The third episode of Game of Thrones‘ final season brought us the long-anticipated Battle of Winterfell. The Army of the Dead has arrived, let’s take a look at what destruction they have wrought. If you didn’t check out my previous reviews, you can read what I thought of the first and second episodes. This is my Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3 – The Long Night review.
Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3 – The Long Night Review
We open with Samwell, who has been handed a pair of dragonglass daggers. The world is quiet, the Dothraki, Unsullied, Northmen, Wildlings and Knights of the Vale are all formed up. The greatest army the North has ever seen.
Melisandre arrives and quickly proves she got a level up (or four) between seasons, as she sets all the Dothraki arakhs on fire, in an amazing sequence that kindles awe and hope. With their confidence high, the Dothraki charge, led by Ser Jorah Mormont and even Ghost. Jon and Daenerys watch as the dark night is set alight as catapults and trebuchets hurl flaming volleys to clear the undead ahead of the charge…and it’s not enough.
In a bone-chilling sequence, one by one, the lights of the flaming swords go out. A few survivors make their way back, including Jorah. The infantry and other defenders brace for the dead. A literal wave of undead warriors nearly bury the living and almost everyone is in peril. Jon and Daeneyrs mount Rhaegal and Drogon, carving flaming swaths through the lines of the dead and giving the army of the living a chance to breathe. Samwell is saved at the last moment by Edd, who is himself killed immediately afterward.
(A note: Ghost doesn’t show up again, which is annoying as it seemed like they were finally including him in some of the battles and action. He is however alive and did not die an off-screen death).
Jon and Rhaegal attempt to fly out to where the White Walker generals are staying back from the battle, but a great storm is triggered, battering the dragons and their riders in the air until it’s all they can do not to crash into each other.
As the battle continues, the Unsullied mount an organized retreat, barely holding the dead at bay while the defenders stream into Winterfell. Arya saves Sandor with a flaming arrow (an amusing callback to the Battle of the Blackwater) and Sansa heads down to the crypts.
After the winds extinguish the flaming arrows, keeping the trench from being set aflame, Melisandre lights the trenches herself, (with an insanely cool shot of the fire reflected in her eyes) earning everyone a minute’s respite. The light catches the attention of Danaerys, who is able to bring herself and Drogon back to Winterfell and begin roasting wights again. Theon talks with Bran in the godswood, attempting to apologize for his past actions, yet Bran tells him that everything he’s done brought him on the path back home. Bran then wargs into his ravens, flying off until he spots the Night King.
The Night King orders the wights forward irregardless of the flames, causing them to start dying in droves until they pile up enough to block the flames, then throwing themselves against the walls. The battle is on again.
Jaime, Brienne and Gendry help to hold the battlements, with Arya keeping an entire section of the walls clear by herself for a time. Sandor panics upon seeing the flames but Beric is able to rally him upon seeing Arya’s heroism. When even she is overwhelmed, she flees further into Winterfell, though not before taking a nasty tumble and cut above her eye. After the gates burst, little Lyanna Mormont is swatted aside, then crushed to death by an undead giant, though not before she is able to jab her dragonglass dagger into its eye, killing it.
While it’s a heartbreaking moment, seeing her make this final stand (and fulfill her house’s words) is also a beautiful thing. Unlike many of her older male counterpoints, this little lord fought to the last.
Jon and Daenerys fly above the winds and clouds into the moonlit sky and the cinematography here is simply breathtaking. Watching two massive dragons adorned with the light of heavens is the stuff of high fantasy, yet Game of Thrones has converged here all the same.
As Arya takes refuge, the tone shifts to something out of a horror movie (or game!) as she creeps through the library, carefully avoiding the wights that are making their way through, trying to find her. The tension is palpable and enough to make you hold your breath alongside her. When she is discovered, Beric and the Hound come to her rescue, with Beric flinging his flaming sword into the wight accosting her. He’s stabbed multiple times as they break away and dies moments after they get to a safe room.
Melisandre has also made her way in and reminds Arya that she once saw a darkness in her future, that Arya would shut many eyes forever. Brown eyes, green eyes and blue eyes. Then she asks a simple question, one that Arya has been asked before: “What do we say to the God of Death?” Arya’s answer: “Not today.”
