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The Night King wasn't the only winner in this pivotal Game of Thrones episode

By Caitlin Busch
Hardhome Game of Thrones

As we count down to the Game of Thrones series finale, we're looking back at the most pivotal moments of the show's first seven seasons.

Looking down the dragon's maw to the final episode of Game of Thrones, it's almost easy to forget where we started a mere five episodes ago. At the beginning of Season 8, Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow arrive at Winterfell to help defend the North from the impending arrival of the Night King and his White Walker army.

Other than the question of who would sit on the Iron Throne and rule Westeros, the impending arrival of winter — often used as a stand-in to mean the Night King's far-northern forces would soon arrive south of the Wall — was the other big issue. So it's fitting that Season 8 (no matter how you feel it's going) would turn its attention to solving these two big questions.

As the Battle of Winterfell concluded and the North mourned and burned their dead, we couldn't help but think back to the first time we saw the Night King and his forces in all their glory, Season 5's "Hardhome." In a way, "Hardhome" gives Jon and the rest of Westeros the power and the means to defeat the Night King's forces years later.

Yes, we'd seen the Night King slowly gathering his army over the years, but it was a vague, promised threat. But even the Northerners, the most dedicated to stopping the Night King, once needed to see to believe. Jon Snow and his friends and allies first saw and believed in "Hardhome," in which they traveled to the titular Wildling village north of the Wall.

The Night King in Game of Thrones' Hardhome episode

You know the moment we're talking about here. As Jon, Tormund, and the Night's Watch brothers barely manage to escape with their lives and far fewer Wildlings than they'd anticipated, the Night King raises the dead for his own use. Jon and friends look on, horrified by the scope of the Night King's power.

Despite all this bad, though, and the Night King's supposed victory, he wasn't the episode's only winner. Not by a long shot.

If knowledge is power, then Jon is the real winner here. Not only does he now know that Valyrian steel can kill White Walkers, he also knows, with absolute certainty, that the Night King is a very real threat. He can deliver this knowledge to the rest of Westeros.

And in the immortal words of Cersei Lannister, "power is power." In "Hardhome," Jon demonstrates his burgeoning leadership skills and gains the respect of most of the remaining Wildlings because of the mercy he once demonstrated toward Mance Rayder at the Wall. As Varys, Tyrion, and Davos kept whispering to each other at the beginning of Season 8, Jon isn't just a pretty good leader but, more importantly, a good man. Jon has power not because he takes it but because the people around him keep trying to hand it to him.

Given that Game of Thrones fans are now expecting a standoff between the Mad Queen Daenerys and Jon Snow in the series' final episode on Sunday, it'll do everyone well to remember how, exactly, Jon has gained his power over the years. Whereas Daenerys has long both taken and been given power, Jon has only ever been given it by the people around him. Jon is one of the few characters in Game of Thrones who is both good and manages to keep winning.

Find out who has the real power when the Game of Thrones series finale premieres Sunday on HBO.