The latest episode of Game of Thrones was hyped beyond belief. “The Battle for Winterfell” was possibly the most anticipated episode of the season, showcasing the war between the united characters of Westeros (sans Cersei) vs. the White Walkers in what was thought to be a bloodbath of epic proportions, on par with the Red Wedding. But when the episode came roaring onto screens last night, it had some noticeable issues that, in this author’s opinion, prevented it from reaching the heights of true greatness. We’ll delve more deeply into SPOILERS in this review of “The Long Night” but before we do, here’s your chance to turn back now in case you haven’t seen the episode.
So, turn back now! Last warning?
Alright, still here. Then let’s take a look at what worked and what didn’t in last night’s epic battle.
The opening moments of the battle start off grinding out the tension. The defenders of Winterfell stand assembled. Grey Worm stands before the gates, standing stalwart with his fellow Unsullied. Jamie Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, Podrick Payne, Tormund Giantsbane, Samwell Tarly, Sandor Clegane, Beric Dondarrion, Jorah Mormont, Davos Seaworth, Ghost, and Lyanna Mormont stand among their ranks. Arya and Sansa Stark stand tall on the walls. Tyrion Lannister and Gilly hide underneath Winterfell in the crypts with the common citizens. The dragons circle overhead. Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen finally stand side by side on the highest point of the keep, staring ahead into the darkness beyond. Its so quiet you can hear a pin drop as the tension is ratcheted up beyond belief, as the characters stare off from the sanctuary of Winterfell, unable to see into the darkness beyond, waiting…waiting…for something to happen.
Melisandre arrives presently (nice to see you again!) and although Davos doesn’t trust her, he allows her inside. Melisandre gifts the soldiers of Winterfell with the blessing of the Lord of Light, making their swords alight with flame similar to Beric’s own. The army then charges off to meet the army of the dead and flaming cannonballs are fired off. They strike something ahead, engulfing the battlefield with pockets of light…showcasing a HUGE tide of wights coming out of the darkness. What follows next is one of the episode’s brilliant moments, as the POV switches back to Winterfell, with the sea of torches visible in the distance. One by one, with no sound, the torches go out. The terror at this situation is boldly felt and captures the horror of the White Walkers without them even being seen. A great artistic choice, well done!
Image via Vox
But that’s when the episode takes a sharp left turn towards incomprehensibility. As the wights swarm Winterfell en masse, the defenders rush out to meet them. What should be a great/terrifying action scene is unfortunately marred by one fact: you can’t see what’s happening! Between the very dark lighting, the fast paced editing, and the chaotic style of the melee itself, the action is downright incomprehensible. You can’t see what’s happening onscreen, which is problematic to follow the characters who are in real mortal peril fighting for their lives against the surge of the undead. This is a problem that pervades throughout the entire episode and unfortunately, one that brings it down considerably. Its almost impossible to tell what’s happening onscreen throughout the battle through much of its runtime and considering the sheer scale of the battle itself, this is a huge problem. We want to see what’s happening! We want to see who lives and dies! But whether through design or error, you simply can’t throughout ‘The Long Night’.
Some of these moments were obviously intentional, such as when the Night King arrives and his Walkers conjure an enormous blizzard to blind the dragons as Jon and Daenerys pursue him. This scene captures the frantic pursuit very well, being very hard to see as the dragons race around desperately through the blizzard, getting attacked at points by the Night King atop his zombie dragon and only providing brief moments of relief as the two exit the blizzard. But at other points, you simply can’t tell what’s going on, such as when Grey Worm and the Unsullied defend the gate, Jamie and Brienne fighting desperately on the walls against the endless tide, or when Arya is sneaking around inside Winterfell, trying to avoid lurking wights. The episode is unfortunately undercut by the fact that we can’t see any of it.
You could argue it is a stylistic choice in order to capture the chaotic pace of medieval warfare. However, previous episodes such as “Battle of the Bastards” embrace this as well and they weren’t nearly as visually hard to follow. You can blend the chaotic style of medieval warfare with comprehensible cinematography without an issue, as previously shown, but this episode just couldn’t do it for whatever reason.
Still, this episode was full of cool moments when we could see them. Lyanna Mormont’s death scene was a tearjerking highlight, as she faces down an undead giant that smashes its way through the gates. The monster begins butchering soldiers and slaps the little girl aside. But Lyanna gets right back up and with a scream of a warrior, charges back in towards the towering monster. The giant grabs her and begins crushing her but Lyanna, with her last breath, stabs the beast with a dragon glass dagger, killing the giant at the cost of her own life. RIP, Lyanna, you went out like a boss!
Other great moments included Sansa and Tyrion’s heart-to-heart scenes in the crypts as the battle raged overhead, bringing their relationship closer as they spoke of how they were nearly married, the dragon fight as Jon Snow took on the Night King’s undead mount in a midair duel to the death, and Jon Snow attempting to kill the Night King himself only to be stopped by a wall of zombies that the Night King raises from the corpses of the battlefield. The last stand of Theon Greyjoy was also a great moment of the character, as Theon faced down dozens of wights to defend Bran, getting a solemn thank you from Bran as his former brother told him he was a good man. Theon then ran at the Night King himself, only to be gutted and died. A great ending of the character and another badass exit.
Still, despite what viewers thought would be a bloodbath of an episode, there really weren’t that many ‘big’ deaths. Theon Greyjoy, of course, has been a pivotal part of the show but his importance has waned with time and he was much more of a side character in the lead up to his demise. Lyanna Mormont’s death of course was heartbreaking, but she was never a main cast member, just a member of the supporting cast to whom viewers grew attached (for good reason). Beric Dondarrion also perished but his status as a cast member is quite similar to Lyanna. Melisandre walked her last at the episode’s end but she too had been dwindling in importance and the fact that was the first time she showed up in a long while undermined her death scene, as it appeared she appeared out of the blue simply to die. Arguably the ‘biggest’ death was Jorah Mormont, who died defending Daenerys from endless waves of zombies, but even he wasn’t a main cast member either. Everyone who was on the A-list came away relatively scott-free, without even any serious injuries to show for it. Even characters who arguably should have died— i.e: Sansa and Tyrion trapped in the crypts with the undead, Samwell buried in an avalanche of wights, and Jamie and Brienne overrun by wights— survived. Honestly, it’s a little disappointing that not a single main cast member perished, especially considering Game of Thrones’s reputation of killing anyone, everyone, no matter who they are. Perhaps we overhyped ourselves but still…its disappointing nonetheless.
Of course, the most controversial moment will be the death of the Night King himself. The big guy perished at the hands of Arya, who shanks him with her dagger, causing the Night King to quite suddenly explode, with his entire army of zombies falling apart with his death. It is a sudden, jarring moment, perhaps somewhat anti-climatic, but one that feels more in line with the show’s desire to subvert audience expectations. One hopes we’ll learn a bit more about the White Walkers now that they’re gone, as the Night King and his troops never showed their motivations nor any real personality traits. They were just evil and while that certainly made them threatening, it would be a disappointment if they didn’t have much else going for them.
It seems now Cersei will become the threat for the reminder of the season. We’ll have to wait to see what happens but it be a bit sour to have the supposedly main threat offed and a smaller, more petty threat take his place. Still, we’re sure the showrunners have something up their sleeves.
The Battle for Winterfell proved to be a rather mixed bag. With the lighting issues, lack of character deaths, and the death of the Night King sorted in with a truly epic scale and great moments this one isn’t bad but perhaps fell short of true greatness. We can only hope Cersei proves herself to be just as a threat as the Night King’s forces but we’ll have to see.
What were your thoughts on the episode?
Featured Image Via Vox