This really feels like the culmination of the entire series. “The Long Night” gives us dragons, ice zombies, and Starks in Winterfell—what more could we ask for? I have a sinking suspicion going in that this is it for the North.
The battle is as epic as advertised, even if I do have my quibbles. The 1.5 hour episode itself consists entirely of the battle. As I understand it, all of the episodes will be movie length from here on out.
I’m traveling and had to use my laptop to watch and my wife’s iPad to take notes, so this will be a more truncated recap and reaction than normal.
FULL SPOILERS below the cut.
You know the battle will consume the entire episode when the parental warnings don’t include any nudity. I wonder how many people turned the episode off right then.
The episode itself opens with a long shot that follows first Sam, then Tyrion. This will be the first of many long, complex shots that are somewhat wasted because it is too dark to tell what is happening. It is an admirable way, though, to cut down on the chaos of the battle and help us follow the action.
Sam is on the front lines, not in the crypt.
Dire wolf sighting! It won’t last for long.
Jon and Dany look striking in black and white. Is there any doubt at this point that they are the Ice and Fire referred to in the book series title? Despite knowing that the Night King has a dragon of his own, Jon and Dany are strangely nonchalant about leaving their own forces.
Melisandre (!?) just trots up out of nowhere and lights every Dothraki sword on fire. Leaving Dolorous Edd looking less than dolorous.
We’re 15 minutes in and the battle hasn’t actually started yet.
The defense starts with a charge of cavalry (and Ghost). It has no discernible effect.
Sansa is on the battlements, yet another character who isn’t where we expected them to be. Arya though, quickly sends her to the crypts with a dagger and advice to “stick them with the pointy end.”
Jon and Dany put their dragons in play, but their effectiveness is dramatically reduced by a very massive, and very cool (pun not intended), wave of ice and cold. It’s tough to deploy dragons effectively in combat when you can’t see the ground. They even have a mid-air collision.
Dolorous Edd is our first major casualty. An ice zombie gets him shortly after he saves Sam.
Right when I’m wondering what ever happened to those spike pits featured in the new intro, we see the Unsullied effecting an orderly retreat behind the pits. The idea is that Dany will light them with her dragon, but she can’t see the signal. Lighting the trench turns into a simple but genuinely suspenseful scene. We’re saved by deus ex Melisandre again (although I guess she didn’t really save the Dothraki).
We’re 35 minutes in, and there is no sign of the Night King and his dragon.
Theon is waiting with Bran in the godswood. Bran isn’t the most empathetic character these days, but he tells Theon that he is “home.”
The Hound briefly turns cur again. He resists Beric’s admonitions that he rejoin the fight. Maybe stop waving that flaming sword in his face Beric. This reminds me that in the Game of Thrones video game one of the characters is a red priest and I made the other one afraid of fire. Good for dramatic tension, bad for crafting the most effective fighting duo possible.
Does Lyanna Mormont get a Valkyrie’s death? Damn straight she does.
Beric gets both a heroic (final) death and ample Christ imagery. Melisandre randomly appears again, but she shows no interest in attempting any further resurrections.
Dragon fight! Dany and Jon manage to ground the Night King, but we get our answer to Bran’s not-so-subtle foreshadowing: the Night King can withstand dragon fire. Jon is willing to give him a go with Valyrian steel, but the Night King resurrects the dead men between them . . . and also resurrects every other dead man on the battlefield. Now is the time to remember all of the foreshadowing about the crypts.
I’ve been waiting for old characters to show up as ice zombies. We do at least get to see a couple turn. The White Walkers also enter the fray.
Theon and Jorah, at the very least, get deaths that are both heroic and clear in an episode that is dark and chaotic as a rule.
Theon can’t protect Bran, but he gives Arya enough time to make her own strike against the Night King. The Night King catches her in mid-leaping strike and she drops the Valyrian dagger . . . but catches it in her other hand and kills the Night King. Beric was right. Every White Walker, ice zombie, and zombie dragon immediately falls.
The episode ends at dawn. A Long Night, indeed.
“You might be surprised at the lengths I’d go to avoid joining the armies of the dead. I can think of no organization less suited to my talents.”
This episode of all episodes really needed to be watched in a completely dark room on a plasma TV. I had a really hard time following the action (although I think I screwed up by not cranking up the brightness on my laptop).
Both sides are strong on offense and weak on defense. Clever writers could have done any number of cool things with that. The writers make little use of it though. For all of the inevitable advantages—the presence of almost every character still alive, dragons and ice zombies, a huge budget—it is still probably the second best battle sequence from the series, after the Battle of the Bastards, and is still exceeded by the much shorter sequence in Hardhome.
I wish the writers had done more with the strong of offense/weak on defense angle, but it was certainly again demonstrated by the Night King. He brought an ice zombie dragon into the fray, created a storm of cold that neutralized the two living dragons, and raised tens of thousands of dead. He may have survived falling hundreds of feet from his dragon and a direct hit with dragon fire, but he proved as susceptible to Valyrian steel as any other White Walker.
Two big disappointments: Neither Bran nor Jon do any cool warging (the only warging we see is Bran using crows for reconnaissance). And Ghost gets only a tiny sliver of screentime and what is presumably an offscreen death.
I still strongly protest the lack of ice spiders.
I wonder now whether the Night King could have raised Beric.
My wife cried when Jorah died even though she wasn’t paying attention and hasn’t been watching the show for the last four seasons.
George R.R. Martin killed fewer named characters in his last battle than Robert Jordan did in the Last Battle (although maybe scare quotes belong around both authors’ names). Speaking of . . .
I should have mentioned the final set of scenes, all with orchestral accompaniment. It is super effective. I was perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief and think that everyone was about to die. The perfect music had a lot to do with that.
The episode is surprisingly Arya-centric (along with the more predictable Dany and Jon-centric). She gets one of the best fight scenes of the episode and a killer horror set piece AND to kill the Night King. I’m not sure how I feel about Arya doing the deed after Dany and Jon both try and fail. On one hand, it is great to see a Stark defending a Stark (and Bran being defended with the same dagger that almost killed him). But Arya didn’t have the history with the Night King that Jon or even Beric did.
I also don’t know how I feel about the existential threat that kicked off the entire series ending halfway through the final season. I’m just not that into the rest of the season, now, to be honest. Not that I don’t want to see Cersei get her comeuppance, and not that I don’t think the writers have a few surprises for us yet.
 Not, apparently, that Valyrian dagger, which Arya wields later.