OPINION: The Night King is a bad, bad, not good villain
The following piece contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season seven, so if you are not up to date then read on at your own risk!
If Game of Thrones’ action-packed season seven finale made anything clear, it’s that the dead are coming, oh boy are they coming. Accompanying the shambling army of the recently deceased - as well as the logic-defying-fire-breathing-undead-ice-dragon-thingy - will be a dramatic shift in the show’s focus. From here on out there will be no more leisurely conversations overlooking the sunny vistas of King’s Landing, significantly less political intrigue, and very little ambiguity as to what comes next. We stand at the beginning of GOT’s end game which we can only assume will be like The Walking Dead, but with more incest and C bombs.
This shift for the show primarily means a move toward a genuinely evil antagonist, rather than Cersei’s homespun brand of trying to maintain power no matter the cost. Sure, Cersei will no doubt continue to be a grade-A jerk but she is no longer top-dog when it comes to GOT’s biggest threats. That title now firmly belongs to the Night King; the frosty leader of the ever-encroaching army of the dead. Although this definitely raises the stakes of the show - which are now nothing less than the survival of all of humanity - the Night King himself isn’t a particularly interesting, engaging or even competent villain. Well, from what we have seen so far, anyway.
First up, let’s get the obvious thing out of the way: he’s as one-dimensional as they come. In a show full of complex characters, the Night King comes across as particularly bland. He’s blue, he’s cold and he has a hard-on for making humanity extinct. Yep, that seems to be just about all there is to him. Combine this with the fact that he is yet to say a word on-screen, and you have a baddie about as interesting as a bag of frozen peas.
The Night King’s apparent lack of diction also feels like a puzzling choice for a show that has built its reputation on tense conversations, shadowy plotting and political intrigue. Whereas other characters have shifting motives, he remains stoic and stalwart in his mission to annihilate anything that breathes. This begins to make the Night King feel less like a genuine character and more like a plot device; a manifestation of the story’s need for something big and bad to force the squabbling lords of Westeros to work together.
A great example of this came in season seven's sixth episode, ‘Beyond the Wall’, when the Night King killed Viserion, one of Daenery’s beloved dragons. To the surprise of almost no one, the episode ended with the Night King bringing Viserion back to life as what we can only assume is some sort of zombie dragon. What was somewhat more surprising was when, in the season seven finale ‘The Dragon and the Wolf’, he used his new reptilian pet to single-handedly bring down the Wall.
Although it made for some truly stunning television that puts most big-budget movies to shame, this Wall shattering sequence only highlighted how plot-y the Night King feels. Seriously, what the hell was the Night King’s plan for getting his horde of wights past the wall without his newly acquired dragon? Did he have a battering ram? Was he planning on using his undead minions to form a human pyramid? Or was he always planning on hedging his bets that a dragon - a cold blooded, previously extinct creature - would fly over the snowy north so he could kill it and bind it to his service?
From a logic standpoint they all seem like pretty rubbish plans, especially considering the Night King only got the opportunity to slay the dragon because everyone’s favourite northern dummy, Jon Snow, decided to dawdle and not just jump on a dragon and fly the hell out of the zombie-infested wasteland like a normal person.
And this brings me to my overall point: plot holes aside, the Night King fails as a villain because at no point in season seven did he actually act like a competent bad guy. For all his magical powers and cold blue stares, his grand plan for ending all of humankind doesn’t seem to extend past marching his zombie minions forward in a straight line; a plan that has only succeeded thus far due to mankind's inability to get its shit together.
So sure, he might look tough and occasionally throw an ice javelin, but under all the lore and special effects the Night King isn’t really a villain as much as he is a memorable figure in the shambling army of the dead. A familiar face in an otherwise faceless threat.