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Game of Thrones may have already revealed the Night King's identity

Contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 1, "Winterfell"

Game of Thrones has been all about big revelations lately. The season 7 finale revealed to the audience that Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is the true heir to the Iron Throne, named Aegon Targaryen, and not a North-born bastard. Just one episode later, during the season 8 premiere, the series filled Jon in on the truth, tasking sweet Sam Tarly (John Bradley) with delivering the shocking news. Those declarations were intentional and intense — but has Game of Thrones inadvertently revealed something else along the way?

A fan theory currently blazing up the internet claims that Thrones may have already spoiled the identity of the Night King. 

Though the idea has circulated through the web since the fall of 2017, shortly after season 7 concluded, it found new traction following HBO's Inside the Episode for the season 8 premiere, "Winterfell." During the post-episode promo, Thrones co-showrunner and director David Benioff offered up information that many are taking as evidence that the Night King is – gasp! — a Targaryen. 

"No one has ever ridden a dragon [on the show] except for Dany," said Benioff, discussing the moment on the season 8 premiere in which Jon Snow climbs on the back of Rhaegal, one of Daenerys Targaryen's (Emilia Clarke) dragons, and takes the scaly beast for a spin above Winterfell. "Only Targaryens can ride dragons and that should be a sign for Jon. Jon's not always the quickest with the uptake but he gets there." 

Him being the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, Jon meets the "must have Targaryen blood to ride" requirement and thus is worthy of bestriding a dragon — though he doesn't at the time know his real parentage is the reason for it. That he wasn't immediately bucked off Rhaegal's back or burnt to a crisp while attempting to ride him should have given Jon a clue that something out of the ordinary was happening. 

Benioff is right in the regard that only those with the blood of dragons and with Valyrian heritage — meaning members of House Targaryen — can ride the giant creatures, but he's wrong in saying that Dany was the only person to have ridden a dragon before Jon did on the first episode of season 8. 

As every Thrones fan will recall, on the season 7 finale, the Night King shot down Viserion, the third of Dany's dragons, with an ice spear and subsequently turned him into an undead White Walker dragon. Then, the cold and cruel White Walker leader mounted Viserion and rode for the Wall, blasting ice at the barrier that protected the rest of Westeros. That makes three people (well, two humans and an undead monster) who have ridden dragons on the series thus far: Daenerys on Drogon, Jon on Rhaegal, and the Night King on Viserion. 

This has a huge subsection of the Game of Thrones fandom thinking the Night King is a Targaryen. They're essentially using the transitive property of equality as a simple way of explaining what might be happening: if dragon-riders are Targaryens and the Night King is a dragon-rider, then the Night King is a Targaryen. 

From a surface level, it all checks out. Dig deeper, though, and one can poke plenty of holes in this theory.

For starters, Viserion isn't the same type of dragon he was pre-spear-shooting. He's seemingly an Ice Dragon now, not a Fire Dragon, and it stands to reason that the old rules don't exactly apply in this situation. 

In the ancient times, Valyrians mastered the ability of taming dragons and used them to establish dominion in the Seven Kingdoms. When the Doom of Valyria saw the Valyrian Freehold collapse, roughly 100 years prior to Aegon I Targaryen's conquest of Westeros, it also wiped out all but five dragons — the ones living on House Targaryen's noble seat at Dragonstone. The Targaryens were the last living Valyrians with ties to dragons, and bred more as the years went on. The majority perished during the Dance of the Dragons, but Daenerys brought to life the first three dragons in over a century when she hatched Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion over Khal Drogo's funeral pyre during the first season of Game of Thrones

That said, the Targaryens have a deep connection with dragons. (The people of Westeros constantly talked of Daenerys and her dragons, Dany dubbed herself the Mother of Dragons, and many believed that Dany's possession of the trio of beasts would guarantee her the Iron Throne because no man-made object could defeat them.) What the Targaryens don't appear to have is a link to Ice Dragons

