Like his Game of Thrones character, The Hound, Rory McCann is a man given to straight talking.
“This season, people need to join forces,” he says. “Because when the White Walkers come … everybody’s getting it.”
The White Walkers, the frostbitten army of the undead who look like the embodiment of a crucifying hangover, are the pedal note, the lingering menace, and the off-screen shadow of Game of Thrones. Looking back, they have always been the existential threat – we can’t say we weren’t warned. In the very first scene of the opening episode of the first series, a White Walker attacked some human rangers beyond the Wall, killed them, and then turned a dead wildling girl into a blue-eyed zombie.
Since then, as Thrones lore has been fleshed out, we’ve learned that in Westeros’s prehistory, the White Walkers came south, they were somehow repelled, and The Wall was built to keep them from ever coming down again. As for the White Walkers and their zombie hordes — the Wights — they have been waiting for the arrival of a 100-year winter before they journey south once again and declare all-out war on humanity itself. And if you’ve seen the posters, you’ll know this series: “Winter is Here.’ Cue carnage.
“It’s ramping up,” says Liam Cunningham, who plays Ser Davos Seaworth, now Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) right-hand man. “The situation is coming to a head. It’s just a question of which situation. …”
He’s referring to Game of Thrones’ two long-running wars. Most of the series to date has been concerned with the warring of the ruling Houses of Westeros – will the Lannisters defeat the Targaryens or the Starks in the battle for the Iron Throne?
But as McCann says, that’s small-bore squabbling compared to the coming Great War. And it’s up to Jon Snow, one of the few Westerosi to have seen – and killed – a White Walker, to somehow convince the squabblers that they need to refocus.
“Jon Snow knows that the Lannisters and the Starks and Daenerys are going to have to parley and basically get together,” says Cunningham. “They’re not going to be able to take on a 100,000 army of the undead — who are incredibly difficult to kill, and they don’t have the weapons to kill — on their own. So this season, they’re forced in to a situation where something’s got to be done.”
Jacob Anderson, who plays Daenerys’s lead soldier, Grey Worm, puts it more bluntly.
“I don’t think the throne is necessarily the point anymore,” he says. “If there’s no world to rule, then it just doesn’t matter who rules it.”
Even if the various sides agree to come together and take on an enemy they can barely comprehend, there is the larger problem of what’s to be done. That’s because another enduring Thrones narrative is just how difficult it is to kill a single White Walker — let alone a whole army of them.
Isaac Hempstead Wright, who plays Bran Stark, summarizes it rather nicely:
“Valyrian steel or dragonglass. Either does the trick. Jon [Snow] killed one with Longclaw [a Valryian steel blade] at the Battle of Hardhome in Season 5, and Sam [Tarly] killed one almost by accident with dragonglass when it threatened his baby way back when. But as far as I’m aware, there are only about three Valyrian steel swords left in the whole kingdom, so someone needs to find some dragonglass fast. …”
Dragonstone, the one-time headquarters of Stannis Baratheon, is, as its name suggests, built on the very same obsidian rock. “All it has is rock,” Baratheon once said. “Mostly a shiny black stone too brittle for war and too sharp for building. The Targaryens called it ‘dragonglass.’ I call it useless!”
But whether that will come in to play remains to be seen. In the meantime, Cunningham has a different solution to the problem of the White storm heading south.
“Well, they didn’t get into the water at the Battle of Hardhome [Season 5], so I don’t know if they can swim,” he said. “Maybe we should all just hide in the bath.”
Game of Thrones Season 7 premieres Sunday, July 16 at 9 p.m. on HBO.
Read more of our #GoTIsComing coverage:
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