The Night King on 'Game of Thrones' Had One Job and He Choked

game of thrones night king
This post contains spoilers up through Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 3 "The Long Night." Visit Beyond the Wall, our official Game of Thrones hub page for recaps, theories, spoilers, explainers, and the best episodes of all time.

Going into the third episode of Game of Thrones' final season, it was unclear if the Night King would live to fight another day. Given the stakes of the battle and the amount of firepower involved, there were many reasons to believe that the icy Big Bad with those bright blue eyes, who has been the main source of existential anxiety for the show's heroes for the last few years, would bite the dust in epic fashion.

Yes, three episodes of the show remain, with more than a few military conflicts to resolve, but the Night King doesn't exactly play well with others and this episode was built up as his last stand. This was his big shot to prove himself. Too bad he totally fucking choked.

Sorry, there's no nicer way to put it. Though he was outgunned two-to-one in the dragon department, he ended up having a better tactical plan than his many human enemies. As the warriors of Winterfell sent Dothraki off to their deaths and wasted their dragons on wild goose chases, the Night King's army kept things simple: Flood the zone. Taking a page from the zombies in World War Z, the Night King's troops just kept charging until they got through every obstacle thrown in their way, eventually gaining access to both the crypts and the inner sanctum where Bran, aka The Three-Eyed Raven, was stashed as bait. Bran thought the Night King would want him; he was right.

After working his way through Winterfell, the Night King and his squad of White Walkers arrived at the Weirwood Tree. Theon Greyjoy, on his path to redemption after season of suffering and humiliation, got his chance to show off his skills with a bow and arrow. (He even got a weird "You're a good man" endorsement from Bran.) But he didn't stand a chance against the Night King, who viciously killed Theon and then took one of the slowest, most melodramatic walks ever put to film. Then Arya emerged from the darkness and stabbed him with Valyrian steel. RIP the Night King.

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As we all knew going in, destroying the Night King was the key to winning this battle and he wouldn't go down without a fight. If you defeat him, his undead armies immediately lose their mystical powers and collapse in the battlefield. Given his importance to the Battle of Winterfell, you'd think that Jon Snow and Daenerys would have constructed a more clever plan than "Leave Theon in charge of Bran and then let Arya swoop in and save the day," but apparently there wasn't a great braintrust assembled for this one. Perhaps Tyrion was right that it was a bad idea to put most of the sharpest minds in the crypts, which turned out to be just about as safe as everyone expected. As we learned, The Night King's resurrection powers have impressive range. 

Here's another important thing we learned about the Night King: He can walk through flames. In a moment that recalled the T-1000 emerging from flames in James Cameron's Terminator 2, Daenerys reigned fire down on his ass with her dragon. In a visually dark episode that often valued confusion over clarity, it was one of the most striking and memorable images. How exactly did he survive? "While there's no reason to know for certain that the fire wouldn't kill or destroy the Night King, there's also no particular reason to believe that it would," explained show-runner D.B. Weiss in the making of featurette after the episode. Fair enough!

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Is this really the end for the Night King? He's been a part of the series for a very long time, but he was often used sparingly. His most memorable move was to pop up at the end of a season finale and hint that there was more to come. The Battle of Winterfell, packed with hacking and screaming, was the culmination of all those tasteful teases and quick cut-aways to impending doom. The disappointment that many fans likely felt with this episode can probably be traced back to an uncomfortable truth about many cool-looking "badass" villains throughout fantasy and science-fiction history: They don't actually make for great antagonists. The Night King was a fantastic action figure; he was not a compelling character.

Again, this shouldn't actually be very surprising to longtime viewers. As much as people like to think of Game of Thrones as an special-effects filled blockbuster, and Benioff and Weiss have transformed the show into at numerous points in the last couple years, the show's main storytelling mode has always been more granular and intimate, focused on dynastic politics and inter-family squabbles. The Night King had one job, to kill Bran and wipe out humanity, and he completely screwed up. It's bad news for the White Walkers and the wights, but it might be good news for the narrative prospects of the last few episodes.

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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.