Game of Thrones: 8.03 The Long Night
A huge warning of spoilers before starting this review. We recommend you watch the episode before proceeding...
The battle between the heroes of Westeros and the army of the dead has been the most anticipated event in the entirety of Game of Thrones. And this week, the battle of Winterfell absolutely delivered. Forget Blackwater, The Watchers On The Wall, Battle Of The Bastards and The Spoils of War, this was the big moment of Game of Thrones and it gave audiences some of the most terrify, brutal, thrilling, jaw-dropping and surprisingly stunning spectacle of an episode ever shown on TV.
The biggest surprise perhaps, were in how audience expectations were subverted. While the battle was undeniably a massacre, it wasn't quite the character bloodbath we all feared. Against insurmountable odds, it appeared that the likes of Brienne, Jamie, Grey Worm and maybe Sam had survived. Tyrion, Sansa, Missandei and Varys seemed to endure the terrifying ordeal in the crypts. Bran and the Night King's showdown wasn't the big event we assumed it would be. While I admit to being a little disappointed that Bran didn't really do anything all episode, it did give us THAT joyous twist with Arya. The fact that The war with the dead is over so soon is a real twist, particularly what that means for the narrative of the final three episodes.
Director Miguel Sapochnik returned to deliver a grand, cinematic spectacle that took a gruelling 55 nights to shoot. And surprisingly it was as beautiful as it was intense and visceral. The shots of the Dothraki with their flaming swords charging through the night was stunning as were the moments with the three dragons locked in combat high above the clouds. Admittedly there were some moments early on that felt a little to dark - something which has appeared to have caused some debate online - but the oppressive gloom of darkness and the raging conditions of the blizzard in the open ground stages of the battle only added to the atmosphere of the piece. This wasn't pretty sword fights and heroic duels; this was a guttural, intense struggle to stay alive against the walking dead that wanted to tear you apart.
And the episode really built up to that battle perfectly; the gloom, the sounds in the distance, the impending threat of the army of the dead while inside Winterfell characters prepared for the fight to come. I did wonder at the senseless loss of the Dothraki - I got the 'Charge of the Light Brigade' theme going on, but it did feel like a senseless waste of life. However once the infantry met the dead in battle and Daenerys and Jon on their dragons began sweeping the enemy with dragon fire, things really went up a level.
The loss of Eddison early on was necessary to show the stakes of the battle, but I'm surprised that more of our favourite characters survived this round unscathed. Even so, by the time the retreat was sounded, there was already a sense that the living was losing this war. Melissandre played a crucial part in her final episode; the lighting of the barricades around the castle walls was a grand moment that gave our heroes a chance to regroup. However the subsequent assault on the walls of Winterfell was something else; mounds of zombies crawling over each, creating a mountain of living dead to reach the battlements was as impressive as it was horrifying. While I admittedly left The Walking Dead behind a couple of seasons ago, there was never anything close to the horrific grandeur we saw in episodes like this and season five's Hardhome.
The arrival of the Night King on his undead dragon really upped the stakes again. The battle in the skies was nail biting stuff, culminating in the thrilling showdown between Jon and the Night King as he replayed his resurrection of the dead card last seen at Hardhome. Turning the slain into more undead soldiers was the point at which it truly seemed all hope was lost - I would have liked to have seen our heroes face off against their fallen friends turned enemies but it really was gripping stuff. Drogon smothered in zombies was a daunting sight indeed, suggesting that all three of Daenerys's dragons might be dead by the time the credits rolled. Indeed, it wasn't clear of Drogon was merely exhausting or dead by the time he returned to Daenerys's side.
Even amid all the chaos of battle, there were still moments of great character growth. Tyrion and Sansa connected; her joke that he wasn't her worst husband was fun but it was the moment behind the tomb as the undead broke through the crypt that offered a moment of real growth between then, sharing what might have been their last moments together. Fan favourite Lady Mormont also had moments to shine, rallying troops at the gate in her battle armour and then dying a heroic death, slaying the zombie giant as it squeezed the life out of her. As upsetting as it was to see her die, she was at least a fierce hero to the very end.
Talking of heroics, Jorah' s last stand might have been one of the most gallant sequence of the episode, saving his queen as the undead closed on around them. His loss, dying in Daenerys's arms, might have been the most bittersweet moments in The Long Night. Theon also got a bold last stand, taking on the Night King after defending Bran from the undead and falling to the show's chief villain. His death was inevitable the moment he chose to stand by Bran's side but even I was surprised at how actions in battle at the end. Bran's words, thanking him before that final stand was another moment to make the audience's heart swell and a lovely end to what has been a troubled character throughout the show.
And then there was Arya Stark. Even before her final heroic act, she had real moments to shine. Taking on the undead with her double dragon bladed staff really impressed, while the sequence in the library was terrifying. Amidst the chaos of the battle, Arya trying to escape the zombies was really nail biting stuff. Sandor and Beric's rescue attempt was another wonderful moment with the many-times resurrected Lord Dondarridon finally meeting his maker. And once again, Melissandre proved her worth, giving Arya the strength to save everyone.
Arya's story has been some of the greatest and most frustrating elements of Game of Thrones. While Maisie Williams has always been superb in the role, there have been times where her story has faltered, particularly in Braavos. But all that training and experience, from her tutelage under Syrio Forel, Sandor Clegane and the House of Black and White, paid off as she took out old blue eyes in a stunning twist that saw her kill the Night King and with him the entire army of the dead.
This was an intense episode right up to the end; Daenerys and Jorah surrounded by zombies, Sam, Jamie and Brienne overwhelmed by the dead, Jon battling zombies literally falling through the ceilings and taking on an undead dragon - this really was edge of your seat stuff. Not to mention a breath-taking score from Ramin Djawadi, that proves he is one of the best composers currently working on TV. And then we had Melisandre, who having finally fought off the night, cast aside her necklace and withered in the snow, an old, old woman. She had done too much to make her a sympathetic character, but she certainly delivered where it counted.
With the battle over and audiences finally able to breath again, The Long Night left Game of Thrones in a completely new place; we still don't know exactly who lived or died but one thing is clear - Daenerys's armies have been decimated and suddenly Cersei is the biggest threat to everyone who survived Winterfell. While the showdown with the Lannisters and the Golden Company is a dead certainty for the final three episodes, the threat of the Night King's armies has been resolved much earlier than expected. Resolved too quickly? Perhaps. But certainly in style. The Long Night might very well be the TV event of the year. And that's with three more episodes still to come...