In 52 days, Game of Thrones will finally return. And 35 days after that, Thrones will end. In less time than it seemingly took Littlefinger to zip around to every corner of Westeros, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will deliver a conclusion to the story George R.R. Martin first introduced 23 years ago—and in that precious time they’ll have to answer half a hundred pressing questions: Who will live? Who will die? Who will tell Jon he’s doing it with his aunt?
Separate from those series-shaping questions are countless smaller but still crucial details that the show may or may not explore in the final season. These are Thrones’ loose ends: the characters, places, events, prophecies, and more that the story has made audiences wonder about over the past seven seasons but the show has yet to wrap up. In the run-up to the final season’s April 14 premiere, we’ll be digging through these loose ends, looking at why they matter and how they could affect the endgame as we count down to Thrones’ long-awaited conclusion.
The Loose End
Winter has arrived, the Wall has crumbled, and the White Walkers are marching south. At some point over Game of Thrones’ final six episodes, the Night King’s army will go head-to-head with a hodgepodge of Westerosi heroes. But there’s a big problem: No one knows much about killing White Walkers.
Thrones’ heroes have been trying to figure out how to kill White Walkers for several seasons now. In Season 5, when Stannis is stationed at the Wall, he heads down to Castle Black’s libraries and runs into Sam Tarly, who explains how he once killed a White Walker with a dragonglass blade:
Stannis: “Why would obsidian kill a Walker?”
Sam: “I don’t know. I’ve been going through all the old manuscripts hoping to find something. And all I’ve learned is that the Children of the Forest used to hunt with dragonglass.”
Stannis: “The Lady Melisandre told me that death marches on the Wall.”
Sam: “I’ve seen it, Your Grace.”
Stannis: “Seen what?”
Sam: “The army of the dead. And when they come—”
Stannis: “We’ll have to know how to fight them. Keep reading, Samwell Tarly.”
Sam has kept reading, even journeying to the Citadel to attempt to become a maester, yet since that conversation, he’s learned little more about the Walkers. Jon has killed two of them with his prized sword, Longclaw, confirming that Valyrian steel can kill the Walkers just like dragonglass, but there are very few Valyrian steel weapons in the world. Despite Sam’s best efforts, he still can’t answer Stannis’s question about why either material can kill White Walkers, and he doesn’t know if the ice creatures invading Westeros have any other fatal weaknesses—like, say, dragonfire. Solving those mysteries will be essential to stopping the White Walkers in Season 8.
Why This Loose End Matters
Every time the heroes have engaged with the White Walkers and their army, they’ve had their asses absolutely handed to them. Yet despite getting caught on their heels (like at Hardhome in Season 5), being vastly outnumbered (at Season 7’s frozen lake battle), or both (at the Fist of the First Men in Season 2), they still look wholly unprepared for the coming invasion. The White Walkers are Westeros’s Golden State Warriors.
The odds for the humans are especially long, given that it’s still unclear just how large the frozen force marching through the shattered Wall really is. The army of wights appears to number in the tens of thousands, but there have been fewer glimpses of the White Walkers. The most that have been onscreen at once is 13, when a Walker delivered one of Craster’s infant sons to the Lands of Always Winter in Season 4:
There is potentially one more Walker who delivered the baby offscreen (depending on whether he joined the throng), and if so, that would leave 14 of them in this scene. Since that episode, Jon killed a White Walker at Hardhome in Season 5, Meera Reed killed one with a dragonglass spear in Season 6, and Jon killed another when his crew went beyond the Wall in Season 7. (Sam’s slaying came in Season 3.) While the Walkers have seemed to prefer a Four Horseman of the Apocalypse–type of look since Season 5, the Craster baby scene indicates that there could be at least 11 of them alive.
There may be even more than that. We think that new White Walkers come into being when Craster’s sons are taken from the woods and turned, and Craster told Commander Mormont in Season 3 that he’d just had his 99th son. That could mean hundreds of White Walkers.
Even if the number of Walkers isn’t vastly bigger than what we’ve seen, the heroes need more firepower to defeat the White Walker threat. That means they need to learn more about dragonglass, Valyrian steel, and any other weaknesses the White Walkers have.
