- "You were at the Fist of the First Men. If we abandon them, you know what they become. We can learn to live with the wildlings, or we can add them to the army of the dead. Whatever they are now, they're better than that."
- ―Jon Snow.
Jon Snow and Tormund Giantsbane, along with other members of the Night's Watch, arrive at the Wildling town of Hardhome to convince the rest of the Wildlings to join them in the upcoming war against the White Walkers and their armies of wights. Refusing to ally with the Night's Watch, the Lord of Bones insults Tormund, causing Tormund to beat his former ally to death with his own scepter.
Nevertheless, they gather in the townhall to discuss an alliance, but many of the Wildlings do not trust Jon. Having not seen Mance Rayder since he was taken prisoner at the Wall, the Wildlings question his whereabouts. Jon informs them that he shot an arrow through Mance's heart, which angers the group, but Tormund speaks for Jon, stating that Rayder was about to be burned at the stake as a vicious message from Stannis Baratheon, and Jon defied that order by shooting Mance before he burned as a mercy kill. Some leaders are convinced, such as Karsi and the giant Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun, but others like the Thenn warrior Loboda remain defiant and refuse to ally.
As the Wildlings are boarding rowboats to board ships bound for Castle Black, the sounds of a storm are heard and a mist starts to pour over the mountain. Recognizing this as the sign of approaching White Walkers, Loboda orders the gates of Hardhome to be shut, abandoning thousands of the Free Folk to their fate, as they all rush to get through the gate. Whilst pleading for the gates to be opened, those trapped on the other side are suddenly silenced and walk away from the gate. Evidently transformed by either the mist or whatever lurks within it, they re-animate as wights and start breaking through the gates or begin climbing over the walls. Jon, Tormund, Loboda and Karsi fight alongside the wildlings to buy time for an escape. On top of a cliff overlooking Hardhome, multiple White Walkers mounted on undead horses oversee the battle, including the Night King. Realizing the need for dragonglass, the only known lethal weapons against the White Walkers, Jon and Loboda go to the townhall, which is on fire. A White Walker warrior confronts the two. While Loboda confronts the threat, Jon Snow goes for the dragonglass. Loboda is quickly killed as his axe shatters immediately upon contacting the White Walker's weapon before he is impaled.
Jon reaches for a dragonglass dagger, but is tossed aside by the White Walker and disarmed when his sword, Longclaw, is knocked out of his hand. He grabs an ordinary weapon, only to have it shatter upon contact with the White Walker's blade.
Jon retreats from the burning townhall and retrieves Longclaw. When he again engages the White Walker, both he and the White Walker are surprised to see that the sword doesn't shatter on contact with the Walker's ice blad. Seizing the opportunity, Jon strikes at the Walker, which immediately shatters to pieces after being touched by Longclaw. The Night King looks upon this turn of events with mild interest, as he didn't expect anybody to put up any form of meaningful resistance. Meanwhile, Karsi fights off multiple wights before she is confronted by a pack of undead children. Frozen by the horror, she is overwhelmed by them. The Night King screams, signalling more wights to leap from the cliffs and they begin slaughtering the remaining defenders as they attempt to flee to the water. Shielded by the giant Wun Wun, who wields a burning log as a club before walking into the sea with them, they manage to get to the last remaining boat to make it to their ships.
Those killed in the defense of Hardhome, as well as those who were unable or unwilling to board the Royal Fleet, are revived as wights by the Night King; as Jon watches from his boat, the Night King slowly raises his hands and the dead reawaken with glowing blue eyes. The wildlings were ultimately successful in evacuating around 5,000 people, but at least as many were killed and revived. Aside from the free folk evacuees, the only tactical advantage that the Night's Watch gained from the massacre was the information that Valyrian steel is lethal to White Walkers, and even that was only discovered by accident when most of their dragonglass was lost, and is limited in practical use by the rarity of Valyrian steel weapons. They also become aware of the Night King, although they learned nothing of him except that he is the leader of the White Walkers, and has the ability raise hundreds of dead people and turn them into wights instantly.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the events at Hardhome take place "off-screen", so the size of opposing forces, number of casualties and the outcome of the conflict are unknown as of A Dance with Dragons. Thus, what is depicted in the TV series is partly beyond the books. However, in terms of the narrative and the story, the massacre at Hardhome in the show is an amalgamation of four different missions ordered by Lord Commander Jon Snow in the latest book: first, after the Battle of Castle Black, Jon sent a wildling envoy named Val (Mance Rayder's sister in law) beyond the Wall in order to find the wildlings (who were led by Tormund himself, as he was not captured during the battle), a task she eventually accomplished. Also, during a ranging beyond the Wall, Jon encountered the giant Wun Wun and a small group of wildlings, who he convinced to come back to Castle Black with them. Later, Jon learnt from them about the thousands of Free Folk at Hardhome, and sent many of his men to the ruined settlement by sea, so as to bring the wildlings south. However, wights surrounded the area and the rescuers were left stranded, so Jon and Tormund planned to go themselves and save the black brothers and wildlings both —though this mission was interrupted by a mutiny at Castle Black. The TV series picked the Hardhome setting of the latter two failed missions and ascribed it to the former successful missions that brought Wun Wun and, thanks to a wildling envoy, thousands of Free Folk through the Wall.
