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Why are the people in Westeros so afraid of the white walkers?
From what we have seen in the series there seems to be a relatively small amount of white walkers in existence.

And judging from the first episode of season 3,

they seem to be beaten quite easily.
Also, the wildlings seem to thrive in the middle of white walkers territory, despite their lack of recources and weaponry.

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    Why do you think the people of Westeros are afraid of white walkers? – TLP Apr 3 '13 at 15:10
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    Pay special attention to TLP's reply: most undead you've seen so far aren't White Walkers (called "Others" in the books) but merely Wights. We don't know whether the White Walkers are easy or hard to kill because, so far, no one has defeated one on-screen :) – Andres F. Apr 3 '13 at 16:44
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    Is the 'tv' tag required here; if the 'game-of-thrones' tag is included? – Möoz Oct 21 '14 at 21:46
  • Wights vs. Others, as stated. :) In addition to that, here in Germany only a handful of villains have been slain by muslim terrorists (please DO NOT count "only" as a belittlement!). Still there is a great amount of fear in people against them. – Trollwut Jun 10 '15 at 13:36
  • They aren't real, no one believes in them, even Ned tells Bran that the White Walkers are gone. Also those things are Wights. The White Walkers are definitely NOT easy to kill. – Matthew Stevenson Oct 17 '16 at 3:15
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You might be interested in reading this question: In ASoIaF what is the difference between a wight and an Other? The creature that was killed in episode 1, season 3 was a wight, not an Other. The wights are slow and clumsy and easily killed. Well... more easily killed than Others. They are quite resilient compared to humans, but susceptible to fire.

However, on a personal note, that's the first time I've seen a wight using a weapon. That does not occur anywhere in the books that I can remember. They only use their hands. So I can understand the confusion.

Also, that whole scene is a cluster fudge. It's a snow storm, and people go bare-headed. (Yeah, you can tell people from sunny California wrote this script.) Ghost is there, and not with Jon. The wight used an axe. Sam didn't send off the birds (in the books he sent off all the birds). So, take it with a grain of salt, perhaps.

Why are they afraid of white walkers? I don't know that they are. Where did you get that impression? I think actually that most people of Westeros consider the Others mythical creatures that don't really exist. The white walkers have not been seen for thousands of years, and people have forgotten.

That is not to say, of course, that people do not fear them, because they appear in mythology and "ghost stories", such as those told by Old Nan from Winterfell. But of course, grown-ups don't believe in ghosts, so there you have it.

Also... (mild spoiler season 3, episode 2?)

The wildlings are not thriving. They are fleeing from the army of undead.

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    +1 Wights are not White Walkers. I think so far no White Walker has been defeated in the TV show. Even then, your run-of-the-mill Wight is way more dangerous than your average zombie from, say, The Walking Dead ;) – Andres F. Apr 3 '13 at 16:45
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    Does the TV show mention Wights at all? My impression was that they were all White Walkers. Are we sure that this distinction is made on the tv show? – user606723 Apr 3 '13 at 17:40
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    @user606723 I cannot say for sure whether it is emphasized enough to be made distinct for those who are not already aware of the difference. For me, it was fairly distinct, but I must say Others look considerably different from the books. – TLP Apr 3 '13 at 19:48
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    @user606723 I don't think the TV show has emphasized the difference, but it's there. Zombie-like creatures are Wights. The Others/White Walkers are the commanders riding skeletal horses at the end of season 2 (I don't remember if the very first episode of the show features Wights or Others; this is confusing to me even in the books). The Others are an ancient evil whose exact nature is yet to be revealed; the Wights are merely corpses turned into their minions. We don't know for sure the Others are undead, for that matter. – Andres F. Apr 3 '13 at 21:37
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    The Others scare the crap out of me. There, I said it. – WOPR Apr 5 '13 at 9:44
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They aren't so easily beaten, and no one knows exactly how, except for the use of fire. Also, they aren't so easy to tell apart from humans, until it's too late. Furthermore, they can turn the people they kill into those like them.

While they aren't quite the same, they bear a similarity to Vampires, in that they are hard to kill, undead, and can turn those they kill into beasts like them. However, they don't suck blood, nor live among the humans.

The wildings survive, but mostly because the Others (White walkers) have had their numbers severely diminished. It is during the time of the Game of Thrones that the numbers of White Walkers dramatically increases, to the point where they become a threat.

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    It's also worth noting that in the past their numbers have been much larger- so the current fear is due in part to past fear, of a threat that was far greater. – Adele C Apr 3 '13 at 13:48
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    Nitpick: we don't know for sure the Others/White Walkers are undead, just that they are an ancient evil which can command armies of the undead. Fire is useful to prevent a corpse from rising as a Wight, not as a White Walker. Don't confuse the necromancer with his pets! :P (then again, maybe it will be revealed the Others are also undead after all). – Andres F. Apr 3 '13 at 21:43
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Because the last time they were in Westeros, they covered the entire continent in a near endless winter. That's enough to make them a feared force.

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First of all, the term "White Walker" IS used in the books. I believe it was Old Nan who used the term.

Second, they can't be hurt by normal weapons, they are vastly stronger than humans, , they can control the weather, and they can add anyone they kill to their army of undead. Pretty terrifyingly.

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