The Battle of Winterfell was a Disappointment
As a casual “Game of Thrones” fan, season 8, episode 3, “The Long Night” was a disappointment. I didn’t read the books, I don’t analyze every episode for discrepancies and plot holes; I simply tune in on Sundays and enjoy the show for the entertainment value it offers. I love the show and have had almost zero complaints throughout the eight seasons. Despite this, I could not help but feel let down after last night’s episode. For a battle that has been hyped up since the pilot episode of the series, it simply did not deliver. I decided to examine the episode and the show with a critical eye to determine why I felt this way.
I discovered “Game of Thrones” late and like many, quickly became enamored with the show. In the downtime between seasons, I would search for other series similar to “Game of Thrones” in order to get my fix. I never had much luck and I attribute the main reason to the fact “Game of Thrones” goes by a different set of rules than other shows. Actions have consequences. No character is safe from that.
“Game of Thrones” teaches the viewer this early in season one with Ned Stark. Ned is the hero, the main character, there is no way he dies right? "Something will happen that saves him from execution". Maybe in any other show but not “Game of Thrones”. Ned Stark lived perhaps too honorably and his naivety ended up costing him his life.
Events like this happen often throughout the early seasons of the show. Scenes like the “Red Wedding" absolutely shock the viewer, unpredictable twists that can't be found anywhere else. This is what made me love the show. Death and betrayal of primary characters are a staple of “Game of Thrones”.
Compare that to where we are now, season 8, the final season. The battle of Winterfell has been looming since the first minute of “Game of Thrones”. Through the events of eight seasons, we are constantly reminded that there is a much larger threat lurking beyond the wall, one that makes the struggle for the iron throne pale in comparison. All to result in a lackluster climax during last night’s episode.
Why was it lackluster? It wasn’t the actual battle and the fighting scenes, I had no problems there (although it was a little dark). The set, the music, the visuals, were all top notch. The writing and storytelling are what bothered me.
For a battle that had a whole episode leading up to it dedicated solely to putting primary characters together in one place to bond before what may be an inevitable death; it still didn’t deliver on the feeling I’m accustomed to as a “Game of Thrones” fan.
Characters like Grey Worm, Brienne of Tarth, Jaime Lannister, and Tormund all served on the front lines and were seen many times overwhelmed by wights with seemingly no escape. Shortly after it would cut to a different scene where they would be inside the castle safe. This would happen throughout the episode. At one point, the Night King resurrects an army of undead that proceeds to surround and engulf Jon Snow. In previous seasons, Jon struggles to kill a single wight with the help of Jeor Mormont. Now, he is surrounded by hundreds if not thousands of them but fights his way out single-handedly. These scenes are perfect examples of plot armor and the writers choosing to please the fans and go the route of a typical show rather than kill off a beloved character that puts themselves in a position to die.
I don’t necessarily want all these characters to die, but as a show writer, don’t put them in a position where they should die if you aren’t going to actually kill them. It’s much easier to believe these characters survive the fight if they started the battle defending the inside of the castle than on the front lines for example. The show has abided by its own rules that no one is safe and actions have consequences for seven seasons and now in the biggest event the show has seen, they completely abandon their own principles. Yes, a few characters did die such as Theon Greyjoy, Jorah Mormont, and Lord Beric. However, none of these particularly affected me and were largely predictable. It seems as if the writers were afraid to kill off most of the characters viewers grew to love, despite many putting themselves in situations that in reality would lead to death. There are only three episodes left, I find it hard to believe that Grey Worm, Brienne, Tormund, and more are all crucial to the rest of the series and couldn’t die in the most important battle the show has seen. This is disappointing as it goes entirely against the ideas the show was founded on.
One very important character that did die last night was the Night King. As I mentioned above, This is someone who has been hyped up since the first episode. The white walkers were supposed to be the most terrifying, powerful force in the known world. For this, his fate is to get ambushed by Arya Stark who somehow sneaks through a large force of wights and white walkers to destroy the Night King and the entire army of the undead with a single dagger stab. The whole series cumulated to this scene and it ends with, in my opinion, a bland, uninspired, death for the main villain.
I don’t have an issue with Arya getting the kill. I understand the reasoning and influence behind it, but for her to just lunge at the Night King out of nowhere and end the battle in one moment seems like a disservice to the villain the Night King has been built up to be. The Night King never even swung his sword. There was no fight with a white walker in general. These menacing, beautifully designed creatures did not get even a moment to shine before they faced their demise.
Like I said before, I understand the hints toward Arya killing the Night King that happened in previous seasons and the prophecy of the prince/princess that was promised; still, it seems very odd to me that Jon Snow played almost zero roll in the killing of the Night King. Jon literally died for this cause and came back from the dead to see it through but was irrelevant for most of the battle. Arya did not even know the Night King existed until two episodes ago. It seems wrong that Jon wouldn’t play a small part in taking down the Night King, even if he wasn’t the one to kill him.
Finally, it would have been nice to learn a little more about the Night King before he was killed. Why and what do the symbols he creates mean? What is the relationship between him and the three-eyed raven? Who is he exactly? The show touches on this briefly, but doesn’t explain much more than “The Night King is evil and wants to destroy human history”. When Daenerys Targaryen instructs Drogon to burn the Night King, he smiles back as he is immune. This shows that he is a conscious, thinking being. It is extremely disappointing that they did not expand on this central character more. It’s sad to see the writers leaving out important information for no reason other than either time constraints or lack of ability.
While I have had small gripes throughout the history of “Game of Thrones”, primarily in recent seasons, this episode, in particular, stood out to me. This was a major episode in the show's history and it is hard to get over how the writers went about it. We can hope that the next episode addresses some of these questions and concerns more sensibly. While there are still three more episodes to tie things together, it appears that the show has taken a complete 180, diverting from what made it so logical, captivating, and enduring in the first place.