Over the course of seven seasons, we’ve watched the Night King and his Army of the Dead lurk within the shadows of Game of Thrones. The ominous threat that distracted us from the politics and drama of Westeros. A force that could care less about crowns, family loyalties, Red Weddings, or people with no face. The Night King had one objective and one objective only… darkness, and we’ve been enamored by the mystique and power of this entity ever since we laid eyes on him deep behind The Wall. This would be king of the night, created by the Children of the Forest to battle the corrupt hearts of man, held an unquestionable power over the narrative. A constant “yeah, but…” that overshadowed Daenerys’s claim to the Iron Throne or Jon Snow’s parents. The Night King is a punishment for temptation and taking the beauty and magic of the world for granted. The Children of the Forest thrust him upon an unworthy world much like an Old Testament God would create a flood or a plague. The Night King is a cleansing of the unworthy and selfish, and for seven seasons he’s waited and bought his time stealing bastard sons and destroying villages as if to remind us that he’s out there. Waiting. This is not just a horror story that Old Nan told to scare the Stark children, this was a reality. Much like Thanos, the Night King was inevitable. A reality that came crashing down upon the walls of Winterfell in a wave of undead.
Jon Snow has long since preached to the ears of anyone who was willing to listen that the Great War was coming. Having looked into the eyes of the Night King, Jon saw the promise of the Long Night and it scared him. It scared him more than Mance Rayder or Ramsay Bolton because those conflicts meant nothing in the long run. All they served was weakening the defenses of man as the Night King amassed his Army of the Dead. It took Daenerys Targaryen and the loss of one of the world’s three remaining dragons to shift the tide. To gather a force to help make the last stand of man. In the North. At the start of winter. Jon Snow and Daenerys lead an army filled with Unsullied, Northerners, and Dothraki raiders in the hopes of preserving all of Westeros. The largest collection of characters in one location since the pilot episode drew their swords at Winterfell and readied to spill their blood.
The Battle of Winterfell, or “The Long Night”, arrived at last and it was unlike anything that had come before it. Game of Thrones has not been a stranger to epic battle pieces. We are long since removed from the time where battles would happen off screen and result in the capture of key characters. The Battle of the Black Water or the Battle of the Bastards were massive episodes and unlike anything else that was put on a television screen. These were Braveheart type scenarios playing out over the course of an hour that expanded what we could expect from this universe or from television. “The Long Night” took the foundation of what came before and created something truly spectacular. A long, sustained battle that took over fifty days to film and lasted over eighty minutes. Miguel Sapochnik’s tireless direction and ambition takes the Battle of Winterfell and propels it to exceed not only expectations but anything that has come before it in any medium. A battle that rivals Helms Deep in every possible way, but focused on the importance of character within the spectacle.
“The Long Night” is simply extraordinary. Wracked with tension and so deeply atmospheric that it’s almost impossible to not feel you’re outside the gates of Winterfell. While the lack of light has served as a complaint from many it’s hard not to believe that this wasn’t an intentional choice. The inability to distinguish characters or what exactly is happening not only adds to the chaos and the tension but makes you feel a part of the experience. “Was that Greyworm?!” “Does anyone have eyes on Tormund?!” “What the hell just happened?!” Suddenly these questions are swirling through your viewing party as the living try not to join the ranks of the dead. It’s a bold choice and one that helps to further the narrative. This isn’t Hardhome or under the backdrop of wildfire at Blackwater Bay. No, this is Winterfell. The North. During winter. We’re fighting to prevent the Long Night. The lack of visibility feeds into the delirium of the battle and leaves you dizzy and hoping for a reprieve.
That’s another area where the episode succeeds, pacing. A sustained battle for eighty straight minutes would burn out your audience and suddenly it loses its impact, but Sapochnik uses well-timed breaks to slow down the action and center us with our characters. Scenes like Arya in the library or Sansa in the tombs doesn’t take away from the severity of events but allows them to breathe and seem more important. This is a massive battle with a million micro battles being fought in-between. Jamie and Brienne on the wall. Theon protecting Bran by the weirwood. These may seem like breaks in the action but are devices to explore the true depth of this battle. The scope is just breathtaking and while it’s easy to get lost in the slashing and the death we are constantly reminded that there are characters we very deeply care about risking their lives for everything.
