SPOILER WARNING – THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 8.3 OF HBO’S GAME OF THRONES
I’m not our official Game of Thrones recapper/reviewer, but I have to talk about this episode.
I think Game of Thrones is the best show to have ever been broadcast on television. For more on that, check out episode 260 of the Needless Things Podcast.
I thought that the first two episodes of this, the final season, were fantastic. They gave me all of the character moments and setup I needed preceding what had to be the biggest and most brutal battle in the show’s history. “Winterfell” and “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” provided countless payoffs and much-needed breathing room.
Going into “The Long Night”, loyal viewers were well aware of the kind of powerful and breathtaking action the show is capable of thanks to masterpieces like “The Watchers on the Wall”, “Hardhome”, and “Battle of the Bastards” – an episode I still find hard to watch thanks to its intensity.
Did “The Long Night” live up to its potential and deliver the most climactic Game of Thrones conflict yet or had the show already used up its bag of tricks? Read on and find out!
1 – Glory Through the Storm – What I could see looked good.
This was a dark, foggy episode with a lot of chaos and action. And chaotic action. And I think it was absolutely brilliant of the showrunners to decide that this battle had to take place on the stereotypical “dark and stormy night”.
Obviously the big reason this was a great decision was that it created an atmosphere of horror. All of our other big battles have been during the day because in general humans would rather fight during the day. But the Night King and his legions of undead don’t give a damn about daylight. Beyond that, “the night is long and full of terrors” is a concept that the show has been pitching for years now, but we’ve rarely had occasion to understand exactly what that means.
Now we know.
The nighttime setting made this battle unique among the epic battles we’ve seen in Westeros.
Another benefit of muddying things up was that I was actually able to relax. I know that might sound counterintuitive, but with so much chaos and everything being somewhat more difficult to follow, there was a certain sense that as long as I couldn’t tell exactly what was going on nothing horrifyingly tragic was going to happen. As in, a major character wasn’t going to die right in the middle of an indiscernible mass of Unsullied and undead. The camera would move in and things would open up a bit.
At least, that’s what I kept telling myself.
So while at times I found the darkness and, later on, the snowstorm frustrating, I appreciate the ingeniousness of their usage. Especially during the aerial dragon battle, which benefitted from being more cat-and-mouse than dogfight.
2 – Yes, It Was Epic – I’m going to have to watch this episode at least a couple more times to truly take in everything that happened, but from beginning to end it created tension and rising action in a way that I have never seen before.
Game of Thrones has always excelled at upping the ante to the seeming point of no return, and to a certain extent “The Long Night” was the culmination of seven seasons of practice. Right up until the climax of the episode our characters were thrust into seemingly impossible situations where I as the viewer simply could not see an escape. And in some cases there was none.
The utter annihilation of the Dothraki cavalry at the start of the battle set the tone for the battle. The show wanted us to know that everything was hopeless and that this was, in all likelihood, Westeros’ last stand.
3 – Plenty Left to Die – I’m shocked at how few “important” characters died during this episode. As best as I can remember we lost Ser Jorah Mormont, Lyanna Mormont (and what do the Mormonts do now? Or are there even any left?), Edd of the Night’s Watch, Beric Dondarrion, Theon Greyjoy, and Melisandre.
Each of these characters received a significant demise in some way. And in two cases, much to my horror, a resurrection.
While it was gut-churning to see Lyanna and Edd raised as wights by the Night King, we were spared the sight of them being put down, which I think would have been gratuitous. If there’s a rallying cry of the detractors this show has, it’s “gratuitous”, which I personally have rarely found it to be. But that’s another post.
4 – The Sound of Despair – I had two significant vocal reactions during this episode. As in, louder and more involuntary than the usual “Oh, damn!” I might utter during, say, Gotham.
The first was when I realized that the dying Beric Dondarrion was holding the wights back from the Hound and Arya. As the three of them are being pursued through the halls of Winterfell by a teeming mass of undead, Beric – already having been grievously wounded many times – stops in an archway and extends his arms to either side, literally holding the dead back with his own body so that Arya and Sandor can get just a few steps ahead and escape into a room.
It’s a very brief shot amidst the ongoing chaos, but it wrenched my heart out of my chest when I saw what was happening.
I was a little surprised when he fell through the door a few moments later because I expected he’d just be torn apart in the hall, but he deserved the onscreen death he got.
Er, the onscreen part, not the death part. You know what I mean.
5 – You Are A Good Man – Theon Greyjoy’s journey through the story has been tumultuous and horrifying, perhaps more so than any other character.
We saw last week that he had been redeemed the eyes of Sansa Stark, but the audience was left to wonder if he could ever truly make up for the atrocities he committed in earlier seasons. Betrayals, cowardice, and the slaughter of innocents weighed heavily against Theon, whose life has been fraught with unfortunate circumstances but who had just as often damned himself.
The Three-Eyed Raven answered this question during Theon’s final moments of life by telling him he was, indeed, a good man. Coming from Brandon Stark this might have been less definitive, but coming from the nigh-omniscient Raven the statement was conclusive.
Theon Greyjoy died a good man, a rare thing in Westeros.
6 – Giant Slayer – Meanwhile, Lady Lyanna Mormont met her end after coordinating the defense of the interior of Winterfell and single-handedly slaying a giant wight.
Lady Mormont is a fan-favorite character and this admittedly pandering scene could have easily come off as ridiculous, but it was handled perfectly and, in my opinion, believably.
7 – Daenerys Targaryen, First of the Dum-Dums – I have exactly one major problem with “The Long Night”. It might bug me less with more viewings. Maybe there’s a good reason for it. But I don’t think so.
At one point in the episode Daenerys arrives on Drogon to save Jon Snow from freshly resurrected legions of wights outside the walls of Winterfell. They swoop out of the sky, set the wights on fire, and then land. Jon says he has to go and save Bran and then Daenerys and Drogon… just fucking sit there. In the middle of the battlefield.
This scene was so shockingly stupid that I can’t even believe it came from Benioff and Weiss, who I consider to be two of television’s greatest minds.
You guys – Daenerys sat there for a long time. Just looking around, doing nothing. And it’s not like there wasn’t stuff she could have been doing. Winterfell was right in front of her, still being overrun with hordes of the undead. Rhaegal was off somewhere else, presumably grievously injured by Viserion. Heck, Viserion was still out there somewhere.
But Daenerys and the most powerful weapon in Westeros just sat there looking dumb until they got attacked by wights, which led to Drogon freaking out, dumping Dany Dum-Dum on the ground, and flying away, leaving his defenseless mother in the middle of the Army of the Recently Deceased.
The only reason this happened was to set up the admittedly wonderful scene of Jorah and Daenerys fighting off the dead, but surely that could have been accomplished without making the potential future Queen of the Seven Kingdoms look like a fucking moron.
8 – Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better portrayal of what it would be like to actually battle the undead. While some characters have plotlines to deal with, everyone else is busy simply trying to survive the teeming, ferocious legions of the Night King.
Jaime, Brienne, Tormund, Grey Worm, Podrick, Gendry, and even Samwell Tarly spend the titular long night simply trying to hold the line. As the episode progresses we see these characters growing more and more desperate and embattled as the wights overwhelm them, continually breaking through barriers as an unstoppable wave.
Much like the setting of the snowstorm at night, it was almost a relief that the episode didn’t focus on these characters any more than it did because as long as they weren’t on screen or were part of a wide shot melee, they were likely safe.
This was another major success of the pacing and plotting of “The Long Night”, because as the climax drew near these characters became more and more overwhelmed, building the dread and tension to an almost unbearable level and leaving the audience wondering how in the world anyone could possibly survive, even though we all knew the answer.
9 – The Prince That Was Promised – Okay, so the show pretty much gave it away when Melisandre arrived at Winterfell and gave Arya Stark a good, long stare. We’ve been hearing about the prophecy since season three (I think) of the show and while it hasn’t received as much focus as it might have in other fantasy stories, the idea of a Promised One who can vanquish the Night King has been firmly established for a while.
It just made said vanquishing much more dramatic when it happened because the show hadn’t been ramming it down our throats for seven seasons. It wasn’t a fact in this world of dragons and magic and an endless supply of liars and exaggerators – it was just a prophecy from a religion that seemed to have varying levels of relevance and opacity.
