‘The Long Night’ was dark and full of terrors. Jon and Dany’s forces took on the might of the Night King in a terse, terrifying battle. They survived, barely, by the skin of their teeth, thanks to a timely assist by Arya.
(Warning: Spoilers Ahead)
The first two episodes set the stage for this battle, showcasing how everyone was preparing for the battle with the forces of the dead. This worked well- for the most part. But now, we get to see if the buildup was worth it.
The episode started with Winterfell’s forces arrayed in various formations, waiting for the wights to attack. The setting, which was pitch black, barely allowed for any visual signs of the wights’ movement. Following Melissandre’s arrival- who blessed the swords of the Dothraki horseriders, lighting them on fire- the Dothraki charged deep into the night, their blazing weapons lighting the way. However, once they clashed into the horde of wights, their lights grew dim; soon, they were all snuffed out. And then everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
Jon and Daenerys charged into the skies atop Drogon and Rhaegal, chasing the Night King through powerful, suffocating mists, with Dany also making time to provide air support for their forces on the ground. Brienne, Jaime and Jorah fought with a sense of desperate abandon, as the dead broke through their ranks with relentless fury, running straight into their formations without any hesitation whatsoever.
Miguel Sapochnik, who has directed other stellar episodes such as Hardhome and Battle of the Bastard before, took a different approach with this episode. He used the cover of the night to convey the helplessness and fear felt by Winterfell’s forces in this fight, as almost every important character was forced back, inch by inch, into the confines of the Winterfell keep. Melissandre came to their rescue once again, lighting the trenches nearby on fire, creating a fiery wall that stemmed the tide of the dead. The wights, however, created a moat of bodies through the trenches, walking over their own rank and file to invade Winterfell.
The deaths came fast, but there wasn’t quite the slaughter one might have expected from a fight of this magnitude.
Dolorous Edd bit the dust early on in the episode, and Lyanna Mormont fell while battling a giant by herself. Beric Dondarrion died while trying to help Arya escape the wights, while Theon Greyjoy fell to the Night King himself after a valiant effort to protect Bran. And near the end, Jorah Mormont succumbed to grievous wounds sustained while protecting his queen.
These are important deaths, yes, but strangely most of the main cast survived without much pain or toil. Jon and Dany found themselves pinned to the ground on various occasions, especially when the Night King raised the dead at Winterfell. One theory that came true was, of course, the dead Starks rising from the grave in the crypt.
Utter pandemonium reigned supreme by this point, and it seemed incredulous that our heroes will survive the night, much less win the battle.
Yet win they did, thanks in particular to an amazing effort by Arya Stark. She drove the Valyrian Steel dagger into the Night King’s ribs, shattering him into ice; and the legions of wights and white walkers fell, bursting into ice as well. In a way, this is gleefully reminiscent of Eowyn vanquishing the Witch King of Angmar at the battle of Minas Tirith.
It’s surprising that Arya turned out to be the Azor Ahai of this story. But according to the directors, this was the plan all along. They had known for almost three years that Arya would bring the Night King down. “We knew it had to be Valyrian steel in the exact spot where the Children of the Forest put the dragonglass blade to create the Night King. And he’s uncreated by Valyrian steel.”
The steel dagger itself has a storied history in the show. An assassin used it in an attempt to kill Bran in the first season. Littlefinger gave it back to Bran, and then Bran gave it to Arya, so that she could use it to fatally wound the Night King. And thus, the Battle of Winterfell ended as strangely and abruptly as it had begun, leaving the survivors to count their losses and recoup for the inevitable war with King’s Landing.
Overall, this was a grim, gritty episode that delivered the goods for the most part. Of course, this was the most fantasy-laden episode of the show to date, and it’s still a bit jarring that most of the main characters survived for the final showdown with Cersei. Of course, they could still be dying in that final battle; in the end, even Jon or Dany could die before sitting on the Iron Throne.
With ‘The Long Night’, we are midway through Season 8. Is it still good? Yes, it is. Is it great? That’s something we still need to find out. Let’s hope the Battle for the Iron Throne delivers the goods as well.