The following is a spoiler-filled review of the third episode of the eighth and final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Expect spoilers for the episode in the review.
In the third episode of the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, the Dothraki, the Unsullied, the men of the North, and two dragons defend Winterfell from the Army of the Dead, the Night King, and the dragon-wight. It is the battle we’ve all been waiting for. But, I have to say, to me, the episode was surprisingly underwhelming.
Over the course of the next few days, you’re going to be seeing dozens of YouTube videos or online articles about who died in the battle for Winterfell. They are going to be absolutely necessary because it was impossible to make heads or tails of the big things in this episode. Confusing editing choices, extremely dark visuals, too much slow-motion — I was extremely frustrated by some of the decisions behind the look of this episode.
Things were extremely unclear in this much hyped-up episode, which, eventually, gave us an intense build-up to a battle that was anxious but which included surprisingly inconsequential character deaths. It is a big problem that you have to look up who died when you just watched a feature film length episode that was meant to indicate what happened fairly clearly. From what I can gather, we lost Jorah, Edd, Lyanna, Beric, Melisandre, and Theon tonight. Theon and Jorah’s arcs had run their course, and they both got fairly satisfying moments as the infuriating Bran accepted Theon into this family, while Jorah died defending the woman he loved. Were it not for the fact that Theon died in showy slow-motion, these character endings would’ve worked wonderfully to me.
Melisandre and Beric were there to give us some light in this episode and to protect and guide Arya Stark towards the Night King. But I thought Melisandre’s death missed the mark. I thought her involvement was inadequate, even though I loved it when she lit the swords and the trenches. Why did I love this so much? It’s simple, really. It meant we were finally able to tell what was happening. It also led to the chilling shot of the Dothraki swords ‘going out’ and being engulfed by darkness.
Now, I honestly really like that Arya Stark was the character to take out the Night King and the Army of the Dead. It made sense for Jon Snow to be the one to take out his nemesis, but Game of Thrones subverted our expectations wonderfully here by having Arya Stark seal the blue eyes of the devilish Night King forever. It felt right to me, even though it is frustrating that Jon Snow was brought back from the dead only to not get the moment it certainly seemed like they had been building towards.
However, I do think it was slightly anticlimactic. It isn’t a new idea that when you take out the main villain all of his lieutenants and his underlings fall with him, but it is slightly frustrating precisely because it feels too easy for the ‘war with winter’ to end so soon. Sure, Game of Thrones is a story about the battle for the Iron Throne — the plans, the alliances, and the scheming — but it feels like all of the prophecies, the religions, and the mythology was an attempt to mislead us.
That may be a discussion for another day, so let’s return to the battle itself, which did give me one absolutely devastating moment. The death of Lyanna Mormont wrecked me. When she was knocked aside by the wight giant, I was distraught. When she was crushed, I was heartbroken. When she stabbed the wight in the eye, I cheered. This, other than the Arya moment, was the moment of the episode for me.
But given that the last two episodes forced us to consider that these might’ve been the last moments we had with Jaime, Brienne, Jon, Dany, Sansa, and so on and so forth together, I was particularly underwhelmed and disillusioned by this surprisingly tame result. It may sound like I have bloodlust since I am disappointed by the lack of major character deaths, but I think it’s more of a case of the show losing its way and forgetting what made it stand out. Plot armor is way too significant in Game of Thrones nowadays.
So while I was thrilled that Jaime Lannister, Brienne, Sansa, Tyrion, and Arya made it out alive, I was disappointed with how the episode toyed with us. Time and time again we would cut to Brienne, Jaime, Tormund, or Grey Worm being overwhelmed by wights or, basically, being drowned by them. But they never died. Somehow they made it out alive. Somehow Sam didn’t die, even though he wept for the entirety of the episode and showed absolutely no skill in combat.
I am also extremely frustrated by Bran Stark. This is a deadpan character that has been particularly infuriating this season, and, in this episode, we did see him warg into a raven, but the purpose was tough to comprehend. What did Bran actually do in The Long Night? Your guess is as good as mine.
The much-anticipated dragon fights in this episode also left me disappointed. I thought it made a lot of sense that Jon and Dany had a tough time navigating in winter, but when the dragons started to fight each other it was extremely annoying to me that I never knew what dragon was doing what. It also wasn’t clear to me if Rhaegal the dragon died or not. I will say, though, that some of the shots were amazing. For example, the shots of dragon fire in the background, while we were up, close, and personal with the soldiers on the frontlines was incredible.
However, I realize that I’m being a bit of a Debbie Downer in this review, so to speak. I know that there is a lot of excitement about the intensity and the anxiety of the battle for good reason. I know that some people are already calling this a great moment in the history of fictional television entertainment. While I’ll concede that the battle itself is an achievement insofar as it is incredible that we’re getting this on television, I’m not convinced that the episode itself worked, in part because of the lackluster editing and lighting of the aforementioned battle.
Also, though I’m thrilled for Maisie Williams and her character, I am frustrated by the way they handled multiple other characters in this episode, including Jon and Daenerys who both felt far too insignificant in this episode. I am disappointed with the anticlimactic end to the Night King-storyline. We never really got a good grasp of why the Night King was fighting. All we got was a vague explanation in the previous episode. I hate to say it, but even though it had some breathtaking frames Game of Thrones botched the great battle for Winterfell-episode that they had been talking about for months. Surprisingly gutless and much too dark, The Long Night was an intense achievement to be admired but, as an episode of television in a glorious fantasy series based on deep lore, I thought it was missing some key ingredients.
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.