- "In that darkness the White Walkers came for the first time. They swept through cities and kingdoms, riding their dead horses, hunting with their packs of pale spiders big as hounds."
- ―Old Nan
The White Walkers were an ancient race of formerly-human ice creatures who came from the Far North of Westeros. After remaining hidden for thousands of years, they returned and were sighted by several sworn brothers of the Night's Watch and countless wildlings. However, most who live south of the Wall believed them to be nothing more than creatures of legend.
The White Walkers were thousands of years old, coming from the time preceding the Age of Heroes. Born of powerful and untested magic, they were created to protect the Children of the Forest from the First Men, who had waged war on them ever since they had arrived from Essos. However, the White Walkers eventually broke free of the Children's control and became the most feared creatures in Westeros, posing a threat to anything living.
Eight thousand years before Robert's Rebellion, the longest winter in history fell on the entire world and lasted a whole generation. In the darkness and cold of the "Long Night," the White Walkers descended upon Westeros from the Far North, killing all in their path and reanimating the dead as wights to serve as their footsoldiers in their army of the dead. Eventually, the people of Westeros rallied against them and, in a conflict known as the War for the Dawn, defeated the White Walkers and drove them back into the frozen Far North. With help from giants and the Children of the Forest, the Wall was raised to bar their return. The Night's Watch was founded to guard the Wall and the realms of men should the mysterious threat ever rise again.
Although the White Walkers have faded into legend over the centuries, disturbing reports began to reach the Night's Watch, just before the outbreak of the War of the Five Kings. The return of the White Walkers was confirmed during the Great Ranging undertaken by Lord Commander Jeor Mormont and by an unprecedented attack by the wight army on the wildling settlement of Hardhome. Despite repeated pleas for support from the Night's Watch, the rest of the Seven Kingdoms have turned a blind eye to the return of the White Walkers as they remain embroiled in their own civil wars, believing the White Walkers to be purely mythological, much like giants and Children of the Forest, who have also faded into legend. The legendary White Walkers' aim was to erase the memory of the race of men from all existence through the death of the Three-Eyed Raven and pass over an endless winter. Their goal was very nearly achieved until their ruler, the Night King, was destroyed by Arya Stark at the Battle of Winterfell, ending the Great War and preventing the return of the Long Night with the extinction of the White Walkers and their magic.
While having an overall humanoid appearance, White Walkers differ greatly from humans. They are taller than humans and have long wispy white hair and also commonly a white beard. They have pale grey-white skin which is sinewy and stretched taut across their frames, giving them a somewhat gaunt and mummified appearance despite their overall bulky size. White Walkers are much stronger than humans and are capable of sending large men reeling back several feet with a single blow. Their most notable trait, however, is their glowing blue eyes.
A second type of White Walker (revealed at the end of the episode "Oathkeeper") also exists, which may form some sort of ruling or priestly caste. Their number is unknown, and all those seen so far all wear black armor of unknown material. These new White Walkers are led by the Night King, the overall leader and first of the White Walkers. The Night King possesses the power to make ordinary humans into White Walkers if he can get to them in their infancy, such as he did with Craster's last son by merely touching his cheek which turned his eyes the same icy blue of the species. The Night King can also resurrect dead people as wights, as seen after the massacre at Hardhome during which he led the army of the dead surrounded by a group of White Walkers. It is unknown if the other members of this caste are capable of performing the same magic as their king.
The show never stated how many White Walkers existed in total or showed all the White Walkers in one onscreen shot. Usually a single White Walker or small groups were shown at one time, making it hard to establish how many White Walkers existed. Twelve White Walkers are shown in the background when the Night King turns Craster's last son. It's also unknown how many sons Craster sacrificed to the White Walkers. Additionally, four White Walkers were killed on screen at different points in the series: one killed by Sam with a dragonglass dagger, one killed by Meera with a dragonglass spear, and two by Jon with Longclaw. During the Battle of Winterfell, twelve White Walkers enter Winterfell along with the Night King to kill Bran Stark. All the White Walkers were destroyed after Arya Stark killed the Night King.
