The Long Night
After 8 seasons of buildup, we’ve finally gotten the big battle against the undead, and it delivered in tension-filled spectacle. “The Long Night” is 82 minutes of pure suspense and chaos as our underdog heroes face-off against the White Walkers and their army of wights.
The harrowing battle is epic in scale and violence, yet still manages to be enthralling through its focus on the struggles of the various characters we’re invested in. They are truly made vulnerable. Having a battle occupy an entire episode’s run-time can easily get tiresome and repetitive. Luckily, the creators orchestrate a fight combining different arenas and obstacles, while continuously increasing the sense of threat. As the episode progressed, I genuinely had no idea how our heroes could possibly win.
Watchers On The Wall
We start the battle on the bleak fields outside the Winterfell castle; it’s dark and ominous. There’s a glimmer of hope when the red priestess, Melisandre, arrives and lights the Dothraki’s arakhs on fire. Surely this will give our heroes the advantage. But this is Game of Thrones after all, and rarely do things work out the way we want.
As the army of flame-wielding Dothraki swarm the enemy, the night becomes even darker when they are immediately wiped out. The battle has barely started, and we’re already one Dothraki army short. The undead army then charges into battle and the bloodbath ensues.
Triggered by the quick demise of the Dothraki, Daenerys hastily rides Drogon onto the battlefield and sets the wights ablaze. Jorah, Samwell, Jaime, Brienne, Gendry, Tormund, Edd and Podrick are all in the thick of things. Swords flying everywhere, bodies getting hacked; the battle is as brutal as ever. While most of the combatants are trained fighters, Sam is way outside his comfort zone, struggling to stay alive.
If the horrifying nature of the conflict wasn’t already apparent, Sam’s confusion and distress only emphasize it further. Add that Sam was essentially in the vanguard once the Dothraki were decimated, and chaos ensues. And then Edd, trying to help Sam, ends up getting a sword through the face – he’d be the first of many heroic deaths.
The Dance Of Dragons
Riding Rhaegal, Jon dives into the fray as well and sees an opportunity to take out a few White Walkers. The Night King, however, decides to complicate things, casting a storm onto the two of them. The dragons struggle in the icy storm, crashing into each other. They have no sense of direction, despite Davos’ best attempts at providing air traffic control from down below.
As if riding dragons through blizzards wasn’t difficult enough, the Night King arrives on the back of his Ice Dragon, Viserion, to make Jon and Dany’s lives a literal living hell. Aerial dragon chases are truly a sight to behold, especially with Viserion’s blue fire-breath piercing through the clouds.
Back at Winterfell, Greyworm and the Unsullied stand their ground bravely, but the wights are too overpowering. As everyone retreats back into the castle, Melisandre comes through again, lighting the trenches surrounding the castle on fire, keeping the wights at bay. Hope is rekindled for a hot minute, before wights begin throwing themselves onto the fire, allowing the others to pass through and siege the castle.
The battle moves inside Winterfell’s castle, and our main characters continue desperately fighting for their lives. Young Lyanna Mormont bravely confronts a giant and manages to kill it with a stab in the face, before being crushed to death. Meanwhile, Jaime and Brienne fight back-to-back in glorious fashion, just barely surviving.
Winter Is Coming
Seeing the wights approach the castle, Sansa heads to the crypts to join Tyrion, Varys, and the women and children. Here, they’re all pretty much defenseless, and Tyrion knows it as he takes to drinking. When the wights eventually make their way down here, slowing killing everyone in sight, Sansa and Tyrion share a touching moment, discussing their previous marriage. In a primarily action-packed episode, it was nice to get a quieter character interaction among the chaos.
Meanwhile, Arya starts slicing and dicing her way through the wights as best she can. Her fighting talents aren’t to be dismissed, but even for Arya, facing off against hoards of wights is difficult. After, when she’s sprinting down dark passageways while being chased by numerous wights, her plight seems futile. It was incredibly nerve-racking seeing just how frightened she was, fending off the wights. When Arya escapes deeper inside the castle, the episode becomes very horror-esque. The tension ramps up as she quietly tries to escape a room of wights, reminiscent of the raptor-kitchen scene in Jurassic Park.
Once Arya manages to evade the library filled with wights, Beric Dondarrion (armed with his always-aflame sword) and the Hound come to the rescue. Despite struggling in battle because of all the fire around, the Hound powers through for Arya’s sake. Nothing says friendship like overcoming your pyrophobia to kill some wights.
The three narrowly escape into an empty hall, but Beric succumbs to his wounds. Here, they are met by Melisandre who informs them that the Lord of Light kept resurrecting Beric so he could specifically save Arya, and now his purpose is fulfilled. With the wights approaching, Melisandre gives Arya a final pep talk. She brings up her prophecy of Arya shutting the eyes of a blue-eyed being, before asking what they say to the God of death. In a mic-drop moment, Arya replies: “Not today.” Arya has not come to play around.
Fire & Blood
This is when the battle goes from bad to worse. Despite knocking the Night King off his dragon and having Drogon fire-breath the hell out of him, he remains unphased. When Jon tries to approach him, the Night King resurrects all the slain good guys as wights and unleashes them on everyone. They really can’t catch a break. Jon desperately tries to fight his way to Bran, but wights and Viserion impede his pursuit.
Meanwhile, when Drogon is hoarded by wights, Dany is left defenseless on the ground. Before the undead can get to her, the ever-so-loyal, Jorah Mormont, steps up and defends his beloved, like Boromir defended Merry and Pippen. Everyone is fighting in desperation mode, as time is running out.
The Night King and his White Walkers eventually make their way to Bran (still stoic as ever) in the Godswood, who is being defending heroically by Theon. Comforted by Bran telling him he’s “a good man”, Theon charges at the Night King towards his inevitable death – redemption complete. The Night King slowly approaches Bran for the kill, and we cross-cut between various characters in peril (in slow motion no less), accompanied by some amazing music by Ramin Djawadi.
Right when all hope seems lost, Arya launches herself at the Night King from behind. Despite him catching her mid-attack, she deftly drops her Valryian steel dagger – the same one used during Bran’s attempted assassination back in season 1 – into her other hand and stabs the Night King in the gut. He and all the other White Walkers shatter like glass, and the wights collapse lifeless. Victory! Arya coming in clutch for the win in dramatic fashion. If only Syrio and Jaqen could see her now.
The Wars To Come
The episode ends with the survivors taking in the decimation surrounding them. The White Walkers are defeated but at a high cost. Unfortunately, Jorah dies in Dany’s arm, and she is understandably devastated. He would do anything for her, so dying to protect her is the best way he could have gone out. As the episode comes to a close, Melisandre walks out of the castle and dies, as the sun rises – following through on her promise at the start of the battle. Her purpose in aiding the defeat of the Night King is fulfilled so she can move on.
The episode obviously had extremely high expectations, and it lived up to them for the most part. It was visceral, suspenseful and emotionally satisfying. I expected more fan favorites to die, but I’m not complaining. There are still 3 episodes left after all. And sure, the Night King was killed quite easily, but it still felt earned because of how far the characters were tested. The whole battle genuinely felt hopeless for our heroes (and Arya has been training for this moment since forever) so the dramatic, eleventh-hour comeback was rewarding. With the White Walker threat out of the way, we return to the fight for the Iron Throne. Until next week!
Here’s a sneak-peek at next week’s episode: