‘The Long Night,’ aka The Battle of Winterfell as the title of my review states, is one of the most thrilling episodes of television ever created.
Whether this episode is the greatest episode of television ever created, or even the best episodes of Game of Thrones ever is up for debate. And frankly, that’s not the debate I’m willing to entertain here, that’s for another day, another column, and another train of thought.
‘The Long Night’ is, however, the episode we’ve waited for since the opening moments of the series. From the moment we saw three nameless members of The Night’s Watch being chased and eventually killed by a strange, unforeseen presence in the woods — we wanted to see the battle between the living and the dead.
This episode the culmination of dozens of interpersonal and overarching storylines, epic battle scenes, and near crippling fear and paranoia from character and audience member alike. It’s been the single most hyped element of this series, and the writers, director, cast, and crew far exceeded any expectation this writer had for this episode.
Now before breaking the episode down and extolling its many virtues let’s address one big complaint — the episode was too dark. Literally, too dark. My television had a difficult time picking up scenes, and it was difficult making out what actually was happening during multiple scenes. In looking around Twitter and speaking with staff of the site, I was not alone in this. That’s a bad look as HBO is delivering one of your biggest episodes of all-time, and it’s hard to watch.
However, it didn’t ruin the episode, or take you out of most moments — it was just a continuous frustration. However, one could play devil’s advocate and wonder if this was intentional or not. Were we supposed to be bewildered by the episode like our characters were during the battle? Maybe…but that could be a stretch/me being too forgiving.
Onto the positives.
As always, immense credit must heaped upon on director Miguel Sapochnik — the man who brilliantly helmed two of the most memorable GOT episodes of all-time: ‘Hardhome’ and ‘Battle of the Bastards.’ If you think about it, ‘The Long Night’ is really a blend of the greatest hits from these two iconic episodes. One of Sapochnik’s great qualities, evident in all three episodes, is that he’s able to director these sweeping action sequences, but somehow make them so claustrophobic and so intimate that it crawls under your skin. You feel the suffocating suspense of a scene, and that is quite a feet when scenes are running at 100 mph with thousands of characters doing battle.
The battle sequences were breathtaking. The scene where Jon and Dany watch the lit swords of the Dothraki riders heading into battle was one of the single most gorgeous shots in series history. Of course, the slow extinguishing of these swords that followed was an utter nightmare — even though you knew it was coming. The moment when unmanned horses, and unarmed men rank back from the battle was a superb way of sending your fear into complete overdrive.
Last week, the writers did a brilliant job of making you think every and I mean every character could die in this episode. In this episode, we did lose some, and boy were they given a send-off. None was greater than little Lyanna Mormont who took down a damn giant as she was crushed to death. Truly the perfect way to end this character’s run — it was absolutely gutting (especially as the father of a young daughter) and utterly bad ass.
It was admittedly a bit shocking that so many characters of note made it out alive, though. If you lost count we did lose: Ed of The Night’s Watch, Jorah, Melisandre (who made an unpredicted return) the recognizable Dothraki riders, Theon, and from what can assume — Ghost, and one of the dragons…although next week’s trailer suggests different. While this probably ruined some deadpools, it was a bit refreshing that our hearts weren’t ripped out at every single moment. Although, there were plenty of frightening moments when our favorites looked like they were going to die — particularly Sam.
The episode really did a phenomenal job of constantly putting Arya’s life in jeopardy, and the way they did it was brilliant. They removed Arya from the sweeping chaos of battle and inserted her into a classic haunted house/zombie thriller scenario. The way they also wove The Hound’s further redemption, the death of Beric, and the reunion between Melisandre and Arya is one of the reasons I love this series. They are always able to tell multiple stories even in moments of chaos. The same can be said for the Sansa/Tyrion moment in the crypt where they pull their daggers, accept their eventual fate, and go and protect the innocent.
Then there’s the Night King. Some may argue that the Night King should not have been the “the next to last big bad” of the series, with Cersei being the ultimate bad guy. That argument is completely logical. Who is the bigger threat — an undead killing machine or a Lannister? But, let’s face facts — this series is called Game of Thrones, not Winter is Coming or The Battle Between the Living and the Dead. It’s always been about the throne.
The Night King’s presence here was more intimidating than anything we’ve seen in this series. His smirk. His use of the ice dragon. His mass rising of the dead. His killing of Theon. All of it was legit uber villain. To be honest, they really set the ending of the episode to feel like he was going to kill Bran, and then he and his army would move south to King’s Landing.
Instead we got Arya.
And in that moment, if you didn’t stand up and cheer — then you hated this episode. “Not today” for sure, Arya. As one of our writers pointed out Arya kills The Night King with the same move she pulled on Brienne last season when the two were sparring. It was truly a moment that needed to happen at that moment — the release needed to happen, and we all needed to have our heart rate return to a normal level.
Now, with three episodes left — we are on the final push for the series — the battle for The Iron Throne. And with this comes so many questions. Will Jamie be fighting with Dany against Cersei? Where’s Ghost (SERIOUSLY)? How can Team Dany even fight with more than half their forces decimated? Will Daario re-emerge as a spy within The Golden Company? Are Jon and Dany going to talk about … you know … the fact they’re related? How does Bronn fit into all of this? Can Cersei get her damn elephants?
Questions aside, ‘The Long Night’ was spectacle television at its best. It was the culmination of years of storytelling wrapped in one of the most insane castle sieges of all-time. This was great television, period.