Oh, wait! We're not here to talk about Barry. (Still—how good was that???) We're here to talk about one of the weekend's biggest cultural events—no, no, not Endgame, either. We're here to discuss the third episode of the final season of Game of Thrones!
Last night's episode was the show's biggest yet, with a massive nighttime battle between two gigantic, dragon-led armies. There was action, drama, intrigue, suspense, sorrow, and excitement! And a lot of it was kinda hard to see, with the TV screen virtually black for long stretches, offset by occasional flecks of orange flame. And while Avengers: Endgame surely won the weekend in terms of pure media saturation, "The Long Night" is one of the most significant episodes Game of Thrones has ever aired, making it a landmark in television.
We'll get into it, with spoilers aplenty, so back off if you wish to remain unsullied.
ERIK HENRIKSEN: Over the past few seasons, and the further away it’s gotten from the books, GoT has gotten some well-deserved criticism for abandoning logic and drama in favor of spectacle that seems more like Dungeons & Dragons cover art than anything from A Song of Ice and Fire. But! No other TV show can pull off cinematic mega-battles as well as GoT, and sometimes, Dungeons & Dragons-style spectacle is fucking cool. It’s also great to see an episode that’s so well written, and so well conceived, that it knows when to shut up: Big chunks of this episode were utterly wordless, and seeing GoT tell a story this well, using almost entirely visual storytelling, was as impressive as it was nerve-wracking.
SUZETTE SMITH: While this was technically an episode, it didn’t really feel like one. It was undeniably a GOOD 80-minute fight scene, but I’m unsold on the concept of the 80-minutes fight. I WILL ALLOW IT THIS ONCE. “The Long Night” was as long of a fight as they could do without breaking it up into two episodes, but I didn’t know they wouldn’t break it up. So 70 minutes in, when I realized they only had 10 minutes left and the Night King was slo-mo walking towards the Weirwood, I couldn’t stop looking at my watch and thinking: Now they only have six minutes. Will they resolve this in the next five minutes? Shit hit the fan at three and a half minutes of episode to spare. Despite all the dread I’d already experienced, I was consumed with a kind of real-world dread that the episode would end in a good ol’ fashioned Bran stare and a to be continued and we’d have to wait another week. Instead, we got glory.
NED LANNAMANN: This was a GOOD episode that should have been a GREAT episode. I was as excited as anyone about an episode-length battle against the undead forces of literal evil, and I loved the scope of the episode as well as the long stretches without dialogue. But the action was often too hard to follow—chaos combined with near-blackness makes for muddled storytelling. It was simply too dark, and I'm not talking about the tone. I'm talking about the visible light spectrum.
LEILANI POLK: This was a GOOD episode because THE SHIT WENT DOWN!!! But I, too, had trouble following what was going on during the battle on the field. That hellish wall-of-snow storm that came with the careening stream of dead made for a seemingly impenetrable force of evil, but it was also impenetrable to my eyes (and frankly too dark for my outdated “high def” TV). This was most annoying during the in-air dragon fight. I know wight Viserion and the Night King were taken down by Rhaegal and Jon Snow (really, all credit here goes to Rhaegal), but I couldn’t actually see how Rhaegal took him down, nor exactly what happened to Rhaegal—was that wight dragon at the climax wight Viserion or a newly wighted Rhaegal?
LEILANI POLK: When the Night King, after not dying from the dragon fall or burning to death when torched by Drogon, is on the field, alone with Jon Snow, and instead of facing him superhuman man against man (and give us the one-on-one fight we were all expecting), he reanimates all the soldiers at Winterfell that his own army just killed to do his dirty work for him. That moment. I mean, what the fuck dude?
NED LANNAMANN: The Arya leap is a contender, for sure. But I’m gonna go with Lyanna Mormont stabbing the zombie ice giant in the eye. She was so little and he was so big! It was both terrifying and adorable.
SUZETTE SMITH: Melisandre’s “I’ll just let myself out to dissolve at dawn” really hit home. I’ve already used it to describe how nice it feels to finally be at the end of Theon’s redemption arc. I saw someone else use it to describe how we’re all feeling post Battle of Winterfell.
