One of the most thrilling revelations this season is the battle at the settlement in the “Hardhome” episode (Season 5, Episode 7). We get a preview of what the Long Night — the dark winter in which the White Walkers attack — will be like if the Night’s Watch doesn’t figure out how to stop the wights and White Walkers.
Incidentally, most people in Westeros believe the Long Night is just a fairy tale. According to legend, the Long Night occurred thousands of years ago when…
“a night that lasted a generation. Kings froze to death in their castles, same as the shepherds in their huts; and women smothered their babies rather than see them starve, and wept, and felt the tears freeze on their cheeks… In that darkness the White Walkers came for the first time. They swept through cities and kingdoms, riding their dead horses, hunting with their packs of pale spiders big as hounds.” ―Old Nan to Bran Stark
If nothing else, the battle at Hardhome demonstrates the strength, ferocity and intelligence of the White Walkers.
A cold greeting
Jon, Tormund and their party row through the grey waters up to the Wildling settlement of Hardhome. Desolate and barren, Hardhome looks as unforgiving as its residents, who greet Jon with silent hatred.
And, low and behold, there’s Rattleshirt (whom some of us were looking for back when Stannis’ burned Mance Rayder at the stake). When Rattleshirt publicly denounces Tormund as a traitor who is under the Crows’ spell, this is an insult that has to be met with violence. Tormund beats Rattleshirt to death with his own staff. (Presumably, this is just in case it wasn’t clear that Mance is really dead. Sob.)
Jon and Tormund meet with the Wildling chieftains — including a giant Wun Wun — in a hall and beg them to lead their people to go south. The leaders almost turn against Jon when they hear he shot an arrow through Mance Rayder’s heart – until Tormund clarifies that Jon killed Mance out of mercy and in brave defiance of Stannis. As a show of faith, Jon presents the leaders with the leather satchel filled with the dragonglass daggers (which Sam gave him as he left).
Jon importunes that he’s not asking them to forget their dead – and his voice has an anguished ring of authenticity when he says he will never forget his fallen fifty brothers. Jon implores them to think of their children and how they will never have children of their own if they don’t band together before the long night.
Some, like the Wildling chieftain Karsi (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) – who is simply fantastic – hear reason. When the Thenn chieftain announces his ancestors would “spit on me if I broke bread with a Crow,” Karsi replies “So would mine, but, fuck ‘em, they’re dead.”
Karsi speaks first. Based on Tormund’s word, she agrees to lead her people south of the Wall. Some, like the giant Wun Wun follow. But, not all of the chieftains agree to leave the outpost. The Thenn leader refuses, believing the ships are a Night’s Watch trap. (As the Thenn leaves, Karsi scowls disapprovingly: “I fucking hate Thenns.”)
As Jon and his men ferry the Wildlings to Stannis’ ships, Jon is dismayed because so far only about 5,000 of them have gone. It’s not enough. Jon wants to save more people. Plus he needs a bigger army to fight the White Walkers and the wights.
Karsi is a great character. As the actor playing her mentions in an interview, “this was a role where gender really didn’t matter. I didn’t
Karsi loads her tearful daughters on a row boat and promises she will follow right behind them. Oh oh.
Meanwhile, Night’s Watch member Edd stays behind in the tent to gather the dragonglass daggers. As he does, the giant Wun Wun examines a dagger, fascinated by it.
Dogs start barking. A snowy avalanche forms on a cliff above the settlement, and then the army of the dead arrive – and, oh boy, do they ever. There are tens of thousands of wights – and the only way to truly “kill” them is with fire.
Once the Wildlings realize what is happening, people scream to shut the gates to the settlement. Some Wildlings get trapped on the other side. A chilling hush falls over their screams and then nothing. The army of the dead (aka the wights) quickly begin punching through the gate’s thin logs.
All the Wildlings left on shore scramble for the row boats, some of them charging through the icy water.
Wights jump through the roof of the elder’s meeting hall, landing on Edd and Wun Wun and the others.
Men try to hold back the wights from breaching the settlement’s walls, but the wights are unstoppable. They even claw their way in from under the wood “wall” – it’s really little more than a fence.
