NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Game of Thrones”, including multiple major character deaths, are present in this review
The defining battle of the Game of Thrones saga arrives at Winterfell’s doorstep with the Night King and his army of Wights.”The Long Night” is more or less one extended battle scene and little else, doubling as the longest episode in the series to boot, as the citizens at Winterfell make their decisive stand against the forces of the dead. It’s a long-awaited and well-earned extended war for the very survival of Westeros, even if also one that can’t escape the potent aftertaste of disappointment, namely because this really does represent the final battle against the White Walkers. After this, they’re gone. Westeros is rid of them, like they never existed in the first place.
This is very frustrating, because, “The Long Night” is a very impressively realized Game of Thrones episode in terms of the sheer scale of its conflict, despite its visuals being very persistently dark, to the point where you can barely make out a lot of the fighting in several instances. This is no doubt an artistic choice, but it’s still a very annoying one. This style would logically follow with the savage, mindless rush of Wights that the Night King would command however, in fairness. Death itself has come to Winterfell, and death has no rules, no morals and no mercy. It would stand to reason that the characters’ elegant fighting technique and skill would no longer serve them here. These aren’t other soldiers for once. These are monsters in every respect, and the episode does convey this incredibly well, with the most savage, brutal and fast-paced war sequence that Game of Thrones has delivered to date!
It’s just too bad that it was all done and over with in the frame of one episode. We do get tons of action, and the fighting itself is spectacular to watch (when you can see it), but from a story standpoint, “The Long Night” can’t help but leave the viewer unsatisfied, even considering all of the expected casualties that the Wights manage to pile up. The deaths of Beric and Edd are entirely expected, since they’re Lord of Light-powered bruisers whose entire purpose was to fight the Night King’s forces to the death. The same is true of the death of Melisandre, who takes off her enchanted choker and dies while walking into the frigid wastes right at the end of the episode, having fulfilled her purpose.
There were some character deaths that did manage to elicit more emotion though. Lyanna got one hell of a death scene by getting her spine crushed by the giant Wight, only to destroy it with a stab to the eye right before she expires. Likewise, Jorah dying in defense of Daenerys felt like a fitting and noble end for his character, having fully completed his duty to his queen. Surprisingly, it was Theon’s death that felt the most emotional however, as he charges the Night King directly while attempting to protect Bran, buying enough time for the winning blow, and I’ll get to that in a bit. Theon’s sacrifice effectively redeemed his former transgressions against the Stark’s, and solidified him as a hero who ultimately embraced his destiny with courage, despite some of his seemingly cowardly acts. There were plenty of character sacrifices in this episode, and it felt like there was no time to truly mourn them, as the scourge of the dead relentlessly continued to pound upon Winterfell.
But by the end, it’s all over. Once Theon allows himself to be killed, the Night King approaches Bran, and is about to take him out, before Arya suddenly leaps from the shadows, being caught in mid-air! The Night King doesn’t account for Arya dropping her blade and stabbing him from below however, which sees him explode into shattered ice, before every Wight suddenly collapses apart, including the undead Viserion, who very nearly killed Jon right beforehand! The death of the Night King is pretty awesome on its own merits, and Arya being the one to deliver the killing blow made for a pretty decent surprise turnout from Melisandre’s prophecy. The problem though is that the Night King’s motivations are never truly fleshed out, and nor is his war. It all ended too abruptly, and with no real sense of character progression or payoff. It’s like the show was just trying to get the battle against the White Walkers over with, so it could go back to the coming battle with Cersei that it’s truly focused on, and that’s incredibly disappointing.
There’s really nothing else to say either. It felt like this entire episode just came and went, providing a ton of spectacular, savage action, but no real narrative weight to really make it all worth the effort of sitting through. This ultimately leads to, “The Long Night” feeling like a frustratingly disposable Game of Thrones episode, and that’s the absolute last thing that a Game of Thrones episode should ever feel like! In the end, the motivation of the Night King just never truly went anywhere interesting, and that made the White Walkers feel like a mere diversion that may as well have never been a problem for Westeros. That’s really a shame, because it feels like there’s an incredible amount of potential with that White Walker threat that’s just left on the table in the end. Perhaps George R.R. Martin’s still-in-development A Song of Ice and Fire novels will better flesh out and develop the Night King and his army, but in the case of HBO’s television adaptation, the scourge of the Night King just ultimately feels like a whole lot of nothing, and that’s bound to be the biggest sore point in a surprisingly shaky final season for Game of Thrones so far.
Game of Thrones finally delivers the big battle against the Night King and his undead army in, "The Long Night", a violently exciting episode that ultimately ends up being a huge narrative disappointment.
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THE GOOD STUFF
Relentless, brutal and savage action throughout
Some heartbreaking character casualties
Arya's awesome destruction of the Night King
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
Many shots are way too dark to make out
Some of the character sacrifices lack narrative weight
The ease with which the Night King is taken out makes the entire White Walker arc pointless and shallow