There is probably very little I will say in this deep dive recap that hasn’t already been said in any number of posts, blogs, tweets and message board posts, but hopefully I will approach it the way I always try to, with admiration. I love Game of Thrones. Does the show always make choices I love? No. Does it always feel fulfilling? No. But I admire the scope and breadth and ambition of the undertaking. It is utterly unique and as it draws to a close, I find myself drinking it in.
Because soon it will gone forever.
The Battle of Winterfell is either your favorite episode of Game of Thrones, and a towering, cinematic achievement or it’s a miss that will leave you scratching your head.
Or, I suppose, somewhere in between.
There seem to be two major camps. Camp Awesome and Camp Disappointed.
While I will always admire the achievement, I reluctantly finished the episode Sunday night and was immediately in the latter camp, which suuuuuuuuuuucks. It’s a camp I hate. Lady C is in the first camp. Just about all of my friends are in the first camp. They get to be happy all week. They get to share looks and high fives and holy shits while I half nod at their viewpoints, groan about what we’ve lost, and worry that this milestone is an indicator about the ultimate ribbon that will tie up the remainder of the show.
But every subsequent rewatch has had me appreciating it more and more, which I think you’ll be able to see as you read on.
Let us first marvel at the accomplishment.
Fifty-five days is a feature film timeline. That’s staggering. And we need more of this on the small screen. I love seeing a budget like this for a television show.
Now, let’s get to it.
We open on the trembling hands of Samwell Tarly.
They tremble with good cause. Because he gonna die.
Errybody gon die.
In them, some unknown outfitter unceremoniously slaps a couple of dragonglass shards and tells him to move.
Right away, the screen is dark.
So begins one of the great problems or debates with this episode. People couldn’t see it. I can assure everyone with 100% certainty that this episode was lit perfectly, beautifully even, by Director of Photography Fabian Wagner.
Perfectly: meaning he lit it as he intended. And I’ve now seen it as he intended and it’s magnificent. It’s not average lighting, it’s inspired lighting. It’s lit with such beauty and vision that this should be touted as a magnum opus. That’s how good it is.
What seems to have compounded the problem is that Wagner, when asked if it was too dark, made what seems like a couple of flippant remarks in defense of his work:
“I know it wasn’t too dark because I shot it”
“A lot of the problem is that a lot of people don’t know how to tune their TVs properly,” he told Wired. “A lot of people also unfortunately watch it on small iPads, which in no way can do justice to a show like that anyway.” He continued, “Personally I don’t have to always see what’s going on because it’s more about the emotional impact…Game of Thrones is a cinematic show and therefore you have to watch it like you’re at a cinema: in a darkened room. If you watch a night scene in a brightly-lit room then that won’t help you see the image properly.”
I’m guessing, in both cases, there’s some cultural nuance that’s being lost in the answer, which is making the problem worse. The first answer seems very German to me, and Wagner is German. I know it because I did it. That seems somehow arrogant when read with American eyes, but it’s about the basics. This is his livelihood. To suggest he’d make an error of that magnitude on a project of this size is laughable.
So, what happened? Because the product I’ve seen — now — is not what I saw Sunday night.
You wouldn’t believe the rabbit hole I went down trying to figure out what went wrong. The internet has exploded into finger-pointing.
It was Wagner.
It wasn’t Wagner.
It was director Miguel Sapochnik.
No, it’s not his fault.
You need 4k.
It’s better on OLED.
No, it isn’t it’s better on plasma or LCD or OLCD because this is an issue of peak brightness.
It’s not about brightness it’s about contrast.
No, it isn’t. It’s about the color palette.
What? Don’t you assholes calibrate your TVs? That’s the issue here. Each manufacturer requires a different calibration that can be found online.
It’s not ‘general’ calibration! It’s all about the gamma correction.
No, it isn’t, it’s about the human eye taking a half hour to adjust to nighttime lighting.
No, it isn’t, the problem is that people had lights on in their homes when they watched it.
That’s not it, the problem was the HBO servers.
It’s not HBO, it’s the limitations of less pipe in the networks than demand warranted.
It’s not about pipe width, it’s about the general limitations of streaming.
No, it’s because the producers should have done a radio test. When you mix a song, you play it on a shitty car radio to see if it works. They made the show for the 8k TVs of the future.
No, they didn’t, they intentionally made it dark to emphasize the confusion and fog of war.
No, they didn’t! They made quick cuts and tight framing to emphasize the confusion.
Of course there’s confusion! I had the craziest pixelation on my screen because of the shit quality.
It’s not shit quality, it’s the expected fallout when you have compression artifacting.
I’m going to be as clear as I can about this: Sapochnik and Wagner are the team that brought you the Battle of the Bastards and Hardhome. They are pros. Hard stop. They are both award-winning and talented.
I don’t blame them one bit. The work they put in the can was nothing short of glorious. I can promise you that they worked their fucking asses off on this, were detail-oriented for years to pull off an achievement of this magnitude, and made it as beautiful as possible.
But the delivery mechanism broke. I admit that I’m biased, having been in their shoes before, and that it would take quite a bit for me to blame the artist, but it really isn’t on them. Maybe it was just an industry thing. The first time ever that there’s been this sort of demand for content all at once, and this will be a milestone, an industry-wide cautionary tale about what can happen when you try to cram a delicate glass vase through the eye of a needle a billion times.
It really stinks for three reasons.
1) People are talking about calibration when they should be talking about story.
2) There have been thousands of night shoots in television and film history and NONE of them had half their audience complaining.
3) Wagner should be getting praised and he’s getting bashed.
There are only three episodes left of Game of Thrones. And every second is special.
This Sunday, episode 4, is likely the aftermath of Winterfell and whatever preparation takes place before a confrontation with Cersei.
Episode 5 is likely that confrontation.
And Episode 5 was directed by Miguel Sapochnik and shot by Fabian Wagner. It’s probably not at night, and thus it’s likely going to be as great as the work they’ve done in other big episodes.
I can’t speak for everyone else, but you all know how seriously I take these deep dives and what happened was that I couldn’t see it. I have DirecTV (so, cable) into the house and Lady C and I couldn’t see it. There was crazy pixelation, especially in the fog. We started to talk about it, out loud, while the show was playing and we were supposed to be in the throes of suspension of disbelief.
“Is this in SD?” I asked. “Did I somehow mess up the recording and pull it from a non HD channel?” I checked. Nope. HD. But it didn’t look HD.
We had had family over that afternoon - non GOT watchers who had stayed and stayed and stayed and so we had to start GOT late, which I never do because I like to be part of the universal vibe of whatever happens in real time. We started an hour late. And so by the time we stopped and checked the DVR and all that, the show had ended and was thus available to stream on HBO GO.
We switched over and it was a huge improvement.
But it was still dark. Really, really dark.
So we turned off every light in the house and watched in the dark.
And it was still dark. And hard to make out. And confusing.
And so that’s how I unfortunately experienced one of the episodes of television that I had most anticipated. Through a murky lens of confusion, having stopped about 30 minutes in and restarted on another medium.
Anyway, if and when you discern bits of frustration in this deep dive, that’s partially why.
Note: The deep dive was written after watching it five times, and on what are theoretically perfectly calibrated televisions. So the following reflects my experience not with the worst viewing I had, nor the best, but a combination of both.
We begin on Sam and we steadicam backward. He fills the frame. We see how nervous he is.
I’m like Is this a Sam episode?
Lyanna Mormont is barking orders behind him. Soldiers are moving with purpose. He passes out of frame and the tracking shot now moves to Tyrion.
Oooooh. Me likey. So we’re going to hand off the baton without cutting as we pop in on all of the people we love? I’m 100% cool with that.
Tyrion picks up a wineskin. Oh boy.
We tilt to see Not Bran being rolled past by Theon Greyjoy with Alys Karstark and a few grunts. But we don’t leave Tyrion. We stay on him as he follows them with his eyes. Worry creases every line in his face.
I expect the tracking shot to continue.
But it doesn’t.
We cut up to a high shot which shows Not Bran being pushed toward the Godswood.
Aw. I was hoping for some long, elaborate cinematography. Oh well.
The shot cranes up as Theon and company pass out of frame and it highlights…what? I can’t tell. The sky? What am I supposed to be looking at? The music is ominous. But I’m a little lost. Where is my eye supposed to be? What is that shot telling me?
We seem to be getting a series of preparation shots. A man’s beard but I can’t make out if it’s someone I know. A bucket of arrows. Then Ser Davos on the wall in profile. We rack focus to the far wall where Sansa and Arya stand.
We cut to a two shot of them, and then we push into Sansa’s face. The captions tell me she gasps quietly but I didn’t see it. A dragon roars overhead and the Lady of Winterfell looks up.
There are a number of gorgeous establishing shots that I wish I could see the way they’re intended, but they still seem so dark to me. Dolly shots of Grey Worm and ranks of the Unsullied. The rear ranks of the Dothraki. Brienne between Jaime and Pod. Tormund and Beric and Sandor and Gendry. Edd and then Sam.
“Oh for fuck’s sake.” Edd says. “You took your time.”
Edd expected Sam there. Many people believe that Sam should never have been there, and that his very presence gets Edd kilt.
Maybe. Tough to say. I was banking on Edd being a casualty no matter what. Faced with this choice, we each would have to decide: do I die on my feet, blade in hand, or hiding in some crypt? In Sam’s case it might be also, do I die with my family or with my sworn brothers?
We can malign the choice, but we have to respect his right to make it.
Next comes a wide shot of the whole army. It’s the most well-disciplined army I’ve ever seen in my life. Caesar on his finest day in Gaul never had an army that stood as still as this one. Dothraki in ranks? Horses not stamping? Tails not even whisking imaginary flies away?
I went on a city slickers-esque riding vacation with six friends a few years back and we tried to line our horses up for a photograph and it took about four weeks. But here outside Winterfell everything is still. A testament to the command of-
Wait, who’s the general of this ship of fools? Who is giving the orders? Who is pulling the strings?
If you’ve read my deep dives or frankly anything I write here at Pajiba, you know one of my passions is military history. I can barely cover a weekend of football without comparing the games to Cannae or Granicus. I have studied military engagements since I was about seven years old. And so I am fired up beyond belief for this episode.
But I’m trying to remember if they established a boss on the ground for the battle, other than deciding that Davos would wave some firesticks sans Tyrion.
There’s a shot of Ghost! Hey boy! He’s in the foreground with Jorah next to him. I’m like OKAY! Some fool bout to get dire wolved! But was he close to Jorah? Why Jorah? Does he even know Jorah?
It doesn’t matter. All Direwolves are good direwolves and shit bout to get real.
It’s so fucking dark, yo.
Is this the Long Night? Is that why?
Is this check mark #5 for Azor Ahai? That Darkness Falls or whatever?
We’re over Jorah’s shoulder looking at the distance. I see nothing.
Then we’re tight on his face. His eyes are glassy. He looks scared.
YOU ABSOLUTE BUNNY RABBIT SER JORAH MORMONT! YOU GOT FLAYED, HOMES. I PROMISE THIS WILL BE EASIER. SACK UP, TIGER!
A foot in the darkness.
We pan up. It’s the Warden of the North. John M.F. Snow, PHD, MFA, JD looking for a little PDA from his SO.
She is looking out over the battlefield.
Why are you up here?
Because I remember that the Night King lured Daenerys up North to a predetermined location to specifically kill himself a dragon. So he has some powers of foresight, or instincts of some kind even if they’re not full-on premonitions.
And mightn’t he have sent a half dozen white walkers to sneak up to that bluff to maybe dope charge anyone foolish enough to use it as a landing pad? No?
I was stressed at this point.
Jon stands next to Dany but they don’t talk. He just sighs through his nose, like pimps do.
They scan the army in the distance and so…
The 2019 Brood-Off begins!
In THIS corner! Wearing the golden locks and the Kodiak Fur! Weighing in at a svelte 104 pounds! The Stormborn! The Unburnt! The Breaker of Chains! The Queen of Dragon Bay! Arch commander of the Second Sons! Bedder of Daario Naharis! Protector of Dragonstone! The rightful* heir of the Seven Kingdoms, of the Andals and the First Men! The MotherEffing Khaleesi of the Grizzle Grazzle Sizzle! Your One! Your Own! The MOTHER OF DRAGONS herself! Daenerys Targaryennnnnnnnnnn!
