The Others, what are they and what do they want?

The Others, or White Walkers in the television show, are the enigmatic antagonists of “A Song of Ice and Fire”, but what do we really know of them? Though used as a curse (“The Others take them all…”) in Westeros and beyond, concrete information on The Others is very hard to come by. Many people consider them to be the true antagonists of “A Song of Ice and Fire” and I am one of them.

Physical Form

Though sparingly appearing in both books and show, The Others are shown as humanoid beings; tall and elegant with a skill and elemental affinity with Ice. Their eyes are luminous blue, burning like pale blue stars. Their appearance should not be confused with their thralls; the wights, as they are dead zombie-like creatures of unspecific species. An interesting comment on the appearance of The Others, comes from George R. R. Martin himself in an email to the comic-book artist Tommy Patterson: “The Others are not dead. They are strange, beautiful… think, oh… the Sidhe made of ice, something like that… a different sort of life… inhuman, elegant, dangerous.” This puts me in mind of Tolkien’s strange derivatives of humanoid forms, like elves and various types of men. Interestingly the similarities between The Others and the Nazgul are very striking, operating in an organised mysterious fashion and also inspiring fear in their respective fantasy settings.

Hierarchy of White Walkers – “Oathkeeper” (C) HBO

Wights

As stated above, Wights are mere thralls that are assumedly controlled by The Others, operating in a similar way to the warging abilities the character of Bran is capable of. They differ from the classical zombie in many ways, particularly due to the fact that their actions are not mere wondering and consuming of flesh. Though their motivations obviously must be identical to The Others as they are puppets, if we consider what they do throughout the series so far we see how they wish to damage the forces of men.

In ‘A Game of Thrones’, the prologue shows The Others and their wights killing members of The Night’s Watch. Though this can be construed as The Others thinning the herd and decreasing the size of The Night’s Watch, (which maybe why the Night’s Watch is so small now) – an more in depth insight into their motivations comes when Gared ‘escapes’. I place escape in quotation marks because as we have already established The Others are very elegant and seemingly intelligent, and do people really think a lonesome man could escape The Others if they really wanted him dead? I suspect not, as its very possible that The Others wished Gared to escape to inform the Starks of Winterfell of their return – maybe chasing him, knowing his life would be forfeit anyway. Interestingly in Season 3’s “Walk of Punishment”, Mance Rayder comments upon seeing a circular pattern of dead horses arranged by The Others: “Always the artists…”. Artistry by its very nature is deliberately meant to communicate and whilst it makes sense for The Others to keep their enemies in the dark, this is an example of them deliberately communicating mockery or another ominous purpose.

Also in ‘A Game of Thrones’, the wights that rise in Castle Black seemingly are intent on killing Lord Commander Mormont. Why would they do this? Did they simply want to kill the Lord Commander to damage the summit of the Night’s Watch’s hierarchy or is there another specific intention? I speculate like the theory above that this act merely was to communicate, sowing fear at the heart of The Wall and asserting their return after their 8,000 year hiatus – and if they also could kill the Lord Commander, all the better.

Motivations

What is the fundamental motivations of The Others? Do they have an endgame or are they just inherently evil? Though their actions might be clear to their underlying desires, why do The Others really want to bring down the wall? Why would they really want to dominate the Seven Kingdoms and beyond? So many questions, so little answers – and this is where speculation runs rife. As we are repeatedly informed in the Stannis/Melisandre/Davos storyline, followers of R’hllor explain The Others are preparing for the prophesied War for the Dawn.

War for the Dawn

As an reoccurring prophecy, the War for the Dawn appears to be the eventual climax of “A Song of Ice and Fire” involving all races against The Others. The Prince that was Promised and Azor Ahai are apparently components in the fight against The Others, though in what capacity we have little to nothing to go on. As alluded to in the title of the series, The War for the Dawn is most likely to involve all faiths and all houses – the winner of the Game of Thrones will most likely unify the seven kingdoms (cough, with dragons?) and rid the world once more of The Others. Ice vs. Fire – Ice presumably referring to The Others, Fire presumably referring to its literal carnation.

Starks & The Others

Though there may not be concrete connections between the Starks of Winterfell and The Others, their relationship is very interesting to say the least. The Night’s King for one is said by Old Nan to be a Stark, and even more interestingly the 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Are the killing of Starks a simple act of revenge on the Night King’s part or are they being acquired for something bigger? This maybe the case for Benjen Stark, who unlike his brothers of the Night’s Watch does not turn up dead (or alive) or become a wight – he just seems to completely vanish.

The Others in “Game of Thrones”

Like with the book, the series features The Others (White Walkers) very little. One interesting glimpse into the hierarchy of The Others was featured in Season 4’s “Oathkeeper”, where Craster’s son is converted to a thrall or white walker. Apparently HBO accidentally revealed this to be Night’s King, though the mechanisms of The Others or white walkers confuses audiences as to what this means in the context of the series. I am convinced this is Night’s King as his Darth Maul-like visage consists of crown like protrusions upon its head. Is Night’s King what Melisandre called The Great Other, or is his supposed mortal origins exclude him from being labelled as a significant member of The Others?  It is entirely possible that the show has simplified the white walkers to encompass both The Others and wights – as the show has yet to distinguish them.

The Night’s Watch, The Wall & The Others

The origins of The Wall and The Night’s Watch stems from the resistance to The Others, though its creed is mostly ritualistic now and their original purpose in opposing The Others has been forgotten. Built by a Stark of Winterfell, The Wall was raised after The Long Night which was the last time The Others actively enacted their evil on the Seven Kingdoms roughly eight thousand years ago.

Consider The Night’s Watch vows:  “Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”

Here’s hoping that Season 5 will be the season that finally gives us a major insight into the true antagonists, possibly coinciding with Melisandre’s prominence at The Wall and Bran’s experience beyond it.

Happy Halloween, and may The Others take you all!

 

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