From its very first episode nine years ago, ‘Game of Thrones’ has been two kinds of shows: There’s the ‘Game of Thrones’ that’s obsessed with intense political intrigue and courtroom treachery; and then there’s the magical ‘Game of Thrones’, full of dragons, fiery priestesses and icy zombies.
Today’s episode marked the end of the latter, at least the apocalyptic scale of it, in a glorious but exhausting (and frustrating) send-off that eliminated the Night King threat once and for all.
The episode, appropriately titled ‘The Long Night’, saw creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss return to the writing boards for the first time this season.
Miguel Sapochnik, the man who directed other epic battle episodes like ‘Hardhome’ and ‘Battle of the Bastards’, also returned to helm the biggest battle sequence in the history of television and cinema, and as much as we liked what we saw, we wish we could have seen more. And we mean that quite literally.
The episode is so poorly lit, you’re basically squinting through the whole thing as incomprehensible images dart back and forth and you’re left wondering if you’ve missed an important moment, or worse, an important death. Which makes me even more grateful for the fact that we’re moving the action to sunny ol’ King’s Landing by next episode, where winter is still approaching at a ridiculously slow rate.
All the action, for obvious reasons, takes place in and around Winterfell. While Jon Snow and Aunty Daenerys Targaryen take their dragons and patrol the skies, the rest of the rag-tag crew hold down the fort on the ground. Melisandre appears, all alone and with no explanation, but adds considerable ‘fire power’ to the unfolding action. In the entire episode, which devotes itself to unending carnage, perhaps its first few moments spark the most dread, as the Dothraki ride ferociously towards the enemy, swords alight, only to be extinguished eerily within moments. In those first minutes, you could be forgiven for thinking all hell was going to break lose.
But the promised slaughter, hinted at in the excellent and melancholy ‘The Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’, never arrived, leaving us wondering if the makers have finally lost their nerve. The show that had zero qualms while it beheaded the likes of Ned Stark or squashed Oberyn Martell’s face into the ground, now seems to quake in its wintery boots when it comes to killing off its main players.
Sure, we shed some tears for Theon Greyjoy as he redeemed himself by heroically dying while protecting a Stark child, while also managing to show off some mean Greyjoy archery skills. Yes, little Lyanna Mormont died, but not before she took down a giant wight 10 times her size. And yes, Jorah Mormont died protecting his Khaleesi (a moment of silence for the now obliterated House Mormont). And let’s not forget Dolorous Edd, who died saving Sam Tarly, who in turn miraculously survived despite having no fighting skills whatsoever.
George RR Martin’s books always spoke about the harsher realities of life: the good guys don’t live, the truth doesn’t always free you and that prophesies can be discarded. But ever since the show moved ahead of Martin’s vision, it seems to have back-pedalled on that idea, and now suddenly everyone’s a hero. This cheats the entire narrative purpose and morality of the show, and with three episodes left, it looks like there’s little redeeming left.
The saving grace of ‘Game of Thrones’ now lies within its actors. For an episode that boasted the greatest battle to be ever shot, ‘The Long Night’ shone in its secondary moments. From Sansa Stark and Tyrion Lannister’s secret (but ultimately unnecessary) death pact, to the Hound fighting against his mortal fear of fire to protect Arya Stark, to Beric Dondarrion’s ‘Hodor’ moment, ‘Game of Thrones’ plays to its strengths when it highlights the relationships between its characters and the related interplay.
The piece de resistance came in the climactic sequence, of course, as Arya throws herself at the Night King as he’s about to take down Bran/the Three-Eyed Raven (who was busy warging into birds for no apparent reason). As she plunged her Valyrian steel knife (given to her by Bran, the sly dog) into the Knight King’s thigh, the entire army of the dead is obliterated. It wasn’t Jon or Dany in the end, both of whom were pretty much useless through the entire episode, with the former even attempting to scream at the ice dragon, as if that would kill it. Arya’s heroic win was a clever twist, one few could have foreseen, and one that rewards a character who has long been ridiculed for wanting to be a hero in the first place.
As we head into the second half of the season, we’re hoping the makers will take more risks and return to some old ‘GoT’ juiciness. With Cersei Lannister and her armies waiting, it’s only a matter of time, we guess. Until then, Valar Morghulis.
Don’t miss it!
The final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ airs in the UAE exclusively on OSN. OSN Play, On Demand and Wavo the same time as the US.