“We have dragonglass and Valyrian steel. But there are many of them. Far too many. Our enemy doesn’t stop. Doesn’t tire. Doesn’t feel.”
As we end the second episode of Game of Thrones’ final season, our heroes face impossible odds. The army of the dead is standing on the doorstep of Winterfell, and so far, no one on the side of the living has found an effective counter to their relentless numbers.
Nothing makes the living faction’s odds seem more hopeless than the realization that a small number of talented fighters wield their best weapons — the only weapons we’ve seen successfully defeat White Walkers and wights. Whether it’s Valyrian steel or dragonglass, there are just a few blades that won’t shatter when they connect with a White Walker, instead vaporizing the living dead (and hopefully, all the nearby wights they turned as well).
[Ed. note: The rest of this post contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones through season 8, episode 2.]
With Jorah Mormont receiving the legendary Valyrian steel blade Heartsbane from Samwell Tarly in episode 2, another chess piece drops into place. But who holds each important weapon? And since Sam has yet to uncover a reason why only these weapons work, what chance do our heroes have with such few weapons at their disposal? Here’s what we know.
What we know about Valyrian steel
Valyrian steel — named for the magical land where it was forged — is as old as the Seven Kingdoms. It’s known for the ripples in its blades, marking the multiple times the steel was folded over on itself during a weapon’s forging. We know from series creator George R. R. Martin that magic was used in Valyrian steel’s creation, but the specific nature of the spellcraft was lost when all of Valyria was consumed by a cataclysmic event, simply known as The Doom. So we don’t know why these weapons turn White Walkers into puffs of ice.
There are a little over 200 Valyrian steel swords in Westeros right now, but in the show, we’ve really only seen five blades.
Valyrian steel inspires a lot of jealousy in noble houses, and there are few more covetous than Tywin Lannister, whose house lost its blade when a former Lannister tried to explore the ruins of Valyria. When Ned Stark is executed cruelly with his own Valyrian blade, Ice (which was said to be “as wide across as a man’s hand, and taller even than Robb”), Tywin sees his chance. He orders the blade reforged into two smaller swords (which still seem to be normal-sized by sword standards, making Ice one damn big sword).
Tywin gifted the larger Valyrian steel sword to Jaime Lannister in season 4. Jaime then passed it to Brienne of Tarth, along with the task of finding Sansa Stark before Cersei does. The newly dubbed “Oathkeeper” accompanied Brienne all through the last four seasons, helping her wound the Hound, behead Stannis Baratheon, and reunite Sansa with her other living siblings.
The other half of Ice appears at Joffrey Baratheon’s wedding. The kid king gives it the most edgy teen sword name ever, and then slices a book in half. After he’s poisoned, the sword ls laid in repose next to Joff’s body, before disappearing for a few seasons. Jaime picks it up again in season 7, where it is rarely remarked upon (except by Olenna Tyrell, right before she confesses to Jaime that she poisoned Joffrey, not Tyrion). Jaime eventually takes it with him up to Winterfell.
Longclaw is easily the Valyrian steel blade with the most screen time in Game of Thrones. The sword is the family heirloom of the Mormont clan, and Commander of the Night’s Watch Jeor Mormont leaves it to his son Jorah, we learn, before he takes the black. Jorah is eventually exiled for trying to sell poachers into slavery, and the sword makes its way back to Mormont the elder on the Wall. The commander then gives it to Jon Snow after Jon saves him from a wight in season 1, changing the sword’s pommel from a bear, the Mormont sigil, into a direwolf of House Stark.
We first see Longclaw kill a White Walker in season 5, at the battle of Hardhome, and it’s our first confirmation that Valyrian steel blades can kill the undead. In season 7, Jon tries to return the blade to Jorah Mormont in their ranging session beyond the Wall, but Jorah refuses it, saying he had given up all claims to his family’s heirloom. In that same episode, Jon watches as several wights fall dead after he kills the White Walker who turned them with Longclaw — deepening his understanding, if only slightly, of how the undead magic works.
Heartsbane is House Tarly’s famed blade, and in the possession of Randyll Tarly at the show’s start. Randyll sends his firstborn son, Sam, to Castle Black in an effort to cut what he sees as a useless bookworm out of the family, since members of the Night’s Watch give up any claim on their familial rights. We see a bit of Heartsbane in season 6, when Sam returns home for a brief family dinner that turns sour. Randyll promises, “He will never wield that sword.”
Of course, Sam steals Heartsbane off the mantle later that night on his way to the Citadel, and Randyll and Dickon Tarly are viciously burned alive by Daenerys at the start of season 7. But Randyll’s words about Sam were prophetic; in the latest episode, he hands Heartsbane over to Jorah Mormont, saying, “Your father taught me how to be a man, how to do what’s right. This is right.” It seems Jorah’s willingness to give up Longclaw was rewarded with another weapon, and we’ll likely see how he wields it very soon.
The Valyrian steel dagger
After Jaime pushes Bran out a tower window, leaving him in a coma, an assassin sneaks into his room and attempts to finish the job. Bran’s direwolf, Summer, saves him, and Catelyn Stark recovers the dagger, which she notices is finely made, with a Valyrian steel blade and a dragonbone handle. When she asks Littlefinger for advice during a fact-finding mission to King’s Landing, he tells her he lost the dagger on a wager to Tyrion Lannister. It’s a lie that fuels much of the chaos of the show’s earlier seasons, as Tyrion is taken prisoner by guards on Catelyn’s behalf. Ned keeps the dagger as evidence of a growing Lannister plot in Winterfell, until he is betrayed by Littlefinger and executed.
The dagger itself doesn’t resurface until season 7, when Littlefinger gives it to Bran. Bran immediately hands it over to Arya, and it helps the Stark siblings uncover Littlefinger’s long series of betrayals. Arya then slashes his throat with the dagger at a public trial in Winterfell.
Still, that’s only five Valyrian steel weapons. Even in the show’s most capable hands (and with some allowance for plot-related super abilities), that isn’t enough to go around. Which leads us to the mysterious rock that Jon and crew spent a good chunk of season 7 mining ...
More than heat-forged obsidian, dragonglass has been shown to kill wights and White Walkers since Sam accidentally speared one with an arrowhead during the Night’s Watch mutiny in season 3. During the “Beyond the Wall” episode in season 7, Jon and his crew use improvised dragonglass weapons to stave off the wights until Daenerys can rescue them.
While we still don’t understand exactly why dragonglass is so powerful, we know it’s linked to the creation of the White Walkers. The Children of the Forest turn one of the first men into a White Walker by inserting dragonglass into his heart, as seen through one of Bran’s visions. Since we’ve never seen Bran and Sam combining their shared knowledge of dragonglass, the origin of its power may remain one of the show’s final mysteries. It’s more important that it does the job, in the end; technically, we don’t have to worry about the why.
But in the first episode of season 8, Gendry also remarks to Arya that the process of forging dragonglass into useful weapons is much more challenging than he expected. He has still forged piles of dragonglass daggers, as well as a custom dragonglass spear for Arya, but it’s unclear how many of the living’s soldiers are outfitted with the precious metal. With the Night King’s army rolling in, we’ll have a week of waiting to see if the five Valyrian steel holders — Jon, Jorah, Jaime, Brienne, and Arya — have prepared enough.