Winter finally came for the Game of Thrones characters in a season eight episode titled The Long Night. Indeed, it saw the Night King and his army descend upon Winterfell with the intent of wiping out anybody who stood in their way. And the episode had a lot of ground to cover – because aside from anything else, several beloved characters would be victims of the White Walkers.
In the end, fans lost Ser Jorah Mormont, Lyanna Stark, Melisandre and Theon Greyjoy, among others. And the last of those was personally slain by the Night King himself. But some of those heartrending moments could have been avoided if only a plan posited earlier had worked. Indeed, this plot would have seen Daenerys Targaryen riding her dragon into battle and roasting the Night King with dragon fire.
Yet at the last minute, it didn’t work – Daenerys and Drogon sent a wave of flames directly at the Night King, and he merely smirked at them, completely immune to the heat. In an episode full of amazing moments, it was one of the coolest – pun not intended. But how exactly did the terrifying Night King survive?
Was the Night King one of the fire-immune Targaryens? Could he even be Rhaegar Targaryen, the father of Jon Snow, back from the dead? Or is he immune to dragon fire for some other reason? In the behind-the-scenes video for The Long Night in April 2019 called Inside the Episode, showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff discussed the dramatic turn of events.
Before The Long Night even aired, Thrones fans theorised that the Night King might have Targaryen blood in his veins. After all, he could ride a dragon, which happens to be one of their traits. And then there was the mysterious symbol which the White Walkers used.
Wherever the Night King and the White Walkers went, they often left spiral-shaped symbols behind. Fans on Twitter thought this might hint at the Night King being a Targaryen. That’s because the symbol looked a little like the flag of House Targaryen, the emblem of which is – you guessed it – a dragon.
However, after the premiere episode of season eight aired, the showrunners claimed there was no connection between the White Walker symbol and the Targaryen one. In the behind-the-scenes video for that episode, David Benioff said that the White Walkers got the spiral shape from the people who created them, the Children of the Forest.
Benioff explained the origins of the White Walker symbol, which was prominently and gruesomely highlighted in the premiere episode. He said, “One of the things we learn from these cave paintings is that the White Walkers didn’t come up with those images; they derived them from their creators, the Children of the Forest.”
Benioff continued, “These are patterns that have mystical significance for the Children of the Forest, we’re not sure exactly what they signify, but spiral patterns are important in a lot of different cultures in our world, and it makes sense that they would be in this world as well.” And it all comes back to how the Night King was created.
Meanwhile, Bran Stark discovered the history of the Night King in episode five of season six. He traveled back in time and saw the creation of the White Walker leader. The Children of the Forest found a man and stabbed him with a blade made of dragonglass. And this transformed him into the blue-eyed, monstrous Night King.
But some people did wonder if that unfortunate man was Rhaegar Targaryen. Twitter user Joseph Miller wrote in 2019, “I know they said Rhaegar Targaryen died in battle, but what if he didn’t and was given to the Children of the Forest as a sacrifice. They never say the name of the man who was turned into the Night King.”
Further to this, The Verge attempted to debunk all these ideas with an article written after The Long Night aired. Writer Chaim Gartenberg wrote, “No, the Night King is not a Targaryen, as poetic as it would have been for Jon / Aegon and Daenerys to have to face off against their many-greats-grandfather.”
Meanwhile, Jon Snow of course really is a Targaryen. This was revealed in season seven, thanks once again to Bran’s impressive abilities. Indeed, Jon may have thought he was the bastard son of Eddard Stark, but he was actually the son of Eddard’s sister Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen. And the name given to him at birth was Aegon Tagaryen.
But could the show pull off a true-parentage twist twice? The Verge thought not. The man seen being turned into the Night King couldn’t possibly be a Targaryen, and certainly not Rhaegar, because the timelines were off. The article read, “The Night King was created by the Children of the Forest as a weapon in their war against the First Men, the original race of humans that came to Westeros…”
In The Verge article, Gartenberg continued, “This took place roughly 6,000 to 8,000 years before the Targaryen conquest of Westeros after the downfall of Valyria, around 300 years before the series started.” So there were no Targaryens around yet at all when the Children of the Forest created the Night King.
Gartenberg also tried to answer the question of the Night King being able to ride a dragon. He wrote, “While the live dragons on the show have only been seen to answer to those with Targaryen blood, once the undead Viserion was brought back, he would have been a servant to the Night King, just like every other wight, White Walker, and zombie polar bear.”
But what about the Ice King shrugging off a torrent of dragon fire? Gartenberg had an answer for that as well. He noted, “The Night King clearly possesses supernatural power over ice magic. We’ve seen this multiple times over the show, including his ice weapons and his newly shown-off ability to summon massive winter storms. It’s not unreasonable that his command over cold is so great that he can stave off even dragon fire.”
However, it’s worth noting that even though the Night King possesses this ability, not all Targaryens do. For example, Viserys Targaryen died in an extremely memorable fire-related way. And this caused his sister Daenerys to remark with little emotion, “He was no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon.”
And according to the creator of the original books, George R. R. Martin, Daenerys surviving the fire that hatched her dragons was meant to be a one-time miracle. When he spoke to Event Horizon’s Flashpoint all the way back in 1999, long before the TV series came into being, he explained it.
During that interview a fan asked Martin if Targaryens were immune to fire, and he said that they weren’t. He added, “The birth of Dany’s dragons was unique, magical, wonderous, a miracle. She is called The Unburnt because she walked into the flames and lived.” And, Martin added, she likely wouldn’t be able to do it again.
