Hello everyone, and welcome again to the great Christopher & Nikki Game of Thrones co-blog, in which we recap and review each episode in exhaustive (and exhausting) detail for you as they happen. We’re now at the halfway point in the endgame, with only three more episodes left to go this season … but this one was a particular blockbuster, the quantifiably most epic fantasy battle ever brought to any screen, large or small. This episode was the product of fifty-five days of filming–at night, in the cold. So whatever one’s opinion of the end result is, I think we really need to give it up for the cast and crew who put themselves through seven kinds of hell to bring this thing to fruition.
Nikki: As soon as the episode was over, you and I immediately began texting back and forth wondering how the hell we were going to cover this episode. I think our best idea was just to film separate videos of us crying… then cut to laughing… then cut to sitting motionless over a bowl of popcorn with our mouths half open, and then splice the videos together. Because honestly, how do you put this episode into words?? In a nutshell, we didn’t lose nearly as many people as I thought we would (there was a moment in the episode when I went from believing half of the people would die to ALL of them dying and that the war at King’s Landing would be fought against undead versions of all of Cersei’s closest enemies to wondering if anyone was going to die), and there’s a spectacular fist-punch-to-the-air ending that sort of made up for any deaths we did encounter.
First, I’ll bring up the obvious: the episode is called “The Long Night,” and throughout the episode I couldn’t help but think of Melisandre’s constant refrain: “The night is dark and full of terrors.” Let’s put the emphasis on DARK. It’s meant to be dark, I’ll give it that, and they wanted to put us in the position of being as confused and lost as everyone else is in that moment—it’s part of the disorientation we’re meant to feel. But holy COW that screen was dark. Not even the fire swords allowed me to be able to tell who was who and what was happening. Again, I understand they wanted us to be discombobulated, but at some point you sacrifice realism for entertainment. For the first time watching this show I insisted on every light being off (for once I didn’t take notes on first viewing) and even then, there was a hall light and I swore it was FAR TOO BRIGHT because everything was so dark.
But that’s a very, very minor nitpick. Because this episode was fucking spectacular.
Let’s open with the credits! As I told a friend of mine last night, what you readers at home don’t know about behind the scenes of me writing these is that I’m contending with a husband who likes to fastforward through the credits. So every episode usually begins with me throwing pillows at him and wrestling him for the remote. This season he’s given up. Last night he was wrangling to get the kids to bed and I was yelling, “Four minutes until it begins!!” and he yelled back down, “The opening credits will give me an extra 10 minutes!” Blasphemer.
The blocks of blue ice this week come right up to the threshold of Winterfell, and while the battlements were in place in the previous episode, they look more fortified in this one. One thing that was decidedly different: when the camera swoops into the crypts of Winterfell and glides along the floor, suddenly all the torches went out one by one. So of course, I was terrified for everyone in the crypts right from the credit sequence. (At King’s Landing, by the way, nothing in the credit sequence had changed except for Cersei sitting out front on a lawn chair holding some binoculars while Dumbo snoozed nearby. No big.)
We then cut to Sam As All Of Us™, hands shaking, panting and whimpering, as he’s handed two daggers, one made of dragonglass. He moves through the Winterfell courtyard as the Unsullied go by in that weird march that looks like they’ve got sticks up their bottoms, and he passes by Tyrion, who now takes over this extraordinary opening scene. Theon pushes Bran’s wheelchair through the courtyard to the Godswood as Bran just stares creepily at Tyrion—because…Bran—and the imp grabs the essentials for battle (i.e. a flask of wine before he departs for the crypts) and the camera pans up after making the first cut of the episode and peers over the parapet of Winterfell to the Godswood, the first—and virtually only—splash of colour of the entire episode, save for the white-blue fire, the yellow-orange fire, and Sansa’s hair.
We watch the troops mobilize while the loud bass of the soundtrack thrummed like a heartbeat in this opening scene (seriously, composer Ramin Djawadi reached almost godlike levels scoring this episode) builds the anticipation until it’s almost excruciating. I LOVED this opening scene. Davos laying down the arrows, Sansa and Arya waiting on the parapet, Arya clutching her new weapon, the scream of the dragons as Jon and Daenerys fly over them, the Unsullied marching to their positions, the camera slowly panning over that GORGEOUS tableau of all the soldiers standing in perfect lines. The Dothraki and other horse riders holding the front line. Brienne, Jaime, and Podrick… Tormund, Beric, Gendry, Tollett, and the Hound all holding the second ground troop line. Sam pushing his way to the front of that one to an eyerolling Tollett: “Oh fer fuck’s sake… you took your time,” he says, uttering the first words of the episode at the six-minute mark. He speaks for all of us in this moment: we’ve waited SO LONG for this moment, to watch all of these people finally display the skills they’ve spent eight years developing.
