In the recent years we all watched the rise to glory of two of the most distinguished, characteristic and loved (possibly hated…) villains of all times. We waited for them for years, with whole seasons and films to build up for their final arrival, the moment we were all dying to see. A moment that should have shattered their respective reality, and a moment that should have changed forever the way we look at villains. Two completely different characters, with different backgrounds, with different purposes but yet so close to each other and the impact that they had on the fans. Thanos, the main villain of the first arc of the #MCU as we know it, and the Night King, the bad icy guy we all wanted to have a glimpse of for so many seasons. What do they have in common? One thing is the main reason why I am talking about this two characters in the same post: they both should have been the end (or, the #Endgame, if we want to use a more accurate definition…) for their respective universes. They both should have been the ultimate threat to our heroes and favorite characters. One, was a complete success, while the others one of the biggest disappointments and failures of all time. Of course, if you haven’t watched already both Endgame and the final season of Game of Thrones, this is your SPOILER alert!
Let’s start with Thanos. The Mad Titan first appeared in the MCU in the end credits scene of The Avengers, back to 2012, presented to the public as the person who sent the attack on New York, led by Loki. His second appearance can be tracked to the first installment of Guardians of the Galaxy, where he is introduced as the father of Gamora and Nebula and we finally start to have a closer look to his quest for the Infinity Stones; his character, though, wasn’t deepened as Joss Whedon thought that it should have been treated more lightly, and all we know about Thanos is his ambition to retrieve all the six stones. Then, his final appearance before Infinity War was in a cameo in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where he declares that he will personally start looking for the stones himself, causing massive excitement among the fans. Reality was, we had to wait three more years to see him again, in Infinity War, where his whole persona is explored and deepened as never seen before for a villain of the MCU. The whole film is focused on him more than the Avengers themselves, and we find about his reasons: his goal is to use the stones to wipe out 50% of all living creatures. Thanos isn’t a mad man, though: his actions are moved by a solid conviction that only by doing so the universe can be saved from self-destruction, and he strongly believes that he is the only one that can achieve that. Or, at least, the only one willing to make sacrifices to act on the subject. And he eventually reaches his goal, retrieving the stones and half of the living creatures vanishes in one of the scenes I will never forget. During the first minutes of Endgame, an extremely weakened Thanos is killed by Thor and his Stormbreaker, but that’s not the end of the story for our villain; a past version of the titan makes his appearance later on, and we can see him at the apex of his physical abilities.
After time-travelling all the way from 2014, he attacks the Earth one more time, infuriated by the attempt to erase what his future self had done in his timeline. During the battle we see how resilient, strong and clever Thanos is, holding head (and more) with all the heroes at the scene, from Captain America to Captain Marvel herself, and we see how dangerous he really is, after years of wait. Every film led to this, and everyone feels the tension that all this build up led to: the final climax shows up in one of the biggest battles brought on screen. Only the sacrifice of Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, is able to stop Thanos: Tony snaps his fingers to eliminate Thanos once and for all, and doing so he dies on the battlefield. Mission accomplished, we can say: Thanos will always be the villain who destroyed a whole cinematic universe, and the consequences of his actions will be forever part of the MCU.
And we get to our Night King, now. In 2011 Game of Thrones starts with the first appearance of the White Walkers, humanoid undead creatures which we later found out being created by the Children of the Forest, by stabbing a human in the chest with a dragonglass dagger. The Night King only made his appearance during the episode of season 4 Oathkeeper, through a vision of Bran Stark, where we can see him turning one of Craster’s sons into a White Walker on an altar in the Lands of Always Winter. Until that moment, the threat of the White Walkers didn’t have a real leading face, and the Night King is in fact an original creation for the TV show, as so far he doesn’t have any counterpart in the novel series A Song of Ice and Fire: in the novels George R.R. Martin mostly refers to the White Walkers as “the Others” and never mentions any leader or king. In the series, though, the Night King is presented as the first White Walker and the one that “turned them all”, who leads this army towards the wall to attack the human realm and end it. His identity has been kept a secret, even if a lot of fan theories develop through the years (Bran Stark being one of the main options), and his reasons unknown. We have a much better look at him during season 5 episode Hardhome, where we see him lifting his arms and “awakening” hundreds of corpses at the same time, bringing them under his already large army. Same army that we see again during seasons 6 and season 7, where we see at least three giants under his control. At the end of season 7, the Night King takes control of one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons, Vyserion: with the dragon under his spell, the threat is final and more real than ever, as thanks to Vyserion they finally break through, and the season ends.
Everything had been built up perfectly until season 8 episode 3 final kicked in. The Battle of Winterfell was supposedly one of the most waited events ever, as it was Avengers: Endgame. The Long Night was one of the best episodes of the entire series: the powerlessness in front of such a large force that doesn’t rest and doesn’t stop, the sensation of oppression shown by the darkness (the only source of light in the episode are the torches on screen) and the constant overcrowding presence of the soldiers on screen, the feeling that all has been lost and that the battle is lost. Every one of this elements made this a breath-taking experience. The scene where the Night King walks towards Bran is one of the most tense I have ever seen, and the soundtrack is just perfect: then, the unpredictable happens. Arya jumps on the Night King from out of nowhere, and he grabs her by the neck. First thought that pops into everybody’s mind is “oh my, he is gonna kill her, right there and now”. That would have been epic, the realization of the villain would have been completed. That wasn’t the case. Arya does a dagger trick and she stabs him with a dragonglass dagger, killing him and disintegrating all of the soldiers from the army of the dead.
Simply delusional, considering how fast that happened and how slowly they had built up to get to this moment. The ultimate threat wasn’t the one everyone was expecting; the ultimate threat failed miserably in his purposes. Which was the Night King purpose, by the way? The answer is: we don’t know. He was just a bad guy for the sake of being bad. No reasons at all. Nothing was explained and everything was rushed, just to make the last three episodes the worst three of the series (but we will talk about that in another post).
At the end of our story, we can clearly say who is the winner and who is the loser: the blockbuster villain, who wouldn’t have needed to have been so well characterized has beaten the villain that should have had the best background, story and purpose: the Night King didn’t have any of these, leaving a big portion of the fans with nothing but anger. The moment when Arya stabs the Night King is the moment where the screenwriters stabbed every single person that had been waiting for the arrival of the Night King for so much time, and, as the hopes for an explanation for the supposedly main theme of the series just shattered in a billion pieces and vanished, as Thanos victims did after his snap. Thanos wins, once again.