Even though it might have left fans confused as to what exactly was going on, the Night King surviving the dragon fire was a stand-out moment in a truly epic episode. For one moment, hope is literally in the air as Daenerys and Dragon swoop in for the kill. But, sadly, their efforts are all in vain.
Meanwhile, in the episode A Night of the Seven Kingdoms, the characters discuss whether dragon fire could kill White Walkers. Bran says, “I don’t know. Nobody’s ever really tried.” Daenerys and her dragon are naturally the ones to try, but the Night King simply walks out of the flames. And the latter offers no words, only a chilling smirk.
Night King actor and stuntman Vladimír Furdík talked to the Daily Beast about that iconic scene, and about his character’s storyline in general. The interviewer asked him, “Did you ever learn anything about who the Night King was when he was human? Some people thought he might be a Targaryen or a Stark.”
Furdík explained that since he had been the stunt double for many characters in the show, it had led to some confusion on social media about the Night King’s identity. He added, “I put on Instagram a picture of some fight that I did for the Tower of Joy [scene] when I stunt-doubled for one of the actors [Luke Roberts aka Ser Arthur Dayne], and I’m in the same costume as him.”
Furdík continued, “And I put this picture on Instagram and people said, ‘Ah! So the Night King is…’ I think they started saying he was part of Jon Snow’s family – or somebody’s family, I don’t know which. I’m a little bit lost with who’s who.” Furdík isn’t up on the history of Westeros families, but Jon Snow does indeed belong to the Targaryens.
Meanwhile, Furdík discussed the dragon fire scene and the expression on the Night King’s face. He told the Daily Beast, “I think [Sapochnik, director of The Long Night] wanted to show people that inside the Night King there is a little bit of humanness… He’s not just a monster – he is actually monstrous, but he also thinks.”
The interviewer then asked Furdík, “The smile did make [the Night King] feel human. Were you given direction on giving him a personality?” Furdík explained that the director had done three takes of the dragon fire scene in the end. And each one with was filmed with a different expression on the Night King’s face.
For his part, Furdík detailed all three versions of the scene. He said, “We did like a cold face, we did a big smile –which is not easy to do under the mask because then the smile is not really nice – and then we did a couple where I moved my mouth only a little bit on the right or left side.” Indeed, that last one was obviously the one they chose.
Meanwhile, it took a lot to bring the Night King and his moment of triumph to life. That’s because the actors had to film in terrible weather and during hours of darkness. Furdík told the Daily Beast, “It was a three-month night shoot, and then we did a couple weeks shooting inside. I’ve said before, this was one of the harder shoots of my stunt [career] and actor life, over the last 30 years. One of the hardest jobs of my life.”
But Furdík wasn’t the only person who talked about the Night King’s spectacular dragon fire survival. The Game of Thrones co-writer and co-showrunner DB Weiss discussed it in April 2019 in a behind-the-scenes segment released after The Long Night aired.
And the answer transpired to be quite a simple one. “We thought it was important that whatever the plan was it doesn’t just work because that would be dull,” Weiss said on Inside the Episode in April 2019. “There’s no reason to know for certain that the fire wouldn’t kill or destroy the Night King, but there’s also no particular reason to believe that it would.”
Weiss was right – and all through the last seasons of Game of Thrones, it was heavily indicated that dragon fire would do nothing to the Night King. In the season seven episode Beyond the Wall, there’s a different Night King-dragon interaction. Indeed, Viserion the dragon sets many White Walkers on fire before the Night King kills him.
Beyond the Wall was directed by Alan Taylor, and back in 2017 he spoke to The Daily Beast about the episode. One particular scene was of particular interest to Night King fans. At the end of the episode, Daenerys – having been devastated by the loss of Viserion – flies away on Drogon rather than using him to fight the Night King, even though Jon Snow was in danger.
Meanwhile, Taylor was asked why Daenerys had left Jon behind instead of trying to fight the Night King. He explained that Dany was “a mother and she just lost a child and she wants to save her other children.” But he also let slip an intriguing detail about the nature of dragon fire.
Taylor continued, “You’ll notice when the Night King walks forward with his spear he steps into a line of fire and the first brushes away from him when he steps through it. We saw that effect earlier in the series – that he seems to repel fire. So it’s possible that dragon fire may not work on him.”
The “earlier in the series” event Taylor was referring to could be The Door. In that episode, the Night King is seen to walk directly through a ring of fire. It wasn’t a direct hit from a dragon, which can and does kill people in an instant – RIP, Lord Varys and most of King’s Landing – but it seemed to be a pretty big indication that fire does nothing to the Night King.
Or it could have been the episode Hardhome Taylor was referring to. During the events of that epic battle, the White Walkers seem to go through and around fire with no problem. In fact, their army is the one which comes out completely victorious in that episode. And Jon Snow barely escapes with his life.
The website Inverse actually did some math regarding dragon fire, before The Long Night even came out. Writer Corey Plante wrote earlier in April 2019, “We’ve seen throughout the series that your average White Walker can freeze-shatter a steel blade. Real-world science tells us that steel freezes around -3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Inverse also considered the heat of dragon fire and decided it was 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Plante observed, “Assuming real-world physics have any impact on these magical creatures, then a dragon’s breath probably isn’t hot enough to melt a White Walker, let alone their Night King.”
And in the end the Night King was killed not by dragon fire but by a dagger made of Valyrian steel, wielded by Arya Stark. She performed a fatal and unexpected move, dropping the blade with her left hand then catching it with her right. The Night King was destroyed – and considering his origin as a First Man, perhaps it was only fitting that a human being killed him, rather than a dragon.