That’s the true strength of “The Long Night”. You’ll notice that there isn’t a great deal of dialogue here outside of battle orders and Sansa and Tyrion’s possible troublesome conversation in the tombs. Everything else is mostly battle and tension and the cast delivers such strong performances. Jorah doesn’t utter one word to Daenerys when he comes to save her from the wights but because of Iain Glen’s brilliant performance, we know everything he’s doing is for love. For hope of a better future. That Jorah believes and loves Dany so deeply that he doesn’t need to explain that to her before he dies. His actions do the talking. This is the same with Theon who finally receives the redemption he justly deserves. Holding back the dead to protect Bran with a bow an arrow much like he did many years ago with the wildlings. Theon comes home, finds his courage, and accepts the death that awaits him at the hands of the Night King. Alfie Allen’s performance is tender and emotional as Theon finally finds his peace.
At the end of the day though, it was the Night King who had out planned them all. A master general on the battlefield, the Night King seemed to be one step ahead at all times. It didn’t matter that Jon knocked him off his dragon with our first dragon vs dragon air battle (which was bananas). It didn’t matter that Daenerys lit him up with dragon fire only to reveal a smirk opposed to ashes. The Night King was ready for just about everything and when there was a glimmer of hope for the living… he vanquished it with the raising of his arms. The Night King lived up to the hype and by all means, should have won this battle thrusting Westeros in darkness forever.
At vital points in the battle, Dany was without a dragon fighting side by side with the man she couldn’t ever love. Jon was trapped within the Winterfell square as a zombie dragon made it impossible for him to progress forward. All this time we have believed that it would be Jon who squared up to the Night King solidifying his legacy, but we should know better than to believe in what is expected when it comes to Game of Thrones.
Arya Stark, the little girl who water danced in King’s Landing, who traveled with the Black while pretending to be a boy, who has no name, and survived the loss of the virginity curse brought down the Night King in breath stealing fashion cementing her legacy as one of Thrones most treasured characters. Arya runs the gambit of emotions throughout “The Long Night”. We’ve been made to believe that Arya is so hardened and dead inside from her Westeros travels, but here we’re served a reminder… she’s still just a girl. A girl who was as scared as anyone else running through the halls of Winterfell trying to survive. It serves as a very human reminder that Arya isn’t a cyborg and that there’s still traces of the girl who sneakily shot arrows better than her brother somewhere inside her.
But it’s Melisandre who really serves as the catalyst for Arya’s big moment. Returning from the shadows with an MVP performance, Melisandre reminds Arya of life’s most simple lesson. What do we say to the God of death?
Not today, and with that Arya is off our screens and out of our minds as we get swept up with battle before us. Swept up by Ramin Djawadi’s beautiful score that plays like a nightmare version of the “Light of the Seven”. And then, right as it seems that Night King has secured his victory, Arya jumps from the shadows and performs the same knife flip she used when sparring with Brienne, with the knife meant to kill her brother, and the battle is over. The White Walkers are no more. The Night King is dead. Our seven season-long threat is destroyed seemingly without the payoff we expected, but his impact can’t be denied.
“The Long Night” brought its casualties. We were forced to say goodbye to Theon, Jorah, Lady Mormont, Ed, Melisandre (who fades into the sunrise), and Beric Dondarrion who served his purpose for the Lord of Light by protecting Arya. The living has won but with a tremendous cost. While it’s easy to think that Cersei is small potatoes after killing the White Walkers, the North and Daenerys are seriously outmatched and their victory celebration can only last so long. That’s where the Night King’s legacy will live on with whether or not his war will greatly impact the fight for the Iron Throne. Because it’s now on to King’s Landing, and Cersei has shown us that she’s just as surgical as the Night King when it comes to making decisions. The Great War is over and now we find ourselves on the precipice of the last war.
There you have it Geeklings, what did you think of the Battle of Winterfell? Were you surprised so many people survived? Did it live up to your expectations? Sound off in the comments or if you’d like to talk more Game of Thrones with yours truly you can find me over on Twitter @iamgeek32. There’s a lot to discuss and I am here for you Geeklings. I’ll see you all here next week with another episode review as this final season draws closer to the ending. I have a feeling we’re being set up for some serious heartbreak here. Stay strong my friends. The night is dark and full of terrors… and we’ll get through them together.