Sunday, April 28, 2019

REVIEW: 'Game of Thrones' - The Night King Arrives at Winterfell for an Epic Battle in 'The Long Night'

HBO's Game of Thrones - Episode 8.03 "The Long Night"

Arya looks to prove her worth as a fighter.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of HBO's Game of Thrones.

"The Long Night" was written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Miguel Sapochnik

Game of Thrones changed the way that audiences perceive death of major characters on television. The moment that Ned Stark died in the first season altered storytelling throughout the medium. It sent a clear message that no one should ever be perceived as safe when it comes to an epic battle of life and death. In the later seasons of the show though, it has felt as if some characters simply couldn't be killed off until the end. Jon Snow dying had so much tension and intrigued sucked out of it because of the understanding that he would probably be brought back to life. That's exactly what happened because his series-long journey of confronting the Night King wasn't over yet. The show still follows some basic storytelling tropes in that way. It doesn't matter that so many of the characters are now in the same location with their various agendas clashing with one another. Every single one of them is on their own unique path. Some end in death. Others end in victory. It's up to the creative team to still surprise the audience. Everyone went into this episode knowing that it would be an epic battle between the living and the dead at Winterfell. There was the understanding that there would be major casualties. There has been rampant speculation as to who would die at this point in the final season. And yet, it's much more meaningful to analyze the exact details of how someone is killed versus the shock of them going at this point in the season. Sure, there are some surprising moments in "The Long Night" especially at the very end. But it still has to be emotionally rewarding and surprising for the viewers who have invested so much time in these stories. Everyone was probably expecting Jon Snow to be the man to defeat the Night King in battle. The army at Winterfell approached this battle with a plan. Bran would be used as bait to lure the Night King out. Once he appeared, Jon and Daenerys would come in on the dragons to breathe fire on their greatest foe and thus eliminate his entire army as a result. It's not surprising to see things don't go according to plan. Jon and Daenerys are forced into battle much sooner than expected. The shroud of a storm further impedes the ability to use fire effectively against the White Walkers. There are still shining moments of success and redemption. All hope seems lost at certain moments as well. When the Night King does show up for Bran, it seems inevitable that everyone at Winterfell is bound to die in the Great War. Instead, Arya comes flying out of the air and stabs the Night King to death. The army of the dead has been defeated. That's such an unexpected moment at the midpoint of the season. It means the remaining three episodes will focus intensely on the war for the Iron Throne. That war may be less engaging then the threat from the undead. But the audience should also trust that the creative team is bound to deliver more than a few surprises as well.

For now though, the audience should just embrace and cheer for Arya's major moment of victory. She is given some very cool moments throughout this battle long before facing off with the Night King. She has been training to combat death for the entire series. She aspired to be a fighter. She has gone on quite a journey that has taken her to the other side of the world to learn how to become different people. She has skills to take on some of the best knights in the army of the Seven Kingdoms. And yet, even she is overwhelmed by the sheer onslaught of the undead descending upon Winterfell. There was only so much the Starks and their allies could prepare for when it came to this battle. Sure, it was completely expected that the crypt wasn't nearly as secure as everyone believed it would be. Those waiting out the battle down there are only saved because Arya stabs the Night King. Without that moment, they would quickly join the undead army. That's not a fate that Sansa or Tyrion want. It may be the one they are condemned to live though. They are faced with a choice of how much of a fight they should mount. They aren't soldiers. They are doing their part to be of service during this battle. They can't help the troops above ground. Even then, there is only so much the warriors can do. Even trained members of the Night's Watch who have fought the undead before can be killed. Edd dies saving Sam. Meanwhile, Lyanna Mormont has projected strength in the North for a long time. She doesn't back down from a fight. She dies taking on a giant but manages to defeat the creature at the same time. That's so impressive. Plus, Arya has her own moments of fear and dread where she could easily be killed. Instead, she is saved by Beric and the Hound. Beric dies as a result and doesn't come back to life. Melisandre notes that he was resurrected in order to be here for this moment. He was meant to save Arya. As such, that gives everyone the motivation and conviction to keep fighting. It also fuels Arya to go protect her brother from the greatest threat in the world. Theon promised to do the exact same thing. He dies after having found redemption at Winterfell. In this fight, he doesn't abandon his family as a coward. He dies knowing that this is probably the end. He does so knowing that Bran believes and respects him despite everything that happened in the past. It all led to this moment. Theon may have died but Arya prevailed. That too is such a well-earned moment. Arya is able to say "not today" to the face of death. She rids this world of the Night King. She does so while Jon and Daenerys are surrounded by White Walkers. Meanwhile, Arya is the conduit for such narrative symmetry with her killing the Night King with the Valyrian dagger that was once intended to kill Bran.

Of course, death can't be used as the only barometer for how successful "The Long Night" ultimately is. Sure, it's one way of judging its quality considering it's an 83-minute battle. And yes, many of the deaths feel earned and hit the audience right in the gut. And yet, many of them are still characters who have probably long outlived their usefulness to the plot. As Melisandre says here, everyone serves a purpose. They have a destiny. They can only die after it is fulfilled. As such, she walks away from the rumbles of Winterfell removing her necklace knowing that this is the end for her. She doesn't need to face the wrath of Davos. She presents as an ally throughout this battle. She ignites the blades of the Dothraki. She lights the pit that can protect the castle for a little while. She reminds Arya of her destiny. And that is it for her. Meanwhile, Jorah dies fighting at Daenerys' side. That's the way he probably would always want to go. He has been loyal to her for the entire series. In her moment of need after being flung off her dragon to the battlefield of newly arisen White Walkers, he is there for her. He is stabbed multiple times and yet keeps finding the strength to stand back up to defend his Khaleesi. That's the man he has always been. It's the man he is in death. That means that House Mormont falls during this conflict. That is devastating because it's the loss of yet another great dynasty throughout the kingdoms. The entire Dothraki culture may be lost as well. It's such a crushing sight to see the lights of their swords quickly fade to darkness from afar. That's absolutely devastating and proves just how serious everyone involved has to take this fight. But again, the Dothraki were disposable at this point because there wasn't one unique character the audience was asked to care about in that particular group. With the Unsullied, Grey Worm is the only character of importance. And yes, there are some close calls but he too survives. Meanwhile, everyone of note in the crypt survives their brief encounters with the undead. All of this basically means that the personal dynamics that have long been festering over the course of the show will once again take the main focus during the final three episodes. The threat from the Night King has long been a unifying concept. Daenerys' dropped her quest for the Iron Throne because she saw just how significant this new threat was. She rallied behind Jon's pleas. And now, they are victorious in battle. It's not because of anything that Jon or Daenerys does though. They will still be looked to as the leaders for what comes next. They have to set the template for how life moves on knowing that death has been defeated for now. The world has been saved. And yet, there is even more battles to fight in the future. Battles that will only lead to more devastation and loss. Will they unify people? Or will they remain exhausted following this extended fight to survive?