Image owned by HBO and from Hindustan Times (Arya Stark and The Hound face an army of darkness)
No one is going to be perfectly alright with how the battle of Winterfell turned out.
Initially, after watching it and letting the impact wash over me like the literal undead waves, I thought it was one of the strongest episodes I’ve seen thus far. In hindsight, this was not quite the episode we and by extension, I was promised.
What I can say that “The Long Night” perfects is of vicariously experiencing a nightmare. There have been nightmarish moments before in Game of Thrones, more than a few. Season 5’s Hardhome gave us a horrific preview of what fighting the dead would be like. They are no less unrelenting and terrifying four years later.
There will be plenty, perhaps too many moments in this episode which will be picked apart for not being as intelligent or well written as it should’ve, dare I say, must have been. The execution of what does happen is frightfully good, for the most part.
A muster of horses rode by the fearless Dothraki charge with flaming swords towards a pitch black mass. The feeling of dread yet hope that this initial charge will do a good number on the White Walker army is as palpable as you can imagine. Soon, faster than you think, the lights of their flaming swords dim and fade to nothing. That we cannot see how they die is all that we need.
There has been much derision over the “poor” lighting of the episode, that we cannot clearly see what is happening during the battle, especially before Dany and Jon brighten things up considerably with the dragons. Yes, not knowing exactly how our heroes are doing can be annoying, but I think a big aspect of this fight is being severely overlooked.
This is a battle at night, against an army that is led by someone literally called the Night King. The lack of visuals in the fight is meant to confuse, scare and make you wonder how it is even possible for anyone to survive. What I am saying is that the lack of lighting was intentional to better highlight the dragon breath, gold and blue, and to be far more realistic in comparisons to the “Hollywood” night light source we are all so familiar with.
That being said, I do have gripes with this episode and I wonder if it were possible, considering what could be in store for us in the last three episodes, for the show-runners to have done otherwise.
There are deaths of course and indeed I was very much stricken by them. Dolorous Edd’s sputtering blood and collapsing after letting his guard down just enough to save Sam, who really should’ve been in the crypts, got me. What happens in the crypts later would’ve still given him a chance to fight.
Lyanna Mormont, the youngest and perhaps bravest warrior in the fight, loses her life taking out a undead giant in a manner that is Hollywood, but still respectful of who I’ve come to know her after her wonderful introduction two seasons ago. She gets a proper yet still gruesome sendoff.
Theon Greyjoy, be honest: who among us didn’t think he was going to fall this episode?
Ever since he metaphorically grew a pair last season and successfully rescued her sister this season, Theon was fully prepared to give everything he had left to make up for his past sins, especially against the Starks. His knowingly futile charge against the Night King was sad yet appropriate. Perhaps he bought enough time to allow who would ultimately slay the King to do so.
Speaking of meaningful deaths, we have Beric Dondarrion. I’ll be honest again, I wasn’t all that worried about his fate either way. He’s the one person, aside from Theon, who was the least concerned about surviving, so long as his death made a difference. He keeps Arya alive for what she will accomplish at the end, so there.
Somehow, thanks to confirmation from the episode four preview afterwards, Jon’s dire-wolf Ghost managed to survive. Until we get clarification on how he survived, which likely won’t happen, his survival is the most obviously strange. He charges alongside Jorah during the futile Dothraki charge and we never see Ghost again for the entire episode. Jorah does return from the failed charge to fight further at Winterfell’s gate. Considering what we could glean from what happened to the Dothraki, it was pretty damn unlikely for anyone, especially at the front to make it. Jorah’s survival alone was pretty crazy in and of itself.
Perhaps the most tragic death was Jorah Mormont later on, fighting to the end to defend his Queen Daenerys, stuck without a dragon . His demise, alongside Lyanna, signals the extinction of his house. The Mormonts did fall better than other unfortunate houses like the grim fate of the Umbers established at season’s beginning. So long as someone remembers House Mormont’s last acts, then they are not truly gone.
Game of Thrones, for quite a while prided itself on being one of the few pieces of entertainment to be conservative when it comes to plot armor. The feeling that anyone could die was one of the enduring stressors that kept people watching. The stress from this episode was hardly gone, it was in full force.