White Walkers possess the magical powers related to ice and cold. Their arrival is usually accompanied by blizzards and the dropping of temperatures. They can also freeze anything they touch, as one froze Sam's sword to the point that it shattered. White Walkers also have superhuman strength, as one managed to toss Samwell Tarly several feet away with a single back-handed punch. The White Walkers wield swords and spears made from unique ice crystals.
However, one of their most deadly abilities is to reanimate the dead as their servants, known as Wights. They are actually capable of reviving any dead animal as wights, as a few White Walkers have been seen riding undead horses. They cannot, however, revive a corpse into servitude if it has been burned in fire. Once the Wights have been risen to serve the White Walkers, their eyes turn an icy blue, similar to the White Walkers' own eyes. Wights can be killed by fire or by using a dragonglass, and serve the Walkers without question.
The Night King, leader of the White Walkers, possesses the ability to change humans into White Walkers, demonstrated at the end of "Oathkeeper" when he takes Craster's son into his arms and places a single finger upon its cheek, causing the baby's eyes to glow blue and his skin to grow pale, taking on the appearance of the White Walkers. Whether or not this ability extends to only the Night King, all of the White Walkers amongst his caste, or all White Walkers in general remains to be seen.
During the massacre at Hardhome, White Walkers are shown to be resistant to fire due to the extreme cold they radiate, which snuffs out any flame they approach. The ability was showcased again when the Night King was also able to snuff out dragon fire during the Wight Hunt. The Night King was even able to withstand a massive fire breathing from Drogon without sustaining any damage during the Battle of Winterfell. It is unknown if this also applies to wildfire.
According to legend, the White Walkers speak a language known in myth as "Skroth", which sounds like the cracking of ice.
The only known weaknesses that the White Walkers have shown are their vunerability to weapons made of dragonglass or Valyrian steel. Upon being stabbed by dragonglass, a White Walker's body will begin to freeze into ice from the point at which it was stabbed, causing the Walker great pain. Finally, it will begin to crack and fall apart, as its now icy body shatters until there is nothing left but powder. Valyrian steel has much the same effect, but works much more rapidly, shattering White Walkers with a single blow. Valyrian steel is also capable of parrying White Walker weapons, unlike normal steel, which shatters on contact.
During the war council at Winterfell, Arya Stark speculates if dragonfire could stop the Night King and the other White Walkers. Bran Stark remains unsure since 'no one's ever tried' before. However, this is proven false when Daenerys Targaryen commands Drogon to engulf the Night King in fire, but the latter was left completely unharmed.
As wights are destroyed upon the White Walker that raised them are killed, the White Walkers were shown to have had their lives bound similarly to the Night King, who created them. So when the Night King was slain by Arya, all the White Walkers and the wights under them were destroyed.
At the start of the series, there have been peculiar rumors from beyond the Wall mentioning the White Walkers. According to Will, a renegade from the Night's Watch taken captive near Winterfell, his patrol was attacked by the White Walkers and his comrades Gared and Ser Waymar Royce were killed by them. Prior to this incident, the White Walkers had massacred a tribe of wildlings and left the corpses out as a warning. His story was not believed by Lord Eddard Stark, who executed him as a deserter. The White Walkers showed an ability to animate the corpse of a dead wildling child as a wight.
Jeor Mormont and Maester Aemon of the Watch ask Tyrion Lannister to persuade his sister to send them reinforcements. They claim there is something other than the wildlings beyond the Wall and it's been growing in influence for some time. With winter coming they fear this unseen enemy will make its move.
A band of wildlings fleeing south of the Wall passes close to Winterfell. One of them suggests taking a Stark captive for Mance Rayder, the King-Beyond-the-Wall, but the others refuse to return north due to the dangers posed by the White Walkers, instead asserting they should head as far south as possible.