Aaaaaaaaand iiiiiiiin this corner in the greasy rockabilly hair and man fur body shawl! Weighing in at a feline 165 pounds. The Song of Ice and Fire himself! The Wielder of Longclaw! Slayer of Qhorin Halfhand and Mance Rayder*! Climber of the Wall! Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch! The Waterfall Cunnilinger! The Knifehearted! The Bastard of Winterfell! Ned Stark’s own, the One, The Only, The Artist Formerly Known as Jon Snow, Put your hands together for The True Heir to the Iron Throne, The One Time MotherEffing King of the North! Aegonnnnn Tar-gaR-yennnnnnnnnn! Targaryen!
I’m going to give you the rules of this contest and then you’re going to turn to the impending doom and brood like your lives depend on it. Brood with everything you’ve got, as if you’re just victims of circumstance and not the two luckiest people to ever live. One who uses dragons to solve everything from chronic rebellions to broken juicers and one who can survive any decision, no matter how dumb or naive! Pretend that you don’t personally ride on the backs of the Westeros equivalent of a neutron bomb, and that you’d much rather be where you belong: Dany on the Iron Throne and Jon Policing the Crypts and humming Backstreet Boys.
Daenerys: Your primary brood points are:
— No one will ever truly love me
— Everyone needs to stop @’ing me and just do what I command
— Dragonstone sucks more than I remember
— I haven’t even seen a single episode of Sex and The City
Jon: Your primary brood points are:
— Stop making me the boss of everything. I quit and they just make me the boss again. I quit the Night’s Watch and they make me King in the North. I quit King in the North and they now say I’m King of Westeros. I don’t want to be king of anything. I want to read Game Informer magazine on the toilet and play twelve straight hours of The Division 2 without someone promoting me to boss of the universe.
— I can’t even die. My life is Groundhog Day.
— I’m sick of fighting everything that walks. Day in and day out.
— No saddle on the dragon! Rhaegal has pointy spoke things right where my balls are.
Ready? On your marks! No smiling and no eye contact and no talking! Get set!
But before we can see who has the better frowny brow and duck face, we’re back over Sansa, looking out over the legions of Unsullied.
If only we had some devices which might be able to hurl or — catapult — flaming, pitch covered balls into the distance to see if there’s an enemy out there! That might be helpful!
Now we see something!
HUZZAH WE SEES SOMETHING MY PRECIOUS!
It’s a figure on a horse! Is the Night King seriously going to just mozy up to the party and give us a shot at killing him outright? Is this a Ramsay Bolton trick?
But as the rider approaches, we see it’s a woman. A beautiful woman with the type of body that spits out shadow demons like tickets from a skeeball machine.
Melisandre. The Red fookin Witch.
Cut to Ser Davos. THE FOOK?
Oh well, a deal’s a deal, Davos thinks. I told her I’d kill her, so now I have to. And all these years of avoiding fighting…
The Red Woman rides to the front of the formation. No one seems even the least bit concerned that she rides out of the darkness on the business side of the battlefield.
Melisandre stops and raises her voice:
“Men and women of the living world! I bring Tidings from the Night’s King!” She yells. Sansa and Arya look at each other. “He seeks not to harm you but to claim what is rightfully his, the Three Eyed Raven!”
No one knows what to say.
“The Three Eyed Raven is a magnet and the Night King is a paperclip!” The Red Woman yells.
“What’s a paperclip?” Gendry asks Sandor. He shrugs.
“There need not be blood! No one needs to die here today! Merely lay down your weapons and give the Three Eyed Raven to us and we’ll be on our way!”
But the problem is that there’s no leader there. No person who has the authority to actually cancel your Blue Apron account.
“Tell him to go fuck himself!” Ser Davos yells from the ramparts.
And the Unsullied cheer. The Dothraki cheer. And everyone is lifted by the spirit of the Onion Knight. Bound in unity by their resistance. When they win, they will look back upon this final defiance as the reason they endured.
But that’s what I expected to happen.
That’s not what happened.
Instead, the Red Woman, coming from the darkness, rides up to Jorah.
DO YOU SPEAK THEIR TONGUE?
Uh, Hi, Hello. It’s like NICE TO MEET YOU. I’M JORAH. LIKE, MANNERS.
TELL THEM TO RAISE THEIR SWORDS.
Jorah laughs and pushes up his glasses while casting a +4 spell of giggles. THEY’RE ACTUALLY CALLED ARAKHS.
Tell them to raise them.
“Ibadoah Arakhs Shadni.” Jorah says, thankful he paid the nine bucks to get Duolingo on his phone.
The Dothraki lift their weapons.
Mel rides over and puts her hand on one. She speaks in High Valyrian and Fire Mages a sick spell that lights every arakh on fire. In a wave of light, all of the Dothraki arakhs burst into flames. The music picks up. It’s badass. And she’s not even tired doing it. It’s like a walk in the park for her. That much magic would tire Ged himself, but Mel? ‘Tis nothing that a spot of tea couldn’t set right.
At this point I’m all about it. I am invested. And I guess the Red Witch is on the side of life. A lucky tiding, considering how many of them she’s personally snuffed out over the last decade.
I keep thinking that the game changers are dragonglass and fire. I always worried that you can’t make dragonglass arakhs, but now they all are basically Beric?
Suddenly, their odds seem better.
I’ve been thinking about the dragonglass a lot. Because yes, they found like nine daggers at the fist of the first men, but no one in history has ever mined this much and brought it North. Unlike other fights with the dead, you poke them with dragonglass and they fold immediately. It’s faster than kryptonite. No arms continuing to flail when the wight loses his head or anything. Dragonglass = permadeath. No getting rezzed. No mulligans.
I like the odds then, for the good guys. They have moved mountains, or hollowed them out, to get this dragonglass here. And it’s going to be a game changer. Mark my words.
At this point, I’m still not sure there isn’t more than one Night King. A studious analysis of the historical documents led me, Dr. Jones-like, to that possibility. It was right in front of us all along! Like Alexandretta! On the Pilgrim Trail from Eastern Empire!
So as you can see, I’m as ready as can be. I understand the symbology. I’ve drawn runes on my arm in sharpie to give me higher access to the old gods and the new and I’m ready for up to twenty two Night Kings.
Let’s turn THIS SHIT ON.
In the absence of a field marshall, the Dothraki start to get saddlewood and decide to just fucking charge into the dark.
I have never, ever seen more Monday Morning Quarterbacking than the Winterfell defense in general and the Dothraki charge in specific.
Listen: hindsight, people.
Yes, the Dothraki charge into the night and yes, they’re decimated in forty four seconds.
We know that NOW.
But that’s what they do! That’s what the Dothraki are FOR.
“Only a fool would meet the Dothraki in an open field.” Said Robert Baratheon, the king from The Full Monty.
A fool, or the dead.
What the allies need is surveillance. They need to know where the enemy is. They need to establish a theater or area of engagement, and even the least of Sun Tzu’s students would tell you that’s not ideally in an inkblot, over the horizon. In that area of engagement, they need to break the enemy apart, forcing it into smaller deployments where they can target direct attacks and ranged, indirect attacks. This is all battle 101.
How much of that do our friends do?
None of that.
They don’t use the dragons to scout at all.
They station their ballistics in with their infantry, instead of behind the fortifications so they can continue to fire during the battle.
They send the Dothraki in a frontal charge instead of having them whisk and hector the flanks and do short range reconnaissance. You need that speed on the edge. But that’s not how they were used in Game of Thrones. Instead, they charge, headlong into the darkness.
It’s a tactical mess. Just a mess. But there’s no leader, so what do we expect? Tormund doesn’t even know what a pincer maneuver is.
And so, with that, we’re back to the impromptu last gallop of the khalasar.
We watch the charge and like many a geriatric on penile enhancers, I go from pumped to done in forty four seconds.
Because this is over.
The Dothraki are the greatest fighting force in history. They used the heretofore gold standard Lannister legions like the carnival game where you shoot water into the clown’s mouth to blow up the balloon.
(The key is to shoot at the top of the mouth because then you depress the valve lever incrementally more than your opponents and thus fill the balloon marginally faster. That game’s won me motherfuckers.)
The Dothraki are dead. Vanished from the earth. And somewhere in the south, musicals are being already written as thanks to the future sex crimes, pillages and various roadway banditry that will now never take place, but would almost certainly happen if Daenerys won and the Horde had no one left to scream charge.
How the FUCK did they all die so fast?
The entire khalasar gone. Just like that. And did they leave Dothraki women behind on Dragonstone or have they been celibate this whole time? Because maybe the result of the charge was just the most epic case of fatal blue balls in history.
But the real answer? I think I know.
For I have been there, if not in exact tax bracket, then in spirit.
It is a warm day in Los Angeles. Sunny. 72. We can almost hear Steve Martin’s Harris K. Telemacher repeating that forecast on a loop.
D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are eating breakfast at a local diner. The type of local diner with 36 dollar avocado bread and 16 dollar lattes. It is two years ago. They discuss the future of Westeros.
“There’s no tension if we come out of Winterfell with half the Dothraki and Unsullied. Daenerys would win.” Says Weiss. “Easily.”
“Is it believable to say The Golden Company is like 400,000 men?” Benioff wonders.
“I don’t think so.” He says, shaking his head, “Probably not even 50,000.”
The two men sit in silence. They are the Daenerys Stormborns of the real world. The story is theirs to command. They have seized the Iron Throne for themselves, and rid it of its creator, the real life Samwell Tarly.
If he were at the diner, he would be able to tell you that there are multiple ways to feather in a force of that size. Long Lances, Stormcrows, Windborn. Bayasabhad, Samyriana, and Kayakayanaya could send you a hundred thousand amazonian warriors alone.
OH KAYA-KAYA-NAYA WHAT SHORT SHRIFT YOU’VE RECEIVED ON THIS SHOW! HOW I’VE LONGED (FOR THE LAST FOUR MINUTES SINCE I GOOGLED AND FOUND OUT THAT YOU EXISTED) TO CHANT YOUR NAME ON A LOOP WITH THE MOANA SOUNDTRACK PLAYING IN THE BACKGROUND.
Real life Samwell Tarly might also just tell them to use The Deep Ones. Fucking fish people who can just appear out of the sea!
But real life Samwell Tarly is not in that diner. He’s in a dark room somewhere, poring over New York Jets statistics and not writing.
“We are NOT using fish people.” Benioff says.
“Agreed. 100%. As if fucking wolves aren’t bad enough. Fish people? No. I can already see the blog posts complaining about how we got the gills wrong.”
“Never again.” Agrees Benioff.
“Never again. No more fantasy. Ever.”
“Craziest fan base ever. It’s like I’m sorry that we have lives and don’t y’know, jack off to descriptions of like grain harvests in the Reach.”
“Except that one time.”
“I mean, yeah. But like not every day or anything.”
“So how do we handle the Dothraki?”
“Preliminary budget estimates suggest a day battle to kill off all 50,000 Dothraki and 10,000 Unsullied would be…carry the one…roughly the annual GDP of China and Mexico. And Paraguay.”
“Night shoot it is!”
THEY HIGH FIVE.
“So it’s dark, the Dothraki are out in front, ready to fight…”
“I’m with you so far…” Says Benioff.
“And so OH OH OH I GOT IT! The Red Woman rides up and she’s like GREETINGS JON SNOW HAVE YOUR MEN RAISE THEIR SWORDS OR SICKLES OR WHATEVER THOSE THINGS ARE CALLED! What are they called again?”
“I don’t know. I can never remember. Sickles? Wheat cutters? Who gives a shit.”
“So they all raise them up and Mel is like VALAR MORGHULIS OR WHATEVER AND EVERY SWORD LIGHTS UP AND THEN THEY CHARGE INTO THE NIGHT!” Exclaims Weiss.
“Okay! And then OH I GET IT! They ride into the night and we’re watching them and the lights just go out. One by one. We can literally just rent a herd of sheep, attach those flickering LED candle lights onto them.”
“EXACTLY. And the whole thing will cost…about seventy seven dollars and change.”
“And we never have to shoot a Dothraki on horseback again. How much did we spend on oats for horses last season?” Benioff asks.
“Forty five million dollars.”
“Yeah so that’s a savings there.”
“I say we do it. Just kill them all and have the dead kill the Unsullied. Dany comes out of it with one dragon. That’s it.”
“And then Jon can be like ‘I have the bigger army now, actually and my own dragon, so not sure we need to be a team anymore. But enjoy Dragonstone. Some of those cliffs are great for brooding. PEACE.’”
And that’s how it was all decided. I think.
They used the initial charge to win the next war, not this one. The war where Jon and Dany et al need to be underdogs to ramp up the tension, or none of this works.
The problem, as I see it, is the trench.
The best 50 thousand warriors didn’t put a dent in the army of the dead but a four foot wide ring of char-broil briquettes stops them cold? Really?
