The War for Westeros is now begun and the fate of all living men, women and children is in the balance. With battle scenes reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth set productions, we are at the half way point in the finale season of the David Benioff / D.B. Weiss co-created fantasy drama Game of Thrones.
Even though there are only six episodes in this finale season, this latest instalment of Game of Thrones is akin to a television movie. With a run time of no less than 82 minutes, “The Long Night,” teleplay writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss bring to the screen an action-packed episode worthy of George R.R. Martin’s work.
If you have yet to see the episode, do not read past this point. There are spoilers in this article which will make you want to pull your hair out at the root. If you choose to comment, it would be appreciated if you could tell me why you agree with me or why you think I am wrong.
The New Opening Credits
If you have been paying attention to the opening credits during this season, you will have seen there have been changes to them for each episode. The opening credit show the progression of what has transpired in the episode. Reflected in the sequence, the major changes to the opening credits in this week’s episode highlight the battle. The blue tiles flipping over all the way down to Winterfell and the trenches opening with troops in formation should are an indication to exactly what is happening in and around the Stark family home.
From the Perspective of Minor Characters
Did you see how the episode opens? For me, it is evocative of the 1990 Tom Stoppard written and directed dramedy Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead in which William Shakespeare’s play “The Tragedy of Hamlet: Prince of Denmark” is told from the perspective of minor characters. How does this relate? The episode begins with scenes from Samwell Tarly’s (John Bradley) perspective. He knows the battle is about to begin. Consequently, Sam is freaking out. We see the troops marching past Sam. Almost everyone is ready to take the fight to the Night King.
The structure of the episode does not focus entirely on the battle itself. Considering the magnitude of the battle, breaking it up makes sense. Think of it in terms of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The action jumps around from various points in the battle just like that seen with the two battles depicted in Jackson’s 2002 film.
If you look at the scenes featuring Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) when she was inside Winterfell during the mid-section of the episode was pure suspense. It is like cat and mouse or perhaps that sequence in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in which the two featured Federation starships stalking each other. In certain ways, there is a Hitchcockian feel which classic thriller aficionados would appreciate greatly.
At some point in the battle, virtually every single principle character can be seen dogpiled. This is especially true for both Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and the recently knighted Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie). We did not spend as much time with these characters as we did with any of the Starks.
Winterfell being the Stark family home. Consequently, it made more sense to focus more on the Starks than it did with the other major characters. This is not to say the other principle characters did not make appearances. They did. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), for instance, is an immensely important character but we do not spend as much time with her and the dragons as we do with the Starks. We see Daenerys a lot not for the reason that her scenes are specifically focused on her but because she is fighting with Jon Snow (Kit Harington).
The Various Groups
Even though Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) is briefly seen with Arya, he is chiefly off by himself. There is Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Arya but then Sansa goes to the crypt. Brienne is with Jamie, Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman) and the Knights of the Vale. By the time the retreat begins, Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) is close by. Tormund, Gendry (Joe Dempsie), Eddison Tollett (Ben Crompton) and Samwell all fighting within close proximity to each other.
The Return of the Red Priestess
Missandei’s (Nathalie Emmanuel) powers proved invaluable in lighting up the battle in the dead of night. This was a great visual tool which allowed the television viewing audience to see what is happening on screen. The fire was the perfect lighting effect for these scenes. Without it, we would have heard everything but seen nothing. The insurmountable odds of what faces Winterfell becomes increasingly apparent when the fiery weapons of the Dothraki are gradually extinguished and their cries diminish into silence.
Into the Crypt
There are some great moments between Sansa and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). For telling the story of what happens in the crypt, much of what we see revolves around these characters and their respective perspectives. Tyrion mood is getting worse. He is therefore drinking heavily. He does not like not being in the battle. Tyrion feels he should be in the thick of battle. He believes he can contribute something meaningful just like he was during the Battle of Blackwater. It was his decisive actions which ensured victory.
Enter the Night King
Even though the Night King does not make a physical entrance until mid-way through the episode, his magical presence is felt earlier when he creates a giant Winter storm which gives his forces significant cloud cover. Consequently, with the intensity of the storm increasing, Daenerys and Jon have immense difficulty utilising the dragons they are riding. With the storm being so thick, there is almost a mid-air dragon collision between the dragons Daenerys and Jon are riding.
No One is Immune from Death
While “fortune favours the bold,” not everyone makes out of the war alive. It is the harsh realities of war this series embodies perfectly. War is not glorious as much as it is bloody. Eddison, Beric Dondarrion (David Michael Scott), Theon, Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), Melisandre and Lady Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) do not make it to the closing credits alive. Let me know if I missed anyone.
Another character which some people might not have expected to fall during this episode was the Night King himself. Arya takes out the Night King. In fact, the Night King’s entire army is killed during this episode. To illustrate how the Nigh King’s army found its demise, think back to the 2003 Jackson directed The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King when the One Ring was finally destroyed in the fiery lava of Mount Doom. With the death of the Night King, inclusive of his dragon, came the destruction of his entire army.