Osha, one of the wildlings taken prisoner at Winterfell, reveals to the Stark household that she and her companions were fleeing South to escape the Walkers. She also reveals the Walkers are nocturnal and sleep in the day and hunt at night. When her words are dismissed by Maester Luwin due to the belief the Walkers are long dead, she reveals that they were only sleeping and "they're not sleeping now".
The bodies of several rangers are discovered a short distance north of the wall and are identified as Night's Watchmen who have been missing for weeks. Despite a corpse's prolonged absence, Sam notes that the bodies show no signs of rot and appear in perfect condition. Later that evening one of the bodies reanimates as a wight and attempts to attack the Lord Commander. The creature is stopped when Jon discovers the creature's weakness is fire.
After disposing of the remaining bodies, Sam tells Jon that he read that only the touch of a White Walker could do what they have seen tonight. A worried Sam notes the weakness of the Night's Watch and if the White Walkers decide to come in force then they are in real trouble.
After recent events Lord Commander Mormont decides to mobilize the Night's Watch to head out beyond the wall to assess the situation and if necessary make a preemptive strike against their enemies. He explains to Jon that the war in the South is of little concern in relation to the threat of the returning White Walkers.
Jon Snow follows Craster into the woods and sees him placing a newborn baby, one of his sons, into the ground and leaves. Moments later a figure with glowing blue eyes appears and takes the baby away.
After Craster discovers Jon, attacks him and orders the Night's Watch to leave his roof, Jeor Mormont confronts Jon, though he also admits he's aware that Craster worships the White Walkers and sacrifices his newborn sons to them in exchange for safety for him and his daughter-wives.
Samwell Tarly, Grenn, and Eddison Tollett gather dung around the Fist of the First Men when they hear a horn being blown and believe Jon Snow and Qhorin Halfhand have returned. They then hear a second blow, the signal for incoming wildlings, and draw their swords for battle. A third hornblast is heard, the signal for White Walkers, which has not been blown in thousands of years. The three run to the Night's Watch camp but Samwell is left behind, while a blizzard envelops the entire plateau. He seeks refuge behind a rock while a White Walker leads a vast horde of wights. The White Walker finds Sam but for reasons unknown ignores him, riding past him atop a wight horse and leading the horde for an invasion, emitting a screeching roar with another White Walker far behind.
A White Walker attacks Samwell Tarly and Gilly when they are seeking refuge in a destroyed cabin. Samwell tries to stop the White Walker with his sword, but the Walker shatters it and throws him aside. The Walker then approaches Gilly, seeming intent on seizing her baby. Samwell, on the ground, grabs one of the dragonglass daggers that he found at the Fist of the First Men. He attacks the Walker from behind, stabbing it in the shoulder. The Walker screeches in pain and quickly begins to freeze, shattering soon afterwards.
Rast sets the last son of Craster on the ground in the Haunted Forest. A White Walker, riding a wight horse, takes the baby to a mysterious place in the far north, to the Lands of Always Winter, and places him on an altar made of ice. Another White Walker with pointed horns on its head approaches, picks up the baby, and touches him on the face below his eye. The baby's eyes turn bright blue, similar to that of the White Walkers.
The White Walkers launch an attack on Hardhome as the Free Folk board ships provided by Stannis Baratheon bound for Castle Black. During the attack, Jon Snow, the 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, fights one of the White Walkers, discovering their vulnerability to Valyrian steel, and kills it with his sword Longclaw, bringing him to the attention of the Night King. The wight army overwhelms the defenders and sends a panic through the settlement, and wildlings try to swim to the ships instead of boarding rowboats. Those that die are reanimated as wights by the Night King, who looks on intimidatingly as Jon Snow, Eddison Tollett, and Tormund row away.
The Three-Eyed Raven shows Bran a vision of a heart tree amid spirals of standing stones in lush green valley. He spies Leaf and other Children of the Forest talking amongst themselves, then looking eagerly at a captive - a First Man - bound to the tree. Leaf approaches and slowly forces a dragonglass dagger into the captive's chest. The captive screams, but does not die, instead becoming the first White Walker: the Night King.
