Game of Thrones: The Long Night – Review

It’s been a few days now since the Game of Thrones episode “The Long Night” and I’m still trying to process everything. When the episode finished I didn’t know what to think or feel about it. The adrenaline of the whole experience still had me shaking, and for a long time I was left in a kind of daze. I think the fact I was unable to form an opinion or feel any distinct emotions already says a lot- if it had been the best episode ever, I would have surely felt it instantly. Joy is uncomplicated, and this felt complicated to me.

I think it took me a while to admit that I was disappointed. I didn’t want to admit this hard truth about my favorite show, especially considering how excited I’ve been leading up to this climactic showdown. But there was no denying it- I was disappointed. The episode was underwhelming for me- but not without merit.

First I want to say that from a production standpoint, “The Long Night” was fantastic. The crew obviously put in an ass-ton of work filming this episode. I loved the cinematography and design choices, particularly in the first third of the episode. As pure spectacle, the Battle of Winterfell was truly something to behold. There were two big things from the beginning of the episode that I really liked- the flaming barricade that Melisandre lights, and the snowstorm the White Walkers conjure to obfuscate the dragons. Not only were these striking images that made for a breathtaking spectacle, but I also thought they were clever tactics from a narrative perspective. It was a good way for the two armies to mitigate each other’s respective advantages and ensure the action had a steady pace. So I applaud both those sequences. Gotta give credit where it’s due.

Then there’s the Dothraki charge. Now this scene was a mixed bag for me. From a purely cinematic point of view it was perfect- seeing all those flaming swords go out in the dark was an excellent visual technique, and it compounded the sense of fear and dread the rest of the soldiers felt for the unknown. I totally get that the director wanted to delay our seeing the Army of the Dead in order to build that feeling of terror. However, the charge didn’t make too much sense from a narrative standpoint. It didn’t feel like they had written the scene and then decided how to make it look cool. Instead it felt like they had this idea for a cool shot and then worked backwards as to how they got there. I don’t mind that all the Dothraki died, or that we didn’t get to see them have their moment. I don’t even mind the suddenness of it; I just think it didn’t make much sense to have them charge blindly into the darkness when they know they’re outnumbered and need to use their resources as efficiently as possible. I’m not one of those people that demand the show be completely consistent with the logic of medieval warfare. I hate those nerds that watch the end of the Two Towers and scoff “Did they really just do a cavalry charge headlong into a pike formation?”. Go back to playing Total War with your hairy palms you pasty-ass human beanbags. Creators should always be allowed a certain amount of artistic license. However I think there’s a limit. I admit, this limit is a matter of debate. But in my opinion, the Dothraki charge went over that limit. We couldn’t appreciate the greatness of that shot of the flaming swords being extinguished that they were so desperate to give us, because we were all asking why this was happening.

So I’m both sympathetic and somewhat frustrated by that scene, but on its own it didn’t ruin the episode for me. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed the first third of the episode. Up until the wights breached the wall, everything was living up to the hype. The scene where the dragons are fighting above the clouds was both gorgeous and riveting, albeit a little hard to follow. There were so many quick close-up shots with low lighting that it was difficult to tell who was who. I liked the idea of the dragon using its talons to pull Viserion’s face off, so that his blue flame started coming out his neck and cheek. That was a compelling little design choice.

Another great scene for me was when Arya fights off all those wights on the ramparts with her dragonglass spear. The choreography was amazing, and her unique, almost dancelike fighting style was a real treat to watch. I liked it because it delivered on all her training in Braavos- one of the few incidents in this episode that paid off a character’s journey.

The episode went downhill for me somewhere in the last half. Sure, it was still entertaining and exciting, but I was waiting hopelessly for a great defining moment that never came. I think that’s my main gripe with “The Long Night”, that it seemed so inconsequential. I was sure that there would be some irreversible damage, some twist that really shook things up. The final outcome didn’t matter too much to me- it’s more about how they got there. Everything felt way too straightforward. Ultimately, the plan worked. The Night King took the bait. I figured this threat was so mysterious and unknowable that our heroes would underestimate them in some way. But the Night King goes right after Bran like we were told, and then he’s defeated without us learning just a little bit more about him. I wasn’t expecting a monologue or anything like that. I get that they want to keep the White Walkers mysterious- but I was just hoping that we’d find out something new about them that we didn’t already know.

