GAME OF THRONES: S8E3
“The Long Night”
Starring: Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Alfie Allen, John Bradley, Joe Dempsie, Gemma Whelan, Gwendoline Christie, Rory McCann, Kristofer Hivju, Ben Crompton, Carice van Houten, Nathalie Emmanuel, Conleth Hill
Writer: David Benioff, George R.R. Martin
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
The fated “Battle of Winterfell” has come and gone. And, by and large, the death toll (as far as characters we care about) was fairly minor. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, don’t go further, because there will be spoilers ahead.
Let’s talk about the good and the bad of this episode, starting with the bad.
Everyone is Terrible at Strategizing
Seriously, Winterfell should have been an ice castle full of the wights of characters we knew and loved serving the Night King. All of these “brilliant” war minds–Jaime, Varys, Davos, Tyrion, Brienne, Jon, Daenerys–and this is the best they can come up with??
Wired has a pretty good breakdown of what a tactical mess this was, but I have some additions. Toward the beginning of the episode, we were treated to a pretty cool spectacle of the Dothraki getting their swords literally lit on fire thanks to Melisandre. That seems like it would be a pretty good advantage against a bunch of ice zombies, right?
But then they just … try to blitzkrieg the wights? Think about this for a second. You’ve been hearing from the survivors of the Night’s Watch and Wildlings that the forces of the undead are huge. Every village north of Winterfell is lost, and the dead are now servants of the Night King. These are overwhelming numbers. You have no idea just how big the army is up until it’s right on top of you in the dark. The least you could do is send Bran on a little warg recon like he does … halfway through the battle?
And you send a small battalion of the fierce Dothraki cavalry as the first wave? What are you thinking? The Dothraki got the “Operation Human Shield” treatment from the South Park movie.
So then the dead charge and the remaining Winterfell army holds on as long as it can until it retreats into the castle, leaving the Unsullied to hold off as the retreat happens. Daenerys and Jon impulsively use the dragons way too early and get blinded by the Night King’s blizzard, rendering the dragons useless.
In fact, the dragons and the Targaryens riding them are unable to see the signal to light the trench fire. However, our plucky little band of survivors at Winterfell is able to get the trench fire lit, momentarily holding off the endless waves of the undead.
Until the wights figure they can just pile on top of each other and make a nice little entryway into the castle.
But wait! When the trench fire is lit, Jon and Daenny can see it! And what do they do? They just keep flying around like a bunch of dumb idiots. This is where they could have made a huge difference. You see the trench fire. You fly back to it, and then when you see the wights making little holes for themselves, just fly your dragon right over and roast them. This would work until the wights figure out they just all run at the same time and put out the trench fire, but until then, you’re taking out huge amounts of their numbers by bottle-necking them and forcing them to make that sacrifice.
By the time the zombies get into the castle, everyone is basically screwed. It seems the only person with some sense of strategy is Arya when she’s trapped in the library and using diversions to redirect the zombies away from her.
Jon, Daenny, and Bran Were Effectively Useless
Remember how I mentioned Jon and Daenny sprang the dragon surprise way too early? Remember how that worked out for you last time? Did you forget the part where you lost one of your dragons? I would have been just a bit more cautious and sure of my strategy before thinking, “It’s go time, boys!” They get caught in a blizzard, can’t see anything, and the only chance they get to recompose themselves is by flying above the clouds away from everyone.
Meanwhile, Bran–aka The Bait–is sitting in the Godswood surrounded by a small band of soldiers, including Theon. And he decides to … warg into some ravens and not do anything the rest of the time? We’ve had this whole storyline of Bran’s journey to become the Three-Eyed Raven spanning most of the series. We know there’s an ancient battle between the Night King and the Raven. Hodor died for this! And Bran peaces out? Then, when it’s showtime, he’s like, “Well, Theon, my junk is still fully in tact, so I guess it’s you that’s gotta go.” And then he continues to sit there.
It is my sincere hope that Bran was working ahead of the battle, because, for the life of me, I can’t think of anything useful he did by warging out. I’m hoping he Dr. Strange’d the battle somehow and was going ahead to lay the groundwork for the upcoming battle with Cersei. There has to be some sort of payoff, or the Raven storyline is a monumental waste of time.
Winter Came and Went
“Winter is coming” has been with us since season one. It’s one of the better-recognized phrases from Game of Thrones. We’ve had the tension of Winterfell being caught in the middle of Wildlings and Walkers to the north and power-hungry Lannisters to the south. We’ve had the religious fanatics telling us of the Lord of Light and how he will be used to stop the Night King.
I’ve read arguments that the primary tension in Game of Thrones is the political backstabbing and powerplays to finally sit on the Iron Throne, and this is a completely fair argument. One analogy I’ve read is that this plays out like a political drama where world governments are fighting back and forth as they know that an alien invasion is on the way. I think this is a fair argument, but if it’s true, it’s slightly disappointing.
