The Night King succumbed to the Catspaw Dagger, the hilt made of dragonbone, the other of Valyrian Steel. Valyrian Steel unmade him, presumably sending his spirit off to the Nightlands. But did that really happen? I think there is a twist to his death. Perhaps he will return.
Season 8, Episode 3. The Long Night. Who did not feel the suspense building up during the first minutes of the Episode? Anxiety flooding every cell of the body when the Dothraki horde was wiped out? Teeth clenched, hands clasped, hell, tense muscles for most of those 80 minutes? Yet the Night King taken out by Arya left me dumb-struck. Confused, asking myself, “Did this just happen?”. Then Anger overtook me. Anger even turned to rage. “Give me back my Night King,” I shouted. “This can’t be the end of him.” That smile on his face after he emerged from Drogon’s fire unscathed. That smug look when he raised the dead while looking Jon in the eye. The biggest threat to humankind taken out by Arya in a heartbeat. OMG, this just cannot be. My partner (not a book-reader) was well satisfied that the baddie had met his deserved end but all I could do was rant. It took me about an hour to calm down. And then I started thinking. What if the Night King’s presumed death is a means to an end?
“It’s not the story we think we know.”
But before we get into that, let’s consider Arya’s role in the demise of the Night King
Arya’s entire arc has been building up to a moment as meaningful as this. Her desire to wield a sword and be a fighter; her learning the Water Dance under the tutelage of Syrio Forell, the hardship she experienced and the resilience she demonstrated while on the run; her training to become a ruthless faceless assassin; her learning the true seeing, to rely on all her senses and to fight in the dark. Those trials prepared her to be the one to take out a major threat. Several one on one combat scenes also suggested a scenario of the supposed underdog overcoming a larger, stronger and more threatening opponent:
- Bronn wins against the heavily armoured Ser Vardis of the Vale.
- In spite of his fear of fire, the Hound prevails in the trial by combat against a Lord Beric equipped with his flaming sword.
- Strong Belwas (Daario Naharis in the show) takes down the mounted hero of Yunkai.
- Had he not continued to demand a confession, Oberyn Martell would have beaten the Mountain.
- Howland Reed finished off the famed warrior Ser Arthur Dayne with an ignoble stab in the back.
- Caught in the death grip of the wighted giant, little Lyanna Mormont summoned her last reserve of strength to stab the giant through the eye with her dragonglass dagger.
- Both the books and the show focus repeatedly on the pros and cons of size and strength against speed and litheness.
There’s even some foreshadowing for this hidden away in the history of the Dance of the Dragons. Recall the Battle above the God’s Eye with Prince Daemon Targaryen on Caraxes fighting against Prince Aemond on Vhagar. At Harrenhal, Daemon and the dragonseed Nettles waited 13 days for Aemond to show up. The duel ended with riders and dragons crashing to the ground and Daemon stabbing Aemond through the eye with the Valyrian Steel sword Dark Sister. Lots of elements there – the 13 days are reminiscent of the 13 years Brandon the Breaker waited before dealing with Night’s King at the Nightfort. We have Nettles standing in for Dany and of course the sword that deals the blow, Dark Sister. What is Arya if not a dark sister?
So, is Arya Azor Ahai and is the dagger Lightbringer? Mayhaps. However, I think flaming swords were never the answer to this Long Night, this symbolized early on by Melisandre’s failed attempts to recreate the sword. The Hound’s victory over Beric and his flaming sword, the death of Thoros of Myr (another wielder of a burning sword), the swift demise of the fierce Dothraki and their fiery arakhs, and of course, the new reveal regarding the Night King’s imperviousness even to dragonfire suggest that as far defeating the Night King is concerned, flaming swords have outlived their usefulness. Lightbringer may have been the decisive weapon during the last Long Night but that was thousands of years ago. There has been progress since then. Valyrian steel is the most potent material of choice for weaponry (and probably for armour) in this present era of the world. Forged with spells and sorcery in the fires of Old Valyria and rumored to require human sacrifice in the process of its making, a Valyrian steel sword is flexible yet strong, holds an edge like no other metal and seems to possess a life of its own. Yet the catspaw dagger used by Arya to defeat the Night King has some lingering vibes of the Azor Ahai / Nissa Nissa story. It was consecrated with the blood of a mother who loved her children, especially her son Bran, who happened to be her favourite. Struggling in the assassin’s grip, she grasped the naked blade, grievously slicing her own hand, which bathed the blade in blood. Was the dagger thus infused with her love, courage and inner strength, further empowering the weapon?
