I took out a Game of Thrones White Walker before it reached Winterfell
No need to thank me, Westeros. A Magic Leap mixed-reality experience at the Tribeca Film Festival made it slightly less perilous to battle Game of Thrones' undead.
Joan E. SolsmanFormer Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
ExpertiseStreaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation onlineCredentials
Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
When the White Walker advanced toward me, locking his steely blue gaze on me as he stepped over the shards of an ice wall that had just crumbled between us, I dispatched him with Arya-like cunning.
I stabbed his chest with a dragonglass dagger -- so, yes, it wasn't Valyrian steel just like Arya's. Also, I didn't leap through a frosty haze with the stealth of a trained assassin. My duel was punctuated by my flustered shrieks of terror, and my attack was mostly repeated clumsy jabs of my weapons in the general direction of my foes. Also, this wight and White Walker were both digital apparitions incapable of laying a finger on me.
But other than that: just like the real thing.
My face-off with Game of Thrones' undead was courtesy of Magic Leap mixed-reality glasses Friday, on the sidelines of the Tribeca Film Festival. Although Magic Leap is no stranger to the film festival circuit, this experience -- called The Dead Must Die and developed with HBO -- takes a different tack. Rather than a riff on Shakespeare or the kind of avant-garde installation that put Magic Leap on display at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, this one piggybacks on pop culture's current obsession.
But that kind of mass appeal is crucial for Magic Leap and mixed reality, a nascent technology that casts digital creations in the midst of your actual physical surroundings. Even if you've never heard of Magic Leap, you can bet neither had many of the people flocking to try The Dead Must Die here. (And flock they have. When I first tried to sign up, I was told to expect an hour-and-a-half wait. The keeper of the list told me the wait times are consistently about 45 minutes to an hour.)
When I first put on the Magic Leap headset, braziers of firewood on either side of me flipped from being inert to crackling with flames. I lit a torch with the fire in one of them, arming myself for the wight that quickly burst through a wood crate to rush toward me like I was Cersei in the Dragonpit.
Watch this: Game of Thrones Battle of Winterfell: We're still shaking
After finishing him with the fire from my torch, the wall across from me cracked like ice, breaking apart and toppling forward to reveal a White Walker. He stepped through the hole in the wall and walked toward me with same menacing composure they have on the show -- you know, that self-confidence that comes with being impervious to threat for thousands of years.
I had already picked up a dragonglass dagger off the corpse of another wight, so my fumbling stabs forward into his chest -- er, I mean, my Arya-like feints and jabs -- turned him into fracturing ice.
The Dead Must Die plays on some practical tricks to amp up the fright. A physical prop wight is splayed on the ground, making small automated movements with its arm to hint at hidden signs of life that will appear on the set in mixed reality. The wood crate jumps and rattles loudly in actual reality before the wight bursts out in mixed reality.
In addition to Tribeca, the mixed-reality experience is available at AT&T flagship stores in Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco, which kicked off earlier this month. The Dead Must Dies is also coming to stores in Los Angeles and Dallas soon, the company said, but it wouldn't detail any plans for widening the experience's availability beyond that.