In the books, Jon told Bowen Marsh, Othell Yarwyck, and Septon Cellador what several of the wildlings had told him: a woods witch called Mother Mole had a vision of a fleet of ships arriving to carry the free folk to safety across the narrow sea. About six thousand of those who fled the battle of Castle Black were desperate enough to believe her. She led them all to Hardhome, there to pray and await salvation from across the sea. Jon intended to bring as many of them as possible to Castle Black, reasoning that any wildling who dies at Hardhome is one more wight to fight against. Marsh, Yarwyck and Cellador disagreed, just as they had consistently objected to Jon's idea of bringing Wildlings to the Watch. Yet, Jon remained adamant and gave orders to Cotter Pyke to sail to Hardhome with the eleven ships they had, three of them from Salladhor Saan's fleet and another three that Jon borrowed from Tycho Nestoris (since in the novels Nestoris seeks out Stannis at Castle Black instead of Stannis seeking the Iron Bank's aid before sailing north). Unlike in the show, Jon, Eddison Tollett and Tormund did not travel there, and Wun Wun did not take any part.
Unbeknowst to Jon, though Arya did hear about it in Braavos, two Lyseni galleys arrived some time before at Hardhome to make repairs. They offered the wildlings to take the women and children to safety. The wildlings had nothing to eat, so the men sent out their wives and daughters, but as soon as the ships were out to sea the Lyseni enslaved them. Only then they ran into another storm and the ships were parted. One of the ships was so damaged her captain had no choice but to put in Braavos, and was seized by the Sealord's guard, since slavery is forbidden there. The other ship, however, might have made it back to Lys. That raiding has unexpected disastrous consequences on Cotter Pyke's mission.
The first of Cotter Pyke's reports that Jon received read: "Calm seas today. Eleven ships set sail for Hardhome on the morning tide. Three Braavosi, four Lyseni, four of ours. Two of the Lyseni barely seaworthy. We may drown more wildlings than we save. Your command. Twenty ravens aboard, and Maester Harmune. Will send reports. I command from Talon, Tattersalt second on Blackbird, Ser Glendon holds Eastwatch".
The next report contained very bad news: "At Hardhome, with six ships. Wild seas. Blackbird lost with all hands, two Lyseni ships driven aground on Skane, Talon taking water. Very bad here. Wildlings eating their own dead. Dead things in the woods. Braavosi captains will only take women, children on their ships. Witch women call us slavers. Attempt to take Storm Crow defeated, six crew dead, many wildlings. Eight ravens left. Dead things in the water. Send help by land, seas wracked by storms. From Talon, by hand of Maester Harmune". This message is the only source of information about the event: apparently, the Wildlings mistook Cotter Pyke for another slaver who came to kidnap and sell their women and children to slavery, and acted aggressively toward the people who came to save them. Worse, they were under attack of wights, who apparently can operate underwater, though it is unknown whether the Others are present as well.
Consequently, Jon consulted with his subordinates what they should do. Bowen Marsh advised Jon to let the Wildlings die, and Queen Selyse and Melisandre both agreed, the latter telling Jon she had seen in a vision that "Your ships are lost. All of them. Not a man shall return." Nonetheless, Jon decided to send a ranging force that would cross the Haunted Forest and approach Hardhome by land, with him and Tormund leading. However, his plans were interrupted by a letter from Ramsay Bolton claiming Stannis had perished and commanding Jon to surrender the king's family, among other demands, which infuriated Jon to the point that he relinquished command of the mission to Tormund alone so that he could deal with Ramsay himself —a decision that proved to be the immediate trigger for the fateful mutiny against him.
Though that is the last reference to the conflict in Hardhome in the novels so far, its outcome is prophesized in the novel: Melisandre saw a vision in the fire which, if accurate, is the most descriptive portrayal of the actual battle in the books, and corresponds to the show in many aspects, from the wooden palisade to the White Walkers showing up:
- "Snowflakes swirled from a dark sky and ashes rose to meet them, the grey and the white whirling around each other as flaming arrows arced above a wooden wall and dead things shambled silent through the cold, beneath a great grey cliff where fires burned inside a hundred caves. Then the wind rose and the white mist came sweeping in, impossibly cold, and one by one the fires went out. Afterward only the skulls remained."
Similarly, Patchface, the court jester of Dragonstone, sang: "The crow, the crow. Under the sea the crows are white as snow, I know, I know, oh, oh, oh". Later, when Jon argued with Selyse about sending ranging force to help Cotter Pyke, Patchface exclaimed: "I will lead it! We will march into the sea and out again. Under the waves we will ride seahorses, and mermaids will blow seashells to announce our coming, oh, oh, oh".
- ↑ The Massacre at Hardhome (HBO)
- ↑ Selyse is present at Castle Black with Shireen and a retinue of handmaidens and Queen's Men. The "Queen's Men" are the members of Stannis's court that worship R'hllor. Their name derives from Selyse being the first in Dragonstone to convert to R'hllor, but it is also a reminder of Melisandre's influence - making her the actual 'Queen' in the court.
- ↑ Melisandre also remains at Castle Black as Stannis is recruiting the northern mountain clans before marching on Winterfell. Noted traditionalists, the clansmen would take offense from a fanatic disrespecting their religion and urging them to convert.
Mole's Town · Castle Black · Hardhome · Castle Black (II) · Cave of the Three-eyed raven
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Purple Wedding · Tyrion Lannister (I) · Tyrion Lannister (II) · Tower of the Hand