That certainly was brutal, wasn’t it? (Also: dimly lit. I know it was nighttime and all, but come on, HBO, you can’t afford lighting rigs?)
There were wins (so many wins!) and losses that definitely hurt, though I have to admit, there were fewer big deaths than I was expecting. But we still have a few episodes left this season, so I guess they didn’t want to run out of fan favourites too early.
The Night King and his massive army of the dead have arrived, and Winterfell’s inhabitants and armies prepare for battle. It’s tense, as one might expect. The non-combatants are sent down to the crypts while I wonder why the hell anyone thought that would be the best place to send all of these people when facing an enemy who can raise the dead. It’s not like at least Jon isn’t aware of the Night King’s ability to do that–he witnessed it firsthand at Hardhome, right?
Anyway, down to the crypts they go, the women, children, Varys, Sansa, and Tyrion. Sansa and Tyrion get to have some nice chats while they’re down there. He kind of jokingly (maybe?) suggests they could give their marriage another try and she practically laughs in his face, because I think Sansa’s pretty done on the whole marriage thing, for a while at least. She gives the excuse that their divided loyalties would make things too awkward, although since Jon and Dany are on the same side now, where’s the division?
Up top, things are about to get started when who should arrive but Melisandre! Welcome back, Red Woman! Good timing, because when you’re facing a zombie hoard, you want a witch at your side.
She walks up to the Dothraki, who are all mounted, swords drawn, waiting to charge. She grasps one sword, utters a spell, and all the swords immediately burst into flame. See? Helpful! It’s also a really impressive visual.
The Dothraki then charge off into the night, because I guess they’re the Light Brigade in this scenario. I mean, I’m no military tactician, but why are they doing this? It’s suicide! Why not wait for the wights to come to them?
We watch as the flaming swords are extinguished one by one in the far distance. A few horses–and Jorah, who led the charge–come galloping back. Yeah, that’s not good.
The wights march forward and the battle begins in earnest outside the walls of the castle. It’s not going well. Dany, watching with Jon from a bluff that looks really far away, decides it’s time to step in. How about it? Jon tries to dissuade her, and I’d really like to know what’s going on here. Why are they so far away? Why doesn’t Jon want her to engage? I think I missed something.
Dany will not be held back. She mounts up, and Jon does too, and the two of them ride their dragons and start burning off the wights.
It helps, but it’s not enough. And then the Night King shows up riding his own dragon, and magics up a blizzard that plays hell on dragon navigation.
Down below, things get so bad the army has to retreat into the castle. As the soldiers pour in, the commanders decide it’s time to light a massive flame trench that’s been dug around the castle. Good plan, guys! Only problem is, Dany was supposed to light it with the dragon, and she can’t see the signal because of the blizzard she’s stuck in. They try flaming arrows, but they’re not strong enough. Luckily, Melisandre’s a dab hand with flames and manages to get the thing lit magically, just in the nick of time. It holds the wights back just long enough for the inhabitants of Winterfell to catch their breaths.
But it was never going to be that easy. Some of the wights step forward and just throw themselves on top of the flames. Then more, then more, until there’s a path and the wight army starts pouring through and scaling the walls.
And now, it is ON.
The fighting is fierce, and everyone’s really bringing their A game. Except for Sam, who is waaaaaay out of his depth here. He’s nearly killed by a wight, but saved by Edd, who is then stabbed in the back and becomes the first casualty we care about. Farewell, Edd! We remember you back in the early days of the Night’s Watch. Now, your watch has ended.
Moving along, a goddamn zombie giant bursts through the gates, throwing Lyanna Mormont aside as if she were an ant. The thing begins swinging its club around, and Lyanna regains her feet, clearly badly hurt, but not about to give in because these Bear Island folks are fierce, my friends. They breed ’em tough up north.
With a primal scream, she charges this enormous thing, which picks her up and begins crushing her to death in its hand. As she’s dying, she manages to stab it in the eye with a knife, killing the giant. Yeah, that’s right: the last act of a ten-year-old (or so) girl being crushed to death by an undead giant was to take that bastard down with her.
Out in the Godswood, things are still pretty quiet. This gives Theon a chance to tell Bran how sorry he is about, well, pretty much every shitty thing he’s ever done that got him to this point in his life. Bran, as is his wont, is basically like, ‘yeah, well, it’s what needed to happen to get us here, right?’
He then wargs into a flock of crows so he can see what’s going on in the battle.
The wights approach, and Theon and the other guards arm themselves with bows and arrows and get ready for a fight.
Back in the castle, Arya is all over the place, taking out wights with that spear she had Gendry make her, throwing herself from rooftops, and racing up and down corridors. She finds herself in the library, which is really quiet. Unfortunately, some wights have made their way there as well, so we get several very tense minutes of her moving silently, evading them, and finally managing to escape, only to be confronted by a contingent of wights that start chasing her down.