Catelyn was not partial to the direwolves before Summer saved Bran from the catspaw assassin. Their constant howling beneath the window of Bran’s sickroom drove her nuts. She wanted the window closed, would have liked to see them dead.
Sobbing, she pulled her hand free of his and covered her ears against those terrible howls. “Make them stop!” she cried. “I can’t stand it, make them stop, make them stop, kill them all if you must, just make them stop!”
AGOT, Catelyn …
Her opinion of the wolves changed after Summer proved his worth. Summer eliminated the assassin, afterwards licking the blood from Catelyn’s lacerated hand. This scene comes across like a blood pact between Catelyn and the wolf. She finally recognized the value of the direwolves, saw them as protectors of her children, was unhappy when Robb began to distance himself from his wolf Grey Wind. This symbolic link between a dagger bloodied by a passionate mother trying to save her child, and the wolf, is of utmost importance to the idea that the Night King may return.
It’s likely the Others were aware of the Azor Ahai / Prince that was Promised prophecy, or at the very least believed in a prophecy unknown to us, one involving a powerful greenseer who would be their bane. Late in the day we found out that the Night King sought to eradicate the memories of humankind and achieving this necessitated eliminating the greenseers who had access to the consciousness of the weirwoods. Seeing as Bloodraven was a man of the Night’s Watch before disappearing beyond the Wall to become a greenseer in the cave of the children, it makes sense for the Others to have initially suspected the prophesied person to be a man of the Night’s Watch. Ser Waymar Royce was also a man of the Night’s Watch and one whose description so closely matches that of Jon Snow’s. The wight attack on Lord Commander Mormont in his chambers at Castle Black could also reflect this assumption. However, if the Night’s King could see through the eyes of his wights, this incident would have alerted him to Jon Snow and the direwolf Ghost so that Jon would have become his target. Perhaps the massacre of Night’s Watch rangers at the Fist of the First Men is proof of this.
Bran finally revealed himself as the new greenseer in question when he came face to face with the Night King on the astral plane, in his vision. By marking him, the Other now knew where to find him and could render all magical defenses warding the children’s cave void. Since then he’s been after Bran with a vengeance. In no way has the Night King displayed the same single-minded vehemence regarding Jon Snow. Those two have come face to face several times; we’ve had three significant staring matches. Instead of personally taking Jon out, the Night King merely put a few obstacles in Jon’s way and left the rest to chance. He focused instead on destroying Bran the greenseer. From his point of view, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen represented major obstacles to his goal, Jon Snow most of all, the latter with a proven record of having killed a white walker with is Valyrian Steel sword. With undead Viserion hindering Jon from reaching the godswood and Daenerys grounded after the wights swarm Drogon, the Night King must have felt confident of victory. Arya is someone the Night King never expected, the threat he oversaw, the scenario he never imagined, wielding the very weapon once intended for his arch enemy. Perhaps he should have listened to Petyr Baelish!
Prophecy is like a half-trained mule. It looks as though it might be useful, but the moment you trust in it, it kicks you in the head. ADWD, Tyrion IX
The Night King is still alive – in spirit form
Three clues suggesting the Night King’s survival were given us during the episode. The first hint is rather obvious, the other two easy to miss.
Clue 1: Throughout the episode, Bran is defended by Theon and the Ironborn, by people known for the saying “what is dead can never die but rises harder and stronger.” The Ironborn priest Aeron Damphair drowns and resuscitates initiates into the brotherhood of the drowned god. The priest boasts a 100% success rate. He has never lost a man. If you think about this, it certainly reminds of the wights raised by the NK. The living die but rise harder and stronger. The first man to be pierced through the heart with dragonglass by the children of the forest should have died. Perhaps he did, yet he arose as a much more powerful entity. So that’s the first thing that should set us thinking.
Clue 2: The Night King fell off his dragon. You can also think of this in terms of a jousting match where the aim is to unseat one’s opponent. Consider this in terms of the Dothraki belief – a khal who falls from his horse is no longer fit to rule. To retain his position as leader of his people, a khal must always be able to ride. Khal Drogo was done for when he fell from his horse. The Night King falling off his dragon was a hint foreshadowing his imminent demise. Well, not quite. In a parallel to Khal Drogo who survives his symbolic fall through Mirri Maz Duur’s blood magic ritual, so does the Night King survive by the power of his magic. And then things get interesting because he proves impervious to Dany’s attempt at finishing him off with dragonfire.
Clue 3: When Daenerys realizes that the life of her unborn son bought her husband a life not worth living, she gives him the gift of mercy by smothering him with a pillow. In accordance with Dothraki custom, she builds him a funeral pyre to send his spirit off into the nightlands.