But goddamnit, now I’ve gotten waaaaaay ahead of myself. Stupid Lord Castleton. Stay on mission here.
We have just lit the arakhs. Jorah pulls his blade and raises his eyebrows to Mel like EH? EH? Like maybe light Heartsbane? No?
The Red Woman is such a badass if you can stomach all the immolation and child murder and shit. She rides in no particular hurry through the ranks, well, between the various companies anyway. She passes Torgo Nudho and says VALAR MORGHULIS.
“Valar Dohaeris.” He replies.
Yeah! That’s how it’s fucking done. Simple. Easy.
I was at the doctor’s office with my teenager during the first week of April to treat a broken finger and it somehow came up that our attending physician was a huge Game of Thrones fan. My son was like ‘my dad covers that show’ and then the doc was instantly impressed.
He went to med school. But I? Wehehehehehell, I watch TV. But okay.
And he looks at me, deeply, with great reverence, and he BOWS. And he says:
So I reply in kind, with the only response I know, from when Arya took that coin at the end of season 4 and gave it to this man of Braavos.
I say to him: Valar Dohaeris.
If you don’t say it much, it’s not easy to say. Especially to get the vowel sounds right. To roll the r or to not roll the r? That is the question. I roll it ever so slightly. It’s just the way it comes out, but it sounds good. Like I know what I’m doing.
And we are done. We have performed the ritual. In any other world we would already be recruited into the A/V club or have a football player chasing us, trying to give us a wedgie. But here, we are safe. The rite is complete.
The dude is beaming.
WHAT NOW? He asks. DO WE CHEST BUMP OR SOMETHING?
Chest bump? The fuck? No, we-
HE CHEST BUMPS ME. I AM SEATED.
“Yeah!” He yells. “I’m so fired up for this season! I love that guy! The one with the beard?”
“Red beard or?”
“No. Dark beard.”
“Beric Dondarrion? Eye patch?”
“Oh oh eye patch. I know that guy. Uh…no.”
“Is that the guy with the face?”
“No. Not him.”
“Oh well, I guess we’ll never know.”
“No!” He squeals. “We can do it! We’re so close!”
“Uhhh.” I sigh. “Theon?”
“No!” He says, appalled.
“Jesus. I don’t know. Tyrion?”
“The imp? Haha no!”
“I’m at a loss here, doc.”
“It’s the guy. The crazy guy.”
“Ramsay Bolton? But he didn’t have a beard.”
“Not him. The one that is like a whackjob.”
“Joffrey?” I’ve given up on beard and just focussed on whackjob.
“No. No. The guy with the- he kills the sister and laughs.”
HE KILLS THE SISTER AND LAUGHS. I have no idea.
“In the fire. There’s fire everywhere.” He adds.
That makes something click. Euron Greyjoy, holding his axe to Yara’s throat, but he doesn’t kill her. There was fire. But Urine? It couldn’t be, right?
“Euron Greyjoy? The Pirate?”
“YES!” He yells. “I love him.”
I take him in, all of him this time, as a look of disgust and contempt washes over my face. Some men really do just want to watch the world burn.
“When he’s laughing and he’s riding through the capital on his horse? Oh man!”
I stand up.
“You need to go now.” I say. Ice in my voice.
“But-” he mumbles something through laughter about how we should grasp forearms but I’m already ushering him out the door of the room. He’s a big man, like 6’3” but all pudding, and I guide him with ease. He’s trying to control his shock and laughing louder. I push him out the door and say “get therapy” as I close it behind him. He is roar laughing on the other side.
I turn to my son. His eyes are wide. I have just manhandled his caregiver. I have escorted him out of the room.
“Someday, you’ll understand.” I say.
This is the primary role of a father. To model the type of behavior you want in the world. Am I as good a father as Ned Stark? Who knows. But my disdain for Urine and the rats of the sea is well documented on these pages, and in the immortal words of In Bruges’ Harry Waters, “you’ve got to stick to your principles.”
So where was I? The Red Woman.
She’s a badass. And if she just rolls up and knocks on the door? She’s dead. She knows that. The Onion Knight will not let her live. But she also knows the Onion Knight is inherently a good man.
So she arrives and bestows on them a gift. A huge gift. Maybe a game changer for all anyone knows at that time.
And then she casually walks her horse over to Winterfell and they open the gates.
LET THE WITCH IN!
Davos is bound by duty to destroy her, but he’s not a killer. He spent a lifetime smuggling unauthorized mixtapes to third world bazaars. Wetwork ain’t his thang.
Such a bummer about the darkness, because the overhead shot of the witch entering the keep, shadow in front of her, is amazing. Her whole approach is shot beautifully and eerily and with skill. IT’S JUST THAT THE DARK IS TOO DAMN HIGH.
He approaches her, the last defender of a wonderful, innocent, greyscaled little girl.
“There’s no need to execute me, Ser Davos.” She says. “I’ll be dead before the dawn.”
Well, okay. The World’s Uncle thinks. And he moves aside. Relieved.
The Red Woman stops as she sees a face barely tall enough to clear the parapet wall.
ARYA STARK. THE FACELESS MAN.
They lock eyes before she moves on, distracted by yelling. Arya turns to see the Dothraki charging.
Did someone yell green light? Jorah wails, but then he’s like fuck it and he rides with them. This is it! Ghost bares his teeth and dives headlong into the fray.
The music picks up! What a score by Ramin Djawadi! It’s the GOT theme itself.
DA DA DA DA!
DA DA DA DA!
The shot up high, where Jon and Daenerys watch, is spectacular. Astounding. It’s a thing of beauty.
I mean, no one gave the order, but here we goooooooooooooooooooo!
No one also gives the order to fire the catapults, but fuck it! I’ve always wanted to fire a catapult, says one of the people there, probably, before lighting and firing it.
Horses charging, arms raised, arakhs gleaming, pitch balls screaming through the air!
What could go wrong?
Aaaaaaand you know the rest.
Forty four seconds from contact until total annihilation. Fifty Thousand Dothraki. Gone.
The army waits. A few riderless horses gallop back. Somehow, Jorah Mormont made it out. He looks fucked up, crazy and terrified maybe. I can’t tell. It’s too dark and he’s retreating too quickly.
Daenerys watches as her first family, the family that started it all, is destroyed before her very eyes. In her throne rooms everywhere, Yunkai, Meereen, Dragonstone, it is always Dothraki who are her Praetorian Guard.
Now they’re gone. Every last one of them. Because D&D don’t like fish people.
We are on Dany’s face as she sees this and I didn’t notice her reacting properly the first time, but upon rewatch I see some form of realization of this come over her face and she turns. Not sad, but angry.
Jon grabs her arm.
He knows this look. She’s going to go fly down there and ravage the whole frontier with Drogon. But that’s not the plan. The plan is apparently to let the Dothraki charge whenever their testosterone is high enough, to let the ballistics engineers fire one shot each and then stop, and for the DRAHGONS TO PROTICT BRAHN.
Even though, y’know, NOT BRAN.
The 2019 Brood championship is over. It’s a draw. Dany moves first, but Jon talks first. They’re both miserable failures.
“The Night King is coming.” He says. STICK TO THE PLAN.
“The dead are already here.” She says. REVENGE IS MY PLAN.
Ok, good chat! Should we like, kiss or something? No? Okay good luck out there!
Then the dead charge. We have some amazing aerial stuff as they sprint out of darkness and hit the Unsullied spear line. It completely overwhelms the former slave army of Astapor.
A WORD ON THE DEAD:
I don’t know what the dead are and it hindered my viewing experience. Some use weapons. Some try to bite you. They’re sort of a mix of horrors. Some are skellingtons. Some aren’t. Some charge and others, like the library ones later on, just patrol.
So I can’t really say what they are and what specifically to be afraid of other than the dead as a thing.
But that’s not very dramatic in close quarters. Or perhaps not specific enough of a thing to visually track.
Because they attack everyone the same way, every fight is just sort of a blur. It’s not The Mountain and Oberyn. It’s just this ocean of tattered grey and bones, overwhelming the living. At Hardhome, for example, there felt like there were more one-on-one matchups, but at Winterfell, possibly because of the sheer numbers involved, it was just a swarm.
Because of that, we don’t get to see the various fighting styles of the defenders. Like, Jaime has one arm, so you can sort of make his style out, but you have no way of telling if someone is Pod or Gendry in the scrum of zombies. And after many minutes of the same general action, although shot beautifully if too dark, it can get repetitive.
Anyway, the army of the dead hits, our heroes are all in the front ranks and they all make it. The first wave anyway.
We have been schooled by this narrative for eight seasons. There are no special rules for good guys. Ned Stark was honorable and right and just. And he got speared in the leg and lost his head. It doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad. It doesn’t matter if you’re right. Death stalks us all and if you make a choice to be in the front line, you’re 100% going to die. Nobility is nothing. Realism is everything. No one could survive that initial assault.
Until they do. All of them.
Red shirts on the away team dropping like flies.
Bridge crew? A-OK.
And to my eye, at least, the dragonglass has ZERO effect. Zero.
So something in my mind is like wait: the rules clearly state that people in deathly situations are going to die. There is no plot armor. When the dead wave crashes, people die.
Until they somehow don’t.
And if you work so hard to make all the dragonglass weapons, they work. The dragonglass? It makes a big difference.
Until it doesn’t.
And despite my very clear devotion to the show, I feel a twinge of worry, because it feels like rules are being broken and I’m not sure why.
And Ghost is dead.
He went and he never came back.
And that part of me is actually angry. I mean, I don’t know why he’s near Jorah to begin with. It looks like he was CGI’d in as an afterthought.
But they kill the last direwolf off screen?
I know. Nymeria. But she’s gone until I see different.
Now, we know Ghost is alive because after the show if you walked around in a drunken stupor between awe and frustration like I did, you eventually surfed the bloody internet and found images of Ghost in next week’s previews.
But I spent the whole episode knowing he was dead, and I was bummed and pissed and confused.
D&D have admitted that the wolves are very challenging, so I get it. But they do have 90 million dollars for this season.
90. (Which purportedly doesn’t include special effects.)
So at this point I’m feeling
— This is epic
— It’s too dark
— Rules feel like they’re being broken
— The same power that killed the Dothraki is somehow not attacking Winterfell
— Why is the Red Woman here?
— I can’t tell who’s fighting whom
— Ghost is dead.
— When the dragons roll in and start strafing the ground, characters somehow have time to look up and watch them in the midst of the fracas
— The Dragons aren’t really affecting the battle to any real degree, even though they burn hundreds and hundreds of corpses with every pass.
— Ghost is dead.
Finally, a tactical break! Jon is strafing and notices on the tree line that all of Craster’s inbred nightmares are waiting on horseback, far from the tumult.
Smart move, actually.
If they get killed, their thralls die with them.
My heart jumps. If Jon can just manage to scorch the earth in a line like Drogon did at the Loot Train battle, thousands upon thousands of dead will…die.
One of the Craster Lieutenants looks up casually at the approaching dragon like it’s a mosquito.
And then the storm comes.
I did not know the Night King could control the weather. That’s a new one to me.
So I went back and watched Hardhome, which I don’t recommend if you’re on a time constraint and supposed to be writing a deep dive recap because it’s AMAZING. I got sucked in.
And there was weather! I didn’t realize it while watching it. I thought it was just an ancillary thing that happened on a northern coastal city, but fog and snow rolled in during the fight. Not so much wind, but there was definitely a weather element.
(Also, at Hardhome, there was more ‘ability’ with the dead? If that’s the right word. You had dead Thenns who fought like live ones. You had White Walkers in the mix. The dead used axes and swords. It feels like in Winterfell their main move was kind of a sprint with a koala finish where they’d mount someone and gnaw on them like a eucalyptus tree.)
So Jon gets knocked back from the thundersnow which comes in as if blown from the mouth of Aeolus himself. It clobbers him and Rhaegal to such a degree that he gets lost and Rhaegal’s GPS is thrown off. He’s unable to parboil the lieutenants.
There is a shot, a glorious shot of Drogon Dracarysing in the middle distance with the vast storm thundering in behind him. It is magnificent, and would be of even more note if the bulk of cinematographical input wasn’t negative.
Arya watches this from Winterfell and she turns to Sansa and orders her down to the crypt. There is genuine worry in her eyes.
Sansa protests, but Arya isn’t having it.
In the dark, Arya hands her a dagger.
THE FABLED DAGGER.
I have been camping this dagger like an online griefer. I have been all over this mysterious Valyrian dagger since day one. And I knew Not Bran gave it to Arya for a reason.
