HBO’s Game of Thrones is a dense series with a huge weight of history behind its story, so in practically every episode, something happens that could use a little explanation. So every week, The Verge will be diving into a scene or event from the latest installment of the series and explain how we got here. Whether you’re basically a Game of Thrones maester or you need a little reminder about previous events, we’ll try to help you keep your history straight.
While almost everyone will be talking about the giant battle scene that ended this week’s Game of Thrones episode, “The Spoils of War,” one of the most interesting pieces of the episode — at least from a historical perspective — comes from Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen’s discussion in the dragonglass cavern underneath Dragonstone.
Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones season 7, episode 4
The Long Night
Along with the massive mountain of dragonglass Sam discovered at the Citadel, Jon Snow found carvings from thousands of years ago, dating back to The Long Night, an era of Westerosi pre-history that took place approximately 6,000 to 8,000 years before Aegon and his dragons showed up in Westeros to rule the Seven Kingdoms.
Most of what we know about The Long Night comes from stories told to characters in the books and show. We know it was a winter that lasted a generation, one that saw children born, live their lives, and die without ever seeing spring. During that winter, it was said that the White Walkers descended from the farthest reaches of the North, riding giant ice spiders (a truly delightful thought) and undead horses, at the head of an army of the resurrected dead.
The First Men and the Children of the Forest
At that time, Westeros was inhabited by two groups: the First Men — named for being the first race of humans to inhabit Westeros (later followed by the Andals and the Rhoynar), and the magical Children of the Forest, whose relatively small physical size belied their powerful magical abilities. While the First Men had warred with the Children of the Forest in the past, the two species reached a peace agreement known as the Pact, which gave the First Men dominion over most of Westeros in exchange for not cutting down the magical weirwood trees and leaving the Children of the Forest the deep woods. It’s worth noting that, at least in the show, the entire reason the White Walkers exist in the first place is because the Children of the Forest created them to fight the First Men, but that plan seems to have backfired tremendously.
When the White Walkers invaded, the First Men attempted to fight back, but failed on their own.
The Battle for the Dawn
Within the Game of Thrones universe, these events happened so far in the past that it’s hard to describe exactly what took place, or which (if any) of the various mythological events are accurate. That said, the Northern account of the end of the Long Night details the rise of a “last hero” who rode North and managed to convince the Children of the Forest to join the First Men. The two groups together used dragonglass weaponry to defeat the White Walkers at the Battle for the Dawn, which was said to end the Long Night.
That fight resulted in the founding of the Night’s Watch, sworn to defend the realms of men against any future invasions from the While Walkers, and saw Brandon Stark — the ultimate forefather of the Stark family, also known as Bran the Builder — raise the Wall.
Presumably these are the events depicted on the cave art Jon discovered in Dragonstone, which serves as an interesting point in his attempts to convince Daenerys that the invasion of the White Walkers is real. But it also proves that, contrary to the belief of many, the Long Night was a real historical event, even if we don’t yet have all the details.
It’s interesting, especially in the light of the seeming power of the followers of R'hllor, the red god, and their belief in the return of the legendary hero Azor Ahai, to note the parallels between the “last hero” of Northern myth and Azor Ahai. Like the last hero, Azor Ahai was said to rise up against an endless darkness, which they managed to drive back and save the world.
In more recent times, we’ve seen Melisandre attempt to find a new champion for R'hllor — first in Stannis, and now perhaps in either Jon Snow or Daenerys — as the prince or princess who was promised to face the White Walkers once again. Given that a second Long Night does seem to be coming, and the Night King and his army are on their way south, it certainly seems likely that the battle depicted in the caves at Dragonstone could be reprised once again in Westeros.