Karsi helps a wounded person into one of the row boats. Jon promises her that he gave orders for the Wildlings to be let in even if neither of them make it back.
Tormund warns Jon that if the wights breach the settlement’s walls everyone will die.
Jon realizes Tormund is right. Jon draws his sword (Longclaw) and races to the wall.
The walls are now partially breached in places and wights begin to pour through their small holes. Jon and Tormund along with the Thenn leader and Karsi attempt to block the undead invaders and seal up the holes. Karsi fights as well as any man.
Suddenly, Jon and the others notice four white walkers, looming like horsemen of the apocalypse, on the cliff.1
Jon and the Thenn leader fight their way over to the elder’s hall to retrieve the dragonglass daggers – now, more than ever, these are invaluable. At the same time Wun Wun the giant bursts out of the hall, shattering its roof and throwing off wights like they are rag dolls. The hall is now on fire.
Jon runs in with the Thenn leader. Out of the inferno, emerges one of the white walkers. As it passes through the fire, the flames shrink away. The Thenn tells Jon to get the daggers and takes on the white walker. The white walker spears the Thenn in the gut – and the Thenn drops dead ((52:32)) .
Jon reaches the chest where the daggers were supposed to be but he never gets a chance to reach in and find them. The white walker attacks Jon. It goes without saying that this white walker is lightning fast, staggeringly strong and lethal. It jumps up the attic in one bound. It has Jon on the run. Jon fights back with a sword lying nearby – he lost Longclaw earlier. When the white walker’s mace clashes against that sword, the sword’s metal shatters on contact.
The white walker wallops Jon with his mace and damages Jon’s armpit or side. Clutching his wound, Jon scrambles to flee the hall. On his way out, he grabs Longclaw. Outside, he stumbles. As the white walker is bearing down on Jon and about to deliver the death blow, Jon leaps to his feet. He stops the white walker’s blow with his Valyrian steel sword, Longclaw. It does not shatter when it meets the white walkers’ spear. The white walker practically gasps.
Jon strikes the white walker with Longclaw. As the blade slices through the white walker, it disintegrates.
This is a big reveal for the Night’s Watch. Much of the knowledge of how to kill the white walkers has vanished over the centuries.
First Sam discovered you could kill them with dragonglass – the obsidian daggers. Dragonsteel is also rumored to kill the white walkers, but until now, nobody knew for certain that it was synonymous with Valyrian steel. (The Valyrians forged this ultra-sharp steel before the Doom and little of it still exists – only five blades, including Littlefinger’s dagger.)
On the cliff, the lead white walker – that is, the Night’s King – not only observes his comrade’s death but also recognizes Jon’s new-found knowledge that Valyrian steel will kill white walkers. Jon’s made an enemy.
We saw the Night’s King for the first time back in Season 4 when he turned Kraster’s son into a blue-eyed white walker. Legend has it that, thousands of years ago, the Night’s King was once a member of the Night’s Watch who pursued a moon-faced blue-eyed woman and later committed unspeakable atrocities.
Meanwhile, Karsi is stilling fighting wights and winning – until she encounters undead children. She barely tries to resist the little wights, and they ferociously finish her off.
Karsi is a great character. As the actor playing her mentions in an interview, “this was a role where gender really didn’t matter. I didn’t feel I was “the woman chieftain.” I felt like we were all on the same team together” – and this is how Karsi comes across on screen. She’s a true leader. She speaks first. She doesn’t wait to hear what the men say. It’s really too bad that this character is so fleeting.
Edd runs over to Jon and tells him they have to go and to forget about the daggers.
The Night’s King orders in another battalion of wights. They leap off the cliff, land in pile of bones, and leap up to attack – clearly no longer human. And the settlement is overrun.
Jon, Edd, Tormund and anyone who can flee for the last row boat. The giant Wun Wun charges through the icy waters to escape, flinging wights off his shoulders and neck as he goes. (I guess when you’re twenty times the size of a regular man, hypothermia doesn’t come quickly.) Those trapped on shore don’t stand a chance.
The Night’s King stomps onto the dock and stares at Jon. To show Jon just who he’s messing with, the Night’s King raises his arms and those who just died rise, including the newly dead Karsi. His army of wights now has even more soldiers.
- 52:17 [↩]