In the season eight episode “The Long Night,” winter finally came in Game of Thrones. Yes, the Night King and his army descended upon Winterfell with the intent of wiping out anybody who stood in their way. And sadly for fans who had watched the epic series from the start, several beloved characters would be victims of the White Walkers.
In the end, Ser Jorah Mormont, Lyanna Stark, Melisandre and Theon Greyjoy were among those who perished – with the latter personally slain by the Night King himself. Yet some of those heartrending deaths could potentially have been avoided if only a strategy posited earlier had worked. The plot in question would have seen Daenerys Targaryen riding her dragon into battle and scorching the Night King with fire.
When Daenerys and Drogon send a wave of flames directly at the Night King, however, he merely smirks at them, completely unharmed by the heat. In an episode full of amazing moments, it was one of the coolest – pun not intended. But how exactly did the terrifying leader manage to 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 resistant to dragon flames for some other reason? Well, in the behind-the-scenes video for “The Long Night” entitled “Inside the Episode,” showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff discussed the dramatic turn of events.
Before “The Long Night” even aired, Thrones fans had theorized that the Night King may have Targaryen blood in his veins. After all, he possessed the ability to ride a dragon, which happens to be one of the family’s traits. And then there was the mysterious symbol that the White Walkers use.
Wherever the Night King and the White Walkers go, you see, they sometimes leave spiral-shaped symbols behind. And fans on Twitter thought in turn that these actions may hint at the Night King being a Targaryen. Why? Well, the marks look a little like the flag of House Targaryen, which boasts – you guessed it – a dragon.
However, after the inaugural episode of season eight aired, the showrunners claimed that there was no connection between the White Walker symbol and the Targaryen flag. In the behind-the-scenes video for that episode, Benioff revealed instead that the White Walkers had imitated the spiral shape made by the Children of the Forest.
Of the White Walker symbol, which was prominently and gruesomely highlighted in episode one of season eight, Benioff explained, “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.
Bran Stark discovers the history of the Night King in episode five of season six after he goes back into the past. After the Children of the Forest found a man, they stabbed him with a blade made of dragonglass; this in turn transformed the individual 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.”
The Verge attempted to debunk such theories, however, with an article written after “The Long Night” had 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.”
Jon Snow, on the other hand, really is a Targaryen. This was revealed in season seven – and thanks once again to Bran’s impressive abilities. Yes, while Jon may have thought that he was the bastard son of Eddard Stark, the truth was different: he was actually the offspring 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, the site said, and certainly not Rhaegar – the timelines were off, for starters. The article explained, “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 actually no Targaryens around at all when the Children of the Forest created the Night King.
And 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 Night King shrugging off a torrent of dragon fire? Well, Gartenberg had an answer to that, too. 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.”
Still, it’s worth noting that even though the Night King can apparently resist extremely high temperatures, not all Targaryens can. Indeed, as fans know, Viserys Targaryen dies in the show in an very memorable heat-related way. This fate subsequently causes 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. Martin said as much to Event Horizon’s Flashpoint all the way back in 1999 – long before the TV series came into being.
During that interview, a fan asked Martin if Targaryens were immune to fire, to which the author replied 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 continued, she likely wouldn’t be able to pull this trick off again.
But even though it may 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 Drogon swoop in for the kill. Sadly, though, their efforts are in vain.
And there is some foreshadowing of this moment in season eight’s “A Night of the Seven Kingdoms,” when the characters discuss whether dragon fire could kill White Walkers. There, Bran says of the question, “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 leader offers no words – only a chilling smirk.
When Night King actor and stuntman Vladimír Furdík talked to The Daily Beast in May 2019, however, there may have been the potential for answers. The interviewer asked the star, “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 in turn that being a stunt double in the show had led to some confusion on social media regarding 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, a.k.a. 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 may not be up on the history of Westeros families, but Jon does indeed belong to the Targaryens.
And Furdík also discussed both 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 revealed, however, that the director had completed multiple takes of the dragon fire scene, and each one with was filmed with a different expression on the Night King’s face.
Furdík elaborated, “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.” It seems, then, that one of the last takes was chosen for the final cut.
In addition, it apparently took a lot to bring the Night King and his moment of triumph to life. For one, 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 [that] 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 to talk about the Night King’s spectacular dragon fire survival. Yes, Game of Thrones co-writer and co-showrunner Weiss chose to discuss the moment, too; he spoke up in a behind-the-scenes segment released after “The Long Night” had aired.
And the answer to why the Night King is unaffected by the flames 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, too. You see, Game of Thrones had already 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; Viserion the dragon sets many White Walkers on fire before the Night King kills him.
And one “Beyond the Wall” scene in particular may have been of 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 is in danger. “Beyond the Wall” was directed by Alan Taylor, and back in 2017 he spoke to The Daily Beast about the episode.
During the interview, Taylor was asked why Daenerys leaves Jon behind instead of trying to fight the Night King. He explained in turn that Dany was “a mother and she just lost a child and she wants to save her other children.” Yet Taylor 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” moment that Taylor was referring to could be in reference to events that transpire in “The Door.” In that episode, you see, the Night King is seen to cross a ring of fire. And while the flames aren’t as a result of a direct hit from a dragon, which can and does kill people in an instant – RIP Lord Varys and most of King’s Landing – the incident nevertheless seems to be a pretty big indication that fire does nothing to the Night King.
On the other hand, Taylor could have been speaking about the episode “Hardhome.” During the events of the epic battle seen on screen, the White Walkers seem to go through and around fire with no problem. In fact, their army is the one that comes out completely victorious in that episode; Jon, by contrast, barely escapes with his life.
And it’s worth noting that the website Inverse actually did the math on dragon fire before “The Long Night” hit screens. Writer Corey Plante observed 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 °F.”
Plante also considered the heat of dragon fire and decided that it reached a temperature of 2,500 °F. As a result, then, he concluded, “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 is killed not by dragon fire but by a dagger made of Valyrian steel that is wielded by Arya Stark. She performs a fatal and unexpected move, dropping the blade with her left hand then catching it with her right. In this way, the Night King is destroyed – and considering his origin as a First Man, perhaps it’s only fitting that a human being slays him rather than a dragon.