Alright so I haven’t done this before, but I’m going to review the recent episode of Game of Thrones. Episode 3, titled “The Long Night” has been the talking point of pretty much 90% of all sentient beings over the past 48 hours (with conversations of Avengers Endgame stuffed in between). If it wasn’t obvious to you by the title of this article, there will be spoilers throughout. If you haven’t seen it yet and intend to do so, please don’t read forward, because it will ruin any surprises, and I will not feel bad at all.
Now, there was a ton of action in this episode. At 82 minutes of run time and at least 90% of that being actual battle, this episode set the record for the longest continuous battle scene in cinematic history. Right off the bat, that’s pretty cool. It took something like 75 consecutive nights to film, which I’m sure was not easy for the actors, the crew, director, anyone really. The episode was directed by Miguel Sapochnik, who was responsible for the two best battle-centered episodes in Game of Thrones history, “Hardhome” and “Battle of the Bastards.” So, everyone was excited going into what was sure to be a cinematic masterpiece of epic proportions.
Did it live up to the hype?
The internet seems to be reacting more negatively than positively on this episode. While individuals can often be nit-picky and overly critical of any films or television shows, especially Game of Thrones, I’ve been seeing negative comments even from some of the most positive boards and forums out there. That’s not a great sign.
However, this is not one of those boards or forums, and the reactions and thoughts you’re going to get here are 100% my own. I have been critical of Game of Thrones since the show progressed the books, but I also realize that it is an extremely difficult task the writers have been presented with. Taking over creative direction of what is becoming the most viewed, most epic, and most critiqued television shows of all time comes with extreme pressure, and I do believe that the writers are doing their absolute best to do justice to the Game of Thrones series. This episode brings out some great writing, but also some very bad direction, in this humble reviewer’s opinion.
The sound and score was perfect
It’s not just the writers’ creativity that goes into an episode of game of thrones. As we all know, the crew for this type of filming is enormous. The first instance of this that I’d like to put out as a highlight of the episode for me was the sound and score. I’ve been a huge fan of Ramin Djawadi throughout this series, as his scores have turned great scenes into epic ones. One past example is the end of season 3 when Daenerys Targaryen is being carried by all of the slaves she just freed to a perfect score entitled “Mhysa.” Another is the 9 minute score that accompanies the events leading up to and including the destruction of the Sept of Baelor. I’ll pause here while you go look both of those scenes up.
This episode was no exception. The scores throughout, accompanied by the inclusion of utter silence, gave the viewer senses of dread, disaster, and chaos throughout the battle. When the Night King reanimated the corpses and everyone seemed to be on the verge of death the music helped make it seem that the end was truly near for our heroes. I was on the edge of my seat basically pleading with my television screen to show me a glimmer of hope. Unbelievable job.
What went right
Alright. I’m an extremely positive person. So, I’m going to continue on the path of what went right in this episode before I’m forced to break down what went wrong. I’ll try to keep each point fairly brief while fully explaining my thoughts.
- The Dothraki scene was great. People are complaining about the military strategy of sending all the Dothraki charging forward blindly into the dark. But, as we’ve been told throughout the series, the Dothraki don’t abide by tactical formations and immense planning. They are known for being an unstoppable force when fighting on the open planes, exactly what they did. Plus, after Melisandre lights all their swords aflame, an awesome scene by the way, they’re so jacked up on testosterone there was no way they’d be able to stay put for another second. However, the excitement quickly goes to terror as one by one all of their chanting and flames die out. This helped set the tone of the gravity of the terror that was about to be faced.
- The Unsullied proved themselves as a great army. We haven’t really seen that much of the Unsullied working as one force, and it was great to finally see their perfect discipline in battle. They didn’t waver at the forces of the Night King, but remained in formation and tactically sound until they were finally overtaken by the wights. Grey worm also was able to show off some individual brilliance in his fighting scenes.