But now Arya gives it to Sans. Who’s never held a dagger in her life.
“Stick ‘em with the pointy end.” She says.
And my mind starts to race because in all my late night musings, trash talking with friends, and perusing book reader message boards, I have never once considered that Sansa would be the one to down the Night King.
Of course we know now that it was just some sliver of random dragonglass that we never saw Arya pick up and thus never knew she had.
— We know Needle.
— We know nameless Valyrian dagger that belonged to someone.
That’s it. So if we see a dagger passed in the twilight, it’s only fair to assume its the only dagger that’s been established.
Now I’m thinking:
— Sansa is the prince who was promised?
— The Night King is also the Storm King
— The White Walkers aren’t going to join the fray
— Arya looked actually worried
Shot after shot of Drogon raining fire down on the dead is absolutely stunning. Visually iconic.
But it does little to stem the tide.
Now we’re in the Godswood with Not Bran. Theon looks up at the storm rolling in. There are like 20 good men in a circle around the mighty Weirwood.
And we cut back to the battle out front.
This is the type of action. We have singles on the heroes. Jamie, Brienne, Jorah. They’re all fighting and in every case, they’re being charged by sort of feral ghouls like in Fallout. That’s the general sound. And they’re all alive.
I keep wondering how Jaime feels, having the dragons on his side after seeing them on the other team.
Sam is holding his own, but then he’s tackled and driven to his back. A zombie has him. It’s pushing a dagger toward Sam’s eye and he’s losing steam as the zombie gains power. He yells just as someone impales the ghoul from behind, killing it.
Get up Sam he yells, helping him up, and then he’s stabbed from behind I think. I watched it like fifteen time and I still can’t tell exactly how. Was it his eye?
My captions say that Edd’s last words were OH GOD SAM but I don’t really hear them, and when he falls there’s an abomination behind him.
I’m not a horror person. Don’t like it. Can’t do it. Yuck. GET OUT OF MA KITCHEN.
Sam Theons the fuck out of there.
My pal Roxana Hadadi is positive that Sam shouldn’t have been out there. I’m not sure. I think Edd was a goner no matter what.
We cut back to Winterfell, where Sansa is down in the crypt for the first time. We remember how she was in the crypt with Cersei during the Battle of Blackwater and how Cersei baited and maligned her, gently and indirectly, through wine soaked teeth.
But now Sansa is the Lady of the crypt. She says nothing. Doing her time like she’s been there before. But she does cast a small look toward Tyrion, who’s pissed at being stuck down here.
He downs some wine and walks away.
We cut out to the sky where Dany and Jon are crashing their dragons into one another, almost killing both of them.
YOU’RE REALLY HITTING EACH OTHER? DO YOU EVEN KNOW THE MATH ON THAT? IT’S A HUGE SKY. I MEAN HUUUUUUGE. IF YOU WANT TO CRASH INTO SOMEONE, FIND ZOMBIE VISERION.
Rhaegal doesn’t get the memo. He starts flying through trees. Makes you kind of wish they had cooked up a dragon plan, y’know? Cracked open a Google doc and just spitballed a few ideas? Here’s what we’ll do if this happens. Here’s what we’ll do it that happens. The weather, of all things, is really marginalizing the dragon element.
Now everyone is yelling fall back and we’re tight on Lyanna Mormont who yells OPEN THE GATE.
God, she’s such a bauce. I love her so much.
We move to Grey Worm, who yells to the Unsullied to protect the retreat.
Unlike the Dothraki, who exist in a culture of violence, the Unsullied had no choice. They were stolen and abused. Made to overcome their greatest fear or die trying.
But I wonder how many of them there are finding a new one fear.
Nevertheless, they follow Grey Worm’s order and HUH! They get low and prepare for the onslaught. You have to respect that level of bravery.
The living are pouring in through the main gate of Winterfell in a mad panic. Behind them, the Unsullied, in perfect discipline despite the chaos, close ranks to protect them.
We surge past and into the sky to find Jon riding Rhaegal. It’s been like eight minutes of screen time since he fried anyone. He and Dany are riding in formation like Ice and Mav, FINALLY, but they’re lost in the storm and accomplishing nada.
Back on the field, the retreat continues. Lyanna Mormont is stunned by the terror on the faces rushing past. In front, the Unsullied maintain their ranks, but they’re being backed up into their own X shaped anticavalry spikes, known commonly as ‘chevaux de frise’.
I’m watching this in an aerial shot and I’m thinking WHAT IS THE PLAN HERE?
There are many thousand Unsullied in the ranks, but the dead come, and the Unsullied look to have no means of retreat themselves.
Sandor is running toward the gate with a bunch of other actual living humans when an arrow from the wall zips past him and into the head of a wight that was gaining on him. What a shot! He looks up at the wall to see that cold bitch Arya Stark, saving her pal.
But he has no time to lose, he turns and hews through another zombie with his dragonglass axe.
Now we are with Grey Worm. He watches as the Unsullied are driven back, eroded little by little by the dead. While thousands of them are still beyond the fortified trench, he yells LIGHT THE TRENCH!
Wait is he giving them up? Does he already know they’re lost?
Davos does the signal in the sky for the dragons but they don’t see him and he realizes it. He yells for archers to light the trench, but when their fire arrows are able to find purchase on the pitch-soaked chevaux de frise, the wind blows them out immediately.
I don’t see the Night King anywhere, but as some of the Winterfell warriors try to run with torches to light the trench they are all systematically taken out by smart bomb wight attacks that stop them in their tracks.
From behind I swear the armor and haircut of one of the soldiers looks like Jaime Lannister. For a second I’m like was that Jaime?
Now we’re close on Grey Worm. He sees what’s happening.
I’m like oh no. He’s going to light himself on fire like a monk and run into the trench to light it. I don’t know why I thought that.
Sandor, Tormund, Beric and Jorah are holding the gate and absolutely fuuuuuucking up any wights that get near it.
Now a little cohort of Unsullied doubletimes it out of the fort and makes a defensive formation to the trench. In the middle of their number, The Red Woman walks forward.
GIVE ME A STANDARD QUADRANGLE AROUND THE RED WITCH! PRONTO!
(who is giving the orders? I mean, I’m all about it, but what’s happening?)
She places her hands on a snow covered timber of the trench and begins to chant in High Valyrian, the same chant that caused the Dothraki sickles to burst into flame.
But this time, the dead are approaching. They’re mowing through the last of the Unsullied left alive and the Red Woman keeps chanting. Over and over, but she’s distracted by the coming ghouls. Her eyes flick left and right as she takes in the danger.
But still she chants. Her voice wavers. It’s fucking incredible acting.
Just as one wight has a clean shot at her and tries to Carl Lewis over the trench to kill her, The Lord of Light grants her boon and the trench explodes to life, roasting her would be dead executioner.
The trench alights.
The Red Woman stands there for a second, the fire reflecting off of her irises. It’s an amazing shot.
I’m pretty sure Jon has landed his dragon on a tower of Winterfell or a part of the wall. It’s hard to say. But he was basically nine feet from the trench when it went up. Maybe he could have had Rhaegs burp on it so Melisandre wouldn’t have had to be our savior? No?
But the lit trench gives Daenerys a visual bearing and she continues to roast the army of the dead with dragonfire.
Jon seems to be looking for the Night King.
He’s nowhere to be seen.
Back in the crypts, everyone is listening to sounds from the battle. They can’t make anything out.
Varys tries a little gallows humor. Tyrion is lamenting his lot, being stuck down here. He knows he could be of use, and I tend to agree with him. The good guys severely lack a commander. You can’t have an army where the two people in charge are snowboarding through the deep powder. Tyrion might see something.
But Sansa tells him he’d die.
And she says there’s nothing that any of them can do. That’s why they’re in the crypt. The most heroic thing they can do is look the truth in the face.
She’s impressive. Not to mention quite serene and beautiful.
Tyrion looks at her. He’s full of wine.
“Maybe we should have stayed married.” He says.
“You’re the best of them.” She says, matter of factly.
“What a terrifying thought.”
There’s a smile from Sansa and then a moment of quiet consideration.
“It wouldn’t work between us.” She says.
“The Dragon Queen. Your divided loyalties would become a problem.”
ALL YOU SANSA HATERS GO JUMP IN A LAKE. LIKE, RIGHT NOW. SHE CAN SEE EVERYTHING. I LOVE HER.
“Yes.” Agrees Missandei, joining their conversation. “Without the Dragon Queen there’d be no problem at all. We’d all already be dead.”
UM, BUTT IN MUCH? PISS OFF MISSANDEI! YOU ALREADY HAVE TORGO NUDHO. CAN A BROTHER TRY TO WOO THE LADY OF FUCKING WINTERFELL IN A CRYPT WITHOUT YOU COCKBLOCKING IT? FUCKS SAKE.
When Missandei walks past, Sansa looks a little like the racists who greeted the Unsullied when they arrived in Winterfell, but I’m just going to decide that it wasn’t racism, but instead a little snottiness at having been chastised for having a private moment with her sorta, kinda, usta-be husband.
Elsewhere in racial tension, every non-white in the battle is now dead. So, there’s that choice.
Meanwhile, in in the Godswood, Theon reacts to the trench being lit. He knows the end is nigh.
Turning, he tries to apologize to Not Bran, calling him Bran.
But Not Bran reminds him that every move he made brought him where he is now.
Where he belongs.
We’re about halfway through and I finally get emotional. Home. Theon Greyjoy, Son of Balon Greyjoy, but really the son of Ned Stark. Home. At Winterfell.
“He’s gonna die.” Lady C says.
I am silent.
“I’m going to go now.” Not Bran says.
And he wargs away.
Cool trick, bro. That’s a trick I want. Every time my neighbor stops by to chat? Every time my kids complain that chores are patently unfair. Half the people at any reunion?
JUST WARG AWAY.
HEY YOU OLD SO AND SO! IT’S ME, NED RYERSON! NEEDLENOSE NED? NED THE HEAD? DON’T SAY YOU DON’T REMEMBER ME BECAUSE I SURE AS HECKFIRE REMEMBER YOU!
“I’m going to go now.”
Aaaaaaaand warg away.
That’s a gift. Tactical Warging.
I love my fiance, but he’s a bit of a tactical warger, so any time there’s an awkward conversation I look over and his eyes are white. It’s like: ‘honey where should we register?’
‘My Aunt Gertie is in town next weekend and wants to meet you!’
‘Hey, would you cheat on me for a million dollars?’
Now, when he’s not warging away he’s always super loving and sweet. But I don’t know if I can put up with all the warging! I mean, I know I shouldn’t be mad at him for being himself, but will the warging stop when we’re married?
White-Eyed and Worried in Cincinnati
So Bran wargs away. And we finally get the moment that so many of us have waited for.
NOT BRAN WARGS INTO DEAD VISERION.
YES! WHOOOOO HOOOOOOO!
And he takes control of the dragon, sending it plummeting toward the ground at mach 4. The Night King hangs on for dear life.
THE THREE EYED RAVEN SLAMS THE DRAGON DIRECTLY INTO THE GROUND WHERE IT EXPLODES INTO A SEISMIC BOOM OF BLUE LIGHT. EVERYONE TURNS TO SEE THE AZURE MUSHROOM CLOUD EXPLODE IN THE DISTANCE.
Jon and Dany share a look. Now they have the only dragons.
WONDER TWIN POWERS ACTIVATE!
FORM OF — A VENGEFUL DRAGON QUEEN!
SHAPE OF — A BUCKET OF ICE WATER!
The Night King is thrown to the ground and scorched by the blue flame. He is injured. His Craster goons race to him on horseback as two dragons approach, igniting a line of hot death toward them.
The Night King dives headlong into a river to escape the dragon fire.
Two of his lieutenants are not so lucky. They are torched and an unholy scream comes out of them as they fall to their knees and burn to death.
Across the battlefield, in the distance, maybe six percent of the dead drop and move no more.
But that’s not exacccccctly what happened.
What happened was that Not Bran popped out a Vape pen with some Alaskan Thunder Fuck and he goes bye bye.
Bran wargs into a bird. Or a bunch of birds. They’re ravens, but they could be parrots or geese. It doesn’t matter. Because it means nothing. He’s not scouting the enemy. He’s taking a vacation.
In the background, Ramin Djawadi’s score fades out and Rupert Holmes’ song ‘If you like Pina Coladas’ starts to play. Not Bran has left the building.
Now, maybe he’s just warging into an animal so that if his body dies he can live on, I think, like the wildling warg Orell. The assistant to the regional manager.
But he isn’t doing that.