Bran immediately confronts Leaf about creating the White Walkers in the first place. Leaf tries to explain that they were at war with the First Men and were desperate to protect themselves from the invaders of their lands. Later, Bran is the only one in the cave awake and is anxious to warg back into the Weirwood tree. Unfortunately, the Night King is able to see him and grabs his arm, branding him with an icy mark. He breaks out of the vision with a scream. The Three-Eyed Raven tells Bran, Meera and Hodor that the Night King is now able to locate Bran and bypass the barrier keeping the White Walkers and wights out of the cave. The Children of the Forest use magic projectiles and incendiaries to fend the Walkers off, but are overwhelmed. They light a fire around the entrance which prevents the wights from entering, but the Walkers extinguish a pathway and walk through. The wights climb on top of the Weirwood, dropping through the top of the cave. Meera desperately tries to get Bran out of the vision and attempts to get the frightened Hodor to carry Bran away to no avail. Meera kills the first White Walker that enters with a dagger of dragonglass, as she fights alongside the remaining Children of the Forest to try to fend off the wights until Bran wakes up. Wights begin to swarm the cave, killing all of the Children of the Forest except for Leaf, as Meera starts yelling at Bran to warg into Hodor. Hodor in the cave puts Bran's body on a sled and starts hauling him towards the exit at the back of the cave with Leaf and Meera, as Bran's direwolf Summer is killed attacking the wights. As the wights are closing in on them, Leaf sacrifices herself, using magic to cause a huge explosion, buying the other three a significant amount of time. While the Three-Eyed Raven and Bran are still sharing a vision, the Night King kills the Three-Eyed Raven, and his figure within Bran's vision blows away as ashes and rags.
Somewhere beyond the Wall, the Night King and his White Walkers continue their march south through a snowstorm. As a sign of their growing strength, they have added at least three Giants to the ranks of their army of the dead.
Jon takes Daenerys down into the caves on Dragonstone after she allows him to mine the dragonglass. However, his ulterior motive is to show her the carvings on the cave's walls, which depict the Children of the Forest and the First Men fighting the White Walkers together. One of these carvings strongly resembles the Night King.
Bran Stark wargs into a flight of ravens that fly over the Wall into the Lands of Always Winter. Through the ravens, he sees the army of the dead led by the White Walkers and the Night King, traveling south towards Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Unfortunately, the Night King spots Bran, causing him to quickly disperse the ravens.
As part of their plan to capture a wight as proof of existence of the army of the dead, Jon Snow and his men ambush a group of Wights led by a White Walker, lighting a campfire to get their attention. Jon himself kills the White Walker, at the same time destroying all but one of the wights under his command. While taking refuge from the wights on an island in the middle of a frozen lake, Beric Dondarrion advises Jon to kill the recently arrived Night King, potentially ending the threat of the Walkers and their army. As Daenerys and her dragons arrive to rescue the party, the Night King hurls an ice javelin at Viserion, killing him and sending him crashing into the frozen lake. He throws another at Drogon, but the dragon narrowly avoids it and escapes. Jon stays behind and fights his way to the Night King, only to fall beneath the ice of the lake. Later, after wights haul Viserion's corpse out of the lake, the Night King resurrects him, bringing the beast under his control as an undead ice dragon.
The White Walkers and the army of the dead finally reach the Wall where Eastwatch-by-the-Sea stands. The Night King uses Viserion to burn the Wall, nullifying its magic and allowing the White Walkers and their wights to cross into the Seven Kingdoms.
The White Walkers quickly advance south and attack Last Hearth, massacring the population and adding them to the army of the dead. Ned Umber is found pinned to a wall in the middle of severed arms arranged in a spiral, which Beric Dondarrion deduces is a message from the Night King.
The White Walkers and their army quickly move further south. They arrive at Winterfell a half day after Tormund Giantsbane, Eddison Tollett, and Beric Dondarrion bring word of the Fall of Last Hearth.
