The most impressive aspect of ‘The Long Night’ is the fact that it didn’t drag on – somehow, an hour and twenty minutes of relentless battle flew by.
While I have a few criticisms of the way the story of the White Walkers ended, on a technical note, the battle was skillfully executed. Instead of a chaotic cluster of sword swinging, there was minimalism; darkness, illuminated only by bursts of flame.
This was the battle between ice and fire, dragons and witchcraft being the only respite against the dark void of undead. Visually, the episode was extremely inventive, silhouettes and high contrast colors giving the impression of an unrelenting hellscape, the lack of clarity adding to the fear and confusion.
The unexpected return of Melisandre, “Gandalf the Red,” sparked a ray of hope that was instantly, devastatingly quenched by the faceless horde of wights. That first charge of Dothraki, triumphantly wielding flaming swords before quietly extinguishing, one human life at a time, was the most chilling scene of the episode; the wights have never been as terrifying as they were in that single shot, and the chaos that followed.
On the battlefield, the wights are like a pulsing mass of insects, the human army hopelessly outnumbered, their skill and organization seemingly ineffective against the sheer volume of fearless rotting flesh. But that hopelessness turned out to be an illusion – the death toll of the episode was shockingly, disappointedly low.
It’s an odd thing to complain about, perhaps, but I wanted to be emotionally devastated by this battle – the crushingly low odds, the nightmarish, apocalyptic tone, didn’t deliver real consequences. Admittedly, most of Jon and Daenerys’ army has been devastated, but almost all of the main characters survived, seemingly through blind luck.
But the slow creep of undead, steadily, inevitably gaining more ground, was deeply unsettling. Melisandre’s role did little more than buy a bit of time for Winterfell, as her flaming barricade was smothered by a heap of disposable corpses.
As the dead leaked through the cracks in Winterfell’s defenses, Lyanna Mormont went down like a hero, managing to slay a zombie giant with a single blow – not bad for a thirteen-year-old. Edd, the old friend from the Night’s Watch, is stabbed by a wight, after protecting Sam, who really shouldn’t have survived this battle. As much as I love Sam, he’s a real liability on the battlefield.
Meanwhile, Jon and Daenerys fly blind through the icy mist, wasting the awesome potential of their dragons; this is what happens when you fly too close to the one who brings the storm. But finally, the two meet the Night King in air combat, and Jon’s dragon is devastated by Viserion.
It’s never been entirely clear why Viserion’s fire is bright blue, other than the fact it matches the Night King’s sense of style. I thought the undead dragon’s blue flames indicated a hotter temperature, but that doesn’t really make sense – so I suppose the fire is simply enchanted. Regardless, the blue flames leaking out of Viserion’s throat holes are a nice detail.
Daenerys, who has the most personal motivation to despise the Night King, manages to knock the King off his stolen steed, and falling from a great height doesn’t seem to phase him at all. When the Night King lands unscathed, and allows Daenerys to soak him in dragon flame just so he can smirk at her, we finally get a hint of human emotion from the creature; smugness seems to be his singular personality trait.
Jon, whose dragon has crash-landed, struggles to catch up with the King, in an intense scene that results in frustration. The agonizing sprint isn’t quite fast enough, as the Night King raises the dead before Jon can engage him in combat. It’s a little disappointing that Jon, who has been well aware of the threat beyond the Wall for several seasons, never even got to take a swing at the Night King.
It’s even more frustrating that, after being completely encircled by the dead, the next scene shows Jon safe, admittedly helped by his dragon, but still a bit of a cheat. There are several scenes which show our favorite characters seemingly dying, hopeless outnumbered by corpses, and then managing to … not die, somehow. Hmm.
Of course, the mass raising of the dead inevitably awakens the corpses in the crypt, but at least said corpses are old and crumbly, having the texture of soggy biscuits. Sansa and Tyrion manage to hide from the worst of it, but really, Tyrion should have seen this coming; time to cut down on the wine, perhaps.