And here’s a through line I’m trying not to admit: this is being tied up expeditiously rather than literarily.
In a book, we can imagine an author obsessing over every dangling thread.
In a production environment, there’s the reality of a line producer who just doesn’t have the budget to make that scene happen.
Why have Not Bran warg at all? Maybe they’re laying pipe for the series denouement? I don’t know. But I know that his warging had zero value and made me feel fucked with a little.
I don’t love that feeling.
The parrotgeese fly to find the Night King. He’s on his dragon. He raises a hand to command the dead, who are standing at attention by the trench.
This is a fascinating skill, this telekinesis slash downright Borgian hive mind thing. He doesn’t ever bark a single order. He just moves his hand and the dead know.
Jon is — I think — still perched atop Winterfell?
The dead are packed tight, unmoving, by the trench. A couple of well aimed passes with the ol’ dragon might do a WORLD of good here, boss.
This was their chance. They could have won the entire battle right here. The dead had stopped. They were crammed in tight rows right in front of the trench. If both Dany and Jon had just flown a few sorties here? Strafing back and forth across the line? They could have taken out three quarters of the Night King’s force.
THIS WAS THE MOMENT.
AND THE MOMENT PASSED.
Slowly, in only one place, the Night King mind-commands certain creepers to walk into the trench and lay down.
They’re going to make a corpse bridge!
What…kills a dead guy, anyway?
The sample wight in King’s Landing could take a ton of abuse before dragonglass ended him.
But what are the rules for these wights?
Sometimes they seem to ‘die’ if stabbed. Sometimes they need to have their heads chopped off. One wight fords the trench and ‘dies’ when fire is on his back. It doesn’t look that bad. He could probably just take off his vest. But no. That kills him.
The moving target is hard to follow.
I’m desperately trying to turn my brain off and just enjoy it, but one of the things I’ve loved for the entire run of Game of Thrones is that I can leave my mind ON and enjoy it.
This isn’t a guilty pleasure. This isn’t a show where you buy into a ridiculous A-plot but you stick with it because the lead actor is a babe. This isn’t a show with a high concept premise that you know they can never pull off but you watch it anyway. You can always be as smart as you want for Game of Thrones.
Until now? Maybe?
One thing that’s hard is how every single thing is going right for the Night King. It’s so difficult to manufacture drama around a nameless, faceless horde. But even more so when they’re flawless. It’s as if Ramsay Bolton planned it, but a toaster oven executed it. There is strategy, but no passion. No humanity. No digression from what seems to this point to be a perfect plan. The living are just reeling at all times. Nothing they do is working. They have no game plan. It’s like the last eighteen years of AFC East teams vs the Patriots. Why let them always get what they want? N’Keal Harry? Chase Winovich? Are you crazy?
But now the Night King shows himself.
Is it a trap?
Nope. it’s probably just because he knows that his forces are vulnerable, so he pulls Jon away from the walls.
Jon takes off after him. Because that’s what Jon do.
Everyone is yelling MAN THE WALLS. The dead are now swarming en masse past the trench. The trench. The fabled trench that did what fifty thousand Dothraki could not.
“Grandpappy, tell us again aboot the trench!”
WELL IT WAS ABOUT THREE FEET DEEP IF IT WAS A FOOT. FILLED WITH THE VERY FIRES OF HELL, LIKE THE JELLIED GASOLINE THEY PUT IN PUPU PLATTERS. AND IT HELD THE DEAD FOR A FULL SIX MINUTES.
You did gud.
The living are rushing up the stairs.
A word on Jorah Mormont. How old is he? Fifty-eight? Fifty-three? Dude survived the initial death charge, got knocked off his horse and has been feeding Heartsbane to the dead ever since. Ever lifted a monster, two handed sword like that? Like a claymore? Swing it twice and your humerus splinters. He’s been crushing wights for like an hour already. Protecting the gate. In full armor. And now we find him taking two stairs at a time to get to the wall. Fucking hell! Atta baby Jorah! What protein supplements are in your smoothies, homes?
Now we get some action on the wall. Each fighter to a gap.
They hold the dead off for a spell, but all it takes is one hole to open and they swarm through. Sam is a goner, again, before Jorah cleaves shamblers off him. Jaime is a goner before Brienne saves him. Just like he saved her in the field during the first wave of zombies. It’s your basic nightmare up there, in the dark.
And there’s some kick ass stunts I just wish I could see who was dying. One dude gets pulled off the wall by the dead and he rolls down into the horde and is swallowed up. Must have been a rando. I can’t tell.
The dead are breaking through. Sometimes they have an animalistic growl to them. It’s chaos. The good guys are faltering.
But it’s not, somehow, personal.
I can’t quite place it.
The dead are beginning to turn the tide. The castle is being overrun. But because we’re not with anyone, we are able to have this dissonance. Some of us anyway. There’s a barrier.
Sapochnik tries to address that by bringing us to Sandor.
He’s watching the dead pour into the courtyard like they did off the cliff in Hardhome. Obviously he wasn’t there to see that, but we were. There’s a series of really audio-engineered jump cuts where The Hound is taking stock of the battle going to pieces and his mind is starting to quit on him.
Beric yells to him to keep fighting.
Wait isn’t Arya on the wall? Westeros’ #1 draft pick from last week? How come we haven’t seen her in action yet?
Sandor is stopped. Sweating. Mentally buckling.
And in the orangina fog we see a wight get it’s head cleaved off. It’s a precision strike. Somebody knows that they’re doing with a blade.
We pan right.
ARYA FUCKING STARK.
And she’s got the ‘showstopper’ weapon that her BF made her. She is confident, waterdancing through shitbags like a jedi on meth.
Sylvio would be proud.
She kills like ten wights in about five seconds. I think she drives her spear through them and pushes them back into a wall, shish-kebabing three of them, but it was too dark to tell. Then she detaches the weapon into two parts and fights with that, but I can’t really make out what she’s doing.
Whatever it is, it’s effective.
We cut back to Beric, who is yelling at a catatonic The Hound.
But the biggun doesn’t move.
Now we’re back to Arya and there’s more light. She is DOMINATING. She takes out like ten more wights. Not a movement wasted, not a wight spared. She’s a champion.
When she clears the area, we rack to Ser Davos, who was about to be brained, but now watches the youngest Stark become an artist who paints in red.
We cut to Lyanna Mormont, the girl I want to clone and have my sons marry. She gets her own shot.
Lady C and I scream NOOOOOOOO.
Put her in the background. Don’t feature her. Head down mode, girl!
An undead giant smashes through the gate and jogs in, knocking her aside.
We are relieved. Maybe she’ll just be knocked out.
The giant has a club and he’s devastating the inner courtyard. They will lose. Now. It’s a fait accompli. No one can stop a giant. He is a mauler of insane proportions. One by one he golfs the defenders onto the thirteenth green. He cannot be beaten.
Elsewhere, Arya has run into some trouble. A particularly intact wight who kind of resembles the dead Thenn that was wreaking havoc at Hardhome slams her head first into a wall and cracks her forehead open. The only thing that stops him from finishing her while she’s dazed is that he gets stuck in a Monty Python sketch trying to squeeze through the door with two other zombies.
It appears her showstopper weapon is gone. In retrospect, eh. It was fine.
She jumps onto the snowy roof above the courtyard and the dead Thenn dives to get her, but misses and slides off the roof.
Across the way, Beric shouts to Sandor, who yells that they’re finished.
“Tell that to her.” Beric says, pointing to Arya fighting for her life.
And we remember back in season three was it? When they’re in the Brotherhood and they have Sandor tied up and he says the girl is the bravest one of all of you.
Beric says “she may very well be.”
When The Hound sees Arya still alive it’s like he gets a Pulp Fiction adrenaline shot to the heart and everything about his demeanor changes. Like a flash, he’s out to cut his way to her.
COME ON PEOPLE. HOW ADORBS IS THAT? THE HOUND HAS NO ONE ON EARTH. NEVER HAS, NEVER WILL. BUT HE LOVES THIS GIRL.
It’s awesome. When they’re not being pricks, humans are amazing.
Now we cut to Lyanna Mormont, picking herself up. She’s banged up. Bad.
But she rises like the dawn and faces her enemy. House Mormont of Bear Island.
HERE. WE. STAND.
In a charge that springs from an internal fount of primal bravery, the mighty archon of House Mormont lets out a battle cry and rushes the giant, hand axe held high.
He turns and picks her up with his open hand.
Up she goes. And then the reanimated monster starts to squeeze.
We are in our living rooms, all over the world, hearing the bones of Lyanna Mormont crack.
The world is dark.
The world is unfair.
I feel cold as I watch her die. She is in pain, struggling, organs no longer working.
It is misery.
The giant inspects her with his one good eye and in that fleeting second, our hero digs deep, deeper than she ever has in her far too short life.
AND SHE BURIES HER DRAGONGLASS IN THAT FUCKERS EYE.
The two bodies come careening to earth with a crash.
But we do not cheer.
It is not a fair trade.
Lyanna Mormont, the mighty Lady of Bear Island, is no more.
In the sky we get another breathtaking set of images. On my first watch this was a pixelated nightmare of squares. Subsequent watches have revealed how lovely it is.
This is gorgeous. No two ways about it. I could watch this all day.
Dany and Jon, searching for the Night King.
Amd he comes screaming out of the mist, a venturi of blue fire trying to roast Daenerys.
This is textbook dogfight shit. WHERE IS HER WINGMAN? GET HIM OFF MY TAIL, MAV!
Jon should just come up right behind the Night King and cook a fool.
But he doesn’t for some reason.
HOW IS THE DORKY VERSION #2 NIGHT KING GETTING THE JUMP ON YOU? THERE ARE TWO OF YOU!
In the whole dogfight sequence, you never see them dracarys once. It’s all blue fire.
And what word does Jon say to make Rhaegal fire anyway? I’ll bet they tried it and had Jon say “Dracarys” with that Scottish brogue and it just sounded…wrong. Does Dany Dracarys for the both of them and Jon is just like, a cool looking passenger? How emasculating is it when you can’t even dracarys your own dragon? Jesus!
COME ON TEAM! THIS IS THE CHAMPIONSHIP! GET WITH IT!
Now they hover again. Wordless.
It’s like this whole time the Night King has been practicing his moves. Maybe less crypt time and more dragon time might have been a good idea? Jon looks like he’s driving a stick shift Jetta for the first time. There’s zero skill. Zero. STOP DUMBFUCKING IT IN THE AIR, SNOO! KILL SOMETHING!
Taking that zero skill, they dive down into the muck again, where NOTHING OF WORTH HAPPENS.
But it’s okay because now we’re back to someone who knows their trade. Arya. She peeks around the corner somewhere in the halls of Winterfell.
She picks up a dragonglass dagger.
THANK YOU. JESUS CHRIST. HOW HARD WAS THAT? HOW MANY IDIOTIC SHOWS HAVE WE WATCHED IN OUR LIVES WHERE PEOPLE THINK GUNS ARE ICKY AND THROW THEM AWAY OR WALK PAST THE CROWBAR AS THEY GO TO CONFRONT THE BADDIE?
Thank you Arya, for arming yourself appropriately.
Now we enter that impossible mission you have to complete in The Last of Us where you have to sneak past all the clickers. I died like a billion times.
Why are these dead acting like this? Do they go into a holding pattern? Do they react to sound or to blood? Or both?
WHAT IS HAPPENING?
The scene itself is silent. No score.
This is not how Arya dies. This is not how Arya dies. I’m humming to myself in a mantra. We will will it. We will keep her safe.
I cannot take Lyanna and Arya getting killed in back to back scenes. Where’s The Fucking Hound? GET ON YOUR HORSE, SANDOR!
Arya is moving across the library, stack by stack. It’s excruciating.
She ducks under a table, but almost gets caught by a clicker who hears her blood dripping onto the floor.
Then she tosses a book across the room and draws the clickers away. It’s a great move, and just as she’s about to escape, she comes face to face with a female wight.
Arya impales her up through the chin.
The ghoul pukes black blood.
IT’S FUCKING NAAAAAAAASTY.
But she makes it through. Dear god. She makes it. Fucking Metal Gear Solid.
There’s a moment of silence. Or relief, before the fuckers jump scare through the door.
Somehow, they’re on to her. She runs.
It’s what we saw in the preview. Running. Truly scared. She is not a Faceless Man. She is an exhausted animal at bay with predators closing in. They have the scent of her blood. It’s only a matter of time.
Thank god she knows these halls or she’d be dead already.
We cut to the crypt, where they hear their guards being gored outside the door. Varys looks like he’s going to weep. It’s grisly.
