Brow Beat

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: The Night King

The Night King stands before a wall of fire, with a smirk on his face.
Oh, ice and fire.
HBO/Helen Sloan

After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 8 , we’ll be answering a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros? This week, editorial assistant Rachelle Hampton is joined by Slate podcast producer Daniel Schroeder.

Rachelle Hampton: Hi, Daniel, and thanks for joining me to choose Westeros’ worst this week! I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but a saxophonist who’s prone to practicing at all hours of the night lives in the apartment above me. This week, I was privileged to experience the altogether absurd combo of muffled jazz saxophone overlaying scenes like that heart-pounding stealth game where Arya’s sneaking around the library and trying to avoid imminent death by, well, the dead. And the fact that, despite the Yakety Sax playing above me, I was still more stressed out during this almost hour-and-a-half-long episode of television than at any other point in my TV-viewing history is a testament to just how much happened.

So let’s get into it! This episode was largely marked by heroics, so deciding who’s the worst in a situation so extreme as a life-threatening battle feels a bit like punching down. But that’s never stopped me before, so I’m going to start off with a WPiW favorite contender: Jon. The moment where he runs through a field of dead bodies toward a villain who can reanimate dead bodies is perhaps the most idiotic thing I have ever witnessed. Though it’s a moment in a long line of idiotic moments for our supposed hero, you’d think during a battle he’d have a bit more foresight. But what say you, Daniel? Was Jon’s stupidity enough to land him another WPiW?

Daniel Schroeder: Thanks for having me! Thrilled to be here discussing such a stressful night, though a bit bummed mine didn’t come with any sax.

I think Jon’s choices this episode certainly earn him a spot in the discussion; besides his dumb Night King antics, he also tries to face down an undead dragon at the end of the episode. Who does he think he is? And the way that he is able to stumble through the living dead who’ve already murdered hundreds of people without really getting a beating is just galling. But I will say I think his idiocy doesn’t fully rise above the level of standard Snow stupidity we’re used to, so I’ll have to pass on him for this week’s WPiW.

I think an even stronger contender is our old friend Sandor Clegane, who just freezes in the middle of the fight, leaving his fellow alives to fend off the White Walkers without him as he experiences a bit of battlefield shock. So, what do you think, is Sandor the worst?

Hampton: Honestly, I related to the Hound in that moment. Freezing in the middle of what is perhaps the most climactic moment of your life and thinking, what’s the point? I see you, Sandor, and I, too, have performance anxiety. Still, as a battle-hardened warrior and as someone who theoretically had a massive about-face where he suddenly cares about the living, he shouldn’t need to pop a few beta blockers to keep fighting. But I think he redeems himself when he sees Arya in danger and goes to defend her, which was definitely one of the sweeter moments of this onslaught of an episode. It reminded me of something this show does so well, which is fully sell me on odd-couple pairings and redemption arcs, like poor Theon’s. And on just a practical level, the Hound was more important to the narrative of the episode than, say, for instance, Bran. At least the Hound kept Arya, the Westerosi MVP, alive long enough to kill the Night King.

Bran was perhaps the most actively useless he has ever been, from warging away in the middle of the battle—why couldn’t he have done that last week to see how far away the Night King was?—to coming back just in time to basically say, lol bye Theon! Even Sam was of more use, and he was crying the whole battle, which—same. Is Bran maybe the worst this week?

Schroeder: Ugh, when it comes to Bran it’s like he’s actively trying to get us to choose him every week. He did the least he possibly could—I’m sure even Cersei had a more productive episode, and she wasn’t even on-screen. Where did he go when he warged out? Why didn’t he take over a dragon or something? He has such impressive powers, but have we ever seen them implemented for good? What’s so frustrating about Bran is his sort of resigned inevitability about everything. It’s not only that there’s no surprise in his face when his comrades kick the bucket like our poor sweet Theon; there’s also no remorse and no sorrow. The detachment is unnerving.

On the other hand, what can you expect from a boy who has ascended to becoming a supernatural being? I suppose we’re not really privy to the kinds of big-picture thinking he has to deal with, so for that I can’t really blame him. Our next contender should be the dragon queen herself, Daenerys. From not using her dragons half as much as she should’ve to seemingly not knowing how to use a sword, it’d be easy to make her this week’s worst, don’t you think?

Hampton: I want Dany to be the worst person every goddamn week because, at this point, she has lost almost every single redeeming factor she came onto the show with. She and Jon were lost in that ice storm almost the entire episode, rendering them fundamentally useless for most of the episode. Side note: I know she really loves her braids, but homie really should wear a helmet or some kind of armor if she’s going to be tumbling through the air all the time. While she did end up swooping in to save Jon and some other people a few times, when she finally ended up on the ground I was struck with the question: Has she ever learned how to fight? For the Lord of Light’s sake, she is a queen militant and can’t even seem to defend herself, leaving Jorah to do it for her. RIP Jorah, you went out the way you came in: friend-zoned.

But while Dany’s skills at … everything constantly leave me wanting, I think someone else deserves the crown of worst person this week: the Night King. Thus far, we’ve avoided naming him because it felt too easy, but now that he’s dead, I realized that we are stuck with Cersei, Jon, and Dany contending for the Iron Throne. And though Cersei does inspire the revenge-seeking wine aunt in me, a competent ruler she does not make. Just for the sheer audacity of making me root for either Jon or Dany in upcoming weeks, the Night King deserves to be the worst. Once you factor in that he’s directly responsible for innumerable deaths including my good bitch Lyanna, his status as The Worst only makes sense. But what do you think, Daniel? Is it still a cheap shot to name the big bad of the past eight seasons WPiW?

Schroeder: Well, we should all embrace our inner wine aunt; I know it’s not too far in my future, and I honestly can’t wait. I’ve already purchased the caftans. But you’re right—I don’t think Cersei should end up on that throne, so since I can’t cheer for the Night King’s victory anymore I’ve got to direct my hope elsewhere. (I’m pulling for Sansa, but that’s really just because of a reckless choice I made in the office pool.)

I think the Night King is spot-on as this week’s WPiW. His playful smirk as Dany tries to burn him alive will live on in GIFs forever. With the casual way he falls from his dragon, I’m sure he landed gracefully like the dead cat he is. It was terrifying to watch all the dead eyes slowly pop open blue, particularly little Lady Mormont’s, but kind of satisfying. OK, now it sounds like I am a fan, and at this point I think I might be. He’s my queen of the North. But from a realistic standpoint, he really earns the WPiW title for at least one reason: He has completely destroyed the North’s army and makes the fight against Cersei even that much more difficult. Sure, Dany and Jon have a dragon (or two, it’s still unclear), but we lost so many people, not many with names, but still, a huge dent has been put in the army population, and that will be felt all the way to King’s Landing.

Hampton: Not to mention the fact that, other than Bran’s little monologue last episode about destroying human memory, I never really understood what the Night King’s motivation or backstory was. Yes, he was created by the Children of the Forest for … some reason, but I feel like his villain arc was a very icy one note. For that, for decimating the Northern army and for forcing us to choose the lesser of two evils, the Night King is the Worst Person in Westeros this week. May you rest in frozen peace and maybe let go of some of that unexplained anger. Honorable mention to Bran, who sat there and did nothing.

Schroeder: Cue the saxophone.