy abomination capable of slaughtering the heck out of anyone in its path. Once their magic worked, they turned some more people into White Walkers to start an army. What with the strictures of Westerosi gender roles, the humans who presented the most immediate threat to the Children, and who would therefore be the first choice to become White Walkers, would have been male.
Fast forward at least 8,000 years to the main events of Game of Thrones. The White Walkers are (okay, were) unable to pass beyond the Wall, partly because the Wall is 300 feet high and partly because the Night’s Watch has been stationed on the Wall for those 8,000 years. Occasionally a few brothers of the Night’s Watch would do something stupid like venture into the frozen wastes for a wight heist, where the White Walkers could get them—and since the Night’s Watch has always been a bunch of dudes living together in a castle without any women, the selection pool for potential White Walkers was pretty testosterone-heavy.
When it comes to the army of the dead, a.k.a. the wights, the selection process is less gendered. We’ve seen female wights shambling alongside male ones, like Karsi (RIP) after the battle of Hardhome. This is partially because the deadliest thing about the wights is their sheer abundance; we rarely see people getting killed by a single wight, but we often see a big group of wights piling on to their prey and tearing them to shreds. If your main concern is numbers, you’re not going to be too concerned about whether the corpses you’re resurrecting are male or female.
Another reason for the prevalence of female wights: there are more women north of the Wall than in the armies of the First Men or at Castle Black. The wildlings are a mixed-gender community who train both women and men to fight, meaning that wildling corpses left in the snow after battle—and who then become wights—could be of any gender. There are some places with especially high concentrations of women, such as Craster’s Big House O’ Incest, where the disgusting patriarch Craster maintained a household full of daughter-wives and left all his newborn sons outside as a sacrifice to the Night King.
That latter part is where the gender bias kicks back in, by the way. Although we’ve seen the Night King stop by to turn one of Craster’s sons into a White Walker, we’ve never seen him do the same with any of Craster’s daughters. Maybe the girls know better than to go outside, forcing the Night King to focus his M.O. on the baby boys that Craster abandons. Or maybe it’s a tradition thing.
Either way, it’s all down to selection bias. The White Walkers were made from men. The vast majority of humans they encounter are men or boys, and as Game of Thrones keeps reminding us, old patterns are hard to shake off.
This doesn’t mean we’ll never see any female White Walkers in Game of Thrones. Or that a female White Walker wouldn’t be more deadly than their male counterparts. As the last couple of seasons have shown, some traditions are meant to be broken—especially when it advances the plot, and certainly this one has been more female-centric than seasons past. Once the White Walkers make it south, they could start turning men and women alike in order to create more officers for their wight army. Or even better: we might even see a new Night Queen riding beside the Night King or leading the armies of the dead herself. There’s no reason men should have all the terrifying elemental fun.
Will we see familiar faces amongst the White Walkers in season eight? Is it time for the Night King to step aside in favor of a Night Queen? Let us know in the comments!