And then it’s quiet.
The dead do not come.
Now we cut to Sandor, moving through the halls with his axe at the ready, looking for Arya.
RUN TO HIM GODDAMNITTTTTTTTT
I CAN’T TAKE IT
Beric lights the way with his sword — thank god — and as he turns a corner, he sees a door get blown off its hinges.
A zombie is on top of Arya. She is screaming, desperately trying to hold it off.
You know how tough those doors are? Can you imagine the force it took to blow it off the frame like that?
Beric is Johnny on the spot. He hucks his flame sword, end over end and harpoons the wight.
Then he hustles over and steals Arya off the door just as a gaggle of shriekers dive for her like a fumble in the endzone.
There’s too many. He forces her back to Clegane as a shrieker stabs him in his calf. Beric growls in pain.
They make a run for it. Sandor and Arya up front, a weaponless Beric in the rear.
He blocks for them. Through a contentious stairwell area, through a place where two halls meet. At every step he is getting stabbed in the belly. In the back. In the leg. To insure their escape he props himself up, Hodor-like, arms outstretched.
The wights set upon him and bury their cruel weapons into his flesh.
But he endures. Somehow. Impossibly.
Until they make it to a small antechamber where a number of dead bodies litter one side. The threesome rush in and barricade the door.
Arya props Beric up, looking him in the face. She hilariously chose to not spend her final hours with this miserable old shit.
But he spent his final seconds protecting her.
He looks at her, opens his mouth ever so slightly, and breathes his last.
Ser Beric Dondarrion, a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.
Rest now, good sir.
As Arya watches him, we’re able to make out a shadowy figure behind her, silhouetted in darkness.
The Red Woman speaks.
“The Lord brought him back for a purpose. Now that purpose is served.”
So, for all those years, in every single death, the sole reason The Lord of Light brought Beric back was to be her, in this hallway, to give his final life for Arya Stark.
Arya turns and looks at the woman.
“I know you.”
“And I know you.”
“You said we’d meet again.”
“And here we are. At the end of the world.”
“You said I’d shut many eyes forever. You were right about that, too.”
The Red Woman holds Arya in her gaze intently. I’m not sure anyone in the Known World does intensity cloaked in serenity like Melisandre. She speaks slowly and deliberately, so there’s no chance the panicked and dazed Arya missed her message.
“And blue eyes.”
Arya looks up at her. Is she saying what I think she’s saying?
Melisandre smiles in that mystical, cryptic way of hers.
And now Arya knows something. Melisandre can predict the future. She’s proven it twice. So her prophecies are already a foregone conclusion.
But her concentration is broken by the terror of a legion of wights outside the door, trying to force their way in.
For a second, she is back inside of her fear. Inside of her flight response. Melisandre sees that she needs one more reminder.
The Red Woman comes up behind her, saying something only Arya and her former teacher, Syrio Forel, the First sword of Braavos, would know.
“What do we say to the god of death?”
And with that, a look of calmness comes back over Arya’s face. Purpose reanimates her features.
And like a shot, she is off.
Past the dead stiffs in the room and out.
(Did the Red Witch kill all these shamblers to make ready the room?)
In the Godswood, the zombies finally hit. Theon and the Ironborn have arrows nocked and ready when the wave of cadavers thunders in at them.
Then we are back in the sky.
The Night King dives toward Winterfell and decides to blow hot ass on part of the wall.
Is there something special about the gatehouse/wall area he hit? I can’t tell. It looks like he just wanted to blast open another way for his trash to blow in.
But we don’t have time to think about it because FINALLY Jon does something. He comes in and T-bones Zombie Viserion with all his force.
The two dragon brothers grapple in the sky, talons tearing at flesh. It’s ruthless.
Somehow. The Night King holds on with one hand even though they’re in a flat spin and reaches? Somehow? For his dragon slaying ice javelin.
Where’d he have that puppy? Does he have like a portable Jav hammock? How’s his dragon outfitted?
While the dork ass Night King is aiming, Rhaegal tears off the side of Viserion zombie face.
This is horrible to watch. These are brothers, damnit.
Is this foreshadowing for the Cleganebowl?
Viserion snaps at Jon, trying to bite him off the back of his brother, but Jon remembers his five D’s.
Dodge, Dip, Dive, Duck and….Dodge.
Just as the Night King is about to sling a javelin into Rhaegal, Daenerys appears out of the fog and Drogon’s talons knock The Night King off his steed.
HE FALLS TO THE GROUND.
Finally! They did something coordinated!
That dude’s definitely not dead, but he’s injured, right? He doesn’t have like, cat landing power, does he? WHAT EVEN IS HE?
Rhaegal is injured. He’s pitched into a steep dive. Jon holds on for his life. Above him, Drogon is now attacking Viserion.
There’s a huge size difference. Drogon closes his mighty jaws around the rotting neck of Viserion and shakes.
He’s gotta be dead, too, now. Right?
How do you kill a dead dragon?
We follow Rhaegal to the ground, He flattens out his landing as much as he can and Jon is flung off into the snow as Rhaegal crash lands, his mighty chest plowing a vast trench into the snow.
John skims over the snow at like 45 miles per hour. If you’ve ever water skied and taken a sliding digger? It’s like that, but much, much sharper.
Here’s what I think I know now:
— The Night King is on the ground. He’s def not dead.
— Viserion is dead.
— Rhaegal is dead.
— Arya is on a mission from god.
— Sansa has the Valyrian dagger.
— Jaime and Brienne are a stupidly amazing team.
— Tyrion still wants to be married to Sansa.
— Missandei is going to make trouble.
— I think both Pod and Gendry are dead because I haven’t seen them in a long time and I assume they were just shot in darkness and I didn’t realize it was them.
— After oh so many years of being the most connected man in the Seven Kingdoms I can’t believe what a zero-impact nothing The Spider is.
— The Ironborn are fucked.
Jon moves and grunts. He’s okay.
Thank god. Y’all know how I love my big, dumb knucklehead.
Daenerys is hovering, scanning. I didn’t see Viserion get away from Drogon but I guess he did. She does not give chase. Instead she’s got her eye on the prize. Atta girl! GO FIND THAT DIABOLICAL DOUCHE AND BAKE HIS ASSHOLE OFF.
She sees him.
He’s right there. Alone. Looking up at her.
He’s got his ice sword on his back. His ice javelin is on the ground next to him.
BE CAREFUL I think.
She hovers lower. This shit is over.
DRACARYS she says.
People who don’t like Dany think this is hubris.
People like me who love her are like WHAT’S SHE SUPPOSED TO DO? THIS IS WAR, BABY!
Can Dragonfire kill the Night King? Even the Three Eyed Raven didn’t know.
But we bout to find out!
LIGHT HIS ASS UP GIRLFRIEND!
THE ROOF THE ROOF THE ROOF IS ON FIRE!
We don’t need no-
Ah shit, he’s still there.
And the Night King smiles.
WHOA WHOA WHOA
Is this like a person? Who is this penis? I’ve been operating under the impression that The Night King is a thing, not the fuckhead you hate from the gym.
Even when he taunts Jon by rezzing everyone at Hardhome, he looks menacing. Not gloaty.
But this Night King? That smile? I’m like WAIT WHO IS THIS? I don’t have a good sense of it anymore, and if he was always this guy, THE ONE WHO SMILES, why not have made him more of a shithead this whole time. If he can experience joy? Where might we have seen that and how might it have increased the dramatic tension to this point? Up until this point, The Night King was more of a force of nature, like a hurricane or an earthquake. He’s a viral measure engineered by nature to keep men strong. But he’s not a ‘he.’ Orrrrrr, is he?
Such a weird choice.
The Night King reaches for his Jav and Daenerys skedaddles out of there. He lobs an airball and Drogon flaps away. The Night King doesn’t seem to care. He doesn’t need another dragon because the Wall is down and he’s not afraid of dragons, so it’s a net wash. If he hits Drogon, cool. If not, cool.
If he’s a HE, how did HE survive a 1000 foot drop? Does he have an exoskeleton like a beetle? WHAT EVEN IS IT?
Um, and how’d he know he was impervious to dragon fire if the Bran Stark Almanac, that records all things, didn’t know? And if he’s such a smart person/monster, why didn’t he huck the Jav when he was shrouded in flame? I don’t get anything anymore.
But I do get bravery. Jon Snoo is like fifty feet from him. They’re both on the ground.
TIME TO DELIVER THE MAIL, SON!!!!!
This is what Jon Snoo DO, BABY!
How many times have we been here? We know what’s going to happen. Jon Snow is the right man for this job!
This is where we’ve always been headed, right? Jon Snow is the prince who was promised. This entire show has been a lead up to this moment where the strongest man in the North, the TRUE RULER of the Seven Kingdoms saves everyone and everything with one fabled swing of Longclaw. He and he alone. Right? That has to be it!
Now let’s see it!
Jon jogs after the Night King, who is casually strolling toward Winterfell, presumably listening to a little Rick Astley on his airpods. He walks through an ocean of dead bodies, headed toward the inevitability of killing the Three Eyed Raven.
And then he hears a dummy huffing up behind him.
He tilts his head, ever so slightly.
If Jon doesn’t stop, he might make it. I also think if he gets close and spin fires Longclaw like Beric did with his flamesword, he might get the Night King.
But here’s what we know about the powers of the Night King to this point:
— He can ride dragons
— He can control the weather
— He can put his fingernail on the eye of a baby and turn it into a White Walker
— He can throw an ice javelin like 2000 yards on a frozen rope
— He has superhero level strength
— He can hold onto dragons with one hand
— He can raise the dead
— He is impervious to dragon fire or fire of any kind
— He is impervious to fall damage
— He can communicate telepathically, both in a wide band collective and in narrow focus groups
— He can see the future
— He can mark you with his hand
— He can invade the dreams/visions of other where he actually exists instead of being imaginary
— He can live many thousand years
— He is an accomplished strategist and military tactician
— He can ride horses
But the two things we don’t know yet are:
— He has catlike reflexes
— He is a superior close quarters fighter
All Jon knows, all Jon really ever knows is that no one is coming to help. Whenever there is a moment like this in his lifetime, he is the prime mover. He alone must take the step and make the thing happen.
You can fault Jon Snoo all you like, Jon Snoo haters, but he gets shit done.
And now he has to do it again.
But this isn’t some wildling or some Roose Bolton flunkie. This is a demonic, eternal spirit of dread. I think. Or like a Sorcerer. Or a Blood Mage. Or a Necromancer specializing in the undead. I mean, who really knows? But he’s not just some schmuck.
He turns to face Jon. He could have killed Jon like sixteen times over already but he has let him live for some reason.
Maybe because he likes tormenting him.
But now, he uses his old faithful power. Lucky Power #6. Raising the dead.
He starts to open his arms and makes the motion that Jon saw him do at Hardhome. Necromancer arm raise #1. The dead have spurs that start to jingle jangle jingle.
Jon sprints forward. He knows this move. He knows blood magic. Maybe if he can just get to the Night King in time…
They are up and at ‘em faster than you’d think. But he just lifts them. He doesn’t make them aggro anyone just yet.
And it’s not just the dead around Jon.
It’s the dead EVERYWHERE. The fresh dead, who haven’t been burned. OUR GUYS.
Before Jon can get to the Night King, he is surrounded by several hundred of the newly raised dead who used to be his comrades.
Not every corpse rises. This must be the effect of the dragon glass? Maybe? Maybe the original dead, slain by dragon glass, cannot be reawakened? But that doesn’t include the newly dead. There was no time to burn them.
In about three seconds, Jon’s old army becomes the new army of the Night King.
Every Dead Dothraki, Every Dead Unsullied.
Jon is over. It’s over. He will not and can not escape this. More deadly than Ramsay Bolton’s trap, this is a death sentence. Remember when one wight almost killed both Jon and Jeor Mormont?
Well, this is hundreds. Thousands. All in a circle around the former Kingindanorf.
And across the fighting quads of Winterfell, the cloisters and the courtyards, walls and towers, chambers and crypts, anything dead is now waking up.
Brienne and Jaime has just cleared the courtyard of dead when hundreds of them stand up. Ditto for Grey Worm and Sam and Tormund and Gendry. (Wait! Gendry is alive? Huzzah!)
They will now face the men and women they had been fighting alongside.
There are too many. Every square foot of space is taken up with newly rezzed zombies. Healthy zombies, too, with muscle mass and weapons. Not brittle ones that you can shatter like glass.
They’re in trouble.
They’re all in deep, deep trouble.