Theon and Bran share a genuinely heartwarming scene, in which Theon apologizes for all his terrible misdeeds, while Bran reassures him not to worry about it – Theon has done what he needed, as his final purpose is to delay the Night King for a few seconds.
But in all seriousness, Theon’s character arc really has been tremendous, having shifted from treacherous coward, to pitiful slave, finally redeeming himself as a noble hero.
There’s a lot of predestination running through this episode. Having received the Valyrian Steel dagger from Bran, Arya appears to have been destined to slay the Night King (I told you so). Melisandre gives up her artificially extended life after the battle is won, having served her purpose, while Beric Dondarrion, the man who was resurrected several times, was destined to save Arya.
But Beric’s fate bothered me – it’s a bit of a strange purpose, to have been repeatedly brought back to life, just so that he could block the wights from following Arya down a hallway for a few seconds. The Hound also appears to have been spared by the Lord of Light, so he too could assist Arya.
And Arya’s heroic moment bothered me too. After losing her spear and seemingly panicking, intimidated by the wights, Arya flees (the ensuing scene in the library was fantastic, extremely tense and unsettling to see the wights simply walking around, searching for a target).
But after Melisandre encourages her, Arya loses all trepidation and just … pushes through the wights, who have massively increased in number, and manages to get straight to the Night King, flanked by his White Walkers.
Arya’s big moment was foreshadowed in her previous sparring scene with Brienne, in which she pulled the “dropped dagger” move, and by Bran handing her the blade in the spot where she would eventually use it to kill the Night King.
But I don’t understand why she needed to be saved by the Hound and Beric, only to move almost effortlessly through the lethal crowd to kill the Night King. As heroic and uplifting as her moment was, it was undercut by the question of what allowed her to get there in the first place. Was Melisandre’s pep talk really that inspiring?
Regardless, the stabbing results in a mass die off, as the Night King’s ever-growing army of undead collapses, as does Jorah Mormont, who has survived a great deal up until this point.
Daenerys watches as the most loyal man in the history of Westeros finally falls, defending her to his last breath. It’s the extinction of House Mormont, arguably the most significant death of the episode.
Finally, Melisandre takes off her enchanted choker and dies, seemingly with a sense of relief, like taking off uncomfortable shoes after a long, long shift. The Lord of Light seems to have orchestrated the death of the Night King, seemingly in a collaboration with the Many-Faced God, who gifted Arya her abilities.
And that’s it. The supernatural threat, foreshadowed for seven seasons, has been eliminated; Cersei’s gamble paid off, and now she is in a position to crush her rivals. And to be honest, I’m glad the Night King is dead.
I always wanted Cersei to be the primary antagonist of this story; the Night King had no personality, no relationship to any character. He was a force of nature, like a hurricane, infinitely less interesting than the selfish Cersei Lannister, who manages to be both utterly loathsome and oddly sympathetic.
Not only that, the situation between Jon and Daenerys has just gotten extremely interesting, and the status of the North is still unresolved. The Night King was the common enemy holding these conflicting interests together, but now that he has been defeated, the real battle is about to begin.
It’s always been about who gets to sit on the Iron Throne, and there’s something very petty, and reassuringly human about that.
- Where on earth did Bran go when he was warging? I assumed he was doing something to aid the battle, but it seems as though he was just … flying around. Possessing the cluster of crows must have had a purpose; perhaps we’ll see in the next episode. That being said, I love the fact that Bran had zero reaction to the entire army of undead collapsing.
- Melisandre subtly tells Arya to kill the Night King by stating: “Brown eyes, green eyes, blue eyes.” Emphasis on the blue.
- Jon’s dragon didn’t die on screen, so we can assume he’s still alive. Though, I wonder if Daenerys will be annoyed at him for allowing harm to come to her baby? She’s already got a reason to resent Jon.
- Jon, after so many near-death experiences (and one actual death experience), still has no regard for his own life. He was ready to be engulfed in Viserion’s flames, the timing just happened to work out. But the Lord of Light must have resurrected Jon for a reason, and it wasn’t so he could momentarily aid Arya.