In the end it wasn’t Jon Snow – the popular choice from what I can tell – but his sister (niece? I dunno), Arya, who seems to have fulfilled that prophecy. And hot damn was it a BIG MOMENT. This was the event that elicited a guttural, involuntary response from yours truly. A very Keanu-like “WHOA” but louder and longer.
It was so well-established that it shouldn’t have even been a surprise. Between the aforementioned stare and a later scene where Melisandre explains that Beric Dondarrion has served his purpose by protecting Arya, it was a lock. But it still blew me away with how well it was done and how absolutely FINAL AND SUDDEN the destruction of the Night King and his army was. With an assist from all of the intensity and action between Arya and Melisandre meeting and the Night King’s demise.
It was another scenario where Game of Thrones set the table and laid everything out perfectly, but it’s only in retrospect that we can say, “Well, yeah – of course that’s how it had to happen”.
Bonus points for the awesomeness of this exchange:
Melisandre: “And what do we tell the god of Death?”
Arya: “Not today,”
And then Arya runs off because she has some legendary badass business to attend to. With, by the way, the Valerian steel dagger that was used to attempt to murder her brother, Bran.
That brief conversation, by the way, was a callback to Syrio Forel, the bravo who began Arya’s training back in season one.
10 – Meanwhile, in the Innocent-Looking Crypts – I almost overlooked the poor, poor defenseless people in the crypts.
Sansa and Tyrion end up in the crypts with the women and children. Neither is particularly pleased about it and Tyrion gets a nice moment where he suggests he could be contributing to the battle by observing things others might miss. Sansa very firmly states that if he was above he would die. The two also share the one moment of humor in the episode when Sansa tells Tyrion that he was the best of her husbands.
Then it all goes to hell when the Night King raises the fallen defenders of Winterfell and any other proximal dead bodies, which includes all of the Starks interred in the crypt.
Game of Thrones, by its nature, gets to hit on a ton of genre tropes and it typically handles them all well. This was no exception, as the ol’ “dead coming to life” scene in the crypt was just as horrific and terrifying as any horror film.
There was plenty about this episode that was predictable in one way or another, but when the show delivers so perfectly on what you expect it’s impossible to complain. Everything that happened was what should have happened and what had to happen.
11 – Raining Blood – After Daenerys saves Jon Snow, he races from the battlefield outside of Winterfell, trying to catch the Night King before he reaches the Three-Eyed Raven in the Godswood. Unfortunately this means Jon has to make his way through the interior of Winterfell, which is a Hellscape of Dante’s Inferno level fucked-upness.
Piles of dead bodies are stacked taller than two men, with the surviving defenders of Westeros atop them, desperately fending off their former allies. More bodies – dead, alive, and undead – are falling from the ramparts above. Everything is red and ruined.
At one point Jon spies Sam, who is overwhelmed and almost certainly doomed. In one of the most heartrending moments in Game of Thrones history, Jon continues on, knowing he must leave his friend in order to attempt to defeat this evil threating all of Westeros. And then Viserion lands.
Damaged from the aerial battle with Rhaegal and Drogon, Viserion is much the worse for wear, with blue fire blasting not just out of its mouth, but from the gaping wounds left in its neck. It’s a horrific vision in the already nightmarish landscape and it is blocking Jon’s path.
This whole scene reminded me of a video game boss battle, right down to Jon ducking behind cover every time Viserion breathed fire. I was fully expecting Jon to just jump down the dragon wight’s throat with Longclaw and cut its head off from inside, but thanks to Arya that wasn’t necessary.
12 – The Dawn – After the spectacular and instantaneous destruction of the Night King’s army, the episode briefly checks in with the survivors.
We see Samwell, Brienne, Jaime, and Podrick, on the ramparts and breathing.
Drogon curls around Daenerys, who is wailing over Ser Jorah’s dead body.
And then there’s Melisandre, whose purpose is finally complete. As Ser Davos watches, she walks out into the snow-covered landscape, removes her necklace, and ages quickly into death.
And with that, the story of the Night King is over. Westeros has been spared a long winter and everyone can get back to fucking everyone else over next week.
All in all “The Long Night” delivered above and beyond what I expected. It was a tense, breathtaking episode that was so much more than just a long, grueling battle. I can’t wait to see what the remaining three episodes bring.
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