The Others, also known as white walkers, are a species of humanoid beings that exist in the north beyond the Wall. At the start of A Song of Ice and Fire, the Others have supposedly not been seen for eight thousand years.
According to legend, the Others first appeared approximately 8,000 years before the War of Conquest, during a winter that lasted a generation and a period of darkness known as the Long Night. Eventually they were defeated, supposedly by the Night's Watch in the Battle for the Dawn, and the Wall may have been raised as a defense against them.
The Night's King appears to have married a white walker, but the Others have not been heard of again since his defeat. They are regarded south of the Wall as nothing more than fairy tales to frighten the little children. They are often mentioned in curses, such as "The Others take his eyes."
A Game of Thrones
During a ranging beyond the Wall, Ser Waymar Royce is slain by Others. He then rises as a wight and kills Will. Gared is able to escape and flee south of the Wall, but he is executed for desertion by Lord Eddard Stark.
Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, in conversation with Tyrion Lannister at Castle Black, refers to white walkers being glimpsed by fisherfolk on the shore near Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, with little concern. He does not say whether they were glimpsed on the shore north of the Wall or the shore south of it. Tyrion, unable to hold his tongue at the mention of white walkers, replies that fisherfolk of Lannisport often glimpse merlings. The conversation then moves to the movements of the wildlings which they consider a more pressing concern.
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
The brothers of the Night's Watch are attacked by wights in the Battle of the Fist of the First Men. During the retreat back to Craster's home, Samwell Tarly kills an Other with a dragonglass dagger in the haunted forest. During the mutiny at Craster's Keep, one of Craster's wives warns Sam that Craster's sons will soon arrive for Gilly's newborn.
A Dance with Dragons
Lord Commander of the Night's Watch Jon Snow and Tormund Giantsbane discuss their foe, the Others. Jon asks if the Others troubled the wildlings on their march to the Wall. Tormund informs him that they never came in force, but they were with them all the way.
- See also: Images of the Others
The Others appear in A Game of Thrones as tall and gaunt with flesh pale as milk. In A Clash of Kings Gilly tells Jon Snow they have cold blue eyes bright as blue stars. The Night's King's corpse queen is similarly described as having skin as pale as the moon and eyes like blue stars. Old Nan declares them to be cold dead things, hating all life.
In an email to the comic book artist Tommy Patterson, George R. R. Martin wrote
They wear reflective armour that shifts in colour with every step - rather like the stealth armour once said to have been worn by the children of the forest. According to Patterson,
Had many talks with George. He told me of the ice swords, and the reflective, camouflaging armor that picks up the images of the things around it like a clear, still pond. He spoke a lot about what they were not, but what they were was harder to put into words.
The Others appear to be superior swordsmen, wielding thin crystal swords said to be so cold as to shatter any object they touch, including the steel blades favoured by the Night's Watch. The sword of the Other that Samwell Tarly slays gleams with a faint blue glow. When the ice blue blade brushes the flames of Grenn's torch a screech as sharp as a needle stabs Sam's ears. When asked if he knows what substance an Other sword is made from Martin answered,
Ice. But not like regular old ice. The Others can do things with ice that we can't imagine and make substances of it.
The Others go lightly on the snow and leave no prints to mark their passage. Their movements can be lighting quick. Their language is unknown, although readers have speculated that it may be the Old Tongue. When one speaks in the prologue his voice is said to sound like the cracking of ice, but this may simply have been a figure of speech. The wildlings believe the Others and their wights can smell life, or rather its warmth. Old Nan used to say that there were wildlings that would lay with the Others to birth half-human children.
The old stories reveal uncertainty whether the Others come when it is cold or that it becomes cold when they appear, during snowstorms or mist and melt away when the skies clear. They hide from the light of the sun and emerge at night; although once again some stories claim that their coming brings the night.
There are tales of Others riding the corpses of dead animals such as bears, direwolves, mammoths, and horses. The Other that Samwell Tarly slays is riding Mawney’s dead horse. Hoarfrost covers it like a sheen of frozen sweat, and a nest of stiff black entrails drag from its open belly. On its back is a rider as pale as ice. The Others can be accompanied by "giant ice spiders" as big as hounds.
As the wildlings are passing through the Wall to settle on the Gift, Lord Commander of the Night's Watch Jon Snow asks Tormund Giantsbane to tell him of their foe, the Others. He tells him he wants to know all there is to know of the Others.
Tormund is plainly uncomfortable with the mention of the Others; he tells Jon that he does not want to discuss them, not here, not on the northern side of the Wall. He then glances uneasily towards the trees in their snowy white mantles. He says to Jon:
They’re never far, you know. They won’t come out by day, not when that old sun’s shining, but don’t think that means they went away. Shadows never go away. Might be you don’t see them, but they’re always clinging to your heels. 
Jon asks if the Others troubled the wildlings on their way to the Wall. Tormund informs him that they never came in force, if that’s what Jon is meaning, but they were with them all the same, nibbling at their edges. They lost more outriders than he cares to think about, and it was worth your life to fall behind or wander off. Every nightfall they would ring their camps with fire. Tormund says they don’t like fire much:
When the snows came though…snow and sleet and freezing rain, its bloody hard to find dry wood or get your kindling lit, and the cold…some nights our fires just seemed to shrivel up and die. Nights like that, you always find some dead come the morning. ‘Less they find you first.
