Obviously, there are massive spoilers ahead for Season 8 Episode 3.
There are many stories from Westerosi history that set up parallels to the events in the Game of Thrones series. Probably one of the most important is the Long Night, a period during winter thousands of years ago when seemingly eternal darkness covered the land. Thousands died, but the Children of the Forest and the First Men banded together to push back the Others and were successful, leading to the building of things such as the Wall and the creation of the White Walkers to ensure a tragedy like that would never happen again.
It was certainly a period of seemingly eternal darkness in this week's episode of Game of Thrones, which finally depicted the long-awaited Battle of Winterfell. It didn't last nearly as long as the Long Night of myth, but it felt like it thanks to the expanded runtime and the nighttime setting.
It makes sense that the battle would be dark since this takes place at night and lighting isn't exactly prevalent here. That being said, it made watching Episode 3 an exercise in trying to follow the action. Was that person who just fell in battle important? Is Brienne still alive or is that wight eating her?
Watching Episode 3 is an exercise in trying to follow action without light.
The production team did a great job in some parts, using the void of darkness to raise stakes and create tension. The beginning sequence where the Dothraki ride in with their flaming swords, only to have them go out one by one is a genius way of using what little you have to great effect. However, it's so distracting trying to navigate all the scenes, so it's tough to enjoy the longest battle in TV or film history. A technical feat of this nature shouldn't be bogged down by something as small as lighting. You should be able to see the thing being filmed!
But things also happened. People died. Some came close. This was the Battle of Winterfell and of course, we were going to get some movement towards the finale. It just might've been too rushed, brushing over ideas that would've made it feel more complete.
It takes 10 minutes for the battle to even get started. The camera pans over each familiar face, no dialogue is spoken, and the audio track remains silent. Everybody lines up in position, staring off into the dark landscape beyond Winterfell.
The battle finally begins when Melissandre, finally arriving on a horse from wherever she's been, uses magic to set the Dothraki's swords aflame. They go charging out, only to be knocked down almost completely by the wights.
The rest of the episode is filled with moments like this of total despair. The living set a trap right outside Winterfell, but the wights just throw themselves into the fire to give the ones behind them the room to continue. They start climbing on top of each other to get over the walls, easily overrunning everybody. A giant just knocks his way in and crushes Lyanna Mormont (although she's able to stab him in the eye on her way out).
We're shown numerous shots of our heroes just... exhausted — panting and grunting as they take down wave after wave of the dead. The Night King does what everybody thought he would do and raises the dead, including some of our fallen, like Lyanna, and it feels like the end of the world.
The episode enjoys taking its time when it needs to. There are moments of stillness that put the focus back on the characters. Tyrion and Sansa hiding behind a tomb, for example, as wights break out of the walls and start attacking is a beautiful moment, with the two sharing an unspoken need to protect their people, even if it meant looking into the eyes of death, as well as mutual respect. The music cues, including a longer one with soft, slow music as everybody faces what is sure to be the end, are all executed well here.
The episode enjoys taking its time when it needs to, but it's bogged down by arbitrary setpieces.
Unfortunately, these moments are bogged down by arbitrary setpieces to take important elements out of the equation. Jon and Daenerys, who are riding on the backs of Drogon and Rhaegal, seem to keep getting lost on their way to the battle. The dragon's fire is helpful in a lot of cases, but they're just not around enough to be useful. They get lost in a wintery mix for quite a while, and Daenerys disappears completely for about 20 minutes (I wasn't counting).
The dragons do get to go up against Viserion, their brother turned ice zombie dragon. It's a moment we've been waiting for, but there aren't any emotional stakes. You would think seeing the equivalent of your child in this state would be distressing for Daenerys, but it's never mentioned. They just fight.
Overall, Jon and Daenerys don't do much of anything. Even the Night King can stand up to dragon fire (for whatever reason), so their only weapon is useless. Was their only strategy to just find the Night King when the dragons can just kill off all the dead? Instead, the answer to everything came in the form of Arya Stark.
Arya spent the majority of the episode not on the front lines but doing a damn good job at defending the back. She's taking down wights, saving the Hound, and putting that weapon Gendry built to good use. She gets a great sequence that basically recreates the velociraptor scene from Jurassic Park. At some points, it looks like even Winterfell's greatest assassin is going to lose.
Things seem done for just about everyone. The dragons failed; the defenses failed; the armies failed; the Night King and his "Night Court" are descending upon Bran. Theon Greyjoy is the last one standing and is able to finally complete his redemption arc, charging in to slaughter the Night King only to get stabbed himself. He got the validation he needed from Bran though and got to defend his "home," so it was a fitting death for the one we used to call Reek.
"Stick them with the pointy end."
As the Night King approaches Bran and pulls out his weapon, however, Arya runs screaming in from behind. He's able to knock the weapon out of her hand but she catches it and shoves it into his abdomen, killing him and all the other wights and White Walkers in one fell swoop.
The Battle of Winterfell was a series of arbitrary plot movements that happened one after the other, and that's especially apparent here. Was Bran distracting the Night King? How did nobody notice Arya? Does it matter when the catharsis was so great? That's up to the viewer.
"The Long Night" shows the audience that earlier season plot points regarding prophecies and the Lord of Light don't matter. Everybody needs to go where they need to for plot purposes and things happen because they need to. Any tension regarding the White Walkers is swept away in seconds after Arya's final blow and it all feels unceremonious. Winter was coming for so long and now it's just over in one episode.
But Arya's move makes sense, at least a bit more than the rest of it.
Earlier in the episode, Arya gives Sansa a dagger and tells her to "stick them with the pointy end," echoing a piece of advice Jon gave her in Season 1. Later in the episode, Melissandre reminds Arya of what we say to the God of Death ("not today"). All of the moments in Arya's life came to a head in that end moment, so there was no better person to take down the Night King than her. And all she had to do was use that "pointy end" to do it.
Questions we want answered
- Will we find out what the White Walkers wanted?
- Are we going to care about the political intrigue now that the real war is over?
- We didn't see the fate of some supporting characters, including Gilly and Grey Worm. What happened?
- What does the battle mean for Daenerys' hold on Winterfell? How does Sansa respond?
- Is Arya getting some kind of medal for this?
Who died this episode?
- Eddison Tollett The good brother of the Night's Watch was the first to die, stabbed while defending Sam.
- Lyanna Mormont She went out defending her people and stabbing a giant in the eye, taking him down with her.
- Beric Dondarrion He had already died dozens of times, but this time stuck.
- Jorah Mormont He died while defending Daenerys in the final moments of the battle. Appropriately, he died in her arms.
- Theon Greyjoy Dies defending Bran against the Night King.
- Melissandre She walks into the sunrise, takes off the necklace that kept her young, and dies in the snow, her mission complete.
- Thousands of Dothraki, Unsullied, and Winterfell warriors.
- Millions upon millions of wights, the Night King, and all the rest of the White Walkers.
- It's disappointing that the White Walkers did go down that easily when they're supposed to be the biggest threat to Westeros. Considering we never find out what they wanted and how this factors into all the myths we've heard about them, the end rings hollow. Truly we are rushing towards the finale.
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