And unlike the many times they’ve been saved by Ned Stark’s bastard? He’s fucked.
And they’re fucked.
In a cruel, spiteful choice, Lyanna Mormont’s little eyes open again. Blue. The bright blue eyes of death. Lyanna Mormont, Lady of Bear Island, is a zombie.
You murderous fucks.
I’m standing in my living room.
“No.” Lady C whispers. “No no no.”
The leader of the Dothraki, his name in the books is Qhono or something, he rises and now he’s a zombie.
GOOD! KILL HIM AGAIN. I CAN’T STAND THAT FUCKER.
And on the field in front of Winterfell, Dolorous Edd, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, opens his blue eyes.
He’s a wight. After all those years. He’s a wight.
My god it’s horrible.
“The last of us, burn our bodies.” He had said.
But there was no time. There was no time.
The Night King looks at Jon, no emotion, no joy or snark or excitement. He’s back to being a machine. He’s better this way. That smile was such a fuck up.
Without further ado, he presses play on his Sony Walkman and Marky Mark’s ‘Good Vibrations’ kicks on. He turns toward the Godswood and his destiny, leaving Jon Snow in an unholy, pants-shitting ring of reanimated doom.
The wights shamble toward Jon. They’re more lethargic. Maybe they haven’t fully activated. These aren’t yet the ‘World War Z’ feral, sprinting zombies. These are more like stupid ‘Sean of the Dead’ zombies.
What a world we live in where we have such a panoply of zombie-related entertainment! So many worthy films of the undead to reference. I haven’t even mentioned Zombieland! And I would never ever watch The Walking Dead or any of that, so I can’t use that as a device for comparison. One thing I like about Game of Thrones zombies is that they don’t turn you if they bite or wound you.
(I feel like I read somewhere that most humans fall into vampires or zombies, preference-wise. There’s some subconscious connection to each, but I forget what it is. I think Vampires might be something sexual? So what are zombies? BLECH. FUCKING YUCK TO BOTH. Jesus. Humans are so fucked up.)
Jon being Jon, he takes his first cut at the closest wight. He may die, but he’s going to take a few of these fuckers with him. I like that about Jon. There’s no quit in him. You have to give him that.
I also take a minute to whisper a silent personal prayer of thanks to the old gods and the new that I didn’t have to see blue eyes on Arya, or Brienne, or Jaime. Or Davos. Or Sandor. Or Sam. That’s a win. We’re coming to the end of the episode and I very much doubt that the Night King is going to raise more dead, so hopefully the worry of that horror has passed.
Notice that Beric never re-awakened. I guess the Lord of Light maxxed out his lives.
Just outside the main gate, in the spray tan orange lighting, in a spear formation, approach the cadre of Night King Lieutenants.
But I’m not sure it would even be worth killing them at this point. It seemed to me that during this time, most of the two million undead were actually wiped out. I’m not sure how many, if any, thralls each of them have left.
No, it has to be the Night King or nothing. And it’s up to Sansa Stark, who has the dagger of fate. What a stupid choice to have Arya give it to her! Damnit! How is this going to work out with our white male savior hemmed in? Can we even process a world where Jon Snow doesn’t save us all? We’ll see. But now it’s up to Sansa Stark, in the crypts.
Where the dead Starks have come to life.
This was something most people expected, but I’m still a little bummed at the way it turned out. I guess in the books the Starks are buried with an iron sword across them to keep them from getting up, and also something about it being so cold that the bodies never decompose or something? I don’t know. And there was also a legend about there always being a Stark in Winterfell? It’s too much to guess at without reading, but I was really hoping the Stark dead would wake up with red eyes instead of blue, and protect the living. That would have been so cool.
They punch out of their respective sarcophagi and start to chow the living. I can take a lot, but there are kids down there and that fucks me up.
The dead start to feast. Tyrion reacts and we can hear him ushering people away from the opening crypts.
Elsewhere, the sprinting World War Z zombies have hit the Ironborn. Theon is firing an arrow every three seconds. Ne never misses. The arrows kill the zombies immediately, which I’m guessing is, again, the dragonglass.
We pan around a still-warging Not Bran. He’s super relaxed.
Everyone else is fighting for they damn lives.
Jon, back outside Winterfell, has somehow thinned the herd of wights around him. Before there was like three hundred. Now it’s more like sixty. I don’t know if they got kilt by him or attacked other targets. But he’s swinging for the fences with Longclaw. Just watching it is exhausting.
Jon is running out of steam. The wights are shambling toward him on both sides when they are dracarysed out of nowhere by Drogon.
Jon looks up at Daenerys.
To all the Daenerys Mad Queen truthers: HOW YOU LIKE HER NOW?
She knows that Jon thinks he’s Aegon Targaryen.
She knows he thinks that, whether or not it’s true. And at any time she could have abandoned him. But she didn’t.
THRICE NOW. THRICE she has pulled his dumb, stubborn ass out of the fire.
— ONCE when she used Drogon to knock the Night King off Dead Viserion while he was aiming to knock Jon’s steed out of the sky.
— TWICE when Viserion was snapping at Jon, trying to eat him off of Rhaegal’s back and Drogon grabbed Viserion by the neck.
— THRICE when Jon was a fucking goner, wights closing in on all sides.
You’re seeing Mad Queen in that? I’m only seeing character. Straight up, white hot character. She continues to put her own ass on the line, not the least of which is because, for this last confirmed save, she had to land in a crazy hot LZ. And she’s going to pay for it, maybe with Drogon’s life.
Jon looks up at her and yells his favorite thing from this battle.
“Go!” She urges him.
GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE WITH YOUR DAENERYS HATE! WHOEVER YOU ARE, GET THE FUCK OUT.
She is the picture of support. She is up here fighting Jon’s war for real. Her army has been utterly decimated. And yet she is still 100% behind the game plan to save Jon’s little bro.
Even though he isn’t… Well, you know.
Jon takes off running. Where does this boy get his energy from? As he runs there’s this shot over Daenerys’ shoulder of a bunch of people just standing there amidst the flames. Are they wights who are stuck? Are they survivors? I can’t tell.
The second Dany takes to watch the man she loves run off is a second too long. Behind her, hundreds of wights are moving on her position. Before she knows it, Drogon is overburdened and he can’t take off.
Drogon tries to shake them but there are hundreds of them, driving daggers into him. He makes a sound of pain we haven’t heard and shakes again. The fucking reanimated Qhono dickhead is one of the ones shaken off. God I hate that guy. ROAST HIS ASS DROGO!
He shakes for all he’s worth and accidentally knock Daenerys off him as well. She lands in the snow with a thud.
Drogon runs as fast as he can and takes off. Rising and rising, shaking off all the undead barnacles teeming across the surface of his scaled skin.
They fall, one by one, landing on the ground like a hailstorm of reanimated corpses.
And then they open their eyes.
No fall damage for zombies, either, as we learned at Hardhome. Or rather, they take damage, but that doesn’t stop them.
Blue eyes, if they have eyeballs left, pop open and key on Daenerys, who is sitting unarmed in a field.
She’s a goner.
A nasty looking corpse with a battle axe sees her and runs at her.
She screams in fear but the killing blow never comes. Instead, the zombie is neatly decapitated by an unseen savior.
JORAH FUCKING MORMONT.
This is what he was born to do. He helps his Khaleesi up and spirits her toward safety, if they can find it.
Jon is cutting his way to Brahn. Ramin Djawadi’s score is heating up. It’s a fucking hellscape of velveeta-lit orange zombie apocalypse. Feral ghouls everywhere. Undead falling from the very sky. It’s what you might expect from a vision at the end of the world where all hope, all life is extinguished. And Jon doesn’t have a LeeLoo Dallas Multipass to save him.
He continues to stride. Cutting. Swerving.
On a massive pile of re-dead undead, he sees his best friend in the world, screaming. Sam is on his back, stabbing anyone he can with dragonglass. Dude’s not a fighter. He’s a bookworm. But he’s held his own for hours in the field. Nuts.
On any given Sunday, Jon Snow saves his best friend.
But not today.
How far has Jon come to make that choice, in the very face of his friend screaming? It is pain to pull away, but he has to save Brahn. He has to save the world.
Might he be the true savior after all, even as we (or I) counted him out?
Jon moves. The choreography is so intricate and elaborate I want to cheer. It’s amazing.
He looks for a path.
Torgo Nudho is still alive.
Brienne and Jaime are about to be pinned to a wall, but they’re still swinging.
Jon moves, dodges, and runs. Killing every step of the way. Goddamn he’s a badass. His instincts are amazing.
Now the dead are coming through the very roof. Breaking through the floor above to rain murder down upon him. He barely manages to close an iron gate behind him when dozens of shrieker arms shoot through the bars trying to grab him.
Elsewhere, Jorah is standing in front of Daenerys, slaying any fool that steps to her. He’s a beast.
Daenerys grabs a sword off the ground. She holds it at the ready. I don’t know if she’s ever even held a weapon before but she digs in. That’s courage.
We pivot up, above them. It’s like the Mhysa scene but this time there’s a circle of dead wights around them. We cut away as more charge in.
Back in the crypts, the situation is dire. Women are being attacked.
Sansa and Tyrion are hidden, backs to a sarcophagus. The moment is tense.
Sansa is hyperventilating. We see her trying to breathe. Trying to control her emotions. Her fear.
She digs down, somewhere in the very core of her being, and find courage. It’s amazing to watch. She is a Stark of Winterfell. She is Ned Stark’s trueborn daughter. She’s not going out without a fight. She reaches inside her coat for the dagger Arya gave her and we can see now that it’s dragonglass.
SO ARYA STILL HAS THE VALYRIAN DAGGER.
Sansa looks at Tyrion. He looks back at her. Their eyes are locked. They’re saying more in this scene with their eyes and faces than you get on a full week of Network TV. It’s astounding, powerful acting.
Each with a dagger out, I worry they’re going to do a murder suicide pact.
No! I think. LIVE! LIVE!
Ramin Djawadi’s score is tickling the ivories. Piano, not strings. It’s slow and evocative. They find hope and courage in each other’s eyes. Hope swells inside of me as they offer each other smiles in the midst of all the death and terror. Sansa wants to cry, but she smiles instead, still terrified. Sad to know that this is the end. The end of all things.
Tyrion looks at her with love. A love we really didn’t know he had inside of him. There’s a profound sadness in his eyes that he now knows that there’s a connection between him and his wife. There’s something real and they’ll never get to explore it. In the moment he discovers the road to a happiness he’s always craved but never had, he also knows that it will never come to pass. How ironic that the woman he might actually find happiness with is his wife? What a loss. What a tragedy. The sorrow in his face is inestimable.
Ramin Djawadi’s score plays on.
And Tyrion lifts Sansa’s glove hand to his lips and kisses it. Even Lady C is moved. I feel myself lose a breath. How lovely. How wondrous and passionate and respectful. Like a true knight. A scintilla of romance and class before the end.
I’m happy they had this moment together. I’m happy to have watched it happen. They both deserve so much more than they’re ever likely to get in this tomb of the dead where they’ll meet their end.
How terribly sad.
NOW BOTH OF YOU GET UP, USE THOSE DAGGERS AND GO KILL SOME GHOULS, GODDAMNIT. TYRION, YOU HAVE ARMOR ON AND YOU’VE FOUGHT BEFORE. YOU’RE THE ONLY ARMED PEOPLE IN THE CRYPT. DO YOUR FUCKING JOBS!
Tyrion looks at her one last time before he turns and makes his move.
We match cut to Jon huffing through what appears to be the main courtyard. He’s looking for a pathway. We don’t hear the sound of the battle, just Ramin Djawadi’s score. Delicate and profound. A dirge of sorrow as our favorite characters all step lightly toward their doom.
The undead dragon Viserion appears out of nowhere, smashing into the courtyard, and then righting himself, blasts the entire area with a fever of blue death.
Jon dives behind an archway to hide.
Across the land, hope fades.
The dead have Brienne, clutched from the front and from behind. She screams in fury. The dead are backing Jaime to a wall. Grey Worm is running out of energy. Tormund is spent.
Jorah is dispatching the ghouls who charge his Queen, but he’s taking crazy damage to do it. He drops to a knee in pain, but uses Heartsbane like a crutch and wills himself to his feet again, staving off death, holding fast for his queen.
In the crypt, people run.
Tyrion creeps with Sansa in tow. Varys hids in an alcove with Budget Shireen. Thank the gods she’s safe.
Back at Jon, he can barely stand he’s so wiped. But he has to continue. He has to find a way.
He hunts for a path to Brahn, but every exit is blocked by swarms of locust-like shriekers or a zombie dragon leaking propane from its neck.
