Congratulations on surviving the Battle of Winterfell, dear reader. You and nearly all of your favorite characters had a pretty harrowing night. In “The Long Night,” we were treated to epic battle scenes, heroic deaths, some incredibly frustrating developments, and a whole lot of dark images.
Major spoilers below…
When you think of a great war movie like “Saving Private Ryan,” you recognize that much of the impact comes from being introduced to characters you love, then watching them fall. War is hell. People die. The truly great films in that genre wring you out, but leave you feeling that the sacrifice, no matter how great, was worth it. In this episode, only two deaths seemed to leave much impact. That’s a major failure when you consider the scope of this battle. And it seems to betray the ambition that made this show great.
When the series followed the books, anyone could die: Ned Stark, multiple kings, even the happy attendees at a wedding. Khal Drogo was an incredible character who died from an infection he got from a tiny cut. It kept us off-balance and we loved it. Since we’ve passed the books, the series has become significantly more predictable.
When you have a battle that is essentially humanity’s last stand, it’s fine to push all your chips in the middle of the table and lose. What if this battle left Sansa dead? Or Jaime? Or Tyrion? Sure, we’re happy we get more scenes with them, but if this show truly is “Game of Thrones,” we should have lost some major marquee names here. As it was… we lost more beloved characters during the Red Wedding. And that’s odd.
Who dies in Game of Thrones S08E03?
All of the Dothraki?
The episode begins with the perfectly-timed arrival of Melisadre, who asks all the Dothraki to put their arakhs in the air. She uses magic to light them on fire, which looked super cool. Then, for reasons that seem more cinematic than tactical, all the Dothraki charge into an unseen army and all those flaming swords get snuffed. Did it look cool? Sure. But that’s some godawful military planning. Whose idea was that? Anyway, if there are any Dothraki left, we couldn’t tell. Imagine following a dragon queen across the sea only to die in a foolhardy charge. Neat.
The acting Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch does Sam a solid by hacking away an attacking wight (the GoT version of a zombie), then he stands around long enough to get stabbed through the back of the head. Not an unexpected death, but a nice heroic moment
The Boss of Bear Island goes out like a champ. Fans seem divided on this death: some loving it, some rolling their eyes. When a giant wight smashes its way into Winterfell, it swats Lyanna aside. When she returns to fight it again, it picks her up and squishes her, but she gets the last laugh by stabbing it in the eye with dragonglass. She could have also just stabbed it in the foot and watched it explode, but we understand this was more cinematic. As much as we loved this character, this moment took us out of the episode, betraying the horrors of the battle in order to deliver a little pat on the head to all the Lyanna fanboys and fangirls.
The man with the flaming sword jumps into action to defend Arya when the wights overpower her in the castle halls. Our brave one-eyed Brother Without Banners sacrifices himself to help Arya (and The Hound) escape the horde. As Melisandre points out, “The Lord brought him back for a purpose. Now that purpose has been served.”
As the White Walkers make their way to Bran in the Godswood, Theon and the other Ironborn make a valiant stand. Theon is the last man between Bran and the Night King. Bran turns to Theon and says, “You’re a good man. Thank you.” Theon turns back to the Night King, charges, and gets impaled.
This was the true emotional apex of the episode. The arc of Theon’s heel turn, torture, and eventual redemption spanned nearly the entire series. For a boy who wanted nothing more than his father’s approval, his acceptance finally came from the surrogate little brother he once tried to kill. It was a beautiful moment and a fitting end for a tragic hero.
It’s a tad unbelievable that Jorah somehow survives the charge into the dead army while every Dothraki died. But we’ll give Jorah the Andal the benefit of the doubt. He later comes to the rescue of Daenerys when the wights close in. Jorah dies defending his queen. Unlike the scene with Bran and Theon, there are no parting words for Jorah. He probably deserved a “thank you” from his khaleesi, at the very least.
Talk about your unexpected MVPs! The Red Woman literally comes out of nowhere, hooks up the Dothraki with magic flaming swords, nearly gets herself killed while lighting the trenches on fire, then gives Arya the late-episode pep talk she needs to snap out of her weird funk and go slip a knife into the Night King’s belly. As she promises Davos, she follows through with her own death. After the battle, she slips off her magic de-aging necklace, walks out of Winterfell, grows old, and vanishes.
The Night King and his army
Although the army of the dead really stomped the living, The Night King was no match for the young woman with an unquenchable bloodlust. As The Night King strolls into the Godswood, it appears he’s about to murder Bran. Then, flying out of nowhere, Arya comes at him with the Valyrian steel dagger. He grabs her by the neck, but she drops the dagger into her other hand and plunges it into his stomach. Game over. Every reanimated corpse hits the turf. Arya saved the world. You can hear the “bravos” all the way from Braavos.
Who survives Game of Thrones S08E03?
Basically every other named character
Although this episode was incredibly hard to see, it definitely seems that everyone else who dies is just a no-name character. Miraculous! Plot armor saves characters who definitely should have died. We see Jon’s direwolf Ghost charge the undead with Jorah and the Dothraki, but we don’t see him return. Because he’s been spotted in the teaser for next week’s episode, he must have survived somehow. And although it seems Jon’s dragon (Rhaegal) gets killed in the battle with the undead dragon Viserion, the preview also shows he lives to fight another day. Everyone else you might care about still (improbably) lives: Bran, Sansa, Jon, Daenerys, Arya, Tyrion, Varys, Jaime, Brienne, Podrick, Tormund, Grey Worm, Missandei, The Hound, Sam, Gilly, Baby Sam, and Davos.
Things that were great about ‘The Long Night’
This episode featured some of the most beautiful images we’ve seen in the show. Among the great visuals? The charge of the flaming swords into the undead army. The dragon fire lighting up the zombies. The overwhelming impact of the dead army slamming into the army of the living. The “World War Z”-style way of the zombies scaling the walls. A giant zombie smashing up Winterfell. The shots of a frantic Jon passing his struggling friends in a last-ditch attempt to rescue Bran. A crazy busted-up Viserion spitting blue flame and thrashing around the castle. The shots of Theon’s final charge. Even Melisandre’s final moments were beautiful.
The setbacks were substantial. The episode did a great job hammering home the enormity of the threat from the undead army. The Dothraki disappeared. Everyone fell back behind the trenches. The storm was so intense, Dany couldn’t see the signal to light the trenches on fire. Melisandre’s trench-fire magic didn’t work until the last moment. The walls were breached. The Night King raised the recently deceased (including the not-so-recently-deceased in the crypt). Sansa and Tyrion looked like they were about to commit suicide together when things got bleak. Theon found himself facing certain death. The two living dragons were eliminated from the fight. Even Arya getting choked was a great way to raise the stakes. The tension was raised at every turn in this episode. We only wish they would have raised them higher by killing off some more beloved characters.
We loved The Hound being The Hound. The man hates fire and he’s a pragmatist. So when everything was going south, he was ready to pack it in. It was the most realistic reaction to the unfolding events. (Certainly more realistic than Samwell Tarly wading into certain death with a pair of dragonglass daggers.)
The music was fantastic. At many points in the episode, the score provided a heartbeat-like rhythm, which added to the tension. When the end came for Theon, the score had switched to incorporate a piano melody of resignation. The only other time the score has used piano was during the setup to Cersei’s wildfire revenge spree at the end of Season 6.
Things that were not so great
The episode was so bloody hard to see. We get it, the battle takes place at night. But we found ourselves straining to see who was alive and who might be getting killed. In some crucial moments, like the battle of the two dragons, it was hard to tell what was happening. Did both dragons die? It seemed like that, but the next episode preview shows that isn’t the case. Some more careful storyboarding might have helped us understand exactly what was going down there.
Again, we were subjected to terrible use of Ghost. Direwolves are supposed to be terrifying beasts. We’ve waited eight seasons to see them shred through a battlefield. Instead, we saw Ghost running alongside Jorah and then vanishing for the rest of the episode. What a terrible missed opportunity to pay off the presumed power of these massive pups.