To me, the political arguments were meant to look silly in the face of a huge existential threat that put all of humanity at risk. Daenny wants the Throne, Cersei wants the Throne, people wanted Ned and Rob Stark to take the Throne, and yet, there would be no Throne if the White Walkers get their way and spread the entire world into a wintry nightmare. We have signs of the dragons returning with the burning red scar, the Lord of Light mentioned above, and the plotline with Bran and the Raven. The Wildlings and the Night’s Watch were ultimately able to put their differences aside; couldn’t the rest of humanity?
And with this episode, Winter is here, and it’s gone. The Ice Dragon cliffhanger that closed out season seven barely got any time to play out in the final season. I’ve heard people theorize that the Night King will come back, but his blown lead seemed pretty final to me. I would be all too happy to see that happen, though, and see the Raven actually do something.
So that’s about it for the bad. Moving on to what I did like, starting with …
Arya Friggin’ Stark
I’m starting out with this one because I still don’t know how I quite feel about it, but at the time of viewing the episode, it was awesome. Arya has been one of my favorites–in both the books and the movies–since the beginning. She’s got that spunk that makes her hard to hate.
She starts out wanting to learn how to stick the pointy end into her enemies and goes through hell in King’s Landing and starts forming her list. She gets slogged through Harrenhal and more with the Hound, goes to the House of Black and White and learns how to become a deadly assassin, and somehow makes her way back to the land of the Seven Kingdoms. And people are surprised that she was able to get through the Night King’s army? Nah, man, her story has been leading up to this (so was Bran’s, but he was useless).
Here’s my problem, though: How did she get out? The last time we saw her, she was in this situation with Sandor and Melisandre:
There they are, trapped in a dead-end room with zombies banging down the door. Granted, those three can be pretty deadly, but that sure was a lot of wights coming after them. My working theory, as of this writing, is that Melisandre looked at the Hound, said, “Let’s do this,” they start doing the nasty, and then she unleashes an army of those shadow babies that go on a killing spree, allowing the three of them to escape with a tremendous amount of dopamine running through their brains.
Ok, controversial statement time, because I KNOW so many people had this complaint: I didn’t think the episode was too dark. Was it hard to see sometimes? Yes. Did that ruin the episode for me? Absolutely not. In fact, I liked that they used it.
The battle took place in a huge field and then a castle courtyard. It’s pretty wide-open. But when the Night King summons his blizzard, suddenly the scenes in the battle become a bit more focused and almost claustrophobic. You think you couldn’t see well? You know who else couldn’t see well? The people fighting and dying on the screen.
It made it much more stressful to watch, too. You see vague silhouettes of people dying, and you wonder if that is a dearly beloved character getting shanked. However, you can clearly see the times when the main characters are on the screen. Essentially, all you’re missing is random extras being killed. I’m sorry if you wanted more detail on that. Perhaps it was a cost-saving method so they didn’t have to use too much makeup and costume? It would look silly to see extras in sweats hitting each other with plastic swords.
So now that I got that out of the way, it’s time to move to my favorite visual:
Oh my goodness that blue flame was so soothing. I would have been like a moth to the flame. Surrounded by the undead hoard? Just take me now, blue flame, in your peaceful, calming goodness. I loved the way that looked, which is why I’m disappointed Ice Viserion is gone.
I also loved the ending scenes after the Night King strategically plays his hand to raise up the fallen to fight for him. See, Jon and Daenny? That’s how you time your trump cards. As Jon Snow is fighting his way to Bran, bodies are literally raining down like a Drowning Pool song. That all added up to the other part I loved, which was…
The Sense of Hopelessness
I love it when a story makes me constantly wonder, “How in the world are they going to get out of this?” The episode had me wondering that pretty much from the get-go. After the Dothraki do their suicide charge, we hear the overwhelming amount of dead on the run, and it’s terrifying. You can see just how much the characters are ready to unload in their pants.
And it only gets worse. Jon and Daenny are taken down, and their dragons are hurt. Everyone is surrounded, and some decently major characters–Jorah, Beric, and Theon–end up losing their lives protecting Daenny, Arya, and Bran, respectively. Eddison goes down, and even little Lyanna Mormont goes down while taking a giant with her.
The moment the Night King raises his hands to bring back the dead, it felt like everything was lost, and I loved that. It was the ultimate high-stakes situation. The mournful piano music that accompanies the Night King’s march toward Bran was brilliant.
Then, in somewhat un-Game of Thrones-y fashion, Arya jumps from nowhere and takes out the Big NK. We’re so used to characters getting screwed (Ned and the Red Wedding come to mind) that seeing something good happen for a change is surprising. Disappointing? Maybe a little, but still satisfying in the long run. Something has to go right for these people.
So that’s it! I’m glad you stuck around for this 2000 behemoth of an article. Do you agree? Disagree? Time to move on to the final showdown with Cersei!