Yet, the number of times characters on the front lines could and honestly should have died got a little ridiculous. During the portion where the dead reach the infantry section of the defense, it would’ve been a hell of a gut punch to do something that would’ve pissed off a lot of people, but considering the circumstances, would’ve been quite believable.
Brienne, Jaime, Gendry, Podrick, Jorah,Sam, Tormund, The Hound and Grey Worm are all on the front lines outside Winterfell. What they face is a tidal wave of undead who easily sweep over them.
Yet, all of those characters I named not only manage to not instantly die and get mauled horribly, they also manage to get back into Winterfell after it is clear fighting outside is hopeless. While it would’ve been severe whiplash to have so many main characters, some that have been with us for nine years, die just like that and without a shred of glory, it would’ve underlined what exactly they were facing.
Once the dead breach the fortress itself, these same characters’ luck still hold out. I’m not trying to imply that the skill and experience of these characters, some in having already fought the dead, wouldn’t have been useful in surviving up until a point, but the episode’s mastery in creating a hopeless, grim situation makes their consistent survival rather perplexing. Right up until the Night King fell, those characters are backed up literally against the wall and clearly about to die. Had some actually died would have lessened their improbable success somewhat.
It sounds downright morbid that I would want a bunch of people who I care about to not only die but die harshly. Yet, at the same time doing so highlights how simply unwinnable this war is through conventional means. Yes, had it not been for Arya’s awesome yet still head-scratching disposal of the Night King, they would certainly die.
Despite how down I have been on this episode, one thing I need to emphasize is the sheer emotion and ordeal the experience left me. For all the moments of unrealistic circumstances I had a hard time swallowing, the sense of things getting worse and worse and worse was unmistakably there all the same. By the time the Night King strolls right in to the Godswood to successfully off Theon and almost off Bran, a wonderful pitch perfect track from Ramin Djawadi titled simply “The Night King”, summarizes everything that is going on in the last third of the episode.
Jon is racing through a Winterfell that is overrun and on the very edge of collapse. The undead dragon, Viserion, is tearing through the castle and eventually corners Jon, preventing him from reaching Bran. Those same unlikely survivors are fighting hopeless odds. The crypt full of women, children and those that can’t fight like Tyrion, Varys, Sansa and Gilly is compromised when the Night King pulls the same mic drop from Hardhome and raises all the dead to replenish his forces, including the long deceased down below. Jorah fights with everything he has to keep Dany from dying and even she manages to help out surprisingly well with a weapon. Drogon and Rhaegal have been driven from the fight thanks to prior wounds. Theon, as mentioned earlier, dies.
All of what I’m describing happens during this track of music. In fact it’s so good, in spite of my misgivings over its accompanying episode, I bought the track on iTunes and you can have a listen through this link to YouTube.
This song belongs to Watertower Music and HBO and was composed by Ramin Djawadi
Let’s now delve into a moment that will be called either one of the best or worst moments in the show: Arya coming out of pretty much nowhere and attacking the Night King. Of course, The Night King’s reflexes has him grab her quickly, but not quick enough for Arya’s Bravoosi training to let her drop her Valyrian dagger and stick it right in his gob. BOOM. The White Walkers all fall down.
I clapped as hard as I could when she did that. Arya is one of my favorite characters and having her, not Jon, be the one to do it was a welcome surprise. Many will call foul on how exactly she snuck past the other white walkers and KO’d the deadliest character in the series. I do appreciate how the episode has us focus on everyone else’s plight and allowing us to forget about what Arya’s doing, which is where the surprise comes into play.
People will also be annoyed that the most dreaded threat in the entire series, if not the entire mythos is finished with three episodes left to go. Of course there’s still Cersei and I’m not entirely convinced there is nothing left to extrapolate when it comes to the Dead’s place in the story. But yes, despite Arya’s AWESOME manner in taking him down, The Night King’s defeat this soon still leaves me feeling a little…off.
There is so much to love and remember positively in The Long Night. It’s everything else that doesn’t work or could’ve been handled better that leaves me feeling torn. Of course, there are still three extra long episodes to hopefully resolve some of those gripes.
The telling plot armor of the survivors is unavoidably jarring and no amount of visual and directional craft in creating one of the most harrowing battle sequences ever can make up for it.
I don’t mind and actually appreciate those who did not survive but just a little more of that GOT death “shock and awe” could’ve left us with a masterpiece we would never forget.