The Battle of Winterfell was a dark episode — literally — and at times felt too exhausting to take in. Still, it had one of the more satisfactory payoffs in the entire series. Maybe it’s not all that surprising that the character responsible for one of my favorite moments also delivered tonight.
I get what Director Miguel Sapochnik was going for with the low light and endless blacks, basically an action horror episode of Game of Thrones. The walkers have always been terrifying and seemingly unstoppable. Add in an almost complete lack of visibility and they become even more threatening. But, Hardhome featured a more impressive visual battle in the sense that the action was easy to follow.
Frequently the action felt so chaotic and hard to make out it was best to wait for the prolonged focus on characters to see if any favorites were in jeopardy. The walkers traveled like coked-up zombies like 28 Days Later and it’s not like they were polite enough to wear team colors to make it easier to distinguish them from the human characters. Sapochnik definitely accomplished that feeling of a frantic, unpredictable battle scene to the point it felt like I was in on the action, but I would have liked the action 80 percent more if it took part at dawn.
There was no need to build up for the battle. The calm before the storm last week covered the dread and apprehension nicely. There was a slight surge in optimism when Melisandre arrived and lit the Dothraki’s weapons aflame. That didn’t last long as they entered the darkness and one by one their lights burned no more. This was easily the most effective use of the nighttime setting and firmly established the underdog status of Jon and Dany’s crew. Jaime was understandably shook after watching how quickly the Dothraki took out his army. To see them wiped out so quickly was not a good sign.
At least Jorah survived the first onslaught. No words were needed. Time for the second wave. Grey Worm and his Unsullied fared somewhat better, but the walkers were near the Winterfell gates in no time. This was discouraging, but it was part of the plan as Jon and Dany were going to take their dragons to light the trench. It wasn’t a great plan though. The Night King kicked up a blizzard effectively blinding Jon and Dany. Good thing Melisandre showed up as she lit the wood and got the trench barricade up. Hi-fives all around. Go team!
Hey what’s The Night King doing? Oh, he ordered some walkers to smother the flames while the rest of the horde climbed over them. Hmmn. What’s the next plan guys? What do you mean that was it? We got a little Helm’s Deep action as Jaime, Brienne led the charge to repel the walkers scaling the walls, but eventually that fell too. Time for a well calculated retreat. We lose a pair of longtime characters here as Ed gets killed trying to motivate Sam to fight and Lyanna Mormont, who goes out like a gangster killing the giant before succumbing to her wounds.
To keep from getting bored, the Night King attacked Jon and Dany with his dragon. This could have been a really thrilling sequence, but again it was too dark to truly make out what was happening.
Back inside Winterfell, Arya was using her special moves to take out a ton of walkers with the spear she had fashioned. Good thing she was one of the few fighters capable of using the dragon glass effectively. Soon, she gets overrun and we get a real horror movie sequence with Arya trying to evade a stalking horde. The timing of this felt a little off as it seemed like there should be about 212 more walkers going after her at this point. Arya manages to escape long enough to get rescued by The Hound and Beric.
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Beric got stabbed several times trying to give Arya and The Hound time to get away. They pull him into a chamber where he finally dies for good. No resurrections this time. Melisandre plays hype man and asks Arya what does she say to death. “Not today.” Melisandre’s cold stare at Arya earlier in the episode had me worried about her prospects of survival this episode.
Jon closes in on The Night King after he fell from his dragon. Before he can get there, Dany orders a plate of flaming Night King and her dragon helpfully obliges. Nope, this meat’s still frozen. The Night King, being a full on bastard, smirks and starts tossing spears. Jon runs over to end it, but The Night King dials up his Contra code and resurrects everyone who’s fallen so far in the battle. Oh and everyone at Winterfell who’s dead…including everyone buried in the crypts where the women, children, senior citizens and non fighters like Tyrion and Varys are chilling.
We need a hero! Could it be Jon who doesn’t back down and keeps swinging and chopping away? Or Dany who lights a path for Jon with her dragon, but makes the boneheaded move of landing allowing walkers to overtake her? Maybe it’s Theon who’s protecting Bran. Theon pulls a Boromir and kills a slew of walkers until The Night King struts in with his generals.
From the Stark turncoat to the last defender standing, Theon has endured a lot but even this won’t be the worst thing that’s happened to him. Bran thanks him and calls Theon a good man. If only his family could see him now! Theon charges, but The Night King casually disarms him and uses his own spear to kill Theon.
Winterfell, we’ve got a problem. The Night King is about to kill Bran. Jon is playing peek-a-boo with The Night King’s ice dragon, Jorah and Dany are overwhelmed, Jaime and Brienne are pinned against the walls against the hordes and Sansa and Tyrion are playing the hardest game of statues ever. Just as The Night King reaches for his sword, Arya dives in with the Bran tribute of coming from a tree. The Night King’s reaction skills are a +1,987 and he catches her, but Arya drops her dagger to her right hand and plunges it into his chest. The Night King and all his forces turn to ice crystals/die for good this time.
Arya did it. She saved everyone. Good thing hooking up with Gendry had the opposite effect on Arya than it does a boxer or everyone would have been dead. While The Night King’s army is defeated there’s still a few more casualties. Jorah can’t hold out any longer and dies in Dany’s arms. Satisfied that her mission is complete, Melisandre walks into the battlefield, casually drops her cloak and pendant and dies of old age. Clearly she wasn’t happy with the Winterfell retirement package.
I did a friendly wager with my dad and brother about the significant character body count and it was well under my seven. We didn’t lose nearly as many characters as I figured for such an important battle. I suppose we had to save some of them to join the fight against Cersei?
The Long Night wasn’t quite as epic as it could have been largely because it was too blasted hard to see anything for most of the 90-minute run time. Still, the truly epic moment this episode nearly made up for a hard to follow major battle.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Photo Credit: HBO