And then… silence. Horses pawing at the ground. Ser Jorah on his horse, looking worried. Ghost pawing the dirt beside him. (OMG GHOST STAY SAFE.) Jon and Dany sit with the dragons perched on a hillside. I kept thinking are you guys going to enter the fray or wait until everyone is slaughtered??!! But perhaps the dragons have a limited amount of fire and they needed to wait until the exact right time? As auntie and nephew stand on the hill, it was difficult to gauge if their tension was due to what they were waiting for on the grounds below, or what had just happened between them. Or a little of column A, a little of column B.
And then… a solitary rider arrives and approaches Ser Jorah. And it’s… Melisandre. The Red Woman. And I cheered. This is the first we’ve seen her this season, and this is a character who’s secondary, but who has been the engineer behind SO many things that have happened on this show. In her bid to get Stannis on the throne because she believed he was the one true king, she killed Renly Baratheon, helped head up the ill-fated Battle of the Blackwater, killed Stannis’s daughter Shireen, and when Shireen actually died (she thought she’d survive being burned at the stake) Melisandre realized she’d been following the wrong king, and she switched her sights to Jon Snow. When Jon was killed, it was Melisandre who resurrected him, believing him now to be the person she once thought Stannis was. Earlier in the series she had run into Arya when she kidnapped Gendry so she could bleed him for the Baratheon blood she needed for a spell, and she looked into Arya’s eyes and saw the faces of the people Arya would kill, and promised Arya they’d see each other again. So we knew she had to return, and here she is. And with one spell, she lights up the Dothraki weapons, not only giving our fearless warriors a leg up on this war, but finally shedding some goddamn light on that dark, dark field. The scene of the swords all lighting up is nothing short of spectacular (I can only imagine the domino-like choreography that went into getting THAT one right!).
“Valar morghulis,” she says to Grey Worm as she trots by on her horse. All men must die. “Valar dohaeris,” he responds. All men must serve.
Melisandre enters Winterfell in what must be the most fabulous robe she’s worn yet, and Ser Davos rushes down from his perch. He’s had one goal in his life for the past few years, and it’s to end the woman who ended the little girl he loved. “There’s no need to execute me, Ser Davos,” she says. “I’ll be dead before the dawn.” And, knowing she seems to see things others can’t, he moves aside to let her pass. Might as well let a walker take her, so her death isn’t on his conscience. She sees Arya again, and perhaps she sees in her face the faces of those Arya is going to kill, and with a look of satisfaction, Melisandre enters the castle.
I want to mention how many times in this episode it pulled back to an overhead shot of the sheer scope of the battle and it was utterly gorgeous. I kept thinking throughout the episode how lucky we are to have been rewarded as fans with such a stunning episode.
As the Dothraki charge into battle, their fire swords light up the world around them as Jon and Daenerys sit on the cliff, like Greek gods watching the men fight below them. And that’s when the horse riders hit… the undead.
Christopher: Do they ever. And however beautiful and haunting that sequence is—all those points of light riding into the darkness only to be silently snuffed out—all I could really think was “Way to waste the Dothraki!” I know they live on horseback and consider fighting on foot ignominious, but I’m not entirely sure what use mounted soldiers have against an army of the undead. Militarily speaking, cavalry have three principal purposes: quick movement, to flank or harass foot soldiers; running down retreating infantry when they rout; and intimidating shaky or shaken enemies into breaking their line. None of these apply to the horde of ice zombies, who are too numerous to outflank, don’t retreat, and don’t get scared. It’s uncertain whether their charge was part of the battle plan (if so, fire whoever came up with THAT idea), or the Dothraki, always more inclined to impetuous attack, were emboldened by their newly flaming swords (sorry—their arakhs). Either way, half of Daenerys’ army is now gone, which does not bode well for the remaining battles to come.
ALSO. Not really liking the racial politics of this one—eliminating the Dothraki out of the gate, and then later on it’s the Unsullied who are tasked with covering the retreat into Winterfell? The soldiers from Essos seem to be shouldering the balance of sacrifice.
OK, end of griping. Aside from those concerns, I’m with you Nikki on how beautifully this episode was shot. Yes, it was dark, often to the point of obscuring the action, but as you say the confusion and chaos was part of the point, and the not-infrequent crane shots helped reorient ourselves. I’ve seen a few complaints online that Melisandre’s return was random and unexpected, but I disagree entirely—in fact, I’d say if she didn’t show up, that would be weird, because this battle is what she’s been waiting for all her much-longer-than-appearances-suggest life. What did we think she’s been doing all this time? Waiting and watching.
In spite of my annoyance at how the Dothraki are wasted, it did make for an incredibly tense few moments as the reality of what happened registers on everyone’s faces. A horde of Dothraki with flaming swords (arakhs) would normally itself be the stuff of nightmares, but their charge ended in less than a whimper. The assembled Winterfell forces watch in mounting horror as a tiny handful of riderless horses—and a few horseless riders—make their panicked way back to the lines, among them a haunted-looking Ser Jorah.
(But no Ghost? I was concerned about this, because if they were to kill Ghost offscreen I might be moved to violence. But never fear—we catch a glimpse of him in the trailer for episode 4).
Cut to Jon and Daenerys on their promontory, who have a brief disagreement on strategy. “The Night King is coming!” Jon says as Daenerys moves to mount Drogon. “The dead are already here,” she snaps back. One would have assumed they’d have figured out their priorities beforehand, but apparently not. And for what it’s worth, Daenerys seems to be vindicated, as when dragonfire makes its first explosive appearance on the battlefield, the troops are already hard pressed.
But before that moment … more tense waiting, made all the tenser by the guttural croaking of the approaching horde.
And then the tsunami of the dead crashes against the Unsullied. Speaking as a great fan of the zombie apocalypse genre, as well as someone who has written about it from a scholarly perspective, it is my professional opinion that ice zombies are the walking dead you want to face the LEAST. Were these the shambling ghouls of The Walking Dead, the Unsullied et al could stand against them for days. But here we have zombies who can not only sprint, but wield weapons. Not a happy combo for our brave heroes.
Indeed, mere minutes into the battle, it looks like the defenders are being overwhelmed. We get a fantastic action shot of Brienne bellowing “STAND YOUR GROUND!”, but even the newly knighted Lady of Tarth finds herself swamped. In a moment of narrative poetry, Jaime comes to her rescue; she has reverted to inarticulate screams of rage, reminding us of the final moments of her fight with the Hound when she brutally pummeled him with a rock as she made much the same noise.
And then … deus ex draconis, as Drogon swoops in and torches the front ranks of the dead and giving the defenders a brief reprieve. I loved this shot, as we’re with Jaime, who looks up in wonder, no doubt remembering the last time he encountered dragonfire on a battlefield. We cut up to Daenerys above the fray, and then down again to where Tormund is kicking ass and taking names, and then to where Sansa and Arya stand on the parapet, seeing for the first time just what a dragon can do. The look on Sansa’s face seems to say “OK, perhaps letting her be queen wouldn’t be all bad.”
But then Jon sees where the White Walkers have arrayed themselves at the treeline, and breaks off to attack. Not in itself a bad idea, except that the Night King’s not going to make it that easy—before he can bring them his warm greetings, a blinding storm sweeps in and envelops him.
And thus begins stage two of the battle … on the battlements, Arya twigs to the fact that shit just got real, and tells Sansa to head down to the crypts (remember: the safe place). Over Sansa’s protests, Arya hands her what looks like a dragonglass dagger. “I don’t know how to use it,” Sansa says, hesitant. “Stick ‘em with the pointy end,” says Arya, because OF COURSE SHE DOES. Full circle, people!
Meanwhile, the storm rolls over the ranks of the defenders, enveloping Daenerys and Drogon as well as they give the wights one last blast of fire. The people on the ground look about in the newly opaque air, realizing what Arya just did. Whatever relief from the assault the dragons gave them? Not so much now. And of course the icy mist descends also in the Godwood, where we see for the first time Theon and his merry men defending Bran. (Just as an aside, in the I-wish-I’d-thought-of-that department, my favourite pop culture critic at NPR, Glen Weldon, has dubbed him “Bran McGuffin.”) It’s just a moment—enough to obscure everyone gathered around the weirwood tree—but another of the many of the haunting and beautiful bits of camera work that make up this episode.
And then: a confused montage of our favourites. Jorah, unhorsed; Brienne; Tormund; Jaime; Podrick; Gendry; the Hound; and then, in quick succession, Jaime and Tormund getting jumped from behind, and then Sam—who looks to have been acquitting himself well—knocked down and nearly killed, but saved by Edd Tollett. And Edd, in rescuing Sam, becomes our first Death Of A Key Player, stabbed from behind.
In a brief and wordless interregnum, we follow Sansa as she makes her reluctant way down into the crypts (pausing and looking back for an ominous instant as she hears the door crash shut behind her). She walks into the midst of the people crowded into the space, exchanging a look first with Missandei, and then Tyrion. The wordless exchange with Tyrion is perfect: no words, but perfectly articulate. He asks how the battle is going. She replies, I’m down here now, aren’t I? And then Tyrion uncorks his wineskin and slugs back a drink because … well, because Tyrion.
Jon Snow, meanwhile, still seems to be in the first act of How to Train Your Dragon as he accidentally flies Rhaegal into some treetops. Of course, visibility is nil, which is why he and Daenerys collide, both almost falling off their rides. The storm has taken them away from where they need to be.
Back at the gates of Winterfell, phase three of the battle commences with the command to “Fall back!” Lyanna Mormont orders the gates opened, admitting a stream of bloodied and broken soldiers; the Unsullied form a rearguard to protect the retreat (again, I hope the racist Winterfellians take note), and we get yet another lovely crane shot of the retreating soldiers pouring through the gaps in the defenses and into the (relative) safety of Winterfell. Jon and Rhaegal find their way to the wall around the Godswood (looking like they did some damage to the masonry on landing), with Jon looking around, presumably, to see if the enemy has taken the bait.