That doesn’t stop Viserion. He screams blue hatred into the courtyard again and all Jon can do is hide.
In the Godswood, Theon is the only Ironborn left. His kill count grows. No more arrows, he has taken to his dragonglass spear and he has killed dozens of clickers all by himself. We see him railing in slow motion, muscles spent, allies gone. But he fights on. A son of Ned Stark. A son of Winterfell. Drawing up every iota of his courage to stand strong and defend his home.
But the Night King approaches.
Flanked by his fearsome, dark captains, he arrives in the Godswood.
Theon can barely stand as he kills the final wight. Then he looks around. The wights have stopped coming. They now are switched off, standing in a terrifying vigil around the Weirwood tree.
Not Bran wargs back into his body.
The Night King turns the corner.
His eyes lock with Theon.
And Theon Greyjoy, proud son of the Iron Isles, proud son of Winterfell, knows that his death comes. Ramin Djawadi’s score fades to silence.
“Theon.” Not Bran calls from behind him.
Theon turns and the producers give us the gift of a beauty shot.
Theon Greyjoy, standing proudly as he hold back tears. This is the end, but he keeps his chin up as he looks back at Bran.
“You’re a good man.” The Three Eyed Raven says. “Thank you.”
Man, Not Bran’s interpersonal skills have come a long way since Meera Reed.
For the second straight week, I have tears rolling down my face because of Theon Greyjoy. In all the years of watching Game of Thrones, that’s a thing I never would have predicted.
Thank you, Theon Greyjoy.
Thank you, Alfie Allen.
Theon turns and steadies himself. This is it. The Night King steps forward, challenging him. The music picks up again as Theon levels his spear in front of him and yells with everything left in his sore, battered body.
In slow motion we see him charge. I like to imagine him thinking FOR WINTERFELL or FOR THE STARKS! But all he has left is his duty to protect Bran.
Closer and closer he gets to the King of the Wights and as his spear get inside of stabbing range, the Night King snaps the end off and drives it back through Theon’s torso.
Theon Greyjoy falls to a knee, the dragonglass blade exiting out his back.
The Night King watches him kneel then fall, and looks up now at his ultimate prize, naked and unprotected in front of him. The Three Eyed Raven.
It’s now or never for Jon.
Brahn is gonna die.
Someone has to get in there.
He turns the corner. Viserion still blocks his way. The dragon lets out a roar of flame and Jon had to duck behind a barrier just to survive it.
HE’S NOT GOING TO MAKE IT.
Now the Night King steps past Theon. He’s on his side, spear protruding through and through. Blood trickles from his mouth. Theon tries to follow the Night King, still trying to find the will to protect Bran.
But he has no will left.
Theon Greyjoy dies there, in the Godswood, proud and noble. All his failures redeemed, all his mistakes forgiven. He spent an entire life feeling confused and alone. But he dies with the thanks of all, every Stark and every Northman. Every man woman and child from The Wall to Dorne owes him an eternal debt of gratitude for holding back the tide. Millions upon millions of viewers who watched him change his story before our very eyes. No man endured more horror in the last ten years than Theon Greyjoy. No man had his body and identity stripped away more. No man was broken so completely, in every conceivable way. And so no man deserves peace more.
Sleep, Theon Greyjoy.
Sleep now, son of Winterfell.
You were a good man.
We cut to Ser Jorah Mormont, broken and maimed, fighting from his knees. Daenerys tries to help him up but he doesn’t have the strength.
A wight roars in and breaks off a blade in his chest. Daenerys stabs the wight but there’s another after it and from his knees, impaled over and over, Ser Jorah finds the strength to swing Heartsbane again, killing the wight.
Saving his queen.
“I’m hurt.” He says.
My heart almost explodes hearing that. My god.
We watch him summon energy that no man should have. Energy that simply does not exist in the world, and stand.
Ser Jorah Mormont. Disgraced son of Bear Island, Son of Jeor, wills himself back to his feet. He will not rest. He will not let his queen die.
He can barely stand. Daenerys reaches out a hand to steady him.
He shouldn’t be able to stand. He should be dead. There’s a knife in his chest.
But he refuses. He won’t let himself die yet. His work is not done.
The music soars.
The Night King is almost to Brahn.
Jon digs deep for one more try. This might be it for him. This might be it for everyone.
He rises out of cover to face the dragon. He is a Stark. A vessel of rage and frustration and righteous anger.
The Night King stands looking down at The Three Eyed Raven.
Brahn looks up at him.
Brahn is not frightened.
The Night King tilts his head for a second. Hmm. That’s odd.
But this is the end.
Jon cannot get to Brahn in time. They have played us. They set everything up like Jon would be the savior.
And he’s not going to be.
This time, circumstance is against him.
He stands, facing the undead dragon Viserion, and SCREAMS.
The dragon opens his mouth to expel one last lance of blue fire…
The Night King reaches back for the sword on his back…
Ramin Djawadi’s music is coming to a crescendo…
By his captains, a wisp of white hair moves, ever so slightly, as something passes, fast as the wind and just as unseen.
ARYA STARK lunges at the Night King from behind.
HE TURNS AND GRABS HER. ONE HAND ON HER THROAT AND THE OTHER ON HER KNIFE HAND.
THE MUSIC STOPS.
ARYA FLIPS THE KNIFE TO HER OFF HAND AND DRIVES IT INTO THE NIGHT KING, WINNING THE GREAT WAR FOR THE LIVING.
THE NIGHT KING SHATTERS.
All across Winterfell, White Walkers explode and the undead drop.
Viserion’s light goes out.
It is over.
The war is won.
Arya Stark has saved the world.
In a wave that emanates out from the Godswood, every abomination returns to the dark. This time for good.
When the wights drop around Daenerys, then and only then does Ser Jorah fall to his knees.
He has done it.
He has saved his queen. And how poetic, how strange that he did it with the Tarly family sword.
All of his misdeeds at her hand are repaid. All of the spying he did for the Iron Throne. He has repaid her forgiveness with a level of bravery that will live on in song for a thousand years.
He takes his last breath while his Khaleesi lives on, holding him and crying. It is the death he would have chosen.
Ser Jorah Mormont, redeemed son of Bear Island. Proud Night of the Seven Kingdoms and true Lord Commander of the Queensguard, go meet your gods.
You die with honor.
Daenerys weeps as the one man who truly loves her above all else, passes from this world. And behind her, Drogon lays down, wrapping himself around his inconsolable mother and the noble fallen knight.
Lady C is doesn’t make a sound next to me. She loves Jorah. And now he’s gone.
We see a bunch of reaction shots from around the fight. The living all silent. They can’t believe it’s over. They can’t believe they made it.
So much death.
A sea of bodies.
But one death yet remains.
Out of the castle comes a bloodied Sandor Clegane. In tow behind him is Melisandre. She is unmarred and beautiful in that manufactured skinsuit she wears.
But now she sees that her work on this world has ended.
Like Beric, her Lord needs her no more.
With resolve and relief, she walks out of this filthy bastion of death and into an open, snow covered field.
She lets her red cloak fall to the ground.
Ser Davos, still alive, follows her out. Hand on his blade, ready to fulfill his promise if she does not.
She removes the magical necklace that has kept her looking young for so many years, and drops it to the ground. The red jewel, powered, we imagine, by her very life force, flickers out. We see, in the middle distance, her hair turn white, her back crook and her posture fail.
She stumbles a few more feet before she meets her end. Lying on the open moor.
Before the very dawn.
And with that, with the music playing, we fade to black.
At some point we should talk about the importance of the Red Woman. We should talk about the majestic performance from Carice van Houten. Was she ever bad? Did she ever break character? How did she manage to be so awful and so compelling at the same time? When have we seen a mystic of her equal? Morpheus? What a performance. My god.
Arya was the right choice to end the Night King. Her study, her training — years of grueling training — are what made the difference.
I feel like I say it every week, but who doesn’t love Arya Stark?
Theon Greyjoy, my god. By Grabthar’s Hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you have been avenged.
Lyanna. Edd. Jorah. Melisandre. Some people complain about the lack of top tier body count, but in the bright light of day it still feels like a lot to me. Maybe not as many as expected, but the loss is grave. Perhaps the goal was to not do what everyone thought an make this battle a bloodbath of main character deaths. Maybe that’s how they thought they were playing against the tropes they set up?
When I finished the episode on Sunday night, I was not thrilled. The Dothraki suicide put a terrible taste in my mouth, and I never really recovered.
I loved the fact that Arya took down the Night King, but I couldn’t understand her angle of attack. How’d she get so high? How’d she get through? Can Faceless Men turn invisible?
People love to hate Daenerys, but if you think about it, she’s #2 in overall body count for Team Living. No one gives her any credit.
And we never got any sense of what Not Bran said to Tyrion. Maybe we’ll learn more later? I’m not sure. I was also a little bummed that in the crypts, against unarmed zombies, that Tyrion and Sansa didn’t do a little damage with their dragonglass. They had weapons that kill creepers. Use them! It’s not like Tyrion has never fought. It would have been such cool bonding for them.
With regard to the unfortunate sameness of the battle with the dead? It was a problem to many of us. No Brienne fight looked any different from any other Brienne fight in this episode, yet she fought the whole time. Ditto for everyone else.
And the way it was shot, with so many ‘fake’ death scenes? That trained us to expect them not to die.
My sense with this episode is that if you watched it Sunday night and it knocked your socks off, and you didn’t re-watch it? You were probably thrilled.
But if you didn’t enjoy it, rewatched it and/or started thinking about all the things wrong with it? It was not difficult at all to find problems.
Lyanna’s end, while satisfying considering how much most of us love her, was a little bit…forced? Charge with an axe, kill with a dagger? I don’t know. I wanted her to have a good death, and so that’s what they gave her.
There’s a valid criticism in there that the reason the death toll felt unsatisfying was because the characters who died had full arcs. Lyanna had a ‘good death’. Jorah had a ‘good death’. Theon had one, too. Melisandre couldn’t wait to die and leave this shithole of a world. The only blip was Edd, but a case could be made that a good arc for him involved him having blue eyes. There were no deaths that came out of left field, or happened when there was still more for that character to do. Sam, especially, felt like some artificial plot armor kept him alive, even when he could have, and probably should have died several times over.
And with the wide angle view of the whole undead storyline, I felt jerked around. I still do, frankly. Why have White Walkers at all? If the Night King was just out to get Bran, why not just get him when he was north of the Wall? His mark was on him then. So all of the crop circle shit was…nothing? It felt cheap. That all of those fantasy elements would just be summarily disregarded. That feels like the banal side of television, and I hoped it would never overlap with this show. I’m not sure we ever saw the real value of dragonglass proportional to the effort it took to get it. And yes, in a few scenes it was clear, like when wights ran into dragonglass on the chevaux de frise, but I don’t know that I saw it work the way I expected it to.
And ultimately, was Sansa right? It’s going to take me some time to think about this. I love Sans. But when Jon bent the knee to get all these allies, I assumed they were what would ultimately save the North. But in retrospect, when little Arry rode her toboggan into W-Fell, isn’t that all they needed? This was never a pitched battle they could win. Even though they kind of did before the Night King rezzed up round two. This was a job for an assassin alone.
So could it be argued that Sansa might have come up with a better plan? Send every house in the North…south, maybe, and use Brahn as bait? Or was the whole battle and all the scrums and carnage and despair the perfect tapestry in which to hide a Faceless Man? I don’t know.
I suppose we’ll never really know.
Still, despite my initial frustrating viewing, the more I watched, the more I appreciated. Until I come to find myself actually impressed by the episode. My complaints will always be there, but you can’t argue with the scope of the execution. It was a behemoth. And I hate the reductive way we often simplify a titanic effort into a phrase like “that sucked.” We just watched like a year in the life of the crew and cast and team behind Game of Thrones. It wasn’t perfect, but we can certainly be nuanced enough to appreciate the things that worked even as we chronicle the places where we had hoped for more.
With the existential threat wiped away, the team now gets to take all fourteen soldiers they have left, and every traitorous weasel from House Glover, and turn their attention south, where Cersei and the Golden Company awaits.
It feels…less than.
But it is a Game of Thrones and not a Game of Wights as everyone and their mum will tell you. I get it. Though the Night King posed a greater threat, he was not the big bad in terms of character development. Cersei Lannister is.
We are halfway through the final season of Game of Thrones, friends.
Only three episodes remain.
Thank you all so much for reading.
See you next week, and until then, I wish you good fortune in the wars to come.
Header Image Source: Images courtesy of HBO