After a lot of waiting around, many emotional reunions, some trading of fun stories by the fire, big genealogical reveals, a knigting ceremony, and even some hot sex, the White Walkers have finally reached Winterfell for what is reportedly the longest battle sequence ever in the history of battles.
Last week’s episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” set this up in its final moments, which showed Tyrion staring out from the ramparts at the marching army on the horizon. This week's episode, "The Long Night," picks up exactly then, with Sam holding a piece of dragon glass and shaking, a concise image for what pretty much everyone around him is feeling right now.
The Battle for Winterfell has distinct echoes of season 6’s "Battle of the Bastards," which makes sense as both were directed by Miguel Sapochnik. There’s a lot of confusion, a lot of bad lighting, and a lot of mounds of human beings.
The assumption going into this whole thing was that we were going to be saying goodbye to a lot of our favourite characters, and while there were some notable deaths (Dolorous Edd, Beric, Jorah, bebe Lyanna Mormont, among others), the overall body count is a lot lighter than expected. Daenerys and Jon (despite all his best efforts to get himself killed by literally confronting an ice dragon with his man screams) are still alive, as are Bran, Gendry, Tormund, Brienne, Jaime, Davos, Sansa, Tyrion, Varys, and the Hound. Even the little girl with the scar made it!
And all that, thanks to Arya, who turns out to be the real subject of the Azor Ahai prophecy that’s been applied to pretty much everyone at this point. The hints started mounting from the very beginning of the episode, when Melisandre returned from her trip abroad at a very fortuitous moment (“A wizard is never late” and all that). After setting fire to all the Dothraki swords a la Thoros of Myr, which is great and helps a lot with the lighting, she catches a glimpse of Arya on the ramparts. The two stare at each other in recognition for a while, and then move on, because there’s a war on! And one could have easily concluded that this was just Melisandre remembering that they met that one time — but this is Game of Thrones, and prophecies are everything.
Just to recap a bit, the two met once back in season 3, when Melisandre arrived to pick up Gendry from the Brotherhood Without Banners to use him to help Stannis get stronger. This turned out to be useless, because Stannis wasn’t actually the Lord of Light’s favourite anything, but that’s neither here nor there. Basically, Arya was mad that this red-headed lady was taking her friend away, and threatened to kill her. In response, Melisandre made a prediction: “I see a darkness in you. And in that darkness, eyes staring back at me. Brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes. Eyes you'll shut forever. We will meet again.”
And indeed, the two go over the basics of that conversation once more in the Great Hall of Winterfell (incidentally, where everyone was chilling by the fire in the last episode) after Beric dies saving Arya. As Melisandre makes clear, the reason the Lord of Light brought him back six times was so he could save Arya, and Arya could save mankind by killing the Night King. Still, I did not see that final leap coming. Gimme all the memes!
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s rewind a bit to the actual battle. The lighting in this episode was exceptionally beautiful, highlighting shadows and light in an intricate dance of snow and fire. The problem is that it also made it very difficult to see.
Visibility was a Thing in this episode, because the lack of it basically made Jon and Dany on their dragons useless. All that careful planning to have them guard Bran and set fire to wights was all for naught. Instead, they actually bumped into each other in the sky, fell off a few times, and had several bad run ins with the Night King. Who could have predicted that snow might make it difficult to navigate the skies?
You know what else could have been predicted? That all the troops who died fighting the White Walkers would probably be resurrected later in the episode to fight for the Night King. Oh, and hiding people in the crypts, literally full of corpses just waiting to become lethal weapons? Bad idea.
There’s no point in a blow-by-blow recap of every twist and turn of the battle because, frankly, it’s too damn long and confusing. Sufficeth to say that a lot of people die, and somewhere, Brad Pitt is shaking his fist at his TV muttering about World War Z.
But what was most striking to me was that while the men were busy having existential crises in the middle of a bloody battle (I’m looking at you Clegane), women were getting shit done. Remember all those boring Arya training scenes back in season 6? Well they finally come in handy. That silent scene in the library, with her creeping behind bookshelves and hiding under tables to avoid White Walkers was one of the most tense moments in the show’s history. And Lady Lyanna Mormont stabbing the giant zombie in the eye! Brienne hacking away at all those White Walkers! Sansa drawing her dagger down in the crypt! Daenerys picking up a sword! Women did not come to play-act at war.
The 82-minute episode even made time for some nice emotional flourishes. Bran forgave Theon and gave him the confidence he needed to die, Drogon comforted his mommy as she wept over the man she friend-zoned for 8 seasons, and Sansa and Tyrion shared the most intimate look of comfort, understanding and admiration ever.
When the dust clears next week, we’ll probably have to deal with some unforeseen casualties. Davos, at least, watched Melisandre turn into an old lady and die in the snow beyond the gate of Winterfell. But the death of the Night King — which came far too easily after all that buildup — leaves us now with three whole episodes to fill.
Somewhere, Cersei is refilling her wine goblet. She was right. Her enemies have done the dirty work for her and destroyed the Army of the Dead. Their forces are depleted and weary — it’ll probably take them a second to regroup. But all in all, it looks like we should put away our furs in cedar-lined closets and bust out the summer gear. We’re heading to King’s Landing.