He says to Jon:
A man can fight the dead, but when their masters come, when the white mists rise up … how do you fights a mist crow? Shadows with teeth … air so cold it hurts to breath, like a knife inside your chest … you do not know, you cannot know … can your sword cut cold? 
The Others have a few known weaknesses that are recorded in ancient texts. One is obsidian, otherwise called dragonglass or "frozen fire". When Samwell Tarly accidentally stabs an Other with an obsidian dagger, its flesh and bones melt away leaving only an icy puddle. Ancient texts also record a weakness to "dragonsteel", which several have taken to be Valyrian steel. Mance Rayder expresses belief that magic wards in the Wall prevent the Others from crossing into the Seven Kingdoms.
After listening to Tormund’s words Jon Snow remembers all the things that Sam had told him, the things he’d found in his old books. He thinks to himself that Longclaw had been forged in the fires of old Valyria, forged in dragonflame and set with spells. Dragonsteel, Sam had called it. Stronger than any common steel, lighter, harder, sharper … But he thinks that words in a book were one thing. He knows that the true test comes in battle.
Wights are dead men or creatures raised up by the Others, seemingly when touched by the cold that accompanies them.  They are thralls to the Others. Men who fall in battle against the Others must be burned, or else the dead will rise again as their thralls.
Game of Thrones
The Others are known only as White Walkers in the television adaptation Game of Thrones. Unlike the strange beauty Martin describes them as having in the book series, they are depicted with frightening, emaciated appearances. They also lack the camouflage armor from the books; most wear little armor, and whatever protection they do wear is black. Their spoken language is called Skroth, which resembles the cracking of ice.
While "the Others" appears in early drafts of the pilot episode's script, "White Walkers" was ultimately settled upon for the final version of the TV series. In the audio commentary for "Winter Is Coming", producers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss explained that the change was made to avoid confusion that may arise between references to the race known as the Others and "others" meaning other groups or people within the show. Benioff and Weiss explain:
We call them White Walkers in the show, more often known as the Others in the books and the reason for the change is simply that people would refer to 'the Others' and viewers who didn't know the books would think: 'Which others are we talking about? The other whats?'
Moreover, the episode "Oathkeeper" give two major revelations about the White Walkers that have not been featured in the novels so far:
The fate of Craster's sons is revealed when a White Walker riding an undead horse takes the last son of Craster and carries him towards a shattered mountain in the Lands of Always Winter. Once inside, the White Walker approaches an icy altar ringed by large icy spikes and places the baby upon the altar. In the distance, a group of thirteen black-garbed White Walkers are revealed to be viewing the proceedings from afar. One of them breaks from the middle of their number and approaches the altar, stopping to regard the human child for a moment before gently gathering him in its arms. The baby immediately calms, staring into the face of the White Walker. It places its index finger upon the baby's cheek, causing the child's eyes to slow turn to icy, depthless blue and his skin to grow pale, transforming him into another White Walker.
In the novels as of A Dance with Dragons, there has been no evidence so far on what actually happens to the babies, though Craster's wives believe that the baby boys given by Craster to the Others are, in turn, transformed into new Others. Old Nan's tale's simply state that the Others feed human children to the wights.
Another revelation is the White Walker's master, the one who transformed the baby. He and his ilk differ in appearance from regular White Walkers in that they wear black armor, and he is revealed to also have bone-white skin—as opposed to grey—and a ring of small horns atop his skull that form a natural crown. Whether or not he is their master or simply one of the collective group remains to be seen, yet he appears to hold a position of particular importance amongst their number, being the only ruling White Walker of the thirteen shown to approach the altar. The specifics of the power to change humans into White Walkers, and if it is unique to this White Walker, are as yet unknown. This Night King then leads the attack against the free folk in the episode "Hardhome".
The synopsis for "Oathkeeper" on the HBO Viewer's Guide originally listed this specific character as the Night's King, a legendary figure that has been mentioned a few times in the novels, though this was later removed. It is unknown whether this was due to an error in identification or the fact that this would be a major spoiler.
In the novels, there has not yet been any mention of the Others having a leader or any kind of hierarchy.
If the Others ever come for us, I pray they have archers, because you lot are fit for nothing more than arrow fodder.
– Alliser Thorne, to the Night's Watch recruits
The Others are only a story, a tale to make children shiver. If they ever lived at all, they are gone eight thousand years.
– Jon Snow's thoughts
The cold gods. The ones in the night. The white shadows.
References and Notes
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 1, Bran I.
- A Game of Thrones, Prologue.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 21, Tyrion III.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 23, Jon III.
- A Storm of Swords, Prologue.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 18, Samwell I.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 33, Samwell II.
- A Game of Thrones, Prologue.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 56, Bran IV.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 24, Bran IV.
- A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1
- "Interview with the Dragon" Copyright © 2003 Robert Shaw.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 5, Samwell I.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 58, Jon XII.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 52, Jon VII.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 2, Catelyn I.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 19, Jon III.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 78, Samwell V.
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