How did the White Walkers go from being brought into existence by the Children of the Forest to waging war on the present-day population of Westeros? And when did it all happen? Read our timeline to find out.
The Creation of the White Walkers
c. 12,000 – 8,000 years prior to Game of Thrones
The White Walkers were created thousands of years prior to the events we see in Game of Thrones. They were created as a weapon, a tool to be used against the First Men by the Children of the Forest during a time of war.
Twelve thousand years before everyone and their mother decides to try and claim the Iron Throne, Westeros was invaded by the First Men, who crossed from Essos over a land bridge between the two continents called the Arm of Dorne. At the time, Westeros was sparsely populated by non-human races such as the Children of the Forest and the Giants.
The First Men began to settle on the continent, and began encroaching on the forests of the Children and destroying their sacred Weirwood trees. The Children struck back at the First Men, triggering a war that would last for thousands of years. While the Children were more powerful individually and had magical abilities, the First Men had better weapons and were more numerous. The Children began to gradually lose the war.
In desperation, they sought to create a new weapon to fight the invaders. Using their magic, a group of Children of the Forest experimented on a captured First Man by driving a dragonglass dagger into his chest. The result caused the captive’s eyes to turn blue, and the first White Walker – whom we would later know as the Night King – was born.
For whatever reason, the Children apparently did not use their new weapon on the First Men. There’s a fan theory, which we wrote about here, that suggests the Children hadn’t, in actual fact, intended for their creation to be a weapon but instead a moralistic leader to replace the First Men’s warmongering one. Something went wrong, and White Walkers resulted.
The reason, of course, might have been far more simple; they were simply not needed. After two thousand years of war, the First Men and the Children of the Forest eventually agreed to a peace treaty known as the Pact. The agreement stated that the First Men would take all the open land, while the Children would reside in the forest, undisturbed. The First Men also agreed never to cut down a Weirwood tree again, leading to the Children carving faces into every Weirwood on the Gods Eye lake island where the pact was made, in commemoration. Peace reigned in Westeros. For a time, at least.
The Long Night
c. 8,000 years prior to Game of Thrones
Eventually, the White Walkers turned on the Children of the Forest. This shouldn’t be surprising, as fiction teaches us that creations will always inevitably turn on their creators.
Eight thousand years before Tyrion began to drink his way across the world, Westeros suffered the longest winter in history, known as the Long Night. It lasted a generation and shrouded the land in a never-ending darkness. Thousands starved as crops failed. Though they were probably the lucky ones. Those that didn’t die of hunger were forced to face the invasion of the White Walkers. Sweeping down from the North, they killed everything in their path, raising the dead as Wights to grow their army of the dead.
A last alliance of Men and Elves – sorry, First Men and Children of the Forest – was forged. In the War for the Dawn, the alliance managed to drive the White Walkers back North to the Lands of Always Winter. In an effort to protect Westeros from the return of the White Walkers, the Wall was raised and the Night’s Watch formed to look out for their return.
8,000 years prior to Game of Thrones – just before the start of the series
For the next 8,000 years, the White Walkers remained in seclusion in the far North, where some fans think they spent that time in some kind of slumber or hibernation.
To quote another fantasy epic: “History became legend. Legend became myth.” The White Walkers became one of the many elements of Westerosi history, like the Children of the Forest and Giants, to be remembered mainly as stories.
However, they were not forgotten by everybody. The Night’s Watch still remembered their original mandate, even if White Walkers hadn’t been sighted in generations. They maintained the watch, where three blows on the horn signalled the approach of White Walkers.
North of the Wall, there were those abandoned when the barrier was constructed. The threat of the White Walkers eventually caused the Free Folk to band together under the leadership of Mance Rayder, the King-Beyond-the-Wall. This happened approximately 10 years before the events of Season 1, according to Ser Alliser Thorne, putting the date of unification at around 288 AC (‘After’ the Targaryen ‘Conquest’).
Others north of the Wall, like Craster, entered into contracts with the White Walkers, following in the footsteps of the legendary Night’s King (not to be confused with the Night King, leader of the White Walkers) from the books. Craster ceded his newborn sons to them in exchange for his own safety, as well as that of his wives and daughters, while the Night’s King also handed over sacrifices.
The Return of the Walking Dead
As Game of Thrones opens, the White Walkers have returned. The year, according to lore, is 298 AC. Why they have returned now is a mystery, although it’s aligned with a time when Westeros is weakened and that’s surely no coincidence. Winter is coming as well, possibly the worst for generations and another Long Night might be on the horizon. Whatever the case, the Night King marshalls his forces.
The first signs of a reemergence by the White Walkers is when a Night’s Watch ranging party led by Ser Waymar Royce is killed beyond the wall and turned. The sole survivor, Will, deserts and flees South of the wall. Despite delivering a dire warning, he is beheaded by Lord Eddard Stark as a deserter and oathbreaker.
Sometime later, two members of the Night’s Watch, Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly, find the bodies of dead Rangers beyond the Wall and return them to Castle Black. They reanimate as Wights and try to kill the Lord Commander, Jeor Mormont, but are destroyed by fire.
In response, Mormont leads a Great Ranging beyond the Wall to determine the threat the White Walkers pose, and to launch a preemptive attack if necessary. At the ancient ring fort known as the Fist of the First Men, Mormont’s forces are attacked by White Walkers and decimated. The survivors scatter and flee back towards the Wall.
While the White Walkers march (very slowly apparently) towards the Wall, Bran Stark falls into the company of the Three-Eyed Raven and meets the last surviving Children of the Forest. He learns about the creation of the White Walkers and encounters the Night King in a green dream.
Jon Snow becomes Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and ends up allying with their ancient enemy, the Free Folk. Jon leads a daring mission to rescue the remaining Free Folk at Hardhome by sea. As the Free Folk are evacuated, the settlement comes under attack from the White Walkers and their Army of the Dead. Jon and the survivors watch as the Night King resurrects those who died in the battle to join his army.
Jon becomes the leading figure in trying to unite Westeros against the Night King, and doesn’t even let something trivial like, erm, being shanked to death stop him. Eventually, he leads a team of badasses (and Gendry) on a mission beyond the Wall to capture a Wight to prove that the White Walkers are a threat. They succeed, but need to be rescued by Daenerys who loses one of her beloved dragons, Viserion, during the rescue.
In King’s Landing, alliances are (apparently) formed in an effort to save Westeros from the scourge of the White Walkers. But it might all be for naught as the Night King resurrects Viserion and turns the dragon to his cause. With the Night King riding Viserion, the White Walker army attacks Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and brings down the Wall. The invasion of Westeros has begun.