ERIK HENRIKSEN: For all its manipulative predictability, it was… Theon’s? It worked as well as it did, I think, thanks to the final words he heard: RoboBran telling him he was “a good man,” which, in Theon’s case, is as loaded of a phrase as has ever been uttered in the series.
NED LANNAMANN: The biggest shock of the episode for me was that only a handful of the people we care about actually died. Out of those, I’ll miss Jorah the most, but his death seemed weirdly perfunctory. The deaths that gave me the most shivers were that of the Dothraki army. Those shots were among the few instances where the severe darkness of the visual palette paid off—their flaming swords, reduced to specks of light in the distance, extinguished one by one.
SUZETTE SMITH: Most of the emotion in this episode was dread or fear. I liked the slow opening before the fight began with everyone spinning their wheels. The ominous space of watching the Dothraki lights go out really hit me.
LEILANI POLK: I mean, Lyanna Mormont, obviously. Little firecracker showed that wight giant what time it was. I screamed, “YOU GO GURL!!” when it happened, but I cried a little watching it again later, during the post-episode wrap. I mean, we all knew she was gonna die, right? Just didn’t know how epically beautiful and poetic it would be. But, at the same time, kinda obvious?
Also, Melisandre lit the swords of the Dothraki with fire… and then they were duly massacred. She ignited the trenches, but the dead, shortly afterward, simultaneously extinguished the flames and built a bridge of their own bodies to break through it. I thought her walking out into the battlefield was her going to bring Jorah back to life, which I didn't really want but felt like that was the reason they were keeping her around to that moment. But ultimately, she kills herself. Her death made me mad. What did she do, exactly? NO ONE WAS REANIMATED, DAMN IT!
NED LANNAMANN: Bran. What the fuck are you doing. You warged into a flock of crows and flapped around in the clouds for no reason while thousands of people were getting slaughtered on the ground below. I guess he did this to let the Night King know where he was, or something? Couldn’t Bran have done that while warging into something useful? And didn’t the Night King already know?
ERIK HENRIKSEN: As exciting as it was to watch Arya
do everything in this episode save RoboBran by using the same dagger that was once used to try to kill him, I wish there wasn’t a need for the scene in the first place—in other words, I wish the Night King never existed. From the time they first showed up in the books, the Others and their Wights were creepy enough on their own; the last thing they needed was a hollow figurehead who functioned like the Borg Queen and looked like a Darth Maul popsicle. The Night King was never half as scary or imposing as the show thought he was, and I am very glad to no longer have to look at his constipated raisinface.
LEILANI POLK: I think, in the end, the way they took out Theon, and also, Bran’s stupid face while it happened. For the former, like, he ran at the Night King? He didn’t have a better last maneuver? Like, you know you’re going to die, you couldn’t at least try a feint? But also, Bran is such a dick. Also, who scored the last scenes? Two thumbs down. It was distractingly awful.
SUZETTE SMITH: t feels like we got off easy, even if most of the Dothraki and Unsullied were massacred and the castle destroyed. Pretty much all our favorite boyfriends are still alive.
ERIK HENRIKSEN: The crypts beneath Winterfell perhaps not being the safest place to hide during a siege that’s defined by dead people coming back to life. (I did half-expect to see Undead Ned, though. No dice.) That said, the Sansa and Tyrion scenes here were smart and bittersweet, and Varys got the line of the night, which at the start of the episode seemed like a darkly funny joke and at the end of the episode seemed like an even darker, even funnier joke: “At least we’re already in a crypt.”
LEILANI POLK: When Sansa was like “I don’t know how to use this,” referring to the knife Arya gives her before the battle begins, and Arya’s like "stick 'em with the pointy end." Cute, but such a predictable response.
SUZETTE SMITH: I anticipated the DRAGON FIGHTS and CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP SCKRIIITCHH CLAAAW. Martin’s novella The Princess and the Queen describes dragon fights as situations that generally destroy everyone involved. The only thing to learn is: Don’t waste your dragons by fighting them. I am astounded that Drogon and Rhaegal are still with us.
