Who are the White Walkers in Game of Thrones?

The icy monsters return to the fantasy series this week - but how much do we actually know about them?

This week’s Game of Thrones sees the return of nasty ice monsters The White Walkers, and overall it was a brutal reminder of just how dangerous the chilly fiends are to Westeros.

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But in case you can’t quite remember exactly why we’re so worried about the blue terrors, here’s a quick recap of exactly who they are, what they can do – and what we know of their motives.


The basics

Your average White Walker is a tall blue man with seriously bad skin, piercing blue eyes and a nasty attitude towards the rest of the people living in Westeros.

Their abilities are a little vague but they’re basically immortal, only able to be killed by dragonglass (or obsidian weapons) and possibly Valyrian steel, a metal from a now-destroyed foreign land that’s in fairly short supply. They also seem to have a hodgepodge of ice-based powers including shattering metal blades, using ice weapons and making things super-cold.

Then, of course there’s their party trick of raising the dead to act as their mindless slaves, known as Wights.


What’s the difference between White Walkers and Wights?

Both appear in the series and have bright blue eyes, but they’re very different – the White Walkers (right) are the aforementioned supernatural creatures, whereas wights (left) are basically zombies (and skeletons) that the White Walkers use as footsoldiers. They’re a bit easier to kill – they can be hurt by fire – but most conventional attacks still won’t finish them off.

White Walkers are also intelligent, with their own kind of society, organization and language which while still a bit of a mystery marks them out from the mindless Wights.


In Westeros’ history

Within the fictional history of Westeros, thousands of years ago The White Walkers appeared and attacked the realms of men, only beaten back when they marched into the south. They were defeated with dragonglass weapons by an alliance of men and the Children of the Forest, the latter of which are an elf-like supernatural race that we’re not going to get into because it’s just SO confusing.

After the Walkers’ defeat, legendary architect (yes, they have those) Bran the Builder lived up to his name and built the Wall – that big icy structure where Jon Snow broods a lot – to keep the icy nasties out. Also, the men of Westeros formed medieval bouncers the Night’s Watch to keep an eye on the White Walkers in future.


Appearances in the TV series

By the time Game of Thrones begins, the Walkers have faded into history, becoming myths and stories used to scare children. However, they pop up briefly in the very first episode, killing a few of the Night’s Watch and later sending Wights to Night’s Watch headquarters Castle Black on an assassination mission.

Later, they lead an attack on a Night’s Watch expedition at the end of season 2 killing hundreds, and it is also discovered that they have a reputation for stealing children from their parents for nefarious purposes – perhaps even to turn them into one of their own (above).

But they don’t have it all their own way – in series 3, Sam Tarly stops a Walker from seizing one of its young victims by stabbing it with dragonglass, earning him disbelief from his brothers at the Night’s Watch and the nickname Sam the Slayer.

Finally, the White Walkers attack in force in series 5, killing a settlement of Wildlings to the horror of Night’s Watch commander Jon Snow – and raising the dead to join their army.


What do they want?

It’s all a bit mysterious – so far their desires seem limited to killing a lot of people and make their way south, with the intent of conquering Westeros. However, some fans speculate they represent the accompanying icy devil to The Red God, a deity based in fire worshipped by characters in the series including priestess Melisandre and wannabe King Stannis Baratheon.

One thing’s for sure – whatever they want, based on their absolute victories so far they’re probably going to get it.

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Game of Thrones is on Sky Atlantic on Mondays