Not yet. Back out on the battlefield, the Unsullied show their preternatural discipline, closing ranks against the undead and retreating one backward step at a time while the rest of Winterfell’s forces make their way behind its walls. And then Grey Worm sounds the retreat for the Unsullied, and gives the order to light the trench. Which doesn’t quite go as planned, initially …
Nikki: When Melisandre initially lit up the Dothraki arakhs, I thought to myself, “OOOH, fire melts ice!!!” But, of course, ice also extinguishes fire. This whole battle was like a game of rock/paper/scissors where someone decides to use a thumbs-up to represent dynamite and you never win. (That would be my son.) So as the ice of the white walkers has moved across the ground towards Winterfell, it’s turned the trench spears into icicles and the fire doesn’t touch them. It’s like watching someone try to light a cigarette when their lighter is almost out of fluid and it’s -40 outside, and they just flick and flick and flick. And that’s when Grey Worm sees the Red Woman stride out of the Winterfell gates, and he commands the Unsullied to rearrange themselves to allow her to pass. She holds onto the ice-covered log and begins chanting her spell as the Hound slices at the walkers, as the Unsullied try to hold the line, as the undead break through and begin reaching for her. She’s calm at first, then, as the spell doesn’t take, there’s a waver in her voice, and it’s only when she shouts the spell with absolute terror that the log she’s holding suddenly ignites, lighting the entire trench. It’s yet another magnificent moment of photography as we cut to the overhead picture of the trench as the ring of fire shoots around Winterfell, keeping the walkers out and the good guys in.
Of course, the Hound wishes they’d used anything other than fire.
And then… the white walkers just… stop. And stand there. They’ll wait.
Meanwhile, in the safe zone, Tyrion stands guard over the door while Varys cracks wise and Sansa just glares. Tyrion hates being down there. “If we were up there, we might see something everyone else is missing. Something that makes a difference.”
Tyrion spins around. “What? Remember the Battle of Blackwater? I brought us through the mudgate.”
“And got your face cut in half,” says Varys.
“And it made a difference,” Tyrion sneers. “If I was out there right now…”
“…you’d die,” says Sansa, and she says it in a way that suggests she’s happy he’s not out there right now. “There’s nothing you can do,” she says as kindly as she can.
And so he returns to the group, tossing aside an empty flask to pick up a new full one (ha!). Sansa says the people down there can’t do anything, that the most heroic thing they can do right now is look the truth in the face. “Maybe we should have stayed married,” he says.
“You were the best of them,” she remarks.
“What a terrifying thought!!” he says with some shock. But she’s not wrong: when compared to Joffrey Lannister, Ramsay Bolton, and Petyr Littlefinger, Tyrion was one of the good guys. But she adds that their marriage never would have worked because of his divided loyalties with the dragon queen.
“Yes,” Missandei pipes up, showing that EVERYONE is listening to this conversation. “Without the dragon queen there’d be no problem at all. We’d all be dead already.” Touché.
Back to the Godswood, Theon notices the trench has been lit, and tells Bran. Bran McGuffin (genius) turns silently and just stares at him. Theon completes another step of his 12-step program and tries to make amends with him, but Bran doesn’t allow him to. He says everything Theon has done has brought him home, to Winterfell. “I’m going to go now,” Bran says, as if he was ever really there, and then his eyes turn white and it’s Wargapalooza Time.
Cut to the ravens in the trees, who swoop over the battle as Bran’s personal drone system, and they fly into the blizzard, knowing only they can zero in on one thing: the Night King. And he senses Bran in them, and looking at them from atop Viserion’s back, he reaches out to them. He’s coming.
Back to the stoic walkers who continue to just stand there, and my husband and I are like, “They aren’t moving!! Shoot them with your arrows now, for god’s sakes, just mow them down!!” But everyone seems too confused to do a damn thing. Of course, once Monsieur Roi de la Nuit shows up, it’ll all be moot anyway so it didn’t really matter. But still.
And that’s when the undead begin throwing themselves on the pyre. At first it doesn’t make much sense until Ser Davos looks down the line and realizes they’re creating undead bridges for the other walkers to cross over. I always thought the Unsullied were the greatest warriors the world has ever seen, but when your forces have no brains and don’t really give a shit… wow. And then everyone moves inward to man the walls, as Jon looks up and sees the Night King arrive on Viserion.