NED LANNAMANN: The dead bodies rising from the crypt. I was actually surprised it took so long for it to happen, making me think at a certain point that it might not happen after all. Which raises further questions: What are the limits of the Night King’s powers? Can he only do that raised-arm thing once per battle? Now we’ll never know.
SUZETTE SMITH: Arya (airhorn airhorn airhorn) Stark! Holy shit! When the knife dropped? The knife drop is where it’s at.
LEILANI POLK: Um, hello, Arya? She is literally, the shit.
NED LANNAMANN: I have to give this one to Arya. She literally saved the world single-handedly. But again, this could’ve been handled even better, I think. I know that her dagger was Valyrian steel and I know that Valyrian steel can kill White Walkers. But I think I only know this from the books and supplemental articles and recaps and podcasts. If I were going from the show alone, I don’t think any of this was made super clear. (And the introduction of dragonglass as another thing that can kill the undead makes it all the more confusing.) And what was that spear thingy she asked Gendry to make for her, or is it not important? How did she know exactly when to show up in the Weirwood? Was the leap planned? If so, was Theon part of the plan? If so, why did Theon lunge forward instead of letting the Night King approach to where Arya landed on him? So many questions.
ERIK HENRIKSEN: I suspect most answers here are going to be (A) Arya, (B) Theon, or (C) Lyanna, but the trophy should go to (M) Melisandre. Between outfitting the Dothraki horde with flaming arakhs (for all the good it did them) and igniting Winterfell’s spike-trenches, the Red Priestess was already pulling her weight—but her pep talk to Arya was arguably what lead to the final outcome of the battle.
SUZETTE SMITH: Since they don’t have any army anymore, I predict that Jon Snow will have to consider marrying Cersei!
NED LANNAMANN: The tidy outcome of this battle has really thrown my compass off. I thought way more of our heroes were going to die, and I thought the Night King was going to be the ultimate final adversary. Now it seems like everything is preordained and predictable: Dany/Jon versus Cersei, with lots of attendant in-fighting and squabbles. I suspect Dany and Jon will have a harder time defeating Cersei’s army than they did the Night King’s, because of storytelling necessities, but if this is the case, it’s going to feel utterly false to me.
LEILANI POLK: Jaime gonna find out Cersei isn't preggos, OR Cersei is gonna tell him she lied to him but that she is now carrying Euron's ugly get, and Jaime's gonna strangle her to death.
ERIK HENRIKSEN: Sansa and Tyrion are gonna DO IT
NED LANNAMANN: I am shocked that the Night King storyline is over this easily, and with so little new information about him or the other White Walkers or the undead. Part of me is relieved so few characters were killed, but I mostly feel like something was missing. In the end, what were the real stakes of the battle? What were the costs of their victory? Either a shoe has yet to drop (Bran takes on Night King tendencies, perhaps?) or maybe they’re saving all that stuff for the spinoff prequel show about the Long Night. Now we’re stuck with Cersei, a character that people seem to really be into but I’ve always found to be contrived to the point of being uninteresting.
ERIK HENRIKSEN: Uh… they’re okay, I guess? Last week’s episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” will go down as one of the high points of the series, and now that we’re apparently all done with the War Against the Evil Ice Zombies From the North Pole, I’m strangely nonplussed about the rest of this season. With its past two episodes, GoT has absolutely nailed both the character and story stuff that made the series so great and the overblown spectacle that’s come to define the show. I can’t be alone in wondering if the last three episodes are going to be a bit of a letdown.
LEILANI POLK: It feels a little rushed—like, one episode for the entire battle with the Night King and wights, and three more episodes of battles/etc. with Cersei & Co.? It makes me wonder how exactly they're gonna stretch it out. Hopefully it's done cleverly. My fear is, not.
SUZETTE SMITH: I AM LARGELY CONTENT. COULD USE MORE DIRE WOLF THO.
Read our earlier discussions of Game of Thrones' eighth and final season!
• Episode 1: "Winterfell"
• Episode 2: "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms"