Wow. That was intense. 55 consecutive night shoots have well and truly paid off for the creators of Game of Thrones. Episode three, ‘The Long Night’, lived up to the enormous hype by delivering a battle unlike anything we’ve ever seen on screen.
Mind-boggling technical achievement, huge story developments and some devastating emotional beats, this one had it all. So let’s take a closer look at what happened amongst all the fire and blood.
WARNING: This article is dark and full of spoilers.
Arya Azor Ahai
It has never been easier to choose the star of an episode. Arya Stark completely dominated the so-called Battle of Winterfell. From finally seeing her incredible fighting skills in a real battle, to that genius library sneak-around and, of course, the fact that she just saved the entire world, she kept pretty much all the best scenes to herself.
Those who follow the Lord of Light have long prophesied Azor Ahai – The Prince or Princess that Was Promised – who will rise to defeat the impending darkness. While the specifics of the prophecy did not play out exactly and despite Stannis Baratheon, Daenarys and Jon Snow all previously being named the chosen one, it appears that the girl who once had no name is in fact the Warrior of Light. And it is so perfect.
Back in Season Three Arya shared a brief encounter with Melisandre. The Red Witch said: “I see a darkness in you. And in that darkness, eyes staring back at me. Brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes. Eyes you’ll shut forever. We will meet again.”
In a beautifully played scene between the two, Melisandre calls back to those eyes, obviously referencing the blue eyes of the Night King as her next target. It was always her destiny and, having now killed plenty of brown eyed boys and a certain blue eyed King, which green eyed person could she take down to complete the set? How about the green-eyed Queen, Cersei Lannister?
There were plenty of other great callbacks for Arya fans everywhere. She gave Sansa the same advice Jon had passed on in Season One – “Stick ‘em with the pointy end” – and in one of the episode’s many spine tingling moments, Melisandre asks “What do we say to the God of Death?” and just as her original teacher Syrio Forel taught her, Arya replies “Not today.”
Plus the dagger she used to deliver the fatal blow – utilising the knife skills she displayed against Brienne last season – was the very same dagger which was once used for an attempt on Bran’s life. Bran later gifted the Valyrian Steel blade to Arya, which allowed her to save her brother and kill the Night King. Poetic.
The Red Witch
It came as no surprise that Melisandre returned for the fight between light and dark. The importance she would play in that fight, however, far surpassed expectations. Arriving mysteriously just in time for battle, she made one hell of an entrance, first lighting Dothraki weapons in an inspiring flair up of fire (more on that later), then lighting the trenches when no one else could, before finally guiding Arya to her destiny.
The final shot of the episode sees her walk away just as mysteriously as she arrived, taking off her de-aging necklace and withering away to her death. A death which last season she prophesied herself would come in Westeros. Her job is done and, despite doing some truly horrific things in her time, there was a beautiful sense of completion at finally seeing her unwavering beliefs come true.
The Death of a People
In an opening twenty minutes which could be called ‘The Art of Tension’, Director Miguel Sapochnik did a masterful job of building and building. No more was that the case than in the early minutes and perhaps the stand out moment was the near-extinction of the Dothraki. Buoyed by the symbolic lighting of their weapons they charged at the darkness, only to be distinguished in seconds.
It has often been said that only a fool would fight the Dothraki on an open field. So when the army of the dead dispatched them with such ease it was a terrifying statement of intent. And a haunting way for an entire race of people to seemingly die out.
Sapochnik does a wonderful job of keeping all the characters in play, seamlessly transitioning from various locations across and above Winterfell. Two key players, fresh from awkward conversations, had interesting roles to play. As expected Jon and Dany were on dragon-duty to start. Dragon dogfighting may be cool and, without their work burning up significant chunks of whites, Winterfell would have fallen much sooner, but things didn’t really get interesting for either character until they found themselves grounded.
Jon has to be at the centre of any battle and it was a welcome sight to see him fall off Rhaegal and charge towards the Night King. It was one of three moments in the episode where Jon displayed the kind of blind bravery which saw Jaime charge at Daenarys and Drogon in Season Seven.
