This week’s episode was the war for the living. “The Long Night” refers back to the disaster that took place during the Age of Heroes, some 8,000 years ago, when the White Walkers conquered Westeros and brought with them the cold and the night that did not end for a generation. Azor Ahai saved the world, though the legend of his heroism comes from Asshai, not from Westeros. In Westeros, the stories tell of the Last Hero. This event is how the Night’s Watch originated, and the origin of The Wall. The White Walkers, or The Others, have been waiting for their chance to try again. This was their chance. The armies at Winterfell were the last hope of humanity, Cersei’s 20,000 Golden Company Warriors would be nothing against the Army of the Dead, particularly if the Army of the Dead included the fallen from Winterfell. We will honor those who gave their lives to save the world.
We remember the Dothraki. A people with their own traditions and culture who became the first of their kind to cross the sea en masse to fight for their Khaleesi in a strange land. They fought with unflagging courage. Thousands of them died in the charge into the Army of the Dead, swinging their flaming arakhs to the last. These weapons would have taken down countless wights, but the overwhelming numbers in the Army of the Dead would have been incomprehensible to them.
We remember the Unsullied. Like the Dothraki they fought valiantly for Daenerys Targaryen, the Breaker of Chains. Raised as slaves from early childhood, mutilated, and abused, their lives were some of the most tragic stories. And yet we could see in Gray Worm and the men who went to the brothels in Meereen to be held that they were still capable of tenderness and affection. They followed their queen to a strange country, and their bravery will not be forgotten. After the loss of the Dothraki, she tried to save them with her dragon. But the Unsullied could not strike fear into the hearts of a fearless foe, and a blinding fog robbed them of their aerial defense. They stood their ground to the last man.
We remember Dolorous Edd. A man forever resigned to his fate, who nevertheless cheated death until literal death chased him down. He died saving Samwell Tarly, known as Sam the Slayer, who he personally encouraged to join the fight. He would have found delicious irony in that. He was a man of the Night’s Watch and guarded the realms of men to his last breath. Now his watch is ended.
We remember Lyanna Mormont, Giant-slayer. A loyal but pugnacious young woman, she had little reason to trust in anything but her own abilities. Bear Island saw tremendous losses in the War of Five Kings, but instead of barricading the last of her warriors on their island to protect only themselves, she rallied to help save the North and humanity. She was the last of her house.
We remember Beric Dondarrion, the Lightning Lord. He died over and over again in the service of many. First, it was Ned Stark, then the Brotherhood Without Banners, and finally he fought for Westeros as a whole. When Thoros of Myr died north of The Wall he knew the next death would be his last. I wonder if a part of him was relieved. In his final moments, he saved Arya Stark, which means he ultimately saved all the survivors of the Battle of Winterfell and the other residents of Westeros.
We remember Alys Karstark, who was part of Bran’s guard in the Godswood. I missed her plot from the books, where she rode North to the Wall to beg Jon’s protection and married a Wildling to stave off a forced marriage to her uncle. It was part of Jon’s efforts to integrate the Wildlings into the world south of The Wall. We didn’t see much of it in the show, but Alys was as brave, headstrong, and independent as any of her Northern sisters. She was the last of her house.
We remember Theon Greyjoy, a good man according to Bran Stark. Theon was brought to Winterfell as a hostage at the age of 10 after his father rebelled against King Robert Baratheon. He served as the ward of Ned Stark until the age of 19 when Ned Stark rode south to King’s Landing and was executed. Theon served as a lieutenant to Robb Stark until he betrayed the Starks and took Winterfell. He executed Rodrick Cassel and two innocent children. He was defeated and imprisoned by Ramsay Snow, later known as Ramsay Bolton. He was tortured and mutilated. Later, he rescued both Sansa Stark and his sister, Yara Greyjoy, from their captivities. He died defending Bran Stark.
We remember Jorah Mormont, a man with nothing to lose and everything to prove. He lost his life to love twice. The first time he was exiled upon threat of execution after slave-trading to earn enough money to keep his wife happy, and found himself in Essos serving as an emissary to a scared young Khaleesi. The second time he died wielding the sword of House Tarly to save the life of Daenerys Stormborn, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, the Breaker of Chains, Queen of Meereen, and the Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men. He was the last person who knew her before she was The Mother of Dragons. He died defending his queen.
We remember Melisandre, a woman of unshakeable faith. She did anything and everything for The Red God, R’hllor, until her last breath. The strength of her faith and the results of it were enough to shake the faith of many others. She won converts to the Red God in her life, though none that she left behind. She was not killed. She chose her fate. She always knew that the night is dark and full of terrors, she survived all the terrors and died in the light.
This episode was about the battle, and it was an effective battle episode in a lot of ways. I spent the entire episode in a state of high anxiety, not sure what the next turn of the battle would bring. We lost some characters who had been with us from Day One. I also think that the humans would not have come out of this any better no matter how the battle planning or execution had gone. The sheer size of the Army of the Dead and the fact that they are literally fearless makes them an enemy that’s practically impossible to defeat. This was probably the best outcome we could’ve hoped for, but I did wonder why there were five Valyrian steel blades at Winterfell going into this battle and none of them were positioned anywhere near Bran. Dragonglass arrows would have killed the White Walkers, that’s how Sam killed his, but when aiming for the Night King himself you’d think they’d position their best weapons there. Similarly, there were no guards or fortifications in the crypts. Even if they hadn’t anticipated the dead rising (which Jon literally saw happen at Hard Home) it seems like there should have been some contingency plan there.
I appreciated Sansa and Tyrion having to come to an understanding between them. They work well together, and I’m glad they remembered that. I do wonder how Team Indoor Kids in the crypt made it through the night with only some anonymous Northerners dying, but I guess you could say that about almost anyone involved in the battle. ESPECIALLY Ghost who is apparently alive after disappearing into the zombie buzzsaw with all the Dothraki and not coming back. Maybe that’s what Bran was up to?
Another thing I appreciated was Arya being the one to take down the Night King. She’s trained in multiple fighting styles, subterfuge, fighting in the dark, and other skills necessary for this particular battle. Jon wanted to take the Night King on man to man, but the Night King doesn’t work like that. A sneak attack by an assassin was the only way. However, while Arya’s defeat of the Night King is an excellent high point for her story, it does make me wonder where she’s meant to go from here. How could killing Cersei top the rush of not only killing the Night King himself but all of his thousands of minions?
The loss of an existential threat seems to drop the stakes for the show a lot. I can understand if Dany feels that she must pursue the Iron Throne after all that she’s already lost to save Westeros. But Cersei is a weak ruler, has no strong claim to the throne, and is very likely the last of her line. Why not wait her out in the North? Or start slowly building alliances down Westeros, she’s not particularly popular in the Riverlands, the Reach, or Dorne. That’s enough to surround King’s Landing and just wait for her to fuck up, but it doesn’t make for a particularly compelling or succinct finale. We know Jon doesn’t care because Jon barely wants to be alive at this point and his insistence on his own demise is routinely putting other people and resources in considerable peril. I get it, the guy was already in a top-level personal crisis after being raised from the dead himself and now we’ve piled on top that his entire family history was a lie and the woman he loves is actually his aunt, but it’d be great if he could find a better way to deal with that than literally running head-long into the most dangerous situation nearby. It might be a good idea to start depriving him of those dangerous situations where everyone is depending on him so that he can work out that death wish in a slightly more productive way.
I’ve seen some reactions that of COURSE the White Walkers weren’t the end game, because it’s called Game of Thrones. Even Martin has said that he’s more interested in the problems of ruling after a huge battle like that, the stuff Tolkein never touched. But the series set us up on this one, the literal first scene in both the books and the show is the introduction of the White Walkers. Before we meet the Starks, before we meet Daenerys, before anyone is actually in King’s Landing. It’s the White Walkers, north of The Wall. If that’s not the point of all this, why start us there? Why the nod to the readers/viewers like “Look, there’s going to be a lot of nonsense about whose butt is going on a chair, but this is the scary shit here”?
This was a huge turning point for the remaining episodes and one that I’ll admit I didn’t see coming. I assumed that the fight would end up in King’s Landing, but I thought the Army of the Dead would make it there following a ragtag group of survivors from Winterfell. So now my own little prediction for the rest of the series is that Cersei will go down in two weeks, on Mother’s Day, because that’s the sort of thing the showrunners enjoy. Tywin’s death was aired on Father’s Day, I can see them repeating the gag. I’m not making any predictions with ties to lore or prophecies, because the show has not shown itself to be interested in making good on most of those. We have lost a huge number of great and minor houses in the run of this show. The Martells, Tyrells, and Baratheons are all effectively extinguished. In the North we’ve lost the Boltons, the Umbers, the Karstarks, the Mormonts, and probably the Glovers who declined to come to Winterfell. I can’t say that things would have been better if they had. We’ve also lost the Freys, good riddance, and House Tully is presumably at an end unless we think House Lannister is still feeding their prisoners. While they weren’t of Westeros, Dany just lost two entire armies and the Wildlings have likely been reduced to a fraction of their former numbers. The landscape of Westeros is in shambles, in more ways than one. Any ending that doesn’t recognize that fact in some way is going to feel shallow.
Header Image Source: HBO