SYNOPSIS: Winterfell fights the Army of the Dead.
Spoilers ahead for Season 8!
In a lot of ways, this is the episode that Game of Thrones fans have been waiting for since the very beginning. From that first brief glimpse of a white walker in the prologue, everyone wanted to know more about those strange icy beings from beyond the wall. When the armies of Westeros finally came face to face with the armies of the Night King, surely nothing good would come of it. Though this episode had a few compelling moments, it did not compare to the previous 2 episodes in terms of the amount of heart and storytelling it provided. Even compared to previous battle-heavy episodes it just didn’t measure up.
One major criticism of this episode is that it was just too dark to tell what was happening. This applies to previous episodes as well, it’s not a new issue for Game of Thrones, but because viewers were so concerned about who might live or die this time around I think it was more of a pressing issue. Choosing to stage this fight in the middle of the night was interesting, and added more of a sense of foreboding to an already dire situation. It wound up creating a lot of uncertainly about who was injured, dead, living, undead, etc. At several points I thought characters were dead and was surprised to see they survived the fight.
When it comes to fantasy battles, I live for the moments of group strategizing. There was none of this in the episode, and I found it really unsatisfying. Not only was it too dark to see what was happening, but I had no idea what the general plan was. Why wasn’t there a contingency plan to fight the Night King’s dragon, Viserion? Surely some large obsidian arrow heads could have been crafted, something! It also seemed really silly that people were shocked an army of undead beings would throw themselves on a fire. Zombies don’t care a great deal about self preservation. It is known.
My biggest gripe with the episode, however, is the Night King’s final moments. No one could ever deny the awesomeness of Arya’s kill, there was something truly epic about that. Regardless of that, I felt empty knowing that the army of the dead was gone. I don’t know what they wanted. I don’t understand their relationship to the Three Eyed Raven. Now, it’s plausible that we will never know. Perhaps this is something the showrunners elected to relegate to the pages of the book series. Though I can appreciate that choice on some level, it makes the final stand of the Night King feel a bit cheap.
I couldn’t help but compare this battle to the recent skirmish at Hardhome, or the earlier battle at the Wall with the Wildlings. I felt that both of these sequences provided more strategy, more emotionally charged tension, and of course better lighting. The pacing feels like it fights itself in The Long Night, by taking very deliberate breaks from the action to spend time with the non-fighters like Sansa and Tyrion.
Where does the show go from here? We’re truly in uncharted territory at this point, but after the battle with the dead went a bit too perfectly, I worry that the shocks and surprises associated with Game of Thrones have disappeared. It seems as though Danaerys will go to King’s Landing, Cersei will fall, and someone who’s a crowd favorite will take over the Iron Throne. There’s a lot of uncertainty about who that may be, since far more people survived the onslaught of the Night King than anticipated. After defeating a seemingly unbeatable force, it’s hard to find Cersei and Euron frightening.
Only 3 episodes remain, and at this point I am highly skeptical of how the show will wrap up. At the very least I hope I can see it without adjusting the brightness on my television.
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