- "They were touched by White Walkers. That's why they came back. That's why their eyes turned blue. Only fire will stop them."
- ―Samwell Tarly
A wight is a reanimated corpse, either human or animal, raised from death by the White Walkers to act as their minions. Wights are often referred to collectively as the army of the dead, or simply as the dead.
A wight is a recently deceased body that has been reanimated by the White Walkers. Many stories claim that White Walkers alone have the ability to create wights. Samwell Tarly noted that the wights he had encountered had been dead for weeks, yet they exhibited no signs of rot or decay. Regardless of their eye color while alive, all wights have icy blue eyes like those of their masters. Wights are also nigh-indestructible and can withstand an injury that would normally be fatal, including stab wounds and the removal of limbs; even amputated limbs will still move around on their own. Decapitation is ineffective, as the headless corpse will keep moving, albeit robbed of its sensory organs.
However, wights are very susceptible to fire. Their flesh is extremely flammable, as if it were coated in oil: it will easily catch fire and continue to burn if exposed to even a small amount of flame. As a precaution against them, the Free Folk burn their dead so they cannot be revived as wights.
A wight's physical condition will roughly match the condition the corpse was in when it was reanimated. A corpse that was killed in a relatively non-violent way and which is resurrected soon after death will still seem relatively lifelike. In contrast, a corpse that died violently or which was resurrected long after it died and it had already begun to decompose will still look like a maimed, rotting corpse. Reanimation will slow the physical process of rot and decay, but otherwise it does not restore previous damage. A corpse with a broken leg won't magically have the leg healed when it is reanimated into a wight. A wight that has been reanimated for a long time, six months to two years, will start to decompose slightly, parts of its flesh rotting away while other flesh gets dried out and leathery. This does not affect their mobility: wights that have been dead for many years can rot away until the are almost skeletal, with exposed bones held together by sinews and shreds of muscle.
Wights are not particularly intelligent, and it is debatable if these creatures are truly sapient and possess self-awareness. They lack the ability to speak, uttering only bestial growls and hisses. They do seem to be able to carry out the basic attack commands of the White Walkers, but seem to function on more of a "zombie" level of instinct. They can remember how to use a sword, albeit in a crude hack-and-slash attack, but they haven't been observed using bows and arrows or other complex tools. Exactly how much wights remember of their previous lives is unclear, or if they remember them at all. The wight of Othor, a member of the Night's Watch, did seem to remember the way to Lord Commander Jeor Mormont's quarters to try to attack him.
The White Walkers are also shown to be capable of reviving any dead animal as a wight, such as horses. White Walkers have been observed riding horse-wights as mounts.
The corpses of two members of Benjen Stark's scouting party, Othor and Jafer Flowers, are found in the outskirts of the Haunted Forest near the Wall. They are taken back through the Wall to Castle Black, and Sam notes that despite being dead for weeks, rot hasn't set in. Later that night, they reanimate as wights, and Othor attacks Jon Snow and Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. The creature survives every kind of attack, including impalement and having its arm cut off, until Jon Snow throws a lamp at it, setting it on fire. Both corpses are then burned completely, with Samwell Tarly pointing out their likely nature to all present.
Surrounded by a snowy fog, Samwell sees a massive army of wights is being led by White Walkers towards the Night's Watch encampment on top of the Fist of the First Men. Some of the White Walkers ride atop wight horses.
All of the black brothers slain at the Fist of the First Men have been turned into wights. Only the mutilated horses have been left behind by the White Walkers.
As Bran Stark and his companions reach the cave of the Three-eyed raven, they are attacked by a group of wights that emerge from the snow-covered ground. The wights manage to injure Jojen Reed fatally, while Bran, Meera, Hodor, and Summer are saved by the intervention of a mysterious girl, who is actually one of the Children of the Forest. The remaining wights are destroyed by the magic protecting the cave.
