If a white walker leading a force of wights is somehow killed, what becomes of the undead soldiers following it at the time? Do they drop dead for good, or do they keep trying to carry out the last command he gave them? Or does something else entirely happen?

I'm asking about the show, but I'm not adverse to answers from the books.

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    I don't think we have seen any evidence where a WW directly controls wights... – Skooba Jun 22 '16 at 20:21
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    @Skooba the closest example I could think of would be the 'come at me bro' moment from Hardhome where the Nights King looks at Jon Snow and raises the wildling bodies. Agreed that I don't think we necessarily can say that a White Walker needs to directly control a wight once it has been reanimated. – kuhl Jun 22 '16 at 20:23

Update for Season 7, Episode 6, "Beyond the Wall":

White Walker do have direct control of the wights. When Jon and company ambush a small party of wights in an attempt to capture on, Jon slays the White Walker and all but one (the one they end up capturing) drop... uh... dead on the spot.


Original Answer:

We have not seen any direct evidence to support the notion that a White Walker directly control Wights.

We have three levels of "Others".

  1. Night's King - the leader and only one at this level. Has the power to raise wights from the dead and transform the living (at least babies) into White Walkers.
  2. White Walkers - secondary leaders, there are at least 12 of them shown when Night's King turn Craster's baby into a White Walker). They are shown to have independent intelligence and are immune to standard weapons and fire.
  3. Wights - common soldiers. They seem to have a hive mind and act mostly on instinct. They can be harmed by normal weapons and fire.

We have seen a few instances of a White Walker being destroyed and one instance of a singular Wight being destroyed:

  1. Sam Tarly destroys one with a dragonglass spear while defending Gilly. In this case there are no wights around, so we can not conclude anything about control over Wights.
  2. Jon Snow destroys a White Walker with Longclaw (Valyrian steel) during the battle at Hardholme. Here we see that there hundreds of Wights attacking, but after the destruction of the White Walker nothing seems to change.
  3. Meera Reed destroys a White Walker with a dragonglass spear during their invasion at the tree hideout. Considering how this ended, the Wights were not effected.
  4. Early in his day at the Wall, Jon saves the life of Lord Commander Mormont by slaying a Wight that was the reanimated corpse of a recently deceased Ranger. We do not see any White Walkers in the area, however one must wonder how the body was reanimated in the first place...

A small caveat to the points 2 and 3... there are other White Walkers in the area. So if the Wights do need a White Walker to control them, they were available to do so...

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    Meera Reed also killed a White Walker in episode 'the door' – Ivo Beckers Jun 23 '16 at 7:51
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    @IvoBeckers How could I forget!! Thank you. – Skooba Jun 23 '16 at 12:11
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    Wights are not the Others, merely animated dead. Martin said of them: The Others are not dead. They are strange, beautiful… think, oh… the Sidhe made of ice, something like that… a different sort of life… inhuman, elegant, dangerous. – tchrist Jul 2 '16 at 17:33
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    @kuhl did appear that way because of the altar and the group of them, but if there was a "ritual" all we saw the NK push his finger to the baby's cheek. Likewise at Hardholme, all the NK did was lift his arms up! Most of what we have seen indicate he is on another level. – Skooba Jul 2 '16 at 19:54
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    Also worth noting that there doesn't seem to be a range limit on how far the wight can get from the white walker that created it, since the one brought to King's Landing is still kicking. – MartianInvader Aug 31 '17 at 20:22

The other answer is correct in saying that when a White Walker is killed the wights it turned "die". However, I think it misrepresents this as the White Walker having direct control over them, so far we have no evidence that, that is actually the case.

The merry men seem to come to the conclusion that it was because that White Walker has turned the wights not that it had direct control of them:

When you killed the white walker, almost all the dead that followed it fell. Why?
Maybe he was the one who turned them.
Game of Thrones, Season 7 Episode 6, "Beyond the Wall"

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