Game Of Thrones came back for its eight and final season two Sundays ago and here’s Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman reviewing the third episode. Warning: a lot of major spoilers ahead…
The Long Night
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Stars: Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead Wright
Warning: as if it needs to be said – many spoilers.
In case you’re wondering, or forgot, it’s “Dolorous Edd” Tollett. The sarky yet durably loyal, rather vulpine Knight’s Watchman from the beginning of season two is the first of the cast’s casualties in the correctly named chapter, The Long Night. I admit I’d forgotten his name, but it’s somewhat moot amidst a veritable torrent of gut-wrenching viscera that takes up (and quite rightly!) 95% of this landmark episode.
And it’s a landmark simply because it cost more than the previous Battle Royale, the Battle of the Bastards from season six. And, despite the complaints about the episode being (literally) too dark, it outdoes that extravaganza. As the battle is joined, the White Walkers are at first nothing more than a jet morass in the distance, unseen as they gobble up the Dothraki cavalry with ease, leaving behind an expectedly eerie, foreboding silence. The Walkers are a gothic force of nature who wouldn’t quite carry the menace they exude in broad daylight.
The script, such as it is, isn’t brimming with fizzing one liners as most of the cast spend the entire bloodbath in various states of terror, with even characters who rarely experience panic looking lost as the zombie hordes engulf them like locusts – Brienne, Jaime, Theon, Sandor and even Arya look soundly beaten as the viewer is led to believe, despite knowing the outcome, that survival seems almost impossible. Each character has his or her predictable turn – Samwell does his quivering leaf routine, needing rescue on two occasions, The Hound petulantly freezes in the face of fire, Jon Snow runs unthinkingly and headlong into what looks like absolute certain death. And in the eye of the storm sits Bran, the bait for the Night King, stock still and calm.
As the battle progresses, it’s reasonably clear that the idea was for the proceedings to be as naturalistic as possible – this is how battles would be experienced – messy, unfocused, desperate, confusing, draining. The narrative does lose its way in places – you wonder how Arya gets to the right place at the end from where she was, or how Sansa and Tyrion (who had very little to do, as they sit this one out) evade detection from the stream of animated corpses. And yes, the Night King certainly could’ve brought in his zombiefied dragon a lot earlier, judging by how he utterly devastates Winterfell when he’s let off the leash.
My colleague Joel pointed out how at various points the showdown resembled the Walking Dead, which isn’t entirely unfair, except that this is a turbocharged, widescreen rejoinder to the humdrum efforts from that show. As the battle reaches its climax, it literally rains zombies and entrails on the protagonists – this is palpably hellish, and unforgiving, as the mandatory cast deaths are reaped – apart from Dolorous Edd, there’s Jorah Mormont, valiant to the end, Lyanna Mormont (quite a turn from the young actress), Ser Beric Dondarrion, making a comeback purely to be despatched, and above all Theon Greyjoy, who, having finally made it back to Winterfell, completes his redemptive arc just in time to get skewered by the Night King. Big shame that, as he was a much underrated character, superbly acted by Alfie Allen.
And finally there is Melisandre, predicting her own end but not before doing her incantation routine that doesn’t really help (although it was good to see her anyway) except in foretelling Arya’s cathartic killing of the less than voluble Night King (and of course the rest of his cohorts). It’s a satisfying denouement (and yes, a long time in coming) as I was sure that Bran held the trump card.
There isn’t much time for reflection as the sombre coda to the episode kicks in, the steaming aftermath overlaid by silence and a somnolent score, and then the credits. You’re left wondering about a few things, like how one could tell which dragon was which during the somewhat foggy aerial sequences. But for all its faults it’s a tour de force of an episode – not a classic, but certainly very good. Only this series could’ve pulled off something this complex and demanding of its cast, crew and producers. Next episode it’s the Cersei and Euron show, as old-school tactics, strategies, alliances and enmities re-enter the fray in the quest for the Iron Throne – remarkably the best is yet to come.
Game Of Thrones is on every Sunday on HBO in the US and on Mondays on Sky Atlantic in the UK.