At Hardhome, as the free folk begin to row towards the ships to go back to the Wall with the Night's Watch, a storm suddenly brews atop the hills, a sign that White Walkers are coming. Seeing this sign, Loboda orders the gates to be shut, leaving behind many wildlings. The screams suddenly come to an abrupt ending, and are immediately seen reanimated as Wights. The Wights serve as the executors for the White Walkers during the Massacre at Hardhome.
At the end of the massacre, the Night King is seen on the dock, locking eyes with Jon Snow. He slowly raises his arms and reanimates all of the massacred free folk as wights to continue to serve at the will of the White Walkers. Death only strengthens the numbers for the White Walkers, a horrible realization to Jon Snow, Tormund, and the rest of the Free Folk and the Night's Watch.
While in the cave of the three-eyed raven, Bran goes behind the three-eyed raven's back and enters a vision where he sees a massive and motionless army of wights gathered by a frozen weir wood tree. As Bran walks through their ranks, he is visibly disturbed yet none of the wights seem to notice him. The Night King, mounted on a wight horse, notices his presence and immediately all the wights in the army turn around to stare at Bran. He then notices the Night King is suddenly standing beside him. As he tries to flee, the Night King grabs Bran's forearm, causing him to cry out in pain and end the vision.
Later, as Meera and Hodor are preparing to flee the cave, they notice the air is so cold their breath is visible. Meera goes to the cave's entrance, only to be faced with the Army of the Dead, led by the Night King and three other White Walkers. Leaf and The Children of the Forest use magic projectiles to destroy dozens of wights, but are quickly overwhelmed. They light a fire around the entrance to prevent the wights from entering but the Walkers are able to pass through. The wights end up climbing over the Weirwood and crawling through roots at the top of the cave. Meera and the Children fend off several wights as she desperately tries to get the unconscious Bran out from his vision, but the wights quickly swarm the cave, killing all of the Children of the Forest except for Leaf.
As Hodor, Meera and Leaf drag the unconscious Bran down a long tunnel toward the exit, Summer charges at the swarm of wights in an attempt to protect his owner and is quickly and brutally mauled to death. The wights continue forward, crawling on all sides of the tunnel and the ceiling. As they close in, Leaf sacrifices herself, using magic to cause a fiery explosion as she is stabbed to death, buying the other three just enough time to get to a door at the end of the tunnel. With some difficulty Hodor pushes the door open and pulls Bran through, coming back to help Meera close it just as the swarm reaches them. Meera grabs Bran's sled and yells at Hodor to "HOLD THE DOOR!". Hodor braces himself against the door long enough for Meera and Bran to escape into the tundra. Inevitably, the wights begin to break through the wood of the door and begin scratching and stabbing a visibly distressed Hodor, who sadly watches his friends disappear into the snow.
The wights continue to pursue Meera and Bran into the forest. Shortly before the dead can catch up to them, however, the duo are saved by a mysterious figure clad in black. He later identifies himself as Benjen Stark, Bran's long lost uncle and the former First Ranger of the Night's Watch.