When a horselord dies, his horse is slain with him, so he might ride proud into the night lands. The bodies are burned beneath the open sky, and the khal rises on his fiery steed to take his place among the stars. The more fiercely the man burned in life, the brighter his star will shine in the darkness. AGOT, Daenerys
In the midst of the fiery pyre, Dany glimpses Khal Drogo’s spirit just before he departs for the stars:
Now, she thought, now, and for an instant she glimpsed Khal Drogo before her, mounted on his smoky stallion, a flaming lash in his hand. He smiled …
Like the Khal, the Night King should have burned. Dragonfire should have melted his icy form, his spirit should have been driven out by the fire. Instead, he smiled at Dany, like Khal Drogo’s ghost did … and walked away unscathed. Fire drove Varamyr Sixskins out of Orell’s eagle, an experience that traumatized him, almost sending him down the road to madness. It also shattered his power over his snowbear and shadowcat and … yet the Night King walked off and proceeded to raise the dead as if nothing extraordinary had happened. In Dany’s dragon dreams, she is scoured clean by the flames of a dragon. From Melissandre we know that fire cleanses. One of the prayers to Rh’llor mentions burning the darkness from the soul of a victim, melting the icy chains that bind his servants. None of this seems to apply to the Night King.
Enter Arya with her Valyrian steel dagger. It overcomes the Night King’s magic, dissolves what I suspect is a glamour similar to the disguising magic used by Melisandre, shatters his form, breaks the bonds that keep his thralls tied to him. A mighty weapon. But what of his soul? Does this process release his spirit as well and if so, what happens to it?
What happens to the Night King’s soul?
There are 2 possibilities:
The Catspaw dagger absorbed and trapped the NK’s soul.
Valyrian steel contains iron. Legend has it that the Others hated iron. The swords across the laps of the ancient Kings of Winter in the crypts are meant to keep their vengeful spirits from escaping. The black iron swords of the Ironborn are believed to “drink the souls” of their victims. All this suggests iron is capable of trapping the spirits of the dead. Additionally, Valyrian steel swords appear to have a life of their own. Musing on this puts us in mind of Ned Stark’s sword Ice. Ned was beheaded with his own sword. Did Ice drink Ned’s soul and was it released when it was reforged into two new swords? That would really underscore the point of Brienne protecting Ned Stark’s daughters with Ned Stark’s own steel. Incidentally, I suspect Widow’s Wail will put Lady Stoneheart out of her misery.
Having been consecrated with Catelyn’s blood, I believe the Catspaw dagger is also a potent cleansing tool, much like fire would be. Remember, fire cleanses. Think of all that scouring in Dany’s dragon dreams, Melisandre withstanding Maester Cressen’s poisoned wine. More on the cleansing power of fire in this post. Perhaps the dagger was important in a way that Longclaw was not. Perhaps it had the power to remove the stain of darkness from the Night King’s soul, to heal him.
The Night King takes up a second life in Ghost
Since the Night King is a skinchanger, and a very powerful one at that, this is a possibility. When death hit him, Varamyr’s spirit soared, briefly becoming one with the weirwood and part of all life before making his choice and picking his wolf One-Eye as a vessel for his second life. Jon’s direwolf Ghost would be his obvious choice!
Why would the Night King return?
Euron and Cersei in combination is a frightening thought indeed. While Euron has had his moments on the show, book readers are aware that his capacity for evil is great. Cersei has demonstrated her absolute ruthlessness on the show. We can count on further monstrous and treacherous strategies from those two in the war to come. The Night King was possessed of great magical powers. They may be required to overcome Euron and Cersei.
How will the Night King return? Well, there were all those theories out there about Jon’s soul warging into Ghost upon his death and being retrieved by a magical ritual for his resurrection. I imagine the NK returning exactly in this way. Jon or Bran would have to die for this to take place and a sacrifice would be required of course: Sam and Gilly’s child (who was meant for the Others) or Daenerys might have to die for the NK to return.
Robb Stark is the Night King
Last but not least, I believe Robb Stark is/was the current Night King. There is a lot of evidence for this, both in the books and on the show. The opening credits for one, Dany’s vision in the House of the Undying, Patchface’s so called prophecy, all indicating the Red Wedding. Our characters are rooted in the current age of the story. Why would the NK be a left-over from ancient times? Having him coordinate the final battle to bring down Queen Cersei and King Euron is probably a better idea than leaving that to Jon and Daenerys. He would never have sent the Dothraki on a death charge if it wasn’t beneficial to the outcome of the battle in some way 🙂
Image credits: Screenshots taken from HBOs Game of Thrones