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How many people actually live in Game of Thrones’ world?

Tormund Giantsbane.
Tormund Giantsbane.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Every week, a handful of Vox's writers will discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Check out the recap for this episode here, and follow the whole discussion here. This week, we'll be hearing from culture editor Todd VanDerWerff, politics writer Andrew Prokop, executive editor Matthew Yglesias, and deputy culture editor Jen Trolio. Come back throughout the week for entries.

Todd VanDerWerff: Here's a thing I've never really thought about, but which "Hardhome" makes abundantly clear: I'm not sure how many people are supposed to live in the various regions of Game of Thrones' world.

On its face, this isn't really important. The show needs enough wiggle room to be able to believably create situations in which, say, Dany's forces are overwhelmed by the Sons of the Harpy, while the people who adore her vastly outnumber her enemies. I don't know that I want every episode to end with David Benioff and D. B. Weiss writing down the population count of individual regions on a whiteboard, Battlestar Galactica-style.

But in discussing this issue with Vox's own Dave Roberts, I realized that it's not precisely clear what kind of direct impact the show's big battles have on the abstract forces that back up the primary characters — and I'm not sure it ever has been. Even rough estimates are hard to come by. Game of Thrones tends to let you know who won and lost important fights, but it only rarely lets you know what they'll need to do to rebuild, or how long they'll be licking their wounds.

Take Ramsay's seemingly foolhardy plan to attack Stannis's forces with just a small group of men. How foolhardy is this? Are we in "pride goeth before a fall" territory when it comes to Ramsay, or is Stannis so out of his element and so depleted when it comes to military numbers that his forces will be easy pickings? We know he's lost around 500 sellswords, but what impact will that have overall?

I understand that part of this is designed to drive up the show's level of suspense — it wouldn't do for us to know that Ramsay was taking 24 men up against 24,000, because that would kill all interest in the outcome. But one gets the sense in the books that George R. R. Martin thinks about his battles at least somewhat tactically. I've rarely gotten the same sense from the show.

Then again, that might be the point. What caused Dave to bring this up with me was, of course, the big battle at Hardhome, because he was wondering how many more wights the White Walkers now have to send into battle, and how few Wildlings are left. The show is playing coy on this, to be sure. We don't really know if the Wildlings at Hardhome are the bulk of those who exist, or just a sizable number, or a tiny fraction of the total population. And we don't really need to know how many more wights there are, because the answer, as far as the show is concerned, is always going to be "infinitely more wights."

But what Dave is getting at, I think, is the question of whether the wildlings will be an ongoing concern for the series as it heads into future seasons. Benioff and Weiss have spent a lot of time dealing with them, and now they could very well be eliminated as a story force. And if that's the case, it could prove frustrating to a bunch of fans who've been drawn into their world and politics and now won't get to enjoy stories about them anymore.

But I also expect that's deliberate. The White Walkers pose a genuine existential threat to humanity, which (at least in fiction) tends to collapse the distinctions between different groups of humans. The wildlings could very well cease to be a major part of this story, because now they're effectively one and the same as the Night's Watch. And as the White Walkers march south, survivors fleeing before them, the distinctions between different groups and forces will cease to be all that important.

What's even more exciting, however, is that I legitimately have no idea what's coming next. What would you guys like to see happen in the episodes to come, especially knowing there are only two left in season five?

Read the recap. Come back throughout the week for more entries.

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