|Season One appearances|
|Winter is Coming||The Kingsroad||Lord Snow||Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things||The Wolf and the Lion|
|A Golden Crown||You Win or You Die||The Pointy End||Baelor||Fire and Blood|
|Season Two appearances|
|The North Remembers||The Night Lands||What is Dead May Never Die||Garden of Bones||The Ghost of Harrenhal|
|The Old Gods and the New||A Man Without Honor||The Prince of Winterfell||Blackwater||Valar Morghulis|
|Season Three appearances|
|Valar Dohaeris||Dark Wings, Dark Words||Walk of Punishment||And Now His Watch is Ended||Kissed by Fire|
|The Climb||The Bear and the Maiden Fair||Second Sons||The Rains of Castamere||Mhysa|
|Season Four appearances|
|Two Swords||The Lion and the Rose||Breaker of Chains||Oathkeeper||First of His Name|
|The Laws of Gods and Men||Mockingbird||The Mountain and the Viper||The Watchers on the Wall||The Children|
|Season Five appearances|
|The Wars to Come||The House of Black and White||High Sparrow||Sons of the Harpy||Kill the Boy|
|Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken||The Gift||Hardhome||The Dance of Dragons||Mother’s Mercy|
|Season Six appearances|
|The Red Woman||Home||Oathbreaker||Book of the Stranger||The Door|
|Blood of My Blood||The Broken Man||No One||Battle of the Bastards||The Winds of Winter|
|Telltale Game Series appearances|
|Iron From Ice||The Lost Lords||The Sword in the Darkness||Sons of Winter||A Nest of Vipers||The Ice Dragon|
Behind the scenes
- At first, in the TV series wights were presented as fairly slow-moving, zombie-like creatures, as in the books. However, the wights that attack Bran's group in "The Children", as well as those that attack the wildlings and the Night's Watch in the Massacre at Hardhome, are quite fast, and have rotted to the point that they are little more than skeletons. Director of "The Children" Alex Graves confirmed in a subsequent interview that this was indeed an homage to special effects legend Ray Harryhausen's famous stop-motion skeleton warriors fight scene in the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts. Graves stated that the homage was his suggestion, which Benioff and Weiss then agreed to. Graves said:
- "When I read the outline, I called David and Dan, I went straight to Hollywood and met them and I said, 'Are we talking about the zombie guys that we've been doing or could these guys be viciously dangerous?’ They said, 'Oh, yeah, that would be great.' So they go across this snow plain and skeletons start to come out of the snow, à la Ray Harryhausen, who we sort of privately dedicated the sequence to. They come out of the snow at 90 miles per hour, and they are there to kill Brandon and Jojen before they get there, and they've been waiting for like a thousand years. Nobody knew about the sequence and it [wasn't] in any of the marketing, which is the most brilliant marketing move I've seen."
- The wights that attack Bran's group actually aren't entirely CGI creations, but stuntmen wearing greenscreen suits, with heavy prosthetics then added on over them, i.e. parts that aren't too rotted away such as their head or chest are prosthetics, but an arm that had entirely rotted away to nothing but bone was produced by having the stuntman wear a long green sleeve which could then be digitally replaced.
- While the faster wights might started out as an homage to Harryhausen in Season 4, director Miguel Sapochnik explained that Benioff and Weiss stressed to him that for Season 5's "Hardhome" they wanted to visually distinguish wights from more traditional "zombies" (such as featured on The Walking Dead), apparently worried that in the visual medium of television, audiences would find them too generic. Sapochnik said:
- "Movement was a big thing, making them feel like they swarmed where possible. The writers wanted to distinguish them as not zombies. They are puppets for the Night King. And they don’t think; [they] just pick a target and go after it until it’s dead, or they are cut into enough pieces they can’t chase it any more."
- Wights in the novels are indeed not exactly like zombies: they can't turn other people into wights with infectious bites, every body part keeps moving even if amputated, etc. (the term "revenant" is a closer description).
Wight prosthetics stages
- 1 - "Super Fresh" - have only been dead about one or two weeks. Their skin is dead and discolored, but except for major injuries that killed them, they are relatively intact and recognizable.
- 2 - "Mid Decomps" - mid-decomposition; they've been dead for about six months to two years. Physically intact but much more rotten, with dried dead skin stretched taut across their faces. On many of them their lips have rotted away or been gnawed off in the process of attacking others, permanently exposing their teeth.
- 3 - "Greenscreens" - dead for so long that large chunks of their bodies have rotted away, and they are near-skeletal, requiring greenscreen suits to depict.
The "Greenscreen" wights are achieved by having stuntmen wear a mix of heavy prosthetics and large patches of greenscreen clothing - in postproduction this is digitally replaced with exposed bones, holes in their heads, etc. (negative space that it would be impossible for real prosthetics to depict).
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the Others (the book term for the White Walkers) are able to animate corpses, human and animals alike, to serve them as footmen or mounts. According to old records, the Others are capable of reviving any dead animal as a wight, such as horses, dogs, and bears - and potentially direwolves, mammoths, giants, ice spiders, and even aquatic animals. Exactly how the White Walkers reanimate corpses into wights has never been revealed in the narrative, though it apparently occurs fairly quickly and can be done in the field: after Waymar Royce is killed by the Others Will flees, but only a few minutes later he is attacked by Waymar's reanimated corpse. The TV series in Season 5 simply showed the Night King silently raising his arms, at which thousands of corpses rose as wights.
