When Jon was fighting the White Walker warrior in Game of Thrones episode "Hardhome", it was an epic fight between the hero and the villain. But as I was watching, I couldn't get rid of this nagging feeling that all things considered, these White Walkers don't seem all that evil.
Yes, they have zombie armies hungry for human flesh, I'll give them that, but they just didn't seem like a Dark Lord Sauron or a Voldemort who must not be named. The White Walker king did not look at Jon with hatred, he just seemed contemplative and, you know, cold. Maybe it was the weather.
Since the dawn of time, we have been fascinated with tales of good vs. evil, right vs wrong, life vs. death. Since childhood, we hear and read about Snow White and the evil queen, Red Riding Hood and the big bad wolf and on and on it goes.
In more modern times, J. R. R. Tolkien and fantasy writers that followed him have crafted fantasy worlds with heroes fighting villains on their way to ultimate victory.
And they all lived happily ever after.
The end. Roll credits.
But George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and its TV adaptation Game of Thrones have challenged that narrative. They have pushed the boundaries of the genre and challenged the way we have become accustomed to expect certain things in fantasy.
Want to learn more about the historical inspirations for the wall and the wildlings? Check out Game of Thrones Academy's video on the subject.
We are still tempted to look for good and evil in the world Martin has created. Khaleesi is good, the slavers are bad; Stark good, Lannister bad; Sansa good, Ramsay bad. Ok, maybe that last one is not that far off, but still.
Is there really good and bad in Game of Thrones? At first we were sure Jaime was evil, well, because he pushed a 10-year-old boy out of the window and all that. But then we forgave him because he saved Brienne and saved King's Landing by killing the Mad King right before he burned the whole city down. That's some pretty heroic stuff right there. And was Tywin Lannister genuinely evil or was he just taking care of the interests of his family, to the best of his abilities.
And it's not as if being noble in Game of Thrones helps characters get ahead in this world, just ask Ned Stark's head.
So why do we just assume that the White Walkers are all evil? Because they kill people? Well, lots of characters we root for kill people, not always for good enough reasons.
Let's face it, we see the White Walkers strictly from the people's points of view. In their eyes they are ultimately evil, but it would be unlike Martin for that to stay the case throughout the series.
Martin portrayed the wildlings as enemies at first, but now they fight with the Night's Watch side by side, shoulder to shoulder. So maybe the White Walkers are next in line?
If the White Walkers are these villainous monsters, who are the polar opposites? The dragons? Really? Aren't they monsters as well? These magical beasts will burn you alive in a second and eat your babies? These game-changing weapons of mass destruction that Valyrians used to kill and enslave countless of people back in the day.
I don't know about you, but if I were Westerosi I would certainly prefer if there were no dragons anywhere near my kingdom, Khaleesi or no Khaleesi. With all due regards to the queen, her dragons are dangerous and unpredictable.
Or, maybe if the White Walkers are the villains then the Lord of Light is fighting for all that is good in this world. Well, did you feel any positive vibes when they just burned people alive for believing in some other gods? Or when Melisandre told Stannis he should burn his own daughter? This god of hers seems just as cruel and unjust as these White Walkers.
The difference between the White Walkers and the dragons or the Lord of Light is that the White Walkers are beyond the wall. They are the ultimate Other in the story, which is why, not coincidently, Martin calls them "The Others" in his books. Humans are eager to turn others into Others, paint them as evil, conspiring, murderous. Throughout history, many sub groups have been the victim of that tendency -- Jews, Muslims, Christians, Africans, African Americans, LGBTs, etc. But if we get to know these Others, we stop hating them or blaming them for all our troubles (or so one hopes).
So maybe, just maybe, the White Walkers are not more evil than anyone else on Game of Thrones. Maybe they have a legitimate cause to act the way they do. Maybe they have a rational for attacking the humans. Maybe they too are guided by prophecies or are preparing their own army to defend themselves from the inevitable arrival of the dragons.
Or maybe, who knows, they need to defend themselves from the humans. There are some pretty villainous humans out there, just watch the news -- they're murdering, raping, pillaging, destroying. The White Walkers wouldn't be the first ones to have to defend themselves from them. Not from us, we're fine, but these other humans? They are just plain evil.
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