The White Walkers finally arrive at Winterfell for the Battle of Winterfell. As the living assemble for the final battle, the White Walkers lead their army on their undead horses. The White Walkers send out their army to destroy the living and attack the castle while they hang back at the tree line. When Jon Snow and Rhaegal try to attack them, a massive blizzard slams into them, preventing direct engagement with the White Walkers. The Night King, riding Viserion, commands the wights to scale the castle walls and break down the defenses. The Night King then battles Jon and Daenerys Targaryen and their dragons. The two living dragons manage to overwhelm their dead brother and the Night King is thrown from his mount.
Daenerys finds where the Night King landed and commands Drogon to burn him with dragonfire. To her shock and dismay, he emerges from the inferno unharmed and she retreats before he can strike her from the sky.
Jon, whose severely injured mount barely manages to land safely, rushes towards the Night King, intent on ending the battle. But before he can get close, the Night King raises all of the corpses around him and walks off to find Bran Stark, the new Three-Eyed Raven.
The rest of the White Walkers enter the castle and rendezvous with the Night King before entering the godswood. The Walkers stand aside as the Night King kills Theon Greyjoy and walks towards Bran. Before the Night King can draw his blade and kill Bran, Arya Stark attacks him with her Valyrian steel dagger. He grabs her midair, but through sleight of hand, Arya stabs the Night King in the heart. The Night King explodes into ice, causing the other White Walkers to explode and their entire wight army to crumple.
With the death of the Night King, the White Walkers are now extinct and their magic ceased after thousands of years.
|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|
|Season Seven appearances|
|Dragonstone||Stormborn||The Queen's Justice||The Spoils of War|
|Eastwatch||Beyond the Wall||The Dragon and the Wolf|
|Season Eight appearances|
|Winterfell||A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms||The Long Night|
|The Last of the Starks||The Bells||The Iron Throne|
Behind the scenes
The appearance of the White Walkers in the TV series isn't quite the same as in the books. They weren't fully revealed until the Season 2 finale, only quick shots mostly in the shadows in the premiere episode of Season 1. Freeze-frame shots of this display an early working-model design for the White Walkers, but given that it only flashed on-screen for a fraction of a second, this may never have been intended as their final appearance. This early design was almost skeletal, without noses. This original version really appeared too briefly to be seen without taking screenshots, but as this was the only glimpse of the White Walkers in the first season, fan sites (and wikis) heavily circulated these screenshots, somewhat obscuring the fact that the White Walkers' "official" design hadn't been firmly established yet.
According to Pixomondo, the TV series's special effects studio, there was indeed a complete redesign of the White Walkers between the barely glimpsed early concepts in Season 1, and the fully revealed version introduced in the Season 2 finale: "The producers and creatives were not happy with the White Walker costumes from season one; they wanted to redesign the look and it took a bit longer than expected." Only one full version of the redesigned White Walker costume was made by the Season 2 finale, thus the large shot of multiple White Walkers in the shot is just one stunt man doubled up many times. CGI enhancements were used to give the effect that wisps of cold air are emanating from the White Walkers' bodies, as well as to make their abdomens much more gaunt than human physiology.
The final version introduced at the end of Season 2 is closer to how they appear in the books. Some differences remain, in that White Walkers are said to wear much more armor in the books, made out of a strange reflective metal that almost acts like camouflage. Further, the White Walkers in the books are described as "gaunt" but they don't seem to have quite so much of a mummified appearance. They are actually said to have an otherworldly, icy beauty to them. The White Walkers in Season 4 wear more armor than those glimpsed in Season 2, but generally maintain the established appearance. Their armor is black and dark grey, of some unknown material, as opposed to the reflective metal described in the books. Weiss and Benioff suggested in the "Inside the Episode" for "The Door" that the White Walkers began wearing the armor only after Sam killed one of them, and that this incident reminded them that there were things that could still harm them (in that episode, the armor is shown to be strong enough to repel dragonglass projectiles, "Hardhome", shows it is useless against Valyrian steel). Michele Clapton also operated under this assumption, and told Weiss and Benioff that her thinking was that the armor was actually scavenged bits of art and architecture from some long-forgotten culture of the far north.