The dead hit the walls and at first you’d think the guys on top have an advantage just by virtue of being above them, but it’s not long before the white walkers simply begin forming an inhuman chain up the side and climbing on top of each other, like a slower version of that scene in World War Z. Up on the parapets you now have many of the soldiers who’d just been holding the front lines: Jaime, Gendry, Tormund, Brienne, Jorah, Grey Worm, and the dead—in various states of deadness—begin climbing the walls as the entire horde behind them approaches VERY QUICKLY. Brienne begins just Monica Selesing her way through all of them as Sam sits on the ground whimpering and crying and realizing dead things or not, the crypts would have been the safer place. Did anyone else think Sam, why didn’t you just listen, because Tollett already died saving you and now Jaime’s having to focus on saving you instead of fighting the battle? I love you, Sam, but when Sansa said the most heroic thing they could do is admit they can’t help on the battlefield, I thought of you.
As Beric’s flaming sword slices through the army and the knights try to hold the parapet with limited success, we cut to the Hound standing in a doorway, breathing heavily and momentarily paralyzed, just as he was back in the Battle of Blackwater when faced with so much fire. “Clegane!!” yells Beric, who can’t reach him at all.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the courtyard parapet, Arya finally unleashes her amazing weapon and goes to town. I LOVED this scene. She seems almost invincible with this spear, using it exactly the way Jaqen H’ghar had taught her when he took her eyes from her. But soon there are too many of them. As Arya falls into the courtyard she sees (oh my heart) the undead version of Wun Wun, who died tragically at Winterfell when, riddled with arrows Saint Sebastian–style, Ramsay Bolton shot him in the right eye and killed him, prompting Jon to rush Ramsay and beat him to death with his bare hands.
Now Wun Wun has returned to the scene of where he died, and standing in the exact spot where he took his final breaths, he’s faced by the tiny but mighty… Lyanna Mormont. Whom he instantly flings aside as if she were a hamster.
We cut to Sandor Clegane, who tells Beric that they should just give up; there’s no winning this one. “We can’t beat them! Don’t you see that, you stupid whore? We’re fighting death. We can’t beat death.”
“Tell her that,” Beric says, as the Hound looks up and sees Arya fighting a horde of white walkers against the odds. Without a moment’s hesitation, the Hound races into battle to save the only person he’s ever cared about.
And back to Lyanna Mormont, who was not killed by the giant, but who instead stands up, her body broken, and, raising her dragonglass axe, she races at him in a hobbled way, screaming the whole way with so much determination my heart swelled. Wun Wun reaches down and grabs her like King Kong grabbing Fay Wray, and he squeezes her. We can see her armour denting inwards, and can imagine her ribs beginning to break one by one. My husband: “Well, she’s toast.” Me: “She’s going to die a hero. They know how much we need that.” She knows she’s not coming back from this one, but with her final ounce of strength she reaches up and stabs Wun Wun’s remaining eye with her dagger, and dies a beautiful, heroic death. I know some people probably thought she was a very minor character, but I adored Lyanna Mormont, and truly hoped she was part of the future of Westeros. I needed a moment after this one.
But we don’t get moments to recover in this episode, for it’s back to the skies and the dragons.
Christopher: Was that really Wun Wun, though? I mean, I definitely think we’re meant to think so, what with the empty right eye socket and all, but the logistics are all wonky. Wun Wun died in the courtyard of Winterfell. They would not have sent his body back north of the Wall, and it has been custom since season one for the wildlings to burn their dead. I suppose it’s possible he was buried outside the castle walls and the Night King resurrected him as his army advanced, but the episode very clearly suggests that he did not deploy that particular whammy until after Daenerys tried to dracarys him to death. Also, in the final episode of last season, we see among the serried ranks of the ice zombies a handful of zombified giants. So if we’re supposed to think this in Wun Wun, which I think we are, that’s just bad work on the part of the continuity editor.
But yes, back to the skies and the dragons, where, halfway into the episode, we get the first bit of the confrontation we think we’ve been waiting for. Except not really: a lot of the anticipation for this particular battle had to do with the showdown between zombie Viserion and his not-dead brothers, figuring an epic battle in the skies to mirror the epic battle on the ground. But there’s actually not all that much dragon-fighting to be had: the Night King comes blasting at Jon and Daenerys in a blaze of blue fire, but just as quickly dives away toward the ground, leaving auntie and nephew hovering above the clouds, baffled, for an unconscionable interval. I mean, it’s really only about ten seconds, but COME ON. There’s the Big Bad—get him!
Then we cut to Arya re-enacting the third act of World War Z as she sneaks around trying desperately not to attract the attention of the undead in what appears to be a library. Which, I have to say, is my least favourite scene in the episode—even though it is tense and scary, it doesn’t make much sense. There aren’t a huge number of wights, and after Arya’s previous scene of wholesale undead obliteration, I was wondering if she’d lost her weapons, and—oh, nope. Stabbed one in the chin. I suppose if it were any other character (like the Hound, e.g.) we might allow for trauma breaking their ability to fight, but this is Arya—she fed Walder Frey’s sons through a meat grinder and served them to him in a pie, for the Old Gods’ sake. Watching her skulk about in fear is about a believable as seeing Daryl Dixon lose their shit over a handful of zombies in season nine.
