Before ‘Hardhome’ aired, the main question in Game of Thrones was who will end up on the Iron Throne. The White Walkers were just a deadly rumor lurking in the background of the series, losing any screen time to the drama in King’s Landing. However, this battle changed that. For the first time in the series, the audience gets to see a fight against the White Walkers. It brings into focus the idea that the true enemy was never a Lannister or a Baratheon. It was never a fight for a kingdom, but rather a fight for life itself.
Although Game of Thrones seems like a random collection of stories about the high born in Westeros, Hardhome shows how all the drama has been building to stopping the Night King (Richard Brake). Hardhome is our first look into the dead as a fighting force. Up until now, only shots of the ever-growing hoard of white walkers have been shown along with the aftermath of their march, like the offscreen fight at the Fist of the First Men. It begins as Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and the Night’s Watch help evacuate the Wildlings, and then the White Walkers invade the camp at Hardhome.
The battle simplifies the conflict through two opposing colors: black and white. The Wildlings who run from the dead wear coats covered in white snow and the Game of Thrones ice zombies are literally called White Walkers. The men of the Night’s Watch wear black and the Wildings who fight alongside them have dark gray coats, such as Tourmund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju). The colors in the scene are used to show that there are only two sides in this fight. Those in black are the ones fighting for life, and those in white fight for death because avoiding the enemy does nothing to stop them.
Although Game of Thrones has its share of female warriors, the only group that embraces its women as equal fighters are the Wildlings. Since the women are featured as soldiers and commanders here, it gives a better idea that everyone is fighting. To expand on the metaphor, the Wildling commander Karsi (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) is a mother. While men are shown as wannabe kings fighting for power, women are mothers fighting for the future through their children. This adds to the idea that the fight against the White Walkers is a fight for life.
Music is an essential part of storytelling, and the creators take advantage of it at Hardhome to show the lasting impact of this battle on the series. Rather than having one single piece for the battle, composer Ramin Djawadi divided the music into two separate pieces entitled “Hardhome Pt. 1” and “Hardhome Pt. 2”. The first piece is a mix of “Let’s Kill Some Crows,” the main theme, and “Three Blasts.” The initial attack from the White Walkers creates chaos among the Wildings trying to escape and the Night’s Watch trying to help, and it’s shown through their competing themes in “Hardhome Pt. 1.” By including the main theme as well, it lets the audience know the significance of this battle and the impact it will have on the entirety of the series.
The moment it all changes is when Jon slays a White Walker with his Valyrian sword, Longclaw, which cues in “Hardhome Pt. 2.” With the use of the “Warrior of Light” theme, it shows that this is the long night that the Lord of Light’s followers have been talking about. It begins to unify all the complex story-lines of Game of Thrones in this one battle, with different themes simplifying into a duet between the Night’s Watch and the White Walkers. The idea of only having two sides echoes what was shown with the colors with the Night’s Watch theme being the new soundtrack for those fighting for life.
Also, the battle highlights important moments for the series. For example, there’s the shot of the White Walker being framed with flames. This creates an image of the song of fire and ice, which is the title of the George R.R. Martin book saga on which the show is based. There are examples of foreshadowing in the battle too, such as part of the wall being knocked down by the dead and Jon being connected to the Lord of Light.
All of the characters who have wanted to sit on the Iron Throne believe that if they win the throne they will unite the seven kingdoms. However, the only instance of diametrically opposed enemies uniting over a common cause is at Hardhome when the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings fight for life side by side. And this fight shows how Valyrian steel, a weapon owned by each house in Westeros, can be used to kill White Walkers. Therefore, the only way for the kingdoms to unite and bring peace to Westeros is if they fight the dead together.
Although the fight at Hardhome could appear to be a loss for the living, it is actually a victory. If someone survives, then life prevails because death did not conquer all. The implications of this battle remain present through the rest of the battles directed by Miguel Sapochink, such as Battle of the Bastards and season eight’s battle at Winterfell. Hardhome introduces the final White Walker arc in the series, where the fight for life becomes way more important than sitting in a chair made of melted swords.