Spoilers for the entirety of HBO’s Game of Thrones will follow.
“The Battle of Winterfell,” as it’s been called, has been a developing plot point for some time now and coming into this season was a highly anticipated moment for the series. In the past two episodes, the groundwork had been set for an epic standoff with our beloved characters defending Winterfell from the oncoming onslaught from the Night King and the White Walkers. On top of that, there has been much hype online about the impending battle, with stories concerning the over fifty days of filming for the episode and myths of its budget being the highest in television history. So, the ultimate question pertaining to anything that builds up as much popularity as Game of Thrones must be asked: did it live up to the hype?
Firstly, we must get out of the way what seems to be the biggest talking point in the wake of the episode: the picture quality. Yes, this is quite an unfortunate topic to be discussing following such a grandiose epic of television, the most ambitious in the history of the medium. And yet, it needs to be discussed, because it was prevalent throughout the eighty-two minute runtime. The issue was caused in the black levels on HBO’s stream/broadcast not lending themselves to the very darkly lit episode which took place entirely during the night time. The show would use different tactics to breathe some light into the frames, namely by having fire brought into the fold either by Melisandre or the dragons, but when this would happen it only seemed to highlight the problem plaguing the episode. So, I want to make it clear, this was a big problem for the episode and it shouldn’t be overlooked. At many points throughout, it was hard to discern what was specifically happening as so much chaos was occurring onscreen. The biggest offenders involved scenes with the dragons in the sky, which were frankly pretty poorly shot and executed overall.
Now that we have that out of the way, we can look at the actual content of the episode. For the most part, it was a truly riveting experience and was everything we could have wanted from this battle and more. During its extended runtime, there were so many moments that would have the viewer on the edge of their seat with anticipation and suspense. The sheer scale and cinematic achievement was simply jaw-dropping at times. The score behind this episode was truly remarkable and perfectly accentuated various moments with drama and edginess. The start of the episode of course was a sight to behold, with the Dothraki rushing out into battle and the image of seeing the lights go out on their swords. Melisandre herself provided some of the episode’s best moments too, lighting fire on the scene multiple times and the show used these moments to great effect. The fighting was fairly hit and miss in terms of just witnessing hand-to-hand combat, along with the dragons battling in the air providing some head-scratching moments, but overall it wasn’t too disappointing.
As the episode progressed, the interactions became more intimate and personal. Arya in particular got a very poignant scene, one that had a horror movie feel to it as she stealthily avoided White Walkers in the library. The scene played out much like the raptor scene from Jurassic Park and it was incredibly effective and suspenseful. The Hound eventually helped her to narrowly escape in what was great payoff for their relationship. Around this time Jorah was also seen defending Daenerys all the way to his bitter end, a truly devastating way for one of our favorite characters to go down. Finally, in the climactic scene with Theon desperately defending Bran, the Night King approached with a slow motion buildup. It was the moment we had all been waiting for and they played it up beautifully. Theon went down fighting and the Night King stared deep into Bran’s eyes as he was about to strike him down. Then, of course, Arya flew in out of nowhere in a shockingly punctual moment that will forever be remembered in television history. Arya, the girl we’ve seen grow up before our eyes, struck down the Night King in one of the most satisfying acts of vengeance imaginable. What a win for her, for Westeros, for Game of Thrones and all its fans. We’ll be talking about that one for years to come. After that, in a very moving scene, we see Melisandre calmly walk out into the snowy darkness alone. Her work here is done. She takes off her amulet and slowly turns to bones and dies. Cut to black. A tremendously effective end to the episode and finally gives us the opportunity to breathe again after such a nerve-wracking hour-and-a-half.
So yes, while this probably wasn’t the best overall “battle episode” of the entire series, it was still an incredibly satisfying and riveting one. So many great moments, and while at times it did fall into pitfalls of too much chaos occurring onscreen to fully comprehend and resonate, at no point did it ever veer into nonsensical territory like its cultural behemoth counterpart in Marvel. The biggest triumphs and downfalls of the episode landed where they had to, and on top of that the filmmaking was astonishingly top notch. Some of the cinematography here was simply mesmerizing. Above all, the episode acted as incredible payoff for the years of anticipation and provided further longing for more in the three episodes that lie ahead. It appears that our sights will now shift towards King’s Landing and Cersei for the final charge, along with settling the power struggle mounting between Jon and Daenerys. Only three episodes remain, and frankly the hype could not be any more severe. The television event of our lifetime is coming to a close and “The Long Night” served as a reminder to just how epic it really is.
‘Game of Thrones’ continues Sunday night at 9pm ET on HBO