The whole point of this sequence, it becomes clear, is to set up Arya’s rescue by Beric … which is a bit of narrative gerrymandering I don’t particularly care for. But that will come up momentarily. In the interim, we cut from Arya’s panicked flight down a dark corridor back to the crypts, where the silence of the huddled masses is broken by the sound of bodies crashing against the crypt door, panicked cries of the defenders, and the shrieks of the dead. And then—as we focus on Sansa’s worried face—silence again.
Oh, don’t worry, people. You’ll have stuff to panic about soon enough.
But first, back to the creepy dark corridors. Beric and the Hound come sneaking around the corner, and are in place to come to the rescue when a door is knocked off the hinges by a wight attacking Arya. Beric saves her by throwing his flaming sword and then scooping her off the ground and (more or less) throwing her at the Hound while a zombie manages to stick a dagger in his calf. Arya and the Hound get away while Beric—sans flaming sword, which is why you should never throw your sword—is overwhelmed. Arya picks up an ax and is about to rejoin the fight, but the Hound picks her up and runs while Beric, at long last, dies a permanent death (poor Arya—she’s like a cat, nature’s perfect killing machine, but small enough to pick up).
The fact that Beric dies in a Christ pose is a point I’m just going to ignore.
Still, he’s alive enough to make it with them into an empty room that they barricade themselves inside. He dies with no final words as Arya watches, anguished, and the shadow behind her resolves itself into the cloaked and hooded figure of Melisandre. “The Lord brought him back for a purpose,” she says. “Now, that purpose has been served.” “I know you,” Arya says, though what I really wanted her to say was, “Hey, my new boyfriend and I were just talking about how you put leeches all over him.” (I suppose that would not have matched the tone of the moment). And then: the hint I really should have taken about how this episode would end, when Arya recalls Melisandre’s prophecy that she would close many eyes. “Brown eyes, green eyes,” Melisandre acknowledges, and then after a suggestive pause, “and blue eyes.” I assumed at the moment she meant the legion of wights Arya had permanently furloughed, but no …
“What do we say to the God of Death?” Melisandre then asks. “Not today,” Arya replies, and they share a significant look. And while the Hound brandishes his ax in anticipation of the dead breaking through the barricaded door, Arya runs off in a different direction to … where?
Well, we get a bit of a hint when the scene shifts to the Godswood as Theon & co. can now hear the croaks and cries of the dead. “Here they come!” he warns, and the protective circle around Bran ignite their arrows.
But we move swiftly on from there to the skies, and the Night King’s descent upon Winterfell. Viserion blasts the walls with his blue fire, but isn’t able to wreak too much damage as Rhaegal hits him, and they grapple while Theon and his men shoot fire arrows into the marauding wights. The two dragons claw and bite at each other, and the Night King tries to aim his ice spear, but can’t make his target. And then: deus ex Daenerys, swooping in and knocking the Night King from Viserion. But Jon and Rhaegal are also knocked out of the sky, with Rhaegal making a rough landing that pitches Jon from his back.
Daenerys remains airborne, however, and zeroes in on where the Night King touched down. He looks up at her and she utters what should be the coup de grace: “Dracarys.”
Except … well, not so much. Apparently, Night Kings are immune to dragonfire? Which, I assume, makes them the only being in existence that is. Until this moment, the Big Bad has never shown anything resembling emotion, but right now he is definitely smug. And will remain so for the rest of the episode. He picks up his ice lance and hurls it at Drogon; Daenerys, remembering what happened to Viserion, wisely beats a retreat.
Meanwhile, Jon Snow, now earthbound, unsheathes his sword and follows the Night King … who pauses, turns around, and very theatrically raises his hands—slowly!—and does his thing.
Nikki: And every warrior from Winterfell looks around them and just screams, “Oh FFS!!!!”
Before we get to the Return of the Living Dead, I completely agree with you on the Arya scene in that library. After we watched many, many episodes of her learning to fight with a spear whilst blind, of putting on another face and killing with it, of basically being the most ruthless assassin in the world… to have her cowering over a few walkers and then saved by two men was a little… bah. I kept hoping she’d corner a walker, take its face, and then pretend to be one and just take them out one by one. Sadly that did not happen. But the one thing that did make me happy about that scene was Melisandre saying that Beric’s entire purpose was to save one person. She knew. She knew what was going to happen at the end of this episode.
(And on the Wun Wun front, I paused the scene and slowly moved it ahead frame by frame, comparing it to previous footage of the actual alive Wun Wun, and I’m pretty sure it was him; I always try to make sure of these things before making assumptions, but you never know with this show; I could be wrong. There were only two giants left, and only one of them lost his right eye. But you’re right; if they’d burned him, how the heck did the Night King get him? And if they didn’t burn him, why the hell not? They had a gazillion other bodies to burn while they were at it… Perhaps they decided to sacrifice continuity for poetry.)