Author George R.R. Martin, when discussing with comic-book artist Tommy Patterson what the White Walkers were supposed to look like in the comic-book adaptation of the story he was drawing, said that: "They are strange, beautiful...think, oh...the Sidhe made of ice, something like that...a different sort of life...inhuman, elegant, dangerous." Martin also confirmed that the White Walkers are not "dead", just an inhuman kind of life. The Sidhe are a kind of otherworldly fairy creature from Irish mythology, said to inhabit burial mounds, etc., not unlike the Barrow-wights of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth.
- "The White Walkers have been gone for thousands of years."
- ―Eddard Stark
- "Always the artists."
- ―Mance Rayder on White Walkers' habit of arranging the bodies of the dead into special patterns
In the books
In the Game of Thrones television show, the term "White Walkers" is used as an alternate name for a species called the Others in the A Song of Ice and Fire novels. They are held to be fairy stories by most of the people of Westeros. According to legend, the Others were creatures of ice and cold who, more than eight thousand years ago, came from the uttermost north during a winter that lasted a generation and a night that covered the world, the Long Night. The Others were defeated in the War for the Dawn by a great hero wielding a sword of flame. After the Others' defeat, Bran the Builder constructed the Wall with magic and artifice to ensure they could never return to threaten the people of Westeros and the world beyond. The War for the Dawn apparently unified the peoples of the North under the rule of the Starks and saw Winterfell built shortly thereafter.
The Night's Watch was founded to guard against the return of the Others, but this task is generally forgotten today. The Watch is instead believed to be guarding against the human wildlings who hold the lands beyond and occasionally try to raid across the Wall into the richer lands to the south.
The White Walkers are always accompanied by cold temperatures, and coming from the Lands of Always Winter, it would seem that they prefer cold climates. They might even have difficulty surviving in warmer climates. Characters within the narrative debate whether this is because White Walkers actually generate cold and might even cause winters (such as the Long Night), or because they simply wait for the next winter cycle and move south when the temperature drops (in which case they didn't cause the Long Night, but seized on the opportunity it provided). White Walkers do not leave footprints in snow.
Some of Old Nan's fairy tales say that wildling women have been known to mate with the Others to produce half-human children, but this is an unsubstantiated rumor.
It is stated in the books that they fear the day and only come out at night. In "Valar Morghulis", however, they are seen in the twilight hours when the sun (hidden by heavy clouds) hasn't completely set yet. The reason for this was most likely practical: the White Walkers in the novels have only appeared in near pitch-darkness, and in the visual medium of television it would be difficult to strictly match this (i.e. even night scenes set in a forest seem curiously well-lit by the moon, so we the audience can see what is happening). The White Walkers again seem to appear during the day, albeit a completely overcast day, in "Hardhome".
There is no mentioning in the books that the Others arrange the bodies of their victims in any pattern.
When stabbed with a dragonglass blade, an Other will melt into a pool of cold liquid. In the TV series, when they are stabbed by dragonglass they painfully freeze into ice, and quickly shatter and crumble into pieces.
In the fourth novel, Jon and Sam find literary references to "dragonsteel", which is also lethal to Others, and assume (but have not yet confirmed) that it refers to Valyrian steel. In the series, Jon discovers quite by accident that Valyrian steel is indeed deadly to White Walkers.
It is unknown whether Others can be destroyed by fire. In the old records Sam finds, it is briefly mentioned that "fire will dismay them".
Origins and reproduction
Nothing is currently known about the origins of the White Walkers, simply that they came from the polar regions of the Lands of Always Winter. Nothing is mentioned of them ever attempting to directly communicate with humans.
There actually are female White Walkers, if the legends about the Night's Queen are true, but whether they actually reproduce with each other biologically, or if there are ever White Walker children is never mentioned whatsoever.