How the Show Could Address It
After Jon and his crew mined so much dragonglass on Dragonstone in Season 7, the material is the main White Walker repellent in our heroes’ armory. Dragonglass is different from the obsidian found in our world—the volcanic rock clearly has magical properties. The Children of the Forest stuck a dragonglass blade into the chest of a human to create the Night King (something Bran will be able to relay to Sam this season, which could help him finally answer Stannis’s question), and dragonglass itself turns White Walkers into dust (or, like, ice shards? It’s not clear, but the dying is the important part). Dragonglass also appears to be effective against wights. Ordinary weapons proved ineffective when Jon encountered a wight at Castle Black in Season 1, but the undead were dropping like flies when Jon and Co. used their makeshift dragonglass weapons at the frozen lake in Season 7. Wights don’t die like this when impaled with conventional steel:
But the heroes probably need more than a bundle of shiny rocks to outfit an army and go toe-to-toe with the White Walkers. Even when they had to arm only about a dozen warriors, they were already relying on some shards of dragonglass that weren’t so intimidating. Look at how Jorah was forced to fight with a dragonglass butter knife:
This is not the first time Westeros has done battle with the undead, and Jon, Daenerys, and the rest of the humans may be able to enlist their local Three-Eyed Raven to look to the past for clues about how to defeat the White Walkers. The legend of the Long Night may provide a crucial clue.
During the Long Night, some 6,000 or 8,000 years ago, a winter settled over Westeros that lasted a generation. The sky went dark, people froze in their houses, and the White Walkers descended on the continent from the north alongside giant ice spiders, wiping out legions in their way. Then the Last Hero, as legend now calls him, emerged to defeat them. He went into the North with a host of companions, a dog, and a blade made of dragonsteel. Aligned with the children of the forest, he defeated the White Walkers at the Battle for the Dawn.
It’s unclear how, exactly, he beat White Walkers in that battle—or if it was a true battle at all and not some kind of peace settlement or truce—but the story of the Long Night and the Last Hero raises a crucial question: Is dragonsteel the same as Valyrian steel?
Valyrian steel is lighter, stronger, and sharper than normal steel, with a distinctive rippling pattern that results from the metal being folded over and over when forged. Valyrian steel weapons never need sharpening. The blades are infused with magic when forged and fatal to White Walkers, while normal metal freezes and crumbles. The magic used was lost in the Doom of Valyria some four centuries before the show, and many blades have been lost. As a result, there is very little Valyrian steel left in the world. Only six Valyrian steel weapons have appeared in the series: Longclaw, Widow’s Wail, Oathkeeper, Heartsbane, and the dagger used in the assassination attempt on Bran in Season 1 (Ned Stark’s Ice was Valyrian steel; it was reforged into Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper). Jon has Longclaw, Jaime has Widow’s Wail, Brienne has Oathkeeper, Sam has Heartsbane, and Arya has the dagger; all five of those characters are currently in Winterfell or are headed in that direction.
A few other Valyrian steel weapons have been mentioned in the show or books, but they are lost or scattered across the world. The one aspect of the White Walkers that works in Jon and Co.’s favor is that killing one appears to kill all the wights that that Walker spawned. That means that what the heroes have on hand could be enough, but four swords, a dagger, and some dragonglass doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, especially when the Night King is airborne. Some extra Valyrian steel would be a welcome sight.
That brings us back to the Last Hero and his dragonsteel sword. Jon has wondered whether Valyrian steel and dragonsteel are connected in the books, and it’s a logical conclusion to make considering Valyrian steel was forged in Old Valyria, the homeland of the dragonlords, and has clear magical properties. We don’t know whether Valyrian steel is somehow forged with dragonfire, but the clues seem to hint at it.
The secrets of how to forge Valyrian steel have been lost for centuries, since the Doom of Valyria. But a rare few talented smiths can rework Valyrian steel that has already been forged, as was demonstrated when Tywin had Ice, the ancestral greatsword of House Stark that Ned wields in Season 1, remade into Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper at the beginning of Season 4.
If anyone can figure out the secrets to not only reworking Valyrian steel but crafting new Valyrian steel, it’s Sam Tarly and his living Wikipedia, Bran Stark. Sam has already been researching how to kill White Walkers, and in Episode 1 of Season 7 he found the importance of dragonglass—and the stockpile of it on Dragonstone—when he was flipping through a book that also contained a drawing of Arya’s Valyrian steel dagger:
In that same scene, Gilly opened another book: Legends of the Long Night. The connection is right there! The exact recipe for Valyrian steel can’t be in those pages or other maesters would have discovered it centuries ago, but Bran’s Three-Eyed Raven powers may be able to fill in the missing links. It’s unclear whether Bran’s sight can stretch across continents (in the book he’s limited by the presence of weirwood trees, though that limitation seems to not apply on the show, given the lack of such trees at the Tower of Joy), but if anyone ever did forge a Valyrian steel blade in Westeros, Bran may be able to see that. He may even be able to see all the way back to the Long Night and the Last Hero’s dragonsteel blade.
