The Night King Is the Most Boring Villain in 'Game of Thrones'

Like the Eye of Sauron in 'Lord of the Rings,' the Night King lacks a relatable motive.
August 30, 2017, 3:45pm
Assets via wikipedia commons | Art by Noel Ransome 

It you're not caught up with Game of Thrones, read at your own risk.

The Night King is the unambiguous, all powerful, night supremacist we've seen so many times before, and I get it already: the menacing look, super persistent "keeping it moving" strut, and talent for drafting the undead. He's the Eye of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings, minus the whole stuck-in-a-mountain thing.

And Lord of the Rings was trash for that very reason; one of my many petty, minor controversial opinions. It was a tired fantasy with a tired story structure: All powerful enemy killing clans and making plans while other human(ish) heroes meanwhile squabble about the insignificant. They discover the threat before it's too late. Then opposing sides come together in kumbaya-fist-bump-moment and beat said enemy. Some people die and shit along the way too.


In recent seasons of Game of Thrones, the more complex bad guy and good guy chess pieces are being removed from the board, pushing the Night King to the forefront. He's always been symbolic of that same, tired LOTR formula. Everyone (OK, really just Jon Snow) talks about how powerful he is, but all we've seen him do is ride a horse, watch his undead army trudge along, be scared of water, expose his Javelin skills, and get a zombie dragon to rip through a wall (which, if we're being real, credit goes to Jon Snow for making that happen). With his additional screen time, things are looking familiar and predictable in this space of all-to-familiar, and all-to-predictable fantasy sloths.

Firstly, we should already know why Game of Thrones was great; it challenged expectations and overturned fantasy conventions. According to the rules of basic story structure as mentioned above, every narrative runs in three acts. The first introduces the characters and crew, ex. the Starks, Arryns, Freys, Greyjoys, Lannisters, Targaryens, and the outside threat, the White Walkers. Along with that comes their motivations and positions on the board; some want to survive, others want power, but it all comes down to the Iron Throne. Act Two delves into conflict territory—shitty people being shitty people—rape, sacrifice, betrayal, really good guys getting killed, castration, and really bad guys getting killed. Meanwhile, in the background, the largely ignored threat gets closer and closer. While I'll get to Act Three later, it's those moments in between Acts One and Two that gave GoT its premium status in television.

The narrative didn't care about who you loved as a fan; it didn't care for your comfort or satisfaction as a viewer. Nothing would be attractive as it is in a standard fantasy. Good people would die in horrible, ugly ways. Many were punished for their naivety—much like the expectations of a viewer whose own naivety was bred from classic narratives like the LOTR or Harry Potter. And the bad people, they would last and grow in power because fuck you and your satisfaction. This was the consequence of living in the world of Westeros, where much like our real world, where power trumps decency (RIP Ned).


Enter the growing era of the Night King—where season seven brings us Act Three. The stone-faced, ancient force who has the very boring goal of destroying the main players on the board. It's one dimensional and basic on a level that makes it hard to even call the Night King a villain. He's more like a force of nature. We still don't know if he hurts, feels, or can partake in the concept of betrayal. The White Walkers are simply a movable danger like a tornado that can wipe out all in its path. Which is trash in comparison to the evils of Acts One and Two, where we see the likes of Ramsay Bolton, Petyr Baelish, and Joffrey Baratheon.

Ramsay was a bastard whose insecurities became wrapped up in his own fucked up sadism. The need to torture/rape victims like Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy afforded him a feeling of power and status. Every rejection was a brand new excuse to shit on someone weaker. You understood it, but you hated him for the same reasons.

Joffrey was just a sociopath, the product of the entire Lannister house (and to a lesser extent, his drunk, bullying "father," the late King Robert Baratheon). He just benefitted from the gene pool of an inherently evil family.

But once again, like a Donald Trump, you understood it but still hated him.

Then there was Lord Petyr Baelish, the shadiest dude in the whole damn realm. He wanted power without the attention that power brought. He's that guy moving the pieces on both sides of a chess board when heads are turned; but at the same time, he feared death, which explained why he'd opted to pull the strings rather than get his hands dirty. You hated these characters, but you also felt helpless as viewers when they found the successes that the writers afforded them.

So, as we move into Act Three in the final season, most of these nuanced characters are killed off. Everyone is suddenly coming together, moving to their sides on the chess board. Forget about ethical ambiguity: You're now either on the good half or the bad. We've got people who should damn well die suddenly experiencing stupidly near-death escapes like in the case of Jaime Lannister and the magnificent seven. Or Jon and his chosen ass with his nine lives crawling out of sub zero waters. All that satisfying shit the show refused to give viewers is now coming in droves as this very boring, very tired force of nature called the Night King approaches.

Every cliché you could think of happened in season seven, and the ever growing rise of the eye of Sauron—slightly improved edition—is a reminder that Game of Thrones is fighting against its original mandate. I don't mind the occasional bit of narrative satisfaction, but I also want to feel uncomfortable again. And I want to see the Night King talk some smack for a change, have some interesting motivation, and wipe out the masses—I mean, throw in a zombified Little Finger to stir up some shit among the Night King's commanders or something. It's the only way I can feel justified in my view that the Lord of the Rings and everything in its wake was trash and that the Game of Thrones will be so much better. Follow Noel Ransome on Twitter.