Craster's wives do say that they believe that the infant sons that Craster gave the Others as sacrifices were turned into new White Walkers - but it wasn't clear if this is what actually happens, or if it was just the wild suspicion of Craster's frightened, isolated wives. When Samwell is told to flee with Gilly and her newborn son, Gilly urges that if he doesn't "they" will come for him. When he asks who "they" are, another wife says: "The boy's brothers...Craster's sons. The white cold's rising out there, crow. I can feel it in my bones. These poor old bones don't lie. They'll be here soon, the sons."
Confirmation of what exactly happens to Craster's sons has not occurred in the books yet, but the Season 4 episode of the TV series "Oathkeeper" revealed that the White Walkers do turn in fact Craster's infant sons into new White Walkers.
When George R.R. Martin was in the very early stages of starting work on the novel series, he sent a three page pitch memo to his agent giving a very rough idea of what the overall story would be like - back when he envisioned it as merely a trilogy of novels (Tywin Lannister's death at the end of book three/Season 4 is essentially the end of what would have been the original first novel out of three). Many ideas from this pitch memo were later heavily revised and bear little resemblance to the final version. When Martin briefly described the Others/White Walkers in this memo, he also referred to them using an alternate name never used in the main novels: The Neverborn:
- "...half-forgotten demons out of legend, the inhuman Others, raise cold legions of the undead and the neverborn and prepare to ride down on the winds of winter to extinguish everything we would consider life."
While these ideas in the pitch memo were tentative, they do seem to fit with what was revealed in Season 4 of the TV series - implying that the White Walkers are actually never "born", do not reproduce biologically as their own independent race, but "reproduce" by turning select humans into new White Walkers.
This brings up another vague comment made by Martin about the White Walkers. Early in production on Season 1, the TV series had to make its own costumes and weapons for the White Walkers, and Martin was asked if it fit well with his mental vision of what the White Walkers' material culture is like. Martin responded that the White Walkers don't really have what we would call a "culture". What he meant by this is unclear: the novels also say that the White Walkers have their own language, weapons, armor, etc. so they have some vestiges of such things.
Taken together, the fact that the White Walkers don't reproduce naturally, and don't really have their own "culture"/society, seems to indicate that they were never an independently existing race the way that humans, giants, and Children of the Forest were. It vaguely seems that they are more like demonic or magical spirits somehow housed within human bodies which they possess and turn into "White Walkers". How the first White Walker was created to begin with was later explained in the show, with a vision of Bran showing the Children of the Forest creating the Night King as part of their war efforts against the First Men.
The White Walkers are often known as "the Others" in the novels, and were still known by this name in the first draft of the pilot script. In the books, "white walkers" is the name given to the creatures by wildlings, and with only a few wildling characters, the term is heard only seldom. The name is also used in Westeros, though mostly by older characters such as Old Nan, Maester Aemon, and Lord Commander Jeor Mormont.
Fan speculation was originally that the name was changed to avoid confusion with the faction of the same name in the television series Lost (at a convention panel after Season 5 aired, George R.R. Martin did say that this concern was at least a factor in why the name "Others" was not used). However, the producers stated in the Season 1 Blu-ray commentary that the main reason they made the change was more to avoid viewer confusion between the specific name "Others" and the generic use of the term: book-readers can tell that "Others" is treated as a capitalized proper noun, but TV-viewers cannot. It sounded like actors saying, "He says he saw the others" - but viewers had no way of telling if they simply meant "other soldiers", "other horses", etc. - so the term was just too confusing in the audio-visual medium of television.
- "The Door"
- "The Long Night"
- "Valar Morghulis"
- "Second Sons"
- "Beyond the Wall"
- "The Long Night"
- "Winter Is Coming"
- "Lord Snow"
- "A Golden Crown"
- "You Win or You Die"
- "The Pointy End"
- "Fire and Blood"
- "The Night Lands"
- "What Is Dead May Never Die"
- "The Spoils of War"
- "The Dragon and the Wolf"
- "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms"
- Fastcocreate.com "Collaboration Isn’t Always Pretty—Behind The Emmy-Winning VFX For “Game Of Thrones”
- AWOIAF article on The Others
- Race for the Iron Throne