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Game of Thrones' Night King tells the story behind that 'smirk' at Daenerys

By Benjamin Bullard
The Night King in Game of Thrones on HBO

If you thought you detected a slight wisp of human emotion from the Night King this week when he locked eyes with Daenerys in one of those that-just-happened moments Game of Thrones is famous for, well — it turns out you weren’t wrong.

The leader of the wights has a tiny sliver of humanity locked away after all in that frozen heart of his, according to Vladimír Furdík, the stunt actor behind all that Night King makeup. But this being the Night King, of course that humanity doesn’t show itself in the form of tears or kindness. Nope, instead we only glimpse it, Mona Lisa-style, when he flashes a wickedly delicious gloating look up at the Mother of Dragons in this week’s “The Long Night” episode.

**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for "The Long Night" episode from Season 8 of Game of Thrones.**

Furdík tells The Daily Beast that his subtly triumphant, "eff-you" stare into Daenerys’ very soul wasn’t the only facial reaction that HBO shot for the Night King’s coming-out moment, which revealed — and then flaunted — his total immunity to Daenerys’ dragon fire.

“I think Miguel [Sapochnik, who directed “The Long Night”] wanted to show people that inside the Night King there is a little bit of humanness, like he was part of … He’s not just a monster — he is actually monstrous, but he also thinks,” Furdík told the Beast. “He’s not stupid. Through this smile, I think Miguel would like to show that he knows what he wants, you know? He’s not just walking into the country and killing people. He has some target.”

Getting that ever-so-slight glimpse into the Night King’s human side didn’t happen in one go, said Furdík, who shot three different facial expressions for the scene — including an evil ear-to-ear grin that, through all the makeup, looked unintentionally silly when the crew reviewed the (obviously) unused footage.

“I think on the day we did three versions [of that scene]. We did like a cold face, we did a big smile — which is not easy to do under the mask because then the smile is not really nice — and then we did a couple where I moved my mouth only a little bit on the right or left side. So we shot three versions and they took this version,” Furdík explained. “… Miguel wanted me to have some kind of smirk. But not too big.”

A versatile actor and stunt person, Furdík’s having a moment as fans discover the man behind the Night King’s mask on social media (check out his out-of-makeup Instagram look above). But he’s also shown up on screen in numerous other small roles throughout Game of Thrones’ eight-season run, including Jon Snow’s first White Walker kill in Season 5’s “Hardhome” episode. In all, reports the Beast, he’s appeared in various roles in 14 different GoT episodes.

As for meeting his fate at the pointy end of Arya Stark’s dagger, Furdík says he can think of no better assassin to take out the Night King — especially since Arya, out of all the living characters still in the game at that point, possessed the biggest element of surprise.

“Maybe 10 minutes before Arya jumps on the Night King, we don’t know where she is,” he said. “We see Jon Snow and other actors, but we don’t know where she is. Maybe somebody can predict it, but I think it was a good decision. Who else can kill him and how? It was the best, I think.”

For a guy who moonlights as the steel-eyed, ice-blooded leader of the Army of the Dead, we’ve gotta say: He sounds like a pretty good sport. RIP, Night King. See how the living regroup after their Battle of Winterfell victory this Sunday, when Game of Thrones returns on HBO.