Bran’s refusal to do anything was frustrating. We get it. Maybe the Three-Eyed Raven is agnostic about what happens to the world. But when the army of the dead is bearing down on you and you warg into ravens only to fly around and do nothing, that’s disappointing. We keep waiting for Bran to warg into a dragon or another person or Ghost. Instead, his little warging adventure delivered no information, didn’t raise the dramatic stakes, and wasn’t enjoyable on any level. Why did he need to warg anyway? What’s the point of having this power if you don’t use it when your entire species is on the line?
This episode featured so much general tactical stupidity. You have some incredibly smart military minds hanging out at Winterfell. The Night’s Watch had that giant scythe thing that wiped the Wildlings off The Wall. Tyrion set up the wildfire ambush of Blackwater Bay. We kept waiting all episode for the humans to pull out an unexpected ace, but the only tactic seemed to involve shoving more bodies into the meat grinder. There were no flanking maneuvers. No secret weapons. No reinforcements hiding somewhere. Heck, if they’d bothered to install locking metal doors inside Winterfell, they could have kept the zombies contained for a good long while.
To recap, the last ditch effort to save humanity involved flinging a good chunk of your army into the darkness against an unseen enemy, setting some trenches on fire, and then trying to knock the invaders off the walls. When possible, maybe deploy some dragons to spit fire at random. Neat. How long did that plan take you to devise?
The crypt scenes didn’t truly pay off. The best moments? The slow push-in shot of the entrance while people screamed and begged to be let in before being silenced. It was also fantastic when it looked like Sansa and Tyrion might kill themselves. But when the fallen Lords and Ladies of Winterfell were reanimated, it should have been a bloodbath. Instead, a handful of people were killed and people like Varys just sat under an overhang and survived. Again, this would have been a great opportunity to show Tyrion’s quick thinking or Sansa’s leadership abilities. Would it have been too much to ask to see a headless Ned Stark corpse pawing at the living? So many missed opportunities here.
Arya’s momentary freak-out didn’t seem to make sense. She was murdering wights by the dozen, but she suddenly got scared and forgot how to fight. This would have worked better if she had witnessed the death of someone she loved or admired. As it was, she seemed to get scared because she fell down. Then, in the library, where she could have easily dispatched the handful of wights roaming around, she tiptoed around like a coward. Only when Melisandre reminded her of Syrio Forel’s old retort to the God of Death did Arya get her groove back. The entire detour into cowardice doesn’t really fit with what we know of Arya now.
Our biggest issue with this episode? Too many survivors. Countless thousands died, but they were also nameless thousands. Sure, Theon died, but the person most affected would be his sister and she wasn’t in this episode. (Sansa will likely be bummed as well, but that’s it.) Dany will be upset about Jorah, but he wasn’t integral to anything. Lyanna and Beric and Edd are tertiary characters at best.
Are we to believe Grey Worm should have survived this assault? The Unsullied valiantly stood their ground to defend the retreat. Had Grey Worm died in that effort, it would have been a fitting end to a great and noble warrior.
Brienne seems to have fulfilled her purpose. Had she died, it would have left a huge hole for Podrick, Sansa, Jaime, and Tormund.
And sure, we like Sam, but he should have died roughly every 30 seconds in this episode. How many times did he end up flat on his back, bleating like a sheep? Someone should poke this dude with Valyrian steel to see if he even bleeds. His plot armor is impenetrable and it’s just silly.
With just three episodes remaining, it’s hard to imagine there will be a better opportunity to provide fitting, poetic, and heartfelt deaths for our heroes. If this series is to be true to its head-spinning beginnings, it needs to slit throats and break hearts.
Ultimately, this episode will be hailed as a fantastic and tense depiction of battle, but other than Theon’s ill-fated charge, there’s precious little emotion that lingers after the credits roll. Compare this to the episode where Hodor died, and you’ll see why this episode falls short of its potential.
Final score: 3 out of 4 stars