Rhaegal and Jon engage in a vicious fight with the Night King and Viserion. It’s the second Dance of Dragons and Rhaegal holds his own, despite taking damage, managing to rip Viserion’s neck and face completely open. Daenerys and Drogon arrive, hurling the Night King from Viserion’s back and sending the undead dragon into a freefall.
At the sound of Daenerys uttering “Dracarys” Drogon bathes the Night King in dragonfire. It seems for a moment that the fight might be done but alas, the Night King proves immune to dragonfire. In a horrifying first display of emotion, he SMIRKS, then hurls an ice spear to scare off both dragon and rider. Jon tries to catch up to him but the Night King turns and faces him. In a direct callback to their staredowns at Hardhome and the frozen lake, the Night King slowly raises his arms. Jon charges but the dead on the field (and in the crypts) are stirring.
Within the minute, Jon is surrounded. Only a sudden swooping Drogon saves Jon but in the midst of the chaos, wights begin to climb and crowd on to Drogon, causing the dragon to make an emergency takeoff that sends Daenerys tumbling off. Jorah saves her though and the two make a stand against the dead as Jon desperately tries to get to Bran.
What follows is one of the most remarkable sequences I’ve ever seen in television. Ramin Djawadi truly outdoes himself with a long track reminiscent of “Light of the Seven” from the season six finale. Everywhere, the characters we’ve known and loved are in danger, fighting to their last. Jorah’s plate armor can only protect him so much, as the small blows accumulate, yet wielding Heartsbane, he makes sure not a single wight gets to Daenerys. Jon tries to cut through to Bran in another long take, having to ignore Samwell’s terrified, desperate cries. Brienne, Jamie and Podrick have their backs against the wall. Grey Worm, Tormund and the last soldiers fight amidst piles of the dead. Sansa and Tyrion hold hands in the crypts. Theon kills every last wight in the godswood, long after all his men have died. An undead Viserion crashes into Winterfell, so heavily damaged that blue flames spew from his neck and mouth alike, blocking Jon’s path. The White Walkers and the Night King make their way in.
In one of the most tear-inducing, heartwarming moments of the episode, Bran tells Theon “You’re a good man. Thank you.” Seeing his redemption and acceptance fulfilled like this is wonderful and he charges the Night King, who steps forward to accept his challenge, brutally impaling Theon on his own broken spear. With Bran’s last defender fallen, the Night King begins the slow walk to end it all.
After dodging blasts of blue fire, Jon manages to find cover. Jon makes a heroic last stand, yelling at wight Viserion, while the Night King raises his hand to draw his cold blade and end the Three-Eyed Ravens once and for all. Something moves in the dark though, softer and faster than a cat, a White Walker’s hair catches a gust of wind and as the music reaches its crescendo, Arya leaps down on the Night King. He’s still insanely fast, catching her dagger and neck. With a free hand open, she recreates the knife trick she pulled when training with Brienne and plunges her Valyrian steel dagger into his chest. He explodes in shards of ice and moments afterward so do his lieutenants. The wights topple everywhere and the undead Viserion falls into a pile of bones.
Yet all have not been saved. Jorah dies in Daenerys’s arms, his wounds having accumulated too much and she burst into tears. Emilia Clarke’s acting has been great through the past episodes but she truly does a phenomenal job here. House Mormont is extinguished, but Here They Stood.
As the survivors can scarcely believe their eyes, Melisandre walks out beyond Winterfell. As Davos watches, she drops her necklace, her magical rejuvenation wearing off. As she collapses and dies, the dawn has come and the episode comes to a close.
While I can nitpick some things (seriously Samwell, how are you still alive? The ghost of Jeor Mormont is the best reason I can come up with) overall I absolutely loved this episode. If ever there was a god of death, the Night King fits that description perfectly. Arya, Jorah, Theon…so many character arcs come full circle, their seasons of building prepping for these final moments. It was astounding. This is easily one of my favorite episodes across the entire series, not only for the scale of spectacle but for the gripping tension it wrought, particularly in the final act.
The cinematography, CGI, music and acting are all some of the best the series has to offer and it all comes together in a way that very few past episodes have managed.
It would’ve been nice to see Ghost actually fight in the battle but at least we got to see him charge (and thanks to the preview for Episode 4, we know he’s alive). The Great War is done. Now it’s time to see the rest of the pieces fall into place. We need to understand the world that will be left behind and we’ve got about four hours left.