- The Night King refusing to fight Jon. This is controversial, because everyone and their mother wanted to see Jon and the Night King finally face off one on one. However, I liked that the Night King decided against it. Remember, the Night King watched as an exhausted, nearly defeated Jon Snow killed one of his white walker buddies at Hardhome. I’d imagine that he was very aware of Jon’s prowess with a sword, and had no reason to risk his entire war on single combat. I thought the writers did a solid job of linking the viewers’ frustration with Jon’s frustration as he tried to get to the Night King just to be surrounded by wights with no path to the Night King.
- Arya is the MVP. To everyone that’s upset that Arya kills the Night King and not Jon, relax. Yes, Jon was the obvious choice given his history with the white walkers and the Night King. Yes it seemed like his character arc was leading him to be the one to take him down. However, Arya has been trained as an assassin for years now and was the one equipped to land the final blow in a silky slight of hand.She had a great episode from start to finish, with different scenes showing off her abilities and weaknesses. She started off just wrecking wights left and right on the top of the wall, with a cowering Davos bewildered at her ability. Then, Arya is overwhelmed for a bit and has to use her escapability, something we’ve seen in the past in Braavos. The scene in the library showed off her stealth. When she’s saved by Beric (RIP) and The Hound we see her fear. She’s trained all her life for humans, so this is something new. Finally, we see her resolve as Melisandre helps her find her courage by reminding her that she is meant to “shut blue eyes.”
Her assassination scene is great, and we now can see was foreshadowed in her episode 1. Did you notice that the Night King was standing in the exact spot that Jon was standing in when he turned around and asked “how did you sneak up on me?”?. Arya clearly knows this area well, and knew exactly how to get up to the Night King unnoticed by the white walkers surrounding him. My heart stopped when the Night King turned and caught her, but Arya pulls a trick we’ve seen before in her sparring with Brienne to catch the Night King off guard for just a second, ending the threat once and for all.
- Jorah and Theon went out as heroes. Both their scenes were incredibly well done and not only showed prolific fighting abilities, but completed their character arcs. Jorah died, Heartsbane sword in hand, defending the woman he loved and saving her life. Theon died protecting the family he had grown up with, betrayed, and returned to, redeeming his character completely in my eyes.
- Bran outsmarts the Night King. As weird as this dude is, he played his cards right. He knew the Night King was going for him, laid the trap, and was victorious. He gave Arya the knife that did it. If you watch the scene where he confronts the Night King. He even breaks eye contact to stare at the chest of the Night King, right where Arya then stabs him seconds later. The man had it all down from the start.
What went wrong
Alright, so now I’m unfortunately forced to break down what I believe the writers missed in this episode. Again, please understand I do not think the writers are incompetent in any way. I do, however, think they are trying to hard to write the way George R. R. Martin wrote, and are missing the true essence of his writing. I’ll break down my points in the same way as above.
- More characters needed to die. I believe this was a big deal, and I’ll spend some time here because it’s my most significant gripe with the episode. I will never condone killing characters just for the sake of killing characters. Game of Thrones has never been like that. Main characters death have always been because of consequences of actions or situational realities. Ned died because he let his honor get in the way of making intelligent situations in his environment. Oberyn died because he got cocky. Rob and Catelyn died because Robb pissed off the Freys by not marrying one of Walder’s daughters. All of the deaths made sense, and none of the characters had plot armor to protect them.So how is this relevant in this episode? Let’s compare the beginning of the episode to what occurs towards the end. After wiping out thousands of Dothraki in about 45 seconds, the army of the wights steamroll the front lines of the good guys’ ranks like a tidal wave of undead fury. We see that they clearly have weapons and are stabbing characters to death left and right. Within the first 30-40 minutes of the episode they’ve probably killed 10,000 of Winterfell’s troops, easily.