Additionally, Sam’s ownership of Heartsbane, which he stole from his father, Randyll, in Season 6, is curious, as he isn’t an obvious candidate to wield it in battle. Sam may have slayed a White Walker, but he’s focused on scholarship, not fighting. The greatsword is too big for Arya and wouldn’t fit her water-dancing style, Davos always says he isn’t a swordsman, Gendry prefers a hammer, Tyrion isn’t a fighter, Pod is best at being a squire (among other things), Grey Worm and the Unsullied don’t really use swords, Theon and Yara are hundreds of miles away, and Tormund and Beric were at the Wall when it fell—their fates are unknown. Jorah might be able to wield Heartsbane, and Euron is another contender—he owns Valyrian steel armor in the books, though Sam won’t just hand over Heartsbane to him. That makes the best candidate … the Hound? Sandor Clegane has said that he always wanted a Valyrian steel weapon.
But Sam may have a better use for Heartsbane: He could melt it down to help him discover the secrets to Valyrian steel. Between Sam’s training at the Citadel, the books he brought with him to Winterfell, his family’s blade, and Bran’s powers, Sam is this close to connecting the dots.
But Sam and Bran are no smiths, and it takes some of the most skilled craftsman in the seven kingdoms to even reforge Valyrian steel that already exists. Luckily, the gang has Gendry, who was last seen arriving at Eastwatch to alert Davos to send a raven to Daenerys. He was presumably on the boat with Jon and Dany, and there’s a good chance he’ll wind up at Winterfell to begin Season 8. When Gendry hasn’t been getting his king’s blood leeched out of him, he’s been smithing. He grew up smithing under Tobho Mott in King’s Landing, he wanted to smith for the Brotherhood Without Banners, and he returned to King’s Landing via row boat and smithed there for three seasons before Davos came back for him in Season 7.
In the books, the person who reforges Ice into Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper is none other than the same Tobho Mott, whom Gendry apprenticed under for so long. Gendry isn’t some amateur blacksmith; he learned from one of the best smiths in the entire realm. He may have some experience working with Valyrian steel.
Soon, Westeros’s preeminent bookworm, the Three-Eyed Raven, an experienced blacksmith, and the Mother of Dragons will likely all be in the same spot at the same time. All are aware of the threat of the White Walkers and what it takes to kill them. If ever there were a group of people who could recover the lost art of Valyrian steel, it’s this one.
Of course, cracking the Valyrian steel riddle is a long shot—people have been trying for centuries to no avail. So if the heroes can’t figure out the magic recipe, will they find another way to kill White Walkers? The Last Hero may have been armed with dragonsteel, but none of the legends allude to actual dragons themselves—it’s likely that White Walkers had never done battle with dragons before Season 7. Dragons are magical creatures who are in many respects the exact opposite of the Walkers, and it may not be a coincidence that both returned to the world at the same time. Many speculate that dragonfire can kill White Walkers.
Wights are vulnerable to normal fire, but White Walkers have previously been shown to be impervious to it. The air freezes around them as they approach, and fires go out whenever a Walker comes near, as demonstrated at the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave in Season 6. That may be different for dragonfire, though. In the battle beyond the frozen lake, the Night King walked through some fire left behind by Dany’s dragons, and while the flames cowered in front of him, they did not go out completely:
It remains to be seen how a Walker would fare with a face full of dragonfire. The Night King might melt like a snowman in the magical flames … or he might brush it off, unscathed. Either result would be pretty badass. But if dragonfire can’t harm Walkers, Dany’s dragons will be virtually sidelined in the war against the White Walkers. From a storytelling perspective, it wouldn’t make sense for seven seasons of dragon hype to end with Drogon and Rhaegal being little more than fodder for the best javelin thrower in Westeros.
Beyond dragonfire, many have speculated that wildfire could also be used to destroy White Walkers. The alchemists in King’s Landing claim wildfire is manufactured with magic, and it’s certainly one of the most powerful weapons we’ve seen in Westeros. In Season 6, Bran has a flashing vision that includes images of wildfire mixed with glimpses of White Walkers.
But that was before Cersei blew up the Sept of Baelor, and the wildfire he sees are some of the exact scenes from that event. It’s not clear whether the wildfire’s proximity to the White Walkers in Bran’s vision is related at all. As Thrones has shown for years, prophecies are fickle.
Plus, it’s unclear how much wildfire is left. Between the Battle of the Blackwater and Cersei’s nuking of the Sept of Baelor, it’s likely that the reserves in King’s Landing are running low.
Whether it’s with dragonglass, Valyrian steel, dragonfire, wildfire, or something else, Thrones’ heroes need to develop a strategy for the White Walker threat. At the moment, they know little about what kills the White Walkers. Tying up that loose end is the first step to saving Westeros.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.