Turns out the White Walkers bring the babies to their Fortress of Solitude and put them onto an altar for a blue-eyed White Walker king. He turns each one into a White Walker with one touch of its gnarled fingernail.
For hard-core Thrones book-reading geek-com, this is a big reveal: The White Walker/Craster's baby connection has long been speculated and hinted, but never made entirely clear in the books. (Many readers couldn't quite picture a seven-pound White Walker crawling around ... though that's actually super unnerving.) And Bran arriving at Craster's is a big departure from the books, as well.
The usage of the babies also touches upon a thread we're seeing in the show's portrayal of magical beings. Dany's dragons were born in the wake of her grief over the unintentional "sacrifice" of her own child, and the demise of her husband as well. Melisandre said she needed to sacrifice the king's bastard Gendry to give Stannis a dragon. Melisandre's smoke monster assassin was portrayed as a baby that she created with Stannis. Now we learn that Craster's scarified babies are turned into White Walkers. It seems that magic can be used to create magical beings in this world -- but in each case a living component must be sacrificed.
Still, I've long wished Thrones did not have White Walkers. Martin agonized over whether to include dragons in his grounded fantasy story when writing his first book in the series, A Game of Thrones. He obviously made the right decision. But I've always felt he should have stopped with dragons.
I realize many of you will object, particularly because you just watched the most interesting White Walker scene we've ever had across four seasons. In fact, it's probably the dumbest time in the history of this show for me to try and make this argument. But "The Others" (as they're called in the books) have been a tangential and jarring background threat. They are so supernatural-looking and zombie-like, they feel like figures in a different show. There is so much story in A Song of Ice and Fire, so many compelling characters and locations, that there's more than enough going on without the White Walkers.
At some point, after winter comes, you figure all these characters will have to stop what they're doing and deal with this supernatural threat. To me, that sounds like a terrible day for all the stories we're following in Westeros. I have so much invested in the conflicting agendas of all these characters; I want them to battle each other, not some external CGI demons.
Of course, I'm making a major creative assumption. Maybe the White Walker threat will be deftly handled in some way that doesn't intrude upon our other stories, or doesn't significantly alters those outcomes. But to build up the White Walkers all these years, only to have them quickly dismissed would be unsatisfying too. Maybe I should have more faith.
What did you think of this week's episode? Is anybody else hoping Ser Pounce gets promoted to series regular next season? After all, he's the only knight protecting the king! Oh, and here are those great promised photos of Dany's new throne room.