‘The Long Night’ is the Series’ Most-Ambitious Battle Yet
SPOILERS FOR THIS EPISODE OF GAME OF THRONES DOWN BELOW
This weekend was utterly exhausting. Was there some secret pact between Marvel and HBO to test our emotional limits the past 96 hours? For millions, Avengers: Endgame was a “once in a generation” experience. While some of Marvel’s beloved heroes fell, we expected some of favorites from Westeros to not survive the Battle of Winterfell either Sunday night. In its own right, The Long Night was an triumphant achievement. We only had to wait 69 hours (give or take) for the living and the dead to collide on the grandest scale.
Game of Thrones is no stranger to full-length episode battles. Those looking for relentless warfare can look no further than Blackwater, The Watchers on the Wall, Hardhome, Battle of the Bastards and Beyond the Wall. And while they’re all critical moments in the series, The Long Night posed the greatest stakes. The Night King and his army has been on the move since the end of Season 7. Once the Wall came crumbling down, you knew it was about to get real. And for anyone complaining about lack of action in the previous two episodes, your patience was well-rewarded here.
Under Miguel Sapochnik’s direction, The Long Night was in excellent hands. Sapochnik previously helmed both Hardhome and Battle of the Bastards. Both happen to be outstanding achievements for the series. Very few cinematic battles have come close in the past few decades. Outside of Battle for Helm’s Deep and the Siege of Gondor, filmmakers haven’t reached that level of scale or emotional weight. Those two battles highlighted in The Lord of the Rings are nothing shy of timeless and extensive. Still, Sapochnik hopes to raise the bar even higher with the Battle of Winterfell. It doesn’t get any more ambitious than an 11-week shoot and miserable cast members.
At 82 minutes, The Long Night is about as big as it’s going to get for Game of Thrones. And while some of the beats of the battle are obvious, the ebb-and-flow of warfare doesn’t reel in our anxieties. We cheer when Melisandre (Carice van Houten) returns and lights up the Dothraki weaponry. The Lord of Light is good – for about 30 seconds. But that’s nothing shy of a slaughter. Dany (Emilia Clarke) and Jon (Kit Harington) double-team her fallen ice dragon Viserion in a cloudy aerial battle. Like most of the episode, it’s a chaotic, dimly-lit encounter. If you’re having issues with the cinematography, pop in Solo: A Star Wars Story to see what poor lighting is truly like. And at least with the minimal dialogue, there’s no time to discuss Iron Throne rights between the two Targaryens. That’s a one-week reprieve for sure.
Arya (Maisie Williams) in hands down the episode’s MVP. Her wight encounter in the Winterfell library is exceptionally horrific. While a majority of The Long Night plays to its unprecedented scale, the claustrophobic sequence dials up the stress factor. We expected a handful of characters to die this episode. And yes, there were plenty of “pray for Arya” moments. Her last-second showdown with the Night King resurfaced our fears. That is, until one fatal blow of Valyrian steel ended 7.5 seasons of this White Walker threat. No, it wasn’t Jon or Dany who killed the Night King. Arya did the game-changing deed. What’s that mean for the Azor Ahai or Prince Who was Promised prophecies? Who knows. But sadly we’ll never get that “come at me, bro” pose ever again.
The death count wasn’t as bad as we thought going on. R.I.P. Beric (Richard Dormer), Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey), Theon (Alfie Allen) and Jorah (Iain Glen). Melisandre goes out too after the battle. Rapid old age is probably a plus over a death by Arya or Davos (Liam Cunningham). The previous episode toyed around with Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) or Tormund (Kristofer Hivju). Thankfully, we can say “not today.” In fact, Jaime and Brienne are sidelined a bit despite all of that knighting build-up. Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) were safe in the crypts for the most part too. Though a second Sansa-Tyrion ship seems to good to be true right now.
Sapochnik has delivered the three-best battles Game of Thrones has to offer. Equally chaotic and engaging as the Battle at Hardhome and Bastard Bowl 2016, The Long Night is slightly outclassed by those two, albeit not by much. Next week, we’re dropping sword and shield for more politics it seems.
Next Week’s Preview: