'Game of Thrones' Recap: What the Battle of Winterfell Means for the End of the Show
That was intense. "The Long Night," the third episode of Game of Thrones Season 8, delivered one of the largest (and darkest) action sequences in television history. Spending episodes one and two on the moments leading up to the Battle of Winterfell both makes sense as a way to mentally prepare us for the scope of events that were to come, but the aftermath also makes the future of the Thrones-verse extremely uncertain.
For one thing, a lot of the people we were worried about last week (Brienne, Pod, Gendry, Jaime) aren't dead yet! (And per the episode 4 preview, so is Ghost!) Another thing: The big supernatural threat is gone. That's right -- the show has left its final three episodes for an actual -- wait for it -- game of thrones. Here's where everyone stands with the season's back half in our crosshairs.
The Night King (or, ya done, son)He's off the board! Considering we have half the season left, it's amazing that we're already done with the Army of the Dead. What did they want? Did the Night King have a great action movie line he'd say to Bran right before slashing him in half and presumably turning him into a flock of crows?
Let's not talk down on the Night King for being a terrifying villain that doesn't show up on the battlefield until it's time to NOT get burned by dragonfire. It's a power move that backs up how dumb it is when your death causes a chain reaction that immediately kills off all of your forces. If the Night King feared any of the houses of men, or dragons, or Valyrian steel, he wouldn't have shown his face during the whole battle until everyone at Winterfell was dead except Bran. The ice man was a little too cocky for his own good and didn't count on Arya, an assassin trained by blindness in the ways of sneaky stabbing, up for taking him down even when she had her neck in his hands.
Team Lord of Light (or… wait, the fire god is real?)Right at the beginning of the episode, when we're prepped to have the Night King's army come barreling down on our heroes, Melisandre comes riding out of the darkness. She has Jorah tell the Dothraki to lift their swords, and the Red Woman ignites them, turning into a sea of fire in the dark night. It serves as the replacement for a rousing speech, and gets a smile out of poor Edd (RIP). Melisandre and the Lord of Light did not come to play this episode. Davos is there to make good on his promise to execute her, but instead she forecasts her own death, which she later delivers on in the closing scene.
When the time comes to light the trench and Dany is blacked out by the Night King's cloud of war, it isn't until the last possible second that Melisandre's High Valyrian prayer works. When it finally happens, we get a shot of the flames reflected in her eyes and it's hard to tell how much of it is pure wonder, and how much of it is a restoration of her faith. Maybe she's done the burning sword trick before, but never had to stretch herself to this extent. Either way, lighting the trench is the last bit of doubt we see from Melisandre. Beric Dondarrion, in addition, was one of the Lord of Light's truest servants and went out bringing Arya back to the Red Woman. She's there to rally the Hound and Arya back into the tiresome fight, and when her job is done, she removes her magic amulet that keeps her young and spry and walks out into the morning sun, rotting away into nothing. This lives up to her earlier prophecies of dying in Westeros.
The lingering question is if her Season 7 goal of "bringing fire and ice" together (Dany and Jon) was for this moment or if the Lord of Light has more plans in store for the fate of Westeros and the Iron Throne. Who will speak for the Lord now? The Hound? Let's go with him, since now we can build to Clegane Bowl with a bit more confidence knowing he's alive. If his new purpose is to serve the Lord as some sort of traveling warrior like Beric (RIP) and Thoros before him, that's about as close to redemption as Sandor deserves.
House Stark (or, Westeros's most powerful house)House Stark initially splits with Bran going to the Godswood tree, with the Iron Born and Sansa and Arya heading to the walls of Winterfell to overlook the battle. But seeing the Night King's dark cloud of concealment sweeping in, about to neutralize the threat of dragons, Arya Stark first gets a hint that she might be dealing with a face of Death that she doesn't want to meet. The way her fear manifests, because she's a strong assassin who can have any blacksmith she wants, is to send Sansa down to the crypts with a dragonglass dagger and a "stick them with the pointy end" callback. Arya's palpable fear of the magic before her that hasn't been a factor since she returned to Winterfell, or maybe ever.
When we cut back to Arya after the Winterfell walls have been breached, she makes wight killing look easy with her split-apart, double tipped staff. As she spins and slices her way through an endless line of foes, the dead just keep coming. At one point, she has to do a sideways roll over a cluster of them just to get down a staircase. A wight slams her head into a wall, then Arya's fear starts to take hold once again. She ironically inspires the Hound to get back into the fight: at the exact moment she sneaks back inside Winterfell to hide from wights, Jurassic Park-style, Sandor Clegane was having a momentary freakout and froze.
The Hound and Beric end up going into the castle after Arya, and Beric takes several wight knives to the midsection while blocking the hallway so the Hound and Arya can get away. Beric brings them both back to Melisandre, and brings Arya out of her fear. It turns out that the last time Melisandre saw Arya she delivered an accurate prophecy. Is Arya a servant of the Lord of Light? Has she been put in the wrong category? As it turns out, probably. In the biggest surprise of the evening, Arya Stark ends up being the person responsible for taking out the Night King. In what X-Men fans will recognize as a modified fastball special, Westeros' tiniest assassin makes good on all her bravado and stabs the Night King with her Valyrian Steel dagger. The dagger that was supposed to kill Bran in the first season ended up being the dagger that saved Bran (and all of humanity).
Sansa went down to the crypts and had dramatic anchoring moments with Tyrion that we needed for the precious cutaways from the carnage of this episode. That is, until the crypt people came alive. (Told you.) Varys, Gilly, and Missandei are also around, but Sansa is the one with the wisdom in siege hiding (gained from surviving the Battle of the Blackwater under Cersei's wine-soaked guidance). It was nice to hear from Varys after he got sidelined last week, but the crypts end up being the least consequential thing in the episode, unless it was a way to set up a Sansa/Tyrion opposition to the upcoming Targaryen rule. Sansa said the relationship between them wouldn't work because of the Dragon Queen, but that's a small hurdle if Tyrion has to choose between Dany who likes burning Tarlys and Sansa Stark, who hasn't unfairly executed anyone yet.
House Mormont (or, the bear, the bear, one conclusion unfair)Before we get to Ser Jorah: Poor, poor, giant-crushed Lyanna Mormont. It has been fun to root for the no-shit-taking head of Bear Island, but the reality of wight giants outsizes her in her final scene. It is excellent that in an episode with such a threat of death and a lot of splashing around in the darkness that Lyanna embraced her fate like a warrior and stabbed a giant through the eye. However, if any character had to be crushed to death in the fist of an undead giant, did it have to be Lyanna Mormont? Sure, it's not like Lord Commander Edd, who just gets stabbed in the back of the head after saving Sam, but it's not living through the battle either. Inevitably, both become wights, and that seems disrespectful. Luckily, we don't have to see anyone kill a wighted Lyanna Mormont (though we do see her turn from corpse to blue-eyed undead) because that'd just be plain rude.
Jorah goes out like he would have wished: defending his Queen/love. Jorah is the first into battle with the Dothraki and he makes it all the way to the end, eventually sacrificing his body by taking swords to the chest so Dany can stab their attackers in the head. It's selfless and it feels like it's worth getting cured of Greyscale for. Jorah's arc might not have been as messy as some of the other characters because he was always earnest, even back in when he made the sudden decision to stop spying on Daenerys and save her from assassins instead. Jorah's always been very plain about what he believed in: Daenerys. The tenderness of "I'm hurt" as his last line hammers home his earnestness and positivity in all situations. Westeros will surely be a darker place without his loyalty.
House Greyjoy (or, a good man)Theon's arc effectively ended last week when he was reunited with Sansa and got the right to defend Bran in Winterfell. He fought bravely in the Godswood with flaming arrows and spears. He got not only one but two absolutions from Bran! If you were to have told pilot episode Alfie Allen that he would not only make it to the final season, but be the final victim of the Night King, he rightly wouldn't have believed you. Instead, Theon is Game of Thrones' most successful complete arc to date.
House Targaryen (or, head-to-head dragon fight)Even though they had flaming swords and Grey Worm was blessed by Melisandre with a Valar Dohaeris/Valar Morghulis, the Dothraki and the Unsullied are representatives of House Targaryen, and the tip of the spear in the defense of Winterfell that falls immediately. The Dothraki get viciously murdered in the dark, which seems rather unceremonious considering they've been consistently on Dany's side since she burned all their leaders and emerged unscathed. They crossed the great sea for their queen and fought bravely on the Field of Fire (sometimes called the Battle of the Loot Train). Then they had to be dramatically sacrificed so we were sufficiently scared of the dark in this episode. Was it an effective cinematic tactic? Absolutely. Was it a sad way to wipe the board of the Dothraki? Hell yes.
With the exception of Grey Worm, the Unsullied also seem to have taken a major hit in the Battle of Winterfell. Since they covered for the limited retreat before lighting the trench, their death count is also high. We got to see one of them turned into a wight close-up, which means there must have been tons of Unsullied wights in the few moments Winterfell was entirely overwhelmed and just about ready to collapse.
But let's get to the dragon fight! The tactic of bringing in a dark cloud to stop the dragons from holding back the Army of the Dead was a smart move by the Night King, but not nearly as smart as using that cloud cover to suddenly leap out at our two heroes in the sky. Zombie Viserion almost burning Dany off Drogon looked like it could have been the end, but that was before Rhaegal and Viserion had an all out brawl in the sky. Rhaegal gets it pretty good with a claw to the chest and several zombie bites to his head and neck. When Rhaegal goes down he doesn't get up. We don't spend enough time with him on the ground (got to keep tracking Jon!) but that probably means he's okay -- just injured. Viserion gets the worst of it, though, when half of his face is torn off. Only because the dragon is undead does he keep going, blasting Winterfell with his blue fire until Arya offed the Night King then falling like the rest of them.
Drogon almost getting overrun by wights as if they were fire ants was the last bit of Dany's supreme confidence in her dragon children being taken away. Not only is it terrifying to see Drogon take off with hundreds of the undead clinging to him, but Dany didn't even plan for this to happen enough to have armed herself.
Although the living were victorious against the dead, House Targaryen's position could be weakened. They've lost a lot of their troops, one of their dragons, and the unimpeachable power that Dany once wielded has shown itself to be fallible. Even if Daenerys falls in line behind Aegon/Jon (which the preview for the next episode makes look unlikely), Jon didn't do much in the fight besides ride a dragon and confront the Night King before being surrounded by wights. He's not the hero like he was at the Battle of the Bastards.
House Lannister (or, uh oh)Cersei's plan to finish off the survivors of the battle with the Night King seemed a lot more of a gamble when we expected the Night King to get all the way down to King's Landing with less of a hitch. Now that we know that won't be the case, the question becomes which of Checkhov's guns (or, in this case, Tywin's crossbows) does Cersei have control over? And how will she deal with her traitorous brother Jaime, who survived the long night?
Where is the Golden Company? Are they marching to Winterfell with Bronn? (Also, where is Bronn?) Can he ingratiate himself with the beaten-down armies of the North to get close enough to his assassination targets now that the Starks have killed the Night King and have a psychic brother who contains multitudes of truth and have no reason to bend the knee ever again?
Tune in next week, where we're back to medieval politics with only some dragons.