|Average height||Taller than a man|
|Place of origin||The Known World|
|Habitat||Lands of Always Winter, Beyond the Wall, Westeros|
|Behind the Scenes|
|Universe||Game of Thrones|
|Created by||George R.R. Martin|
The White Walkers are a mythological race mentioned in ancient legends and stories from the time of the First Men and the Children of the Forest.
Eight thousand years before Robert's Rebellion, a winter known as the Long Night lasted a generation. In the darkness and cold of the Long Night, the White Walkers descended upon Westeros from the farthest north, the polar regions of the Lands of Always Winter. None knew why they came, but they killed all in their path, reanimating the dead as wights to kill the living at their command. Eventually the peoples of Westeros rallied and in a conflict known as the War for the Dawn, they managed to defeat the White Walkers and drive them back into the uttermost north, with the Wall raised to bar their return. In the present day, most believe they never existed and are just myths, spoken of in the same breath as ghosts, goblins, grumpkins, or snarks. Even the few who believe they did once exist think they went extinct thousands of years ago. Certainly, none were seen for thousands of years after the Long Night. Just before the outbreak of the War of the Five Kings, however, disturbing reports began to reach the Night's Watch from the wildlings who live beyond the Wall that the White Walkers had returned. Having enjoyed a decade-long summer, Westeros seemed due for an equally long winter, and the White Walkers seem to be spreading with it. With the Seven Kingdoms embroiled in a petty civil war, the dwindling and under-supported Night's Watch realize that they are all that guards the realms of men against the return of these legendary demons of ice and death.
While having an overall humanoid appearance, White Walkers differ greatly from humans. They are taller than humans and have long wispy white hair. They have pale grey-white skin which is wrinkly but stretched taut across their frames, giving them a somewhat gaunt, sinewy, and mummified appearance despite their overall bulky size. Their most notable trait, however, are their glowing blue eyes.
A second type of White Walker (revealed at the end of the episode "Oathkeeper") also exists, which may form some sort of ruling or priestly caste. Their number is unknown, and they are immediately distinguishable from their cohorts by icy horns around their heads, resembling a crown of ice. All those seen so far all wore black armor. When Craster's last son is carried into the Lands of Always Winter by a White Walker, he is placed upon an icy altar in the middle of the White Walker's lair where thirteen of these ruling White Walkers are revealed to be standing in a horizontal line in the distance. The White Walker standing in the middle of the line, speculated to be the White Walker's master, approaches the altar, and with a touch of his finger turns the baby into another White Walker.
White Walkers possess the magical powers related to ice and cold. Their arrival is usually accompanied by blizzards and the dropping of temperatures. They can also freeze anything they touch, as one froze Sam's sword to the point that it shattered. White Walkers also have superhuman strength, as one managed to toss Samwell Tarly several feet away with a single back-handed punch. The White Walkers wield swords and spears made from unique ice crystals.
However, one of their most deadly abilities is to reanimate the dead as their servants, known as Wights. They are actually capable of reviving any dead animals as wights, as a few White Walkers have been seen riding undead horses. They cannot, however, revive a corpse into servitude if the fallen creatures have died by fire. Once the Wights have been risen to serve the White Walkers, their eyes turn an icy blue, similar to the White Walkers' own eyes. Wights can only be killed by fire and serve the Walkers without question.
As previously mentioned, one White Walker, speculated to be their master, possesses the ability to change humans into White Walkers, demonstrated at the end of Oathkeeper when he takes Craster's son into his arms and places a single finger upon its cheek, causing the baby's eyes glow blue and his skin to grow pale, taking on the appearance of the White Walkers. Whether or not this ability extends to only this White Walker, all of the White Walkers amongst his caste, or all White Walkers in general remains to be seen.
According to legend, the White Walkers speak a language known in myth as "Skroth", which sounds like the cracking of ice.
The only known weakness that the White Walkers have shown thus far is the ability to be killed instantly when struck with weapons made of dragonglass. Upon being stabbed by dragonglass, a White Walker's body will begin to freeze into ice from the point at which it is was stabbed, causing the Walker great pain. Finally, it will begin to fall apart, as its now icy body shatters until there is nothing left but powder.
Behind the scenes
The appearance of the White Walkers in the TV series isn't quite the same as in the books. They weren't fully revealed until the Season 2 finale, only quick shots mostly in the shadows in the premiere episode of Season 1. Freeze-frame shots of this display an early working-model design for the White Walkers, but given that it only flashed on-screen for a fraction of a second, this may never have been intended as their final appearance. This early design was almost skeletal, without noses. This original version really appeared too briefly to be seen without taking screenshots, but as this was the only glimpse of the White Walkers in the first season, fansites (and wikis) heavily circulated these screenshots, somewhat obscuring the fact that the White Walkers' "official" design hadn't been firmly established yet.
According to Pixomondo, the TV series's special effects studio, there was indeed a complete redesign of the White Walkers between the barely glimpsed early concepts in Season 1, and the fully revealed version introduced in the Season 2 finale: "The producers and creatives were not happy with the White Walker costumes from season one; they wanted to redesign the look and it took a bit longer than expected." Only one full version of the redesigned White Walker costume was made by the Season 2 finale, thus the large shot of multiple White Walkers in the shot is just one stunt man doubled up many times. CGI enhancements were used to give the effect that wisps of cold air are emanating from the White Walkers' bodies, as well as to make their abdomens much more gaunt than human physiology.
The final version introduced at the end of Season 2 is closer to how they appear in the books. Some differences remain, in that White Walkers are said to wear much more armor in the books, made out of a strange reflective metal that almost acts like camouflage. Further, the White Walkers in the books are described as "gaunt" but they don't seem to have quite so much of a mummified appearance. They are actually said to have an otherworldly, icy beauty to them.
Author George R.R. Martin, when discussing with comic-book artist Tommy Patterson what the White Walkers were supposed to look like in the comic-book adaptation of the story he was drawing, said that: "They are strange, beautiful...think, oh...the Sidhe made of ice, something like that...a different sort of life...inhuman, elegant, dangerous." Martin also confirmed that the White Walkers are not "dead", just an inhuman kind of life. The Sidhe are a kind of otherworldly fairy creature from Irish mythology, said to inhabit burial mounds, etc., not unlike the Barrow-wights of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth
In the books
In the Game of Thrones television show, the term "White Walkers" is used as an alternate name for a species called the Others in the A Song of Ice and Fire novels. They are held to be fairy stories by most of the people of Westeros. According to legend, the Others were creatures of ice and cold who, more than eight thousand years ago, came from the uttermost north during a winter that lasted a generation and a night that covered the world, the Long Night. The Others were defeated in the War for the Dawn by a great hero wielding a sword of flame. After the Others' defeat, Bran the Builder constructed the Wall with magic and artifice to ensure they could never return to threaten the people of Westeros and the world beyond. The War for the Dawn apparently unified the peoples of the North under the rule of the Starks and saw Winterfell built shortly thereafter.
The Night's Watch was founded to guard against the return of the Others, but this task is generally forgotten today. The Watch is instead believed to be guarding against the human wildlings who hold the lands beyond and occasionally try to raid across the Wall into the richer lands to the south.
The White Walkers are always accompanied by cold temperatures, and coming from the Lands of Always Winter, it would seem that they prefer cold climates. They might even have difficulty surviving in warmer climates. Characters within the narrative debate whether this is because White Walkers actually generate cold and might even cause winters (such as the Long Night), or because they simply wait for the next winter cycle and move south when the temperature drops (in which case they didn't cause the Long Night, but seized on the opportunity it provided). White Walkers do not leave footprints in snow.
Some of Old Nan's fairy tales say that wildling women have been known to mate with the Others to produce half-human children, but this is an unsubstantiated rumor.
It is stated in the books that they fear the day and only come out at night. In the Season 2 finale, however, they are seen in the twilight hours when the sun (hidden by heavy clouds) hasn't completely set yet. The reason for this was most likely practical: the White Walkers in the novels have only appeared in near pitch-darkness, and in the visual medium of television it would be difficult to strictly match this (i.e. even night scenes set in a forest seem curiously well-lit by the moon, so we the audience can see what is happening).
When stabbed with a dragonglass blade, an Other will melt into a pool of cold liquid. In the TV series, when they are stabbed by dragonglass they painfully freeze into ice, and quickly shatter and crumble into pieces.
The White Walkers are often known as "the Others" in the novels, and were still known by this name in the first draft of the pilot script. In the books, "white walkers" is the name given to the creatures by wildlings, and with only a few wildling characters, the term is heard only seldom. The name is also used in Westeros, though mostly by older characters such as Old Nan, Maester Aemon, and Lord Commander Jeor Mormont.
Fan speculation was originally that the name was changed to avoid confusion with the faction of the same name in the television series Lost. However, the producers later stated in the Season 1 Blu-ray commentary that the change was more to avoid viewer confusion between the specific name "Others" and the generic use of the term: book-readers can tell that "Others" is treated as a capitalized proper noun, but TV-viewers cannot. It sounded like actors saying, "He says he saw the others" - but viewers had no way of telling if they simply meant "other soldiers", "other horses", etc. - so the term was just too confusing in the audio-visual medium of television.