Fast forward to inside the castle after the walls have been breached. Here we see various main characters completely overwhelmed: Jamie, Brienne, Gendry, Podrick, Tormund, Grey Worm, and Sam, who is the most pathetic waste of human ever to step foot in a battle in the history of cinematic war. I thought after his speech of “I was the first to kill a white walker blah blah blah” he would at least not cry the entire time. Anyway, These 7 main characters seem to be the last 7 alive based on the camera work, and every time we see them they are being overtaken by at minimum a handful of wights. However, none of the wights seem to be using weapons anymore except the occasional glancing blow that only temporarily staggers our heroes.
Fast forward once more to the Night King raising all of the fallen back for another go at our already overwhelmed “courtyard 7,” and realistic writing would say that at an ABSOLUTE MINIMUM, 2 or 3 of these character have to go down fighting. The script was right there to be written too: Jamie goes down and looks to be on the verge of death, and Brienne, having just been knighted by Jamie and essentially completing her character arc, saves him by sacrificing herself. Tormund then goes nuts because his big woman crush is dead and he goes nuts, eventually falling in the process. Sam dies too because in no way can you realistically let him live as he’s just crying while laying in a pile of wights the entire time in the courtyard. Why am I not a TV writer again?
Now let’s go to the crypts, where all of the non-fighters are located. The dead bust out of their tombs (another issue because the one they captured and brought to King’s Landing couldn’t break out of a wooden box, but these ones punch themselves out of stone tombs, but whatever) and attack a bunch of helpless individuals. We have a few main or strong support characters here as well in Tyrion, Sansa, Missandei, Varys, and Gilly. However, the dead take out some randoms once again while all of our main characters hide behind some tombs for long enough for Arya to save them all. I thought Tyrion was going to sacrifice himself for Sansa to escape in that moment where he kissed her hand and they brandished their daggers. But no, they just snuck behind a different tomb, meeting up with the other main characters.
That kind of plot armor is unacceptable in a series that killed off who we thought was the main character in the first season. Plus, it left me with no regret really at the end of the episode. Yes, we lost Jorah and Theon and some other fairly minor characters, but their deaths were solid and completed them as characters. Now, besides losing all of the resident randoms, we really suffered almost no major characters, so it was as if the Night King and his army had no major impact on the Dany/Jon forces. I think Martin would have left us happy for the victory, but devastated over losing a couple of our favorite characters.
- The white walkers were completely MIA. I don’t know if the Night King just thought they were completely unnecessary and the wights could take out all the living by themselves, but the white walkers just kind of chilled. Technically he was kind of right, as had he not been killed by Arya the wights would have done their job. However, for the sake of sending the white walkers out in style in their last episode, we should’ve seen a bit more action from them.They don’t all need to rush in and fight in the front lines, but a couple here and there would have been a solid service to the audience. Here’s how I see them being written in to some scenes. First, Jorah’s last stand includes one white walker kill. He was gifted the Valyrian steel sword, so it would have been nice if its last effort was killing a white walker. Second, 2 walkers show up in the courtyard. One fights Jamie and Brienne, and one fights maybe Tormund and Gendry. All of their scenes were just being overrun by wights, it would’ve been nice to have them get a solid white walker kill or two to justify their abilities as knights and swordsmen.
So, the episode in my mind was a solid 7/10. It had the potential to be possibly the greatest episode of the last few seasons, but fell short on a few key issues for me. Looking ahead, I’m hoping that the writers really search for what Martin started with this series in order to end it on a high note. Surprises for the sake of surprises aren’t what we’re looking for. Keeping all the characters alive and/or giving each one a prolific and heroic death isn’t what we’re looking for either. Main characters can sometimes just be in the wrong place at the wrong time and take a sword or arrow to the head, much like Ed’s appropriate death in this last episode.
My hope is to see some solid politics in these last 3 episodes, maybe a betrayal, but definitely some timely realistic deaths. Game of Thrones is ruthless. As Cersei says, “when you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die.” I don’t want a fairytale ending where Jon and Dany share the Throne, Tyrion and Sansa rule the North, Grey Worm and Missandei retire on the beach, and everyone else gets away unscathed. I’m expecting something that defines the word bittersweet, and I don’t think I’m alone.