I’d been saying for the longest time, on both this blog and in conversations with fellow fans, that whatever happened would not be straightforward. “This is Game of Thrones,” I’d say, “They won’t treat the Night King threat as just a box to be ticked before moving on quickly to the Cersei storyline”. But I was wrong. It felt like they just drew a line under the White Walker plot, instead of tying it to the King’s Landing stuff. With 6 episodes this season, it now feels like it could be split in half into two separate stories.

I didn’t mind the way the Night King died, or that Arya was the one to do him in. My criticism is for the most part directed at how things happened. It’s not where we ended up that bothers me, but how we got there. I definitely expected the Night King to do something really bad before he went down. Perhaps he would kill Bran? Perhaps the White Walkers would capture him and he’d take the Night King’s place? Perhaps the Night King would leave some kind of mark on him before being killed, something that would be explored in the next few episodes? Perhaps he would harness Bran’s powers in some way?

Part of me really expected Winterfell to be levelled. But the episode is so underwhelming to me because the status quo is largely the same. Whether our heroes won or lost, I wanted their reality to be completely altered after this episode.

I’m a little disappointed that Jon Snow didn’t do more. I’m not saying he had to be the one to kill the Night King or anything, but I really felt like he ought to be a central figure in this conflict. Why was he brought back from the dead in the first place, if not for this exact moment?

The action that took place in the crypts also seemed largely pointless too. I fully expected Varys or Missandei to get ripped apart like a red colobus monkey passed around by a gang of horny chimpanzees. Especially Varys. Why is he still alive? He was the perfect candidate for the show to really give the crypt sequence some meaning. I would have loved to see one of the White Walkers themselves enter the crypts. It would have been interesting to see Gilly come face to face with one of her brothers. After all, the White Walkers (minus the Night King) are all Craster’s sons. I could definitely see a scene where they fixate on Little Sam and try to take him away from Gilly. But nothing happened to anyone that mattered in the crypts. The prevalence of plot armor in the second half of the episode really diminished the sense of threat that had for so long been built up around the White Walkers. Sam should definitely be dead. I don’t understand why he didn’t go down to the crypts. The whole reason I like Sam’s character in the first place is because he shows that you don’t have to be a fighter in order to be a hero. Having him on the front lines kind of undercuts that message, and I found myself falling out of love with the character. He got piled on so many times and barely had a scratch to show for it. By the end of the episode I just wanted him to get eaten.

Perhaps no scene was more egregious however than the Night King’s death. I’m perfectly happy with Arya delivering the killing blow, and I even think the dagger trick was pretty neat. It’s just the fact they have her materialize out of thin air- from a high angle no less- having somehow bypassed the ring of White Walkers and wights. She’s in front of the weirwood tree, so she couldn’t have dropped from there. If they had made her entrance more plausible, I’d be fine with it. Like I said earlier, a little suspension of disbelief should always be granted, but when something is so unbelievable, it destroys all sense of immersion. And yes, believability is just as important for a fantasy setting as it is a real world one. Nothing irks me more than twats who say “Oh, gonna complain about realism in a show with dragons are you?”. Dragons aren’t unbelievable in the context of the show. Do the world a favor and go fellate an agave cactus.

It’s important that I illustrate why this scene bothered me, because I wouldn’t want you to confuse me with that particular subset of fedora-wearing fans with terrible facial hair crying about how the Night King was brought down by “a mere little girl”. Arya’s as badass as they come, and there’s a faint whiff of misogyny about some of the complaints regarding her being the one to take down the Night King. I just wish they had executed it differently. Perhaps the Night King outduels Jon, but just before he kills him, Arya jumps in. They could even do it the same way, with the dagger trick and everything, only with a valid place for her to jump down from. I also think it would have been so much more satisfying to have Viserion killed in combat rather than being released from the Night King’s spell. All three of the dragons fight but none of them are killed by each other or someone else. I just wanted something more definitive and consequential than what we got. Have Viserion eat Tormund. Have Jon take him down. Have Arya or even Jaime take him down. Just a little something that makes our heroes feel like they left their mark on the battle and did something worthwhile.

I will say that I was happy with the way Theon went down. That felt like a scene that really paid off on his character development. He dies defending his home and his surrogate brother. I loved that Bran told him he was a good man at the end. That whole scene was excellent- I just wanted more scenes like that, that seemed to connect to the wider narrative of the show, that went beyond the episode itself.

But what did y’all think of the episode? Let me know in the comments! All opinions are welcome here at TumbleweedWrites. Thank you for taking the time to read mine. If you liked my post then stay tuned, because I’ll probably be following it up with a Q&A real soon.

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