Okay, Game of Thrones Season 8 is upon us, and as our lovable heroes face the Night King a burning question remains: what does this enemy want? The internet is filled with terrible theories, but I say there’s always room for more! To be fair, I won’t assume this theory is new by any means, but I like it well enough to share – who knows, maybe some shred of it might end up being true, though it’s about as likely as Daario = Benjen.
The White Walkers are a mysterious foe. Thought they first popped up at the beginning of the very first episode (and thus predated all other characters still on screen), we really know very little about them or their motivations.
“But, Mat,” you may ask, “aren’t they just evil ice demons that want to kill people and stuff?” Well, no, not likely. George R.R. Martin has gone on record multiple times regarding his thoughts on the morality of his characters, stating he loves ‘gray’ characters. Check out this quote from an interview he did with Assignment X in 2011:
“Much as I admire Tolkien, and I do admire Tolkien – he’s been a huge influence on me and his LORD OF THE RINGS is the mountain that leans over every other fantasy written since and shaped all of modern fantasy – there are things about it, the whole concept of the Dark Lord, and good guys battling bad guys, good versus evil, while brilliantly handled in Tolkien, in the hands of many Tolkien successors, it has become kind of a cartoon. We don’t need any more Dark Lords, we don’t need any more, ‘Here are the good guys, they’re in white, there are the bad guys, they’re in black. And also, they’re really ugly, the bad guys.”– George R.R. Martin, AssignmentX.com, 2011
It’s pretty clear that Martin isn’t intending to present the White Walkers to us as evil incarnate bad guys, and we can infer that they instead of real motivations for doing what they are doing. So knowing the very little we do about them, but assuming they have something that resembles human emotion and drive, what could they want?
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a quick and dirty way to figure this out – looking at the base of the pyramid are physiological needs, those things that are of the utmost importance to our survival on this cruel mistress of a planet: homeostasis, food, water, sleep, shelter, and sex. I believe strongly that its one of these items that are causing the White Walkers to push south and risk war and death to their kind should they fail. There must be something at a fundamentally basic level that would drive them to do this.
If I had to put money on it, I’d say it’s sex.
Or, rather, reproduction. One of the cornerstone drives of human physiology is to further our species and produce children. If we did not do this, humans would die out as a species and disappear from the planet. One of the few known factors about the white walkers is that they take children. That we know of, Craster offered up at least several baby boys to the walkers. But why?
We see clearly in the show that the Night King takes one of Craster’s babies and turns it into a white walker through some strange magic. There is no reason to believe this differs in the books, as they provide even more evidence of this baby-absconding behavior. Stories are mentioned of the Night’s King, a historical member of the night’s watch (more on him later) who was stricken from the history books specifically because it was found he was sacrificing children to the white walkers. The book, therefore, lends itself even more to the idea that White Walkers, at least to some extent, require human babies in order to reproduce.
This brings me to my next thought. We know that the White Walkers only take Craster’s boys, not the girls. The story of the Night’s King doesn’t specify anything regarding the genders of the sacrificed children, so we are limited to Craster’s interactions with the Walkers in this regard. So, why only the boys?
One possibility is that the Walkers were using Craster’s setup as a breeding colony – if they let Craster keep the women, Craster can make more children, meaning more boys for the Night King’s army, but wouldn’t this whole ‘relying on humans for the procreation of our species’ thing kinda suck?
This speaks to a bigger point: why are there no female White Walkers?
In the show, we’ve only seen male White Walkers. Its possible that they’re in the background somewhere, deep in the frozen north. But if there were female White Walkers would they be able to procreate more traditionally, without relying on humans like Craster?
The answer might be no, but for this theory I want to lay the following on the table: What if female white walkers are possible, and with one they could procreate on their own – then what if the female White Walkers have all died out, the male White Walkers are now in a position to rely on taking sacrifices from the Wildlings, but cannot turn girls into one of their species in the same way they change baby boys. As they attempt to survive by taking a smattering of sacrifices, all the wildlings are banding together and plotting to flee the north completely, removing the White Walkers’ ability to procreate completely, except Craster. Then the Night’s Watch deserters kill Craster and ruin that too. What would the White Walkers, put in that situation, do next? Maybe they would march on the wall in full strength in order to seek what they truly need: a Night Queen, a female that can help them sustain their population.
This isn’t unprecedented, as that story of the Night’s King that appears in the books (the old musty Night’s Watch guy) relates that the Lord Commander at the time fell in love with a woman “with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars” and that “her skin was cold as ice”. If this doesn’t scream lady White Walker, I don’t know what does. If we can accept this as fact, then we have evidence that there was, at least once, a female white walker.
Fast forward to present time in A Song of Ice and Fire and we have seen a minimal amount of detail regarding the White Walkers as a society and culture. While the show may deviate from the books in this regard, it is clear so far that no female White Walkers are present. If there are none now, but we know there has been at least one in the past, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that the White Walkers might seek to find a new queen? Wouldn’t this motivation be made even stronger if a female White Walker is the missing key to self control over their reproduction and the survival of their species? And wouldn’t this motivation be enough to drive them south, end centuries of peace, and fight against mankind?
There’s a lot of speculation that the original Long Night was ended through some sort of agreement struck between the White Walkers, humans, and the children of the forest. If that’s the case, and the above theory is true, I believe that the deal was a human woman offering herself to willingly become a White Walker, and perhaps some agreement to offer children to the walkers as well. Over the course of centuries, humans forgot about this deal and the old traditions were lost. What we’re seeing in this series may just be the culmination of hundreds of years worth of humans shitting on the oaths they made and it’s now time for the white walkers to remind the Seven Kingdoms of those oaths.
So in summary, the theory so far is as follows: the White Walkers are on the verge of extinction. Their ability to procreate has been reduced to the point where they must rely on infrequent sacrifices from wildlings like Craster. Now, after centuries of slow decline and the wintry winds at their backs, they march to war in search of a new queen and a hope for their peoples’ survival by pushing men into submission and either brokering a sweet, new deal or destroy mankind if they refuse.
If this theory ends up holding any water, I think it likely that Dany herself would offer herself to the Night King and become a female white walker. With her sacrifice, she would save the Seven Kingdoms from destruction but be forced exile herself and give up the one thing she’s fought so hard to achieve: the iron throne. It could be that by making this choice, Dany herself becomes the song of ice and fire as her Targaryan blood merges with the ice magic of the white walkers.
One way or another I do believe Dany is headed down a path that will see her without her dragons and without her throne; I cannot imagine the world after A Song of Ice and Fire (a series written by a longtime pacifist and Vietnam War conscientious objector) being under the sway of a warlord holding her finger over a button of mass destruction. For those reasons, her story arc has to end with her realizing the Kingdoms are better without her and giving up her claim to the iron throne. She has to have an ending that takes her out of the equation and the above theory does just that. This sacrifice in and of itself will at once prove her capacity to be a good queen, while also removing her ability to be that queen in the way she wanted. It provides the bittersweet ending that George R.R. Martin has promised us by allowing Dany to be a hero while sacrificing everything for the sake of her people and saving another people from extinction.