But ANYWAY, back to the very fabulous Night King, who, as you say, is incredibly theatrical—I half expected him to say, “Showtime!” You know, if he ever had anything to say. We see the dead rise on the battlefield, with Jon looking around thinking oh great here we go again. We see the bodies rise at Winterfell, with Sam and Podrick and Brienne and Jaime all wide-eyed, like this can’t actually be happening.
And then Lyanna Mormont opens her ice-blue eyes (Noooooooo!) and Tollett opens his (oh come ONNNNN) and I thought if you make me lose my beloved Lyanna Mormont a second time so help me I will march on HBO myself with my three cats marching beside me with wings tied to their backs. (Well, “march” is probably too strong a word; they’d all have gone purposely limp by that point and I’d be dragging them along the ground by leashes but it’s the principle, people.)
It was at this point I felt like the Hound, and almost gave up completely. I mean, what shot do they honestly have left at this point?? They have the white walkers PLUS their own dead companions fighting against them. They can cut someone down, but the person will just get up again? What’s the bloody point? The Night King just stares Jon down, and Jon looks back at him like, “I hate you so much right now” as the dead begin to fight him.
And then we cut to the very safe crypts. Sigh. You called it, my friend. The Stark arms began shooting out of the sides of the concrete crypts and I thought for SURE we were going to see a reanimated headless Ned coming after them. Thankfully the showrunners didn’t go there—my heart wouldn’t have been able to take it at this point. These were the really old and dusty Starks, though I assume Lyanna was among them, which makes me sad to even comprehend. Sansa, Gilly, Tyrion, and everyone just stand there with gaping mouths like they can’t believe this is happening. And one by one, the walkers begin grabbing the women and children who thought it would be safer down here.
Now to the Godswood, where Theon and his fellow soldiers are… actually doing a hell of a job. He turns to check Bran at one point who, nope, still white-eyed.
“Shhh… taking in Avengers Endgame, it opened this weekend…”
“Bran, we don’t—”
Cut back to Jon, also doing a formidable job at this point until, as you say, there’s another Daenerys ex machina. Jon shouts “Bran!” at her, and she tells him to go. But unfortunately she watches him run away a little too long, and suddenly Drogon is absolutely covered in ice zombies. Daenerys is thrown from her beloved child’s back, and Drogon takes to the sky, shaking the bodies off as he flies. So NOW we not only have white walkers and reanimated undead, but fucking bodies falling from the fucking sky. Like, how amazing was that??! Just when you think you’ve seen it all, we cut back to Winterfell and bodies are just falling in droves from the parapets, from the sky, from the balconies… Jon cuts his way through as we see Sam looking overwhelmed by the fighting (OMG), Brienne and Podrick and Jaime all holding their own. Jon fights his way through the crowd of walkers, and slams a gate closed as the arms flail through the slats trying to grab him. “This is the best episode of The Walking Dead I have EVER SEEN!” I shouted at my husband at this point. Don’t ask why, but somehow this whole confluence of events—raining bodies, warriors all still fighting, walkers still coming—made me positive gleeful as a TV fan.
Back to Theon, who is fighting better than I’ve ever seen him fight, as if he refuses to get scared off like he did when Yara was kidnapped. He zings arrow after arrow, as if Legolas was his archery teacher, until he reaches into the bucket… and there are no more arrows. So he just starts hitting walkers with his bow, and eventually stabs one and kills it.
Daenerys isn’t so lucky, as she watches her once-faithful Dothraki now turn blue-eyed and as menacing as the day she first met them, and as they come at her one by one we realize Daenerys is a leader, but she’s no fighter. She’s always used her dragons, and Rhaegal is currently MIA and Drogon has just taken off to try to swat the walkers off him. Just as it looks like it’s the end of our platinum-haired queen, Ser Jorah swoops to the rescue, with Heartsbane taking out one walker after another.
Meanwhile, down in the safe space, Sansa and Tyrion hide at the end of one of the crypts while listening to the slaughter happening on the outside. Sansa realizes there’s no hope left, and she pulls out the dragonglass dagger that Arya gave her. She looks at Tyrion, who gives her a look of resignation. He knows they have no other choice, and he knows this might be the last time he looks upon the lovely face of his ex-wife. He gives her a weak smile, takes her hand and kisses it, and takes a deep breath.
Here the music is extraordinary. Just a quiet song played on the piano, with snippets of the themes we’ve heard throughout the series. It plays loudly while the diegetic sounds fall to the background. Ser Jorah continues to fight through the walkers. Jon dodges Viserion’s blast and the walkers break through the gate. Daenerys cries out in fear as Ser Jorah falls to one knee but keeps going. Theon refuses to stop battling even though he’s long run out of weapons. The Night King walks around the corner in slow motion with his soldiers by his side. Jaime and Brienne and Podrick continue fighting, now mowing down the soldiers who’d stood at their side only moments before. Sam lies on a heap of bodies, crying, as Jon forces himself to keep moving and not stop to save him.
