It is finally here. The moment that fans have awaited with both dread and excitement. The living versus the dead. Ice versus fire. The long night is finally upon us. It is time for the battle of Winterfell.
Following a grounded introduction to Game of Thrones’ final season with two episodes priding itself on slow-burning dialogue and suspenseful build-up, this episode was promised to be a different beast altogether. This is the battle of all battles, the final showdown. Will the living prevail? Or will the dead annihilate everything in their path?
The answer is “The Long Night”, directed by show-favourite Miguel Sapochnik, the mastermind behind “Hardhome”, “Battle of the Bastards”, and “The Winds of Winter”, his season 8 debut outing following suit to the extreme bloodshed, exhilarating action and heart-shattering drama of his predecessors. It might not hit the same series-defining heights as the aforementioned series greats, but make no mistake – “The Long Night” is a breathtaking piece of television.
The opening ten minutes to the episode provide a momentary respite to the chaos that is about the ensue. The vulnerable make their way to the crypts below Winterfell, the Unsullied and Dothraki take their places on the open battlefield. A silhouette arrises from the darkness, cloaked in red and mounted on horseback. Melisandre has returned, bringing the Lord of Light with her. “Tell them to lift their swords”, she instructs Jorah. The Dothraki pierce the sky with their arakhs, only for the Red Priestess to set them aflame. It’s a tiny bit of hope for the Dothraki horde, a hopefulness dampened by darkness and death. The horde of Wights seamlessly eradicates the Dothraki with Daenerys looking on in terror. “The Night King is coming”, her lover and nephew (yuck) warns. “The dead are already here”, she replies.
We were promised bloodshed, and bloodshed we received. In the days approaching the episode, cast and crew fled to social media to warn us of what was to come. What came we could never have expected. Or perhaps even see. Most of the action is incomprehensible through the darkness, an Ozark issue that many fans have voiced their distaste towards, but it serves a purpose here. Darkness is very much a character in “The Long Night” as much as the ensemble of heroes we have grown to love are. Through the mosaic of chiaroscuro lighting, we are treated with some gorgeous visuals: flames engulfing the skies, impenetrable snowstorms casting over the North, dragons floating above the chaos. It is the long night, not the long afternoon, and darkness causes unimaginable chaos and a sense of mass hysteria that each actor embodies with true precision. Credit must also be given to Ramin Djawdi, whose melancholic and dramatic score remains consistent to his work thus far. He encapsulates each moment through an elegant flick of a wrist. Whether it’s death, hopefulness, or the mundane: there is no emotion that he is unable to musically represent.
Every clash of steel on steel lands. Every death feels real. And boy, there plenty of character farewells here. Among the myriad of fallen Dothraki, Unsullied and proud Northerners, brave, little Lyanna Mormont meets her demise in fitting fashion, taking on a Wight giant and piercing its pale blue eye with dragonglass. Jorah dies in the arms of his Khaleesi after protecting her from certain death, destiny fulfilled. Gone too is Theon Greyjoy, whose arc comes full circle by protecting Bran – one of the episode’s more heart-shattering moments. Bravery is oft rewarded with death, and “The Long Night” is no different. Yet within the grand scheme of the main battle, there are smaller, more grounded quests for survival. Arya’s navigation through a Wight-infested library, Sansa and Tyrion’s compassionate embraces in the dark, murky Crypts – these are momentary rest-bites from the overwhelming chaos that reminds us just how compelling these characters truly are.
But perhaps the most surprising death is that of The Night King himself. In a fist-pumping, euphoric moment, Arya emerges from the darkness and throws herself onto the pale-eyed King in a desperate attempt to save her wheelchair-bound freak of a brother. He sees it coming, of course, and grips her by the throat, and with our expectation of Game of Thrones thus far, we expect the demise of Arya Stark. But in true Arya-ninja fashion, she plunges her Valyrian steel dagger into the heart of The Night King; using the same blade that once almost killed Bran to penetrate the exact spot that the Children of the Forest once impregnated. He obliterates into tiny shards of ice, with his entire army following suit. Is The Night King, the enemy who has lurked in the shadows since Season 1, actually dead? We can only presume so, but it is somewhat of a rushed moment. But with only six episodes to conclude the final chapter, it logistically makes sense. This is a recurring issue from the past two seasons that has tainted the entire series with an unshakeable notoriety for forced narrative cohesion. But one must remember that every show has a budget. Every show has only a certain amount of time for its voice to be heard. An unfortunate, but inevitable flaw.
With the Night King set aside and the Great War won, the forthcoming episodes seem destined towards a different type of war, a war among the living. For me, Game of Thrones is at its best when it concerns itself with the scheming, the politics and the betrayals of Westeros. Fans will be treated with three extended episodes that will flesh out the battle for the Iron Throne, and hopefully reach a fitting conclusion for a show that has provided its fair share of bloodshed, unexpected twists and emphatic storylines.
I, for one, can’t wait.