Villains, antagonists or simply put bad guys are important elements of every literary or cinematic work. They are what makes any story nuanced and they push our protagonist forward. Antagonists are such a vital part of every fiction, but to write and portray a compelling villain might be more difficult than for the protagonist. If we take a look on genres of action, comedy, horror or romance, the villains in these works are often singular and in case of the action genre they have a couple of henchmen or command a smaller army. Horror genre usually has one singular villain occasionally accompanied with some minor antagonists or the villains are a collective like undead hordes of zombies. Surprisingly the most problematic villains in my opinion are the villains in the science fiction genre and even more difficult in the genre of fantasy. This article is basically a response and critique of the Night King in the fantasy TV show Game of Thrones.
What kind of villain?
In both fantasy and science fiction genres, there are generally two types of villains, the human or the “human-like” antagonist and the other-worldly, non-human villain. Antagonists from the first type can be simple, they are after all humans and therefore have human emotions and desires. That means that they can have positive sides. Writing them should be, as you would write any other character just add some negative human traits, exploit them and built of it, then you write how antagonists are achieving this goal. Problem comes with the other types of antagonists, the more fantastical and other-worldly villains. The problem is that they aren’t humans and therefore they don’t have negative human desires. They have some motivations, but they can prove to be rather simplistic, like: “World domination or destruction and achieving more power.” Now here comes the solution to this problem and that is make them more human or make them really threatening, almost at the point of a horror villain.
Prior to the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones there were a lot of theories about White Walker’s motivation and some of them were quite fascinating. I liked the theory that White Walkers are intelligent creatures and that their motivation is complex and that they aren’t just evil for sake of being evil. I hoped this would be the truth. Unfortunately, White Walkers are just that and somehow even less than that. Maybe it would be better if they didn’t reveal their motivation and leave it cryptic. In other great fantasy pieces like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter the motivation of the antagonists are clear and well explained from the beginning. Night King had potential to be an interesting villain, when we learned his origin, maybe he wishes a revenge on the living, maybe he views himself as superior to the living or maybe he views death as a higher goal. Another problem is that he shows emotions in very small capacities, so does he have emotions and a personality or not?
The problem with the armies
The army of the dead is the army of Night King, like orcs to Sauron in Lord of the Rings or Deatheaters to Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter. As with any villainous army there is the problem of defeating these armies. They are vast, so you basically are left with two options: 1) kill the main villain and his army disappears, 2) destroy the army alongside of the main villain. Game of Thrones opted the first option, that means that the Army of the dead ends with the death of the Night King, but what about the rest of White Walkers? Will our heroes have to defeat them one by one? No, they just fall apart when Night King dies. I honestly cannot believe that writers of the show decided for this fantasy cliché and this is just not fantasy, superhero genre is filled with this cliché too.
“Stormtrooper effect” is a well-documented effect that is appearing in a lot of fantasy movies and TV shows, minions are incapable to kill or put in danger, any of the main characters, in small capacity it is in Lord of the Rings, that being said “Stormtrooper effect” is necessary evil, but I haven’t seen it done so poorly as in Game of Thrones ever before. Wights are rolling over any other soldiers, but when they encounter protagonists, they are mysteriously incompetent.
The fact that Night King never won any major battle, makes him look incompetent and harmless. None of the main characters died because of him. The treat of White Walkers looks in high sight comical. Night King’s death is in my opinion a clear image of the writers getting into “script corner” and they didn’t really knew what to do with him to explain this plainly: “If Night King wins the battle of Winterfell he’ll be difficult to defeat and also some of our heroes might die, so let’s just kill him now and return towards what we know best.”
Some hope for the books
Night King is one of the worst villains put into the fantasy genre, he is an awful combination of collective villains and one main antagonist and he fails at being both. While he had potential to be something different, he is an amalgamation of every fantasy cliché imaginable. He can stay as a reminder to any future writer of fantasy to how not write fantasy villains. Years of built up wasted on this useless joke of the villain and this is the result. I wonder how George R. R. Martin deals with The Others (book name for White Walkers), but I doubt it will be that bad, well if he even finishes it…
Until than keep only watching Game of Thrones seasons 1 to 4!