Wights are easily identified by their eyes having turned bright blue like two blue stars, regardless of the eye color they had while being alive. When they are destroyed, the blue disappears from their eyes. Unlike the Others, they are slow and clumsy. They have a queer, cold scent that can panic animals if they catch a wiff of it.
When Othor and Jafer's bodies were brought to Castle Black, one of the strange things that the onlookers noticed about them was that both corpses had blue eyes, while they had different eye color in their lives. In the corresponding scene of the TV series, none of the corpses has blue eyes. When Othor the wight fights Jon, it has blue eyes, but they are not glowing.
When the wights are dismembered, they continue to attack as if no harm happened to them, while the severed limbs continue to function independently regardless of what happens to the body itself, as happened to Jon while fighting the wight Othor: Jon cut off Othor's arm, yet the severed limb grabbed at his calf, and he barely managed to pry the fingers off his leg. The severed hand that Ghost tore off Jafer's corpse continued to twitch and stir even after Jafer was destroyed, until it finally had rotted away while Alliser Thorne was waiting for an audience at King's Landing. Not even beheading a wight will stop it: the wight of Jafer Flowers continued to move around and even kill after its head was cut off.
Dragonglass, which is lethal to the Others, is useless against wights. Sam discovers that by trial-and-error: on the way to Castle Black, a wight attacks him and Gilly (in the show it was replaced with an Other). Sam stabs the wight with a dragonsglass dagger, and the dagger shatters to pieces. Sam stabs the wight with his steel dagger, but it just bounces off the wight's iron mail (it would hardly matter even if the wight was not armored, since stabbing does not affect wights, as Jon discovered). Desperately, Sam grabs a burning piece of wood and shoves it into the wight's mouth. The wight is immediately destroyed, but shortly afterwards Sam and Gilly are surrounded by dozens of wights. They are saved by a mysterious person called Coldhands and a pack of ravens, that attack the wights and tear them apart.
Later, Sam tells Melisandre about the anomaly, that what kills Others is ineffective against wights. She explained "Necromancy animates these wights, yet they are still only dead flesh. Steel and fire will serve for them. The ones you call the Others are something more". Thus, fire is still the only effective weapon against wights.
After becoming Lord Commander, in the fifth novel Jon Snow explicitly points out to his men that they really don't know how intelligent or self-aware wights are. They've never seen a wight talk, but that doesn't necessarily prove that they can't, or if wights can understand what it said to them (or if the White Walkers can hear through them, etc.). Jon also recalls that (back in the first novel) the wight of Othor that he killed remembered specifically what route to take in Castle Black to get to Jeor Mormont's chamber. Jon commands that two wildling corpses be put into one of the ice cells in the Wall, chained in irons, hoping that if and when they rise again as wights the Watch can study them for weaknesses - but they stubbornly remain dead (possibly because there are no White Walkers nearby to reanimate them).
It has never been established if Dragonglass can harm a wight the way it harms their masters - by somehow severing the magical spell or link with their masters that animates them, or if they are nothing more than a particularly sharp blade to them. Dragonglass apparently has no special effect on them, given that the TV series has confirmed that Valyrian steel can also kill White Walkers but to wights it is only a particularly sharp sword that can carve through them better than regular steel.
To be clear, being bitten by a wight will not turn someone into a wight. Wights can only be created by the White Walkers when they reanimate corpses. Although they share some characteristics with classic depictions of "zombies", they aren't the same thing. Of course, a major part of the White Walkers' tactics still involves the exponential zombie growth rate of their hordes of wights: people killed by a wight (not bitten, but just with a sword, etc.) can then in turn be resurrected into more wights by the White Walkers, who will in turn kill even more people so the White Walkers can turn them into even more wights, ad infinitum.
Cultures and Peoples of the Known World
|Sothoryos & isles of the Summer Sea|