jon snow

Photo via HBO

‘Game of Thrones’ just pulled its biggest shocker yet

Holy s**t.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Posted on Aug 20, 2017   Updated on May 22, 2021, 7:59 pm CDT

Warning: This article contains major spoilers from the latest Game of Thrones episode, “Beyond the Wall.”

Nothing could have prepared us for the stunning and heartbreaking game-changer that awaited us in this week’s episode of Game of Thrones.

Throughout seven seasons of Game of Thrones, we’ve seen our fair share of twists, turns, and tragic ends. Ned Stark set the precedent that no character is safe. Oberyn Martell demonstrated that revenge quests can fall short of the mark, and Robb Stark illustrated how one’s own actions can lead to their downfall. And before his resurrection, Jon Snow’s death showed us that doing what you know is right can still get you killed. (At least he’s officially a legitimate, secret Targaryen now!)

At the end of the episode “Beyond the Wall,” Daenerys Targaryen rode north with her three dragons to rescue Jon, Ser Jorah Mormont, Sandor Clegane, Beric Dondarrion, and Tormund Giantsbane from imminent death. They swooped in and burned a bunch of wights (the reanimated dead), and Dany retrieved everyone (except Jon) with Drogon. But the Night King had other plans, and he chucked an ice spear at Viserion, Daenerys’ golden dragon named for her brother Viserys. The Night King’s aim is deadly accurate, and it strikes Viserion, killing him.

night king kills viserion
GIF via Game of Thrones/HBO
viserion death
GIF via Game of Thrones/HBO

Many fans have expected for some time that not all of Dany’s dragons would survive Game of Thrones, with some arguing that the show needed to demonstrate that Dany and her dragons aren’t invincible. And sure, Viserion was definitely not her favorite; Drogon clearly wins that contest. But it doesn’t make it any less heart-wrenching to watch Viserion bleed out, hit the ice, and sink into the water.

Although the Night King also attempted to throw his spear at Drogon, everyone else narrowly escapes with their lives. (Jon with some help from Benjen Stark). But soon enough, they’ll realize they have a much, much bigger problem on their hands. With an entire army at his command, the Night King had his wights pull Viserion out of the water with chains. With the touch of his hand, Viserion’s eye opened revealing a chillingly familiar shade of blue.

viserion awakens
GIF via Game of Thrones/HBO

So what exactly is Viserion now?

Animals being reanimated by the White Walkers is nothing new on Game of Thrones. We’ve seen multiple White Walkers riding decomposing horses, and “Beyond the Wall” featured a polar bear wight. (RIP Thoros of Myr.) We also saw several giant wights marching south in “Dragonstone.”

white walkers horses
GIF via Game of Thrones/HBO
giant wight
GIF via Game of Thrones/HBO

In comparison, Viserion is probably the most intelligent being the Night King has had the opportunity to turn to date—and the scariest.

karsi wight
Screengrab via Game of Thrones/HBO () Remix by Jason Reed

Viserion is brought back directly by the Night King touching him, and his eye becomes a brighter shade of blue that’s more in line with White Walkers (the Night King’s field lieutenants) than wights. It’s a gradual transformation, unlike a wight’s near-instantaneous awakening, and the eyes are intricately more detailed after the fact. We saw a similar transformation up-close last season when Bran Stark learned how the children of the forest created the White Walkers.

Blue Eyes Hbo GIF by Game of Thrones - Find & Share on GIPHY

In the case of Craster’s son, who the Night King transformed in season 4, it also involved skin contact. This explains why the Night King had his army drag the dragon’s body out of the lake in the first place. Though Viserion isn’t alive like the baby when he’s turned, it does seem like he’s no ordinary wight. 

baby white walker
Screengrab via Game of Thrones/HBO () Remix by Jason Reed

No matter what kind of undead creature Viserion actually is, fans will probably just call him an ice dragon. It’s much easier to remember, even if it might not necessarily be an accurate description. What matters is that he’s under the Night King’s control now.

Ice dragons are even more legendary than fire dragons

Game of Thrones exists in a world where direwolves, dragons, and the children of the forest are all real, but even in that context ice dragons are still seen as legend. They’re mentioned close to a dozen times throughout A Song of Ice and Fire in two different ways: Some refer to the constellation named the Ice Dragon, while others compare the bitter cold up north to an ice dragon. Both bring to mind stories Old Nan told to the Stark children.

The ice dragons of legend are said to be found in the Shivering Sea (a body of water north of Essos) and the White Waste located even further north. Those dragons, according to The World of Ice and Fire, are much larger than fire-breathing dragons from ancient Valyria, and instead of fire they “breathe cold, a chill so terrible that it can freeze a man solid in half a heartbeat.” Ice dragons also “supposedly melt when slain,” although considering there’s so little evidence that they even exist, we know almost nothing about how to slay an ice dragon.

But that’s what our heroes will probably have to do before the end. And given we only saw Viserion’s eye open, we have no idea what will happen when he opens his mouth. Will it be blue flames, ice, or something else entirely?

The depths of the Night King’s power—and how much did he know?

The Night King has pretty much been the only thing on Jon’s mind since “Hardhome.” He’s seen what the Night King can do—and just how many of the dead he can command. All he has to do is lift his arms. Jon learned back in season 2 that Craster offered his sons up as a sacrifice, but it’s less clear if Jon made the connection between the infant boys and the White Walkers.

What Jon didn’t know until now is how deadly the Night King has become. He broke down a protective barrier by touching Bran’s arm, stormed into the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave, and while he leaves most of the death to his lieutenants and army, he kills the Three-Eyed Raven with an ice blade. All he needs is one strike. And now he just threw a javelin to kill a dragon mid-air.

three-eyed raven
GIF via Game of Thrones/HBO

Since Bran’s encounter with the Night King in “The Door,” some fans have also suspected that the Night King is a greenseer, or someone who can see into the past, present, and future. (In the books, greenseers can also control nature, something the Night King on the show he is definitely capable of doing with his instant snow storms.) It could possibly explain how the Night King was able to touch Bran last season, though they were both in a vision.

It could also help explain why he was prepared to take on Dany’s dragons and why he had the chains to pull Viserion out of the lake: He knew they were coming.

night king
Photo via HBO

At the end of the episode, Jon and Dany are on a boat heading south. They survived and can focus on convincing Cersei to help them fight the great war to come. But unbeknownst to them, the great enemy—who was already a formidable adversary in his own right—now has a super weapon of his own. And although we’ve spent plenty of time throughout the season obsessing over thrones, inheritance, lineage, and politics, in the end none of that really matters.

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*First Published: Aug 20, 2017, 9:27 pm CDT