"Yesterday's Wars don't matter anymore," said Jon at the beginning of this season of Game of Thrones. The war that matters to him now is the one between the living and the Army of the Dead, powered and manned by wights, whose number grows with every casualty in every battle on the far side of the Wall. But with Snow now leading an expedition to try and capture one of these things to prove their existence, we should stop and ask: What is a wight, anyway?
The word "wight" is one that's used interchangeably in the world of fantasy. Though the literal definition is "a spirit, ghost, or other supernatural being," most of the time it's used in the sense that said spirit is in an unfortunate circumstance, a ghost who cannot rest. In more modern times, that's become translated to a shuffling zombie type creature whose body is somehow reanimated though the eyes are dead inside.
That's not what we have here in Westeros. Wights don't shuffle. Wights run. Wights throw themselves off 50-foot cliffs like lemmings, pouring their decomposing and broken bodies into a massive wave towards their victims. Wights are, in short, utterly terrifying.
A Wight Is An Undead Body
The first time we see wights being made is at the end of the Massacre at Hardhome. Up until then, we've seen them moving in packs, and we've seen a baby or two turned. But the sheer scale of wight making, out of every last wildling who died for Jon Snow's side, only to wake up on the Night King's side, is terrifying indeed.
Three Kinds Of Wights
According to the makeup artists, there are three kinds of wights featured on Game of Thrones: SuperFresh, Mid-Decomps, and Extreme.
- SuperFresh are like the ones we see made in the previous clip. They've been dead a couple of days; the only thing that tips you off is the blues of their eyes.
- Mid-Decomps have been dead for at least six months, but not longer than two years. They're decomposing, but if you chopped off their arm, there would be rotting flesh on it that's semi preserved from the cold. The giant in the above clip is a Mid-Decomp.
- Extreme are the skeletons, the ones who are basically bones that you can chop up and they'll still keep moving.
Who Controls Wights?
Wights are reanimated and pointed in their right direction by the Night King. When he points, they run, where he leads, they follow. The hope is that if the Night King is defeated, their bodies will all fall down, like puppets with the strings cut.
Wights Are Not White Walkers
Please, everyone, this has been driving me nuts.
Fans use the words "Wight" and "White Walker" interchangeably. This is partly due to the books, where Martin does not differentiate, and also uses the word "Others" as well. (The show does not, because Lost was still on the air when Game of Thrones began.)
But on the show, wights (small w) and White Walkers (capital Ws) are different. White Walkers wear clothes. They ride horses. They are like the commanders to the wight's infantry. Jon Snow did not kill a wight with his sword at Hardhome, he killed a White Walker. When we see the Night King, and he has riders behind him, those are White Walkers.
Even so, White Walkers are not controlling the wights. When the one Jon killed went down, a group of wights under his command didn't collapse. Only the Night King controls wights.
Wights Are Nearly Unstoppable
Seriously. You can't kill them. You can't chop them up with a regular sword — their body parts will simply attack you. There are, at this point, only a very few known ways to stop them:
- Fire. Except, as we saw at the cave in Season 6, if the Night King has marked someone within the ring of fire, he can cross it.
- Valyrian Steel. Jon's killing of the White Walker proved that.
- Dragonglass. That's what The Children recommend using; Sam previously used it on a wight.
- A Flaming Sword. Legend has it Azor Ahai defeated the Army of the Dead with a flaming sword thousands of years ago at the first Long Night. Beric is about to test that theory in real time.
- Dragons? This is an assumption, since dragons are supposedly "fire made flesh," and the Valyrian steel that's forged by their fire has proven effective. Jury is still out until we see this in action, hopefully soon?