She runs, and finally finds Beric and the Hound, who’s just been shaken out of one of his fire-induced PTSD episodes by Beric. A fight ensues, and Beric winds up being killed while protecting Arya.
Arya and the Hound manage to barricade themselves in the Great Hall, where Melisandre’s cooling her heels. She and Arya have one of those, ‘I know you,’ exchanges, and Melisandre reminds Arya that she predicted the girl would ‘close a lot of eyes. Brown eyes, green eyes, and blue.’ She also tells Arya that the Lord of Light kept bringing Beric back for a reason, but now his purpose has been served. Because that reason was preserving the life of Arya Stark.
Arya thinks about that, and then starts heading out of the hall.
Back outside, things are looking dire indeed. Dany finally manages to get the Night King on the ground, and she has her dragon unleash a stream of fire on him, only to discover that he’s impervious to dragon fire as well as everything else. Well, the Children of the Forest were nothing if not thorough.
The Night King smirks, and then does his resurrection trick, bringing back all the dead soldiers in Winterfell, as well as all the dead bodies in the crypt, which start attacking the people hiding down there. See? I knew that was a bad idea! And are Ned and Catelyn and Lyanna amongst the attackers now?
It’s hopeless. That’s got to be what everyone’s thinking at this point. I mean, they’re fighting wights and now all their dead comrades.
Jon’s racing through the castle, trying to avoid attacks by the Night King’s dragon, trying to get to Bran, who is also under attack right now.
Theon and the others are running out of arrows.
Dany is knocked off her dragon and quickly surrounded by wights, only to be saved by Jorah, who comes in swinging. Dany manages to arm herself, and the two fight side-by-side.
In the Godswood, the arrows run out. The other soldiers are killed off, one by one, until only Theon is left. The Night King comes striding in, ready to take Bran, who sits there calmly. As Theon unblinkingly faces his inevitable fate here, Bran gently tells him he’s a good man. Awww! And wow, some glimpse of humanity from Bran! He’s still human after all!
Theon tries not to cry, having been told the one thing he needed to hear to bring the longest redemption arc of any television show I’ve ever seen to a close. He takes his sword and rushes the Night King, only to be predictably killed in about a second. As he lies there, in the snow, slowly dying, the Night King steps past him and approaches Bran.
But then–Jesus–Arya comes flying out of absolutely nowhere. The Night King immediately grabs her by the throat and lifts her. She drops her knife…
…and manages to catch it with her other hand and plunge it into the bastard’s chest.
The Night King explodes into a million shards of ice. The dead fall on the spot and actually stay dead. Jon blinks in confusion at the now-dead dragon. Everyone else kind of just stands there, probably wondering if this is some kind of trick.
After a little while, they realise this is real. They’ve won. But there’s no rejoicing to be had. The dead are too many, the tragedies too raw. Jorah has fallen, protecting his khaleesi, and Dany sobs over him. Her dragon lands, encircling her and Jorah with its body and wings, as if to comfort her, which is oddly touching.
But Winterfell is saved. Dawn is breaking. And Melisandre has apparently decided that her work on this earth is done. Watched by Davos, she steps out of the castle and begins walking across the battlefield. She drops her necklace as she goes, ages swiftly, and falls, turning to dust. The final casualty of the long night.
That was intense! It took them something like two months to shoot this one episode, and despite the lighting issues, I’d say it was well spent. Also, it was smart of them to bring back the director of The Battle of the Bastards, because that was another great battle episode for this show. The man knows how to combine quiet moments with incredible slaughter and spectacle in a way that, strangely, makes sense.
Couple of stray thoughts:
Jon doesn’t seem to be the best battle commander, does he? I mean, his track record while fighting around Winterfell isn’t great. Yes, his side has won, but it’s mostly because of total luck, not because of his own skill. He almost got his men wiped out during the Battle of the Bastards; it was only the timely arrival of the army from the Eyrie (summoned by Sansa) that turned the tide. And this time, he wasn’t even taking a command position, just hanging around on a bluff that looked to be miles away. It fell to another Stark daughter to save the day. The ladies are amazing. Jon, maybe not so much. I think he lets emotion get in the way too much at Winterfell; it clouds his judgement.
I’m actually surprised the Night King was defeated this week. I thought at least he’d get away, so the very end of the series would revolve around getting rid of him completely. Instead they’re going to fight… Cersei? Euron? I mean, yes, our heroes’ numbers are greatly depleted here, but still, that seems kind of anticlimactic. They just fought an army of frigging zombies and a nearly unkillable leader, and now they’re going up against the two idiots from the south? Eh.
But I’m sure there’ll be more to it than that. I sure hope so. I have faith.