And back at the Godswood, Theon swings and swings and swings… until there are no men left. As the camera pans above them, you see scores of dead soldiers on the ground, and only Theon standing. It’s incredible.
Bran’s eyes flip forward, and Theon looks at the Night King, flanked by his soldiers, with two large crowds of white walkers standing on either side of the Godswood, and he knows this is it. He can’t fight anymore. He can no longer protect Bran. As he stares at the Night King, his eyes well up. “Theon,” Bran says behind him. “You’re a good man.” Only it sounds like he says, “You were a good man.” Tenses, Bran… TENSES. The camera slowly move in on Theon. “Thank you,” Bran says.
And with that, Theon’s character has come full circle. A casualty of a war his father started, taken as a child as a hostage, raised as an outsider in a close-knit family, rejected by his own family when he returns… a failed uprising, failed battles, failed reunions… Theon’s entire arc on this show has been one of one failure after another, until he was physically emasculated by a man he trusted, his entire being taken from him, ground down to absolutely nothing and no one. And then he’s worked so hard to try to rise out of that, to become a real person again. Now he stands, on the verge of apocalypse, as the lone person between life and death of all civilization, and he may have failed again. He’s made his amends, and Bran telling him he’s a good man is possibly the greatest thing anyone could say to him.
And so he does the only thing he can, and he runs at the Night King with everything he’s got. His death is a quick one, and Bran is unmoved (natch). Theon dies at Winterfell, the place of his greatest sorrows, and his greatest joys. Alfie Allen did a tremendous job of making us hate Theon for so many years on this show, and did an even more astounding job making us like him again. Now THAT is a tour de force performance.
But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Christopher: No, because you’re about to see the DEUS EX ARYA! (Which, incidentally, is the text I sent Nikki moments after the episode ended).
OK, so before I get into the awesomeness, the obvious quibbles: first, this was a pretty cheap solution to a seven-and-a-half seasons long enmity, one that evoked at once the logic of Lost Boys (kill the original vampire, and all those it sired die) and the end of The Avengers (somehow the Chitauri all die when their home base gets blowed up). Of course, we’ve been primed for such an ending, from the moment last season when killing a White Walker caused all the zombies to collapse like snipped marionettes; and it was made explicit in the previous episode when Bran as much as said, kill the Night King and destroy all his works. So we knew this had only one ending.
But it still felt a bit easy. I won’t get into it here, but might do so in an another ancillary blog post in which I talk about the contradictions of genre in GoT.
But not now, and not on this day. I suspect I’m not alone in assuming it would be Jon Snow who gave the Night King his quietus, and was thus getting increasingly anxious at his inability to get past Viserion. As I say above, I missed the import of Melisandre’s reference to blue eyes. Never have I been happier to be wrong: Arya brings it, and does so with a move she showed us when sparring with Brienne, dropping the blade from one hand to the other. Dragonfire might not perturb the Night King, but Valyrian steel does the trick … and speaking of full circles, we should note that that dagger was the one that put much of the action of GoT into play: given to an assassin to kill Bran, its ownership (falsely) ascribed to Tyrion by Littlefinger, which prompted Catelyn Stark to abduct Tyrion and take him to the Eyrie, and which finds it way into Arya’s hand and facilitates Littlefinger’s execution.
The Night King shatters into a million little pieces, as do all his lieutenants, and then all the wights—including Viserion, who was about to give Jon Snow a blast of his blue fire—fall to the ground, to the amazement of all our heroes. And a moment after the zombies collapse, so does Ser Jorah, what last strength he had holding him upright leaving him. He dies in Daenerys’ arms as she sobs, but then, I have to assume that would have been his preferred mode of death had you asked him. It’s a lovely moment, but what made we well up was when Drogon joined her in her mourning, sheltering her in the crook of his wing and resting his head sadly on the ground.
Jorah’s death is part of a montage of our heroes surveying the ambivalent field of victory, which ends with the Hound coming out into the courtyard with Melisandre. While he pauses in exhaustion, she walks on out through the gates, shucking her red cloak as she passes between the piles of the dead. Someone follows—Davos, with his hand on his sword, as if he’s ready to make certain she will in fact die before dawn. But he stops and watches as she walks out under the lightening sky. She tears her necklace from her neck—the one with the glowing red stone we realized, some time ago, provides her the glamour to appear young and beautiful—and drops it to the snowy ground.
Davos watches as she grows small in the distance, her hair going white and her clothes sloughing off her, until finally she collapses into the snow.
Gah. This episode was a kidney punch. It was emotionally eviscerating. It had flaws galore, as we’ve cited throughout this discussion, but its grace notes and emotional payoffs far outweighed them. It will be interesting to see what Winterfell looks like by daylight in the aftermath of this battle, and what happens next … and how it happens next.
That’s it for this week, friends! Take a moment or ten to hug someone you love, and we’ll see you next week.