First, on dragonback, he made a move towards the White Walkers very early on in proceedings, only to be pushed back by an icey gust of weather presumably deployed by NK to cause some dragon turbulence. Then following his less-than-successful attempt on NK himself, he later stood up to Viserion the undead dragon and, in an animalistic moment of fearlessness, screamed at him.
You sense that Jon no longer fears death. But those POV shots of him struggling his way through battle are always some of the show’s greatest flurries of action, and it was a pleasure to see some of that once more.
Daenarys, meanwhile, even got to do some stabbing herself. It was great to see the Mother of Dragons down in the dirt fighting for her life. She did a decent job, too, teaming up with her ever-loyal Jorah to hold off the dead.
There’s something satisfying about the fact these two ‘Chosen Ones’ both failed miserably with their attempts on the Night King’s life. It only goes further to cement Arya as the Princess that Was Promised, but it was great to see some instinctive heroism on both their parts in this episode, as more awkward conversation lie ahead next week.
Wait what!? The Crypts aren’t safe??
The most foreshadowed event in GoT history did indeed play out as it turned out those really safe crypts everyone was talking about turned out to be full of dead people that could be brought back to life. It led to some brutal scenes as mothers and their children were butchered, but it was the dynamic between Sansa and Tyrion which stood out the most.
Their mutual respect continues to grow. So much so that Tyrion even made the most low-key proposal of all time. It was a sign of admiration rather than lust as he stood in awe of Sansa’s wisdom. The Lady of Winterfell didn’t seem too emotionally unopposed but it was politics that once again got in the way, as Sansa’s call for Northern independence would be complicated slightly if she married the Queen’s Hand.
Nevertheless it was a charming moment when Sansa described him as “the best of them”, albeit the competition was Ramsay Bolton and Joffrey Baratheon, two of the most despicable characters ever to walk the Seven Kingdoms.
As the undead raided the crypts there was an extremely touching moment between the two. As Sansa reveals a dragon glass dagger, they share no words, only glances. It’s an incredibly well acted scene. And though it may have simply been a case of arming themselves ahead of impending doom, it seemed a tad reminiscent of Cersei sitting on the Iron Throne with her son, Tommen, during the Battle of Blackwater.
Cersei was ready to poison herself and her son to prevent the enemy getting to them, perhaps this divorced couple were ready to kill themselves with dragon glass, which would presumably prevent them from being raised from the dead, in order to die with humanity.
It was a beautiful scene and an ambiguous one, which also signalled the beginning of another awe-inspiring piece of music from composer Ramin Djawadi. A rare piano piece, heavily reminiscent of the opening sequence of Season Six finale ‘The Winds of Winter’, played from this scene right until the Night King’s death. A sprawling, enveloping piece of music which accompanied an incredible sequence of events so perfectly.
The Long Night is Over
People may have expected the battle between life and death to be the ultimate climax of Game of Thrones. We were wrong.The dead are now even more dead, which allows the show to return to what it has always done best – politics. Some might say it’s an anticlimactic end to something set up in the very first episode, but it just feels right that the endgame focuses on messy, human politics.
Remembering the Fallen
We expected some to die. We probably expected more named characters to actually die. Still, let’s spare a thought for those we have lost.
Lord Commander Eddison Tollett – an inevitable death. Died like fellow Night’s Watchmen Pyp, protecting Samwell Tarly.
Lyanna Mormont – the smallest person on the battlefield managed to take down the largest in her final moments.
Beric Dondarrion – died six times in order to save Arya’s life. The seventh (and final) death was as heroic as any.
Theon Greyjoy – Oh Theon. He’s been through more than most but hopefully Bran’s last words to the Iron Islander – “You’re a good man. Thank you.” – finally gave him the acceptance he oh-so craved.
Jorah Mormont – died doing what he loved most, protecting his Khaleesi. Couldn’t get those last words out but we all know what they were and, don’t worry Jorah, so does she.
Melisandre – The Red Witch fulfilled her destiny. A perfect way to end the episode.
Night King – RIP Night King. You were just misunderstood.
Image credit: MovieDB