As we approach the fifth season of Game of Thrones, various threats to the stability of the Realm have been established. The death of Tywin Lannister has likely shattered any stability achieved during Season 4. The North is now in the hands of the sadistic Boltons. Daenerys has carved out a kingdom for herself across the Narrow Sea with thoughts on Westeros (as infrequent as those thoughts may be these days). Worse yet, winter is actually approaching, meaning that the lands set ablaze during the War of the Five Kings won’t recover in time to store up the necessary food stores. Starvation is coming.
Political and economic instability, food insecurity, the constant threat of invasion – things can’t get much worse for the people of Westeros, right? As we the show watcher (or reader, or both) know, it certainly can, with the White Walkers and their zombie hordes waiting on the other side of the Wall.
Many Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire fans I’ve interacted with are awaiting the backstory of the White Walkers (or as they are referred to in the novels, simply The Others). What is their motivation? To answer may be simple, and to find it, we can delve into George R.R. Martin’s literary influences.
Howard Philips Lovecraft was a pulp horror and fantasy writer during the first few decades of the twentieth century. He created an entire mythos of “Great Old Ones” and other, lesser cosmic monsters in constant battle with each other. These “gods” are horrifying and powerful creatures, and they are completely indifferent to the human race.
The most famous of these creations was the human/octopus/dragon creature Cthulhu, who slumbers beneath the ocean awaiting the time of his return. The creature has no regard for humans as anything other than something in its way. It has its own motivations entirely separate from the human experience.
Why is the work of H.P. Lovecraft relevant to understanding the White Walkers? He happens to be one of George R.R. Martin’s favorite authors. The Cthulhu Mythos clearly influences the religion of the Iron Islands (drowned god, what is dead may never die) and the religion of the lord of light (light god and dark god in eternal cosmic struggle).
I theorize that the White Walkers are influenced by the indifferent, horrifying nature of Lovecraft’s monsters. In this way, the White Walkers are evil to humans in the same way that we are evil to the cockroaches that live in our apartments (well one of my old apartments anyway). Their motivations are likely outside the bounds of any specific malice towards the people of Westeros. Humans aren’t anything more to them that tools to use in order to expand their holdings and thus maintain the survival of their species.
Even if the White Walkers don’t have anything particularly for or against humans, their nature is counter to the nature of the people of Westeros. Creatures who kidnap human children and turn healthy humans into monstrous zombies are not kind to the survival of humans.
But, if the White Walkers need human children to re-produce, they can’t destroy all humans. Humans, on the other hand, don’t need the White Walkers for anything. This, and hopefully dragons, will give the humans of Westeros the upper hand.
(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe