TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3 ‘The Long Night’
***WARNING!!! BELOW THERE BE****
Episode Plot: The Night King and his Army of the Dead arrive at Winterfell and the battle for the fate of Westeros begins.
Review: Finally, finally after eight seasons the moment we’ve been building to since the first episode of Game of Thrones has arrived. The showrunners promised one of the most epic battles in the history of television and boy did they deliver.
It’s appropriate that we begin this episode with Samwell Tarly who’s when you get down to it, a manifestation of the audience in the actual show. His temperament reflects how we collectively feel about “The Long Night” which is to say anxious, excited, and scared shitless. What I loved about the first five to ten minutes of this episode was that there was barely any dialogue. Director Miguel Sapochnik does a fantastic job of building the suspense. We know the Night King and the armies of the dead are about to arrive and the tension is palpable at every turn. This episode consists of three distinct genres. It begins as a thriller, transitions into horror, and concludes with action.
We all knew at some point Melisandre was going to make an appearance again, but I didn’t necessarily think it was going to happen so unexpectedly. Indeed I thought at first that it was the Night King who was riding in on a horse. Davos seems none too pleased to see her, but Melisandre assures him there’s no reason for him to kill her because she’ll be dead by dawn. The Red Woman then proceeds through a spell to light all of the Dothraki swords on fire in one of the cooler moments/shots in the episode. For some reason I expected the forces of Winterfell to let the fight come to them. Instead the Dothraki lead the charge. And the resulting shot of the Dothraki riding into the Night King forces and then watching the swords slowly extinguish one by one was one of the best visuals I’ve ever seen on Game of Thrones. You know at that point that this battle is going to be far from easy. To see them decimated that quickly is a punch to the gut.
There’s an old adage in football that says, “Everyone’s got a plan until they get hit.” As soon as the Dothraki are decimated the plans begin to fall apart beginning with Dany. Rather than sit back, she takes to Drogon and flies into battle herself. It makes sense from an emotional standpoint considering they are her people, from a battle perspective though, not so much. Yet she and Jon look to turn the tide quickly decimating many of the armies of the dead with dragon fire from both Drogon and Rhaeghal while Grey Worm and the rest of the Unsullied make valiant attempts to throw back the wights.
We all knew that our band of heroes wasn’t going to get through this battle unscathed and Dolorous Edd is the first to fall. It was expected I suppose, but kind of sad to see one of Jon and Sam’s last friends from the Night’s Watch finally meet his end–at least until he was resurrected as wight. More on that in a minute.
Coming into this episode we all knew that the majority of it was going to consist of battle. However, you can’t have 80 minutes of people fighting with no room to breathe, otherwise it just becomes monotonous and redundant. It’s good then that Sapochnik is able to cut back and forth between the battle with the dragons in the sky, the battle on the ground, the standoff in the Godswood, and the people in the crypts. The pacing flows nicely, something I was concerned about going in.
Another thing I was concerned about was how the dragons would be utilized. I mean from a logical perspective you have to ask the question, “Why not let the dragons do all the work and just burn all the armies up?” Thankfully, the showrunners in an inspired move provide Drogon and Rhaeghal with a true challenge in that the Night King and the White Walkers conjure up a storm of snow and wind to counteract the power of the dragons. This makes for a bit of a muddled aerial affair and speaks to a larger problem with the episode in that it just wasn’t lit very well. I get that the showrunners wanted to use ambient light and really hit home the chaos of fighting in the dark, but you have to be able to actually see the damn battle and that wasn’t always the case. Nevertheless, watching wight Viserion tangle with Rhaeghal, to see Rhaeghal’s body clawed and torn, that was pretty damn awesome.
In preparing for the onslaught of the dead the leaders set up a giant trench around Winterfell to bar the way and gets lit up spectacularly by Melisandre. This gives Jon and Dany in the air a bit of a point of reference to see again amidst the storm. That was a tense moment as well as I was wondering if the Red Woman was going to light the thing in time. (Speaking of, it seems like that was her main purpose in this episode which is a slight disservice to the character in my opinion.) This truly is a Song of Ice and Fire (the title of Martin’s ongoing series of books) and those elements are joined extremely well in this episode.
Immediately afterwards we cut to a scene in the crypt where Tyrion, Varys, Sansa, and Missandei discuss how they kind of feel useless. Tyrion in particular is frustrated because he was able to contribute before in the Battle of Blackwater. However, of more interest to me was Sansa and Tyrion reminiscing about their failed marriage. Sansa gets in a good quip about how Tyrion was the “best of them” but it wouldn’t have worked because of his divided loyalties, i.e. Dany. Yet I can’t help but wonder if the showrunners are setting these two up to actually be together. There’s a tender moment later in the show between the two of them that has me suspect they are heading in that direction but who knows? This is Game of Thrones after all.
Rather than head back to the action, we get a scene in the Godswood between Bran and Theon where Theon tries to apologize to Bran for his past mistakes. Yet Bran states that if it wasn’t for Theon’s past actions, both good and bad, he wouldn’t be where he needed to be right now, defending Bran and his home. Then Bran proceeds to warg out into some crows who fly right into the Night King and the wight Viserion. This moment is something that I had a real problem with though. Why does Bran warg into the crows in the first place? What’s the point? What purpose did it serve? Seems kind of frustrating if you ask me.
Once the army of the dead begin impaling themselves on the trench, the battle goes full shitshow. There’s no stopping them as them cascade over the walls of Winterfell despite the best efforts of Brienne, Tormund, Jamie, and others. But holy Hell is Arya a bad ass in these scenes as she wields her double ended spear like Darth Maul taking out a ton of wights. Her prowess and courage is enough to snap the Hound out of his funk. You could clearly see how much the fire was affecting him just like it did in the Battle of Blackwater. Yet this time he’s able to overcome his own fear.
It’s here that we transition into a horror moment. Disarmed and suffering from a head wound, Arya becomes trapped in the library in Winterfell and has to avoid several wights. Her guile and training really came in handy here. This was a moment that reminded of me of something right out of the Resident Evil video games and possesses shades of the Velociraptor kitchen scene from Jurassic Park. Beric and the Hound are able to pull Arya out of the fire and find safety in an adjunct room, however Beric dies in the process. It’s also a room that Melisandre happens to be in and reminds Arya of one of Syrio’s most important lessons. “What do we say to the God of Death?” “Not today.” Arya runs out of the room with a purpose to close some more blue eyes.
One of the most harrowing and impactful deaths also happens about this time. Lyanna Mormont, a character who initially was only supposed to be in one scene, grew over the last three seasons to be a fan favorite. Sadly she’s crushed by a wight giant. This scene is all kinds of brutal. I mean for God’s sake people that’s a child! To hear her bones crushed was just awful. Yet Lyanna goes out in a baller way, stabbing a dragonglass knife through the eye of the giant. Was this fan service? Absolutely. But I was all there for it.
Jon, Dany, and the Night King tangle in the sky some more on their dragons and this is where Rhaeghal becomes wounded and throws Jon from atop him. Yet the Night King is also left without a mount. Dany comes to Jon’s aid by burning the Night King but no one thought it was going to be that easy and dragon fire does nothing to stop him. Instead the Night King shrugs it off and heads to the Godswood to confront Bran. It’s been done before with the death of Viserion, but the showrunners do a great job of reinforcing the fact that Dany’s dragons aren’t invincible. They can’t do everything. Having dragons doesn’t mean you’re always going to win.
Jon meanwhile begins to run down the Night King. This moment is classic Game of Thrones because it completely subverts our expectations. We the audience believe that a final confrontation between the Night King and Jon was inevitable. Yet par for the course, what we want to happen doesn’t always happen. The Night King (cheater!) resurrects the dead around him both Dothraki, Unsullied, and Northmen to prevent Jon from getting to him. That’s the advantage of having an army of the undead. In any battle there’s always plenty to add reinforcements. This is the moment you begin to realize that everyone in Winterfell including Jon is fucked. How are you supposed to fight your way through this shit? It’s harrowing to say the least.
Yet Jon continues to fight valiantly on and here’s where some of the best shots in “The Long Night” come into play. We watch Jon cutting his way through the army of the dead and at the same time Jon watches Brienne, Jamie, Tormund, and others in their own pitched battles. He even sees Sam on the ground flailing and trying to keep wights off him. However, Jon rather than assist his best friend, knows what’s at stake. The most important thing is that he gets to the Godswood to help Bran and if it means sacrificing his friends so be it. Just too bad he had to run into wight Viserion. Speaking of, can we talk about how badass Viserion looks as a wight dragon? That giant hole in his mouth with blue fire leaking out? Just perfection. Dany also has a dragon problem as Drogon is overwhelmed by the dead, and flies off leaving Dany to fend for herself. Thankfully Jorah is able to come to her aid.
In the Godswood Theon does his best Legolas/Leonidas at Thermopylae impression taking out wight after wight with sword and arrow. This is one of the more beautiful and poignant moments in the episode as Bran says, “Theon you’re a good man.” Although he did some terrible terrible things, Theon’s arc has come full circle and his redemption becomes complete when he sacrifices himself to save Bran by attacking the Night King. Theon dies in spectacular fashion, defending the very person he once thought to kill and the home he once sacked. Even in death this is a victory for Theon. He truly earns his honor back.
It’s when we cut back to the crypts that something dawned on me, something that should have dawned on everyone at some point. It’s probably a bad idea to put the old, the young, the women, and the sick in a place that contains dead people when your enemy CAN LITERALLY RAISE PEOPLE FROM THE DEAD. Not surprisingly, this very thing happens, as many of the dead break out of their crypts and being killing the living. Both Sansa and Tyrion grab dragonglass blades and share a tender moment of seeming goodbye before they step out to attack.
On the Dany front, she and Jorah are doing everything in their power just to stay alive. It’s in this moment, unguarded and without her dragons that you realize Dany possesses no real fighting skills to speak of. Yet that doesn’t stop her from scooping up a dragonglass sword to defend herself. The blood of the dragon truly flows through her veins and she’s not about to go out on her knees begging. Instead, it is Jorah who goes out, dying in a valiant effort to protect his Queen and the woman he loves. This was the way Jorah was meant to die, at his Queen’s side, protecting her life. The fact that it’s expected, even inevitable, doesn’t make the death any less significant. There’s an emotional resonance here and to watch Dany weeping over his corpse, knowing everything they’ve gone through was incredibly profound. Rest in peace bear of the North.
And then….ohhhhh then…
I mentioned earlier that Game of Thrones is a show that continuously subverts your expectations. That’s no different here. In an incredibly tense scene shot in slow motion (something atypical for Game of Thrones) we watch the Night King slowly approach Bran in the Godswood. There’s a pervasive sense of doom that’s reflected in the music (the score was fantastic in this episode) and in this scene. The fact that it’s edited with scenes of various heroes in their last gasp efforts fighting to survive, underscores this even more. Yet just when all hope seems lost…. BOOM! Motherfucking Arya Stark to the rescue! She leaps out of no where, pulls her best Rey from The Last Jedi impression, and stabs the Night King through the heart. From there the armies of the dead and the remaining White Walkers fall like so many dominoes. THIS is what Arya’s training has been leading up to. She says no to the God of Death by stabbing him through the heart. And what a moment of symmetry to kill the Night King and save Bran with the very knife meant to kill Bran in season one.
We end the episode with the Red Woman walking out into the snow, removing her necklace, and perishing on the ground an old woman, her purpose complete just as the sun rises.
So some final thoughts on this episode. From a cinematic standpoint I think they nailed it. It’s just too bad that things were often so dark you had to strain to see what was going on. A lot fewer people died than I was expecting. I fully thought that Davos, Brienne, Grey Worm, and Tormund were all going to bite the dust but it didn’t happen. Seems they have a further role to play in this tale. There was some fan service in this episode but I thought every death was earned and it was great to see certain characters’ story arcs finally come full circle.
People will probably bitch that the Night King and the Army of the Dead went down too easily but we already knew that killing a White Walker destroys those he’s resurrected and killing the King ends it all. What other way was this supposed to end? And don’t ignore the fact that these guys almost lost, in fact HAD lost. If not for Arya using all of the mad skills she’s learned over the years, the darkness would have held sway. And if I’m being perfectly honest the political maneuvering, the betrayals, the intrigue, the deception, you know the ACTUAL game of thrones, was always more interesting to me than the Night King stuff.
Now it’s all about the throne. Cersei still holds it and Dany’s armies are decimated even if she still has two dragons. Dethroning Cersei and taking King’s Landing just got a lot harder. She may have to convince the North to back her play now if she wants to win the throne. The real question now is has she changed? Does Dany deserve the Iron Throne? Does Sansa? Does Jon? Does anyone? We’ve got three episodes to figure it out. It’s time to deal with the aftermath. To quote Doctor Strange, “We’re in the endgame now.”
Season 8 Episode 3 “The Long Night” rates: 9/10 Severed Ned Heads