According to George R.R. Martin's novella The Ice Dragon, humans can't tame, train, or ride Ice Dragons. A portion of the text reads, "We have tales of those that tried, found frozen with their whip and harness in hand. I've heard about people that have lost hands or fingers just by touching one of them. Frostbite." The Night King and his army of White Walkers aren't normal humans and presumably wouldn't be affected by the frosty touch or deathly cold breath of an Ice Dragon, which Viserion is described as in the season 7 Game of Thrones finale script

It seems as though there was no condition the Night King needed to meet to ride Viserion, simply because he isn't a normal dragon and the Night King isn't a normal person. Being the master of all things undead and the one who turned Viserion into the blue-eyed, ice-breathing dragon he is now, the Night King seemingly just exercised his power over the beast and away they went to the Wall. 

Another fact that throws a wrench in the theory that the Night King is a Targaryen? The Night King is a member of the First Men, who touched down in Westeros from Essos 12,000 years prior to the Targaryen Conquest. During the Dawn Age when the First Men colonized the country, the ancient Westerosi inhabitants the Children of the Forest captured a First Man and pinned him against a tree, which the First Men were cutting down by the thousands. Leaf, a Child of the Forest who served the last greenseer (a.k.a. the Three-Eyed Raven), drove a dagger made of dragonglass into the First Man's chest. His eyes turned vivid blue and he became the first White Walker. 

Neither House Targaryen nor the Valyrian Empire was around during this time, and the Targaryens didn't rise in the Valyrian Freehold until after the Age of Heroes and the Age of Andals, both post-Dawn Age. The Rise of the Valyrian Freehold occurred roughly 8,000 years prior to Aegon's Conquest and 4,000 years after the First Men invaded Westeros, while the Migration of the Targaryens to Dragonstone on Blackwater Bay in eastern Westeros didn't take place until 126 years pre-Conquest. Taking the timeline into account, it seems unlikely that the First Man who became the Night King was a Targaryen. 

On the flip side, though there's a chance the Night King might not be a Targaryen, there's no getting around the strange similarity between the Night King and House Targaryen that people picked up on during the season 8 premiere. In one of the final scenes of the episode, Eddison Tollet (Ben Crompton), Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), and others reach Last Hearth and find little Lord Umber pinned to a wall with several severed limbs surrounding his body, mapped out in the shape of a spiral — a spiral that looks a lot like the House Targaryen sigil, particularly after the men light the boy and the body parts on fire. 

"It's a message. From the Night King," Beric says during the episode. "His army's between us and Winterfell. We're on foot. We rode down from Castle Black. We can double up on the horses. If the horses last, we'll get there before the dead. We just have to hope the Night King doesn't come first."

We've seen the spiral a few times before: once around the Weirwood tree when the Children of the Forest created the Night King, again when the Night King slaughtered a bunch of horses and placed pieces of their bodies in a swirl for the Night's Watch to stumble upon, and in etchings carved in the caves of Dragonstone. Spirals have even shown up around our two living Targaryens: people surrounded Daenerys in a swirl during the season 3 episode "Mhysa," and bodies encircled Jon (Aegon) during the Battle of the Bastards on season 6.

Could this mean that Night King is related to the Targaryen family in some way — even without considering his ability to ride Viserion as further proof? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. 

George R.R. Martin has said that Game of Thrones, while not entirely faithful to the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, "has been extremely faithful compared to 97 percent of all television and movie adaptations of literary properties" and that the ending of the show isn't "that different" to the ending of the books. This suggests that whatever Benioff and co-showrunner D.B. Weiss have decided to do with the story on the final season matches closely with Martin's vision for how things will conclude. Do all three men ultimately reveal that the Night King is a Targaryen? Do they agree that he's perhaps a Stark instead? No one but they and the Game of Thrones team know for sure for right now. The good news is that whomever ol' Nighty ends up being on the series, his backstory will likely have Martin's stamp of approval. 

Game of Thrones season 8 airs Sundays at 9 PM ET.