EPISODE 8.3: The Night King and his army have arrived at Winterfell and the great battle begins.
THE LOWDOWN (SPOILERS!): A battle long in the making, since the very first episode of the series, has finally arrived. With so many key characters gathered in Winterfell for the epic fight, everyone has been speculating about who will live and who will die in the mid-season episode and the showrunners most certainly delivered on many of those predictions, while also bringing a few surprises.
For what’s left of the Night’s Watch, the Stark’s and their allies, Daenerys and her Dothraki/Unsullied and everyone else that’s managed to hoof it over to Winterfell, the war has begun. Before anyone attacks, however, we get a visit from The Red Woman herself, Melisandre, who approaches Jorah and the Dothraki out of the darkness, telling them to lift their swords. Using that ol’ Lord of Light magic, she ignites their swords into flames, which goes off like a domino effect of matches across the formation. Not a bad start in what is sure to be a one hell of a clash between fire and ice. That said, she’s not exactly the most welcome presence, as Ser Davos threatened to kill her if she ever came back. She reassures him, however, that there’s no need to execute as she’ll be “dead before the dawn.” She gives a long stare to Arya, who sits atop the castle. What could that mean, eh? She’s always had a bit of a “stare” effect on Arya and it all comes clear in this episode.
The Dothraki make the first charge, which is a pretty awesome sight and one I can’t remember ever seeing before; an army of men on horseback with glowing swords, led by Ser Jorah Mormont, like fireflies charging into the darkness (And our beloved Ghost is in the mix finally, as well, although he isn’t seen again, so I’m a little concerned) But, that first wave of light is quickly extinguished as the rest of Winterfell’s protectors stare on with bated breath. Jon and Daenerys overwatch with the dragons, Jon still standing by his plan with Bran (The Bran Plan?) to take out the Night King. Daenerys isn’t having it, however, as they watch the Dothraki quickly decimated. That’s one hell of a wake up call. “The dead are already here” she tells Jon, jumping on Drogon and sailing into the fight.
And they most certainly are. The wave rushes in like an ocean storm and for the first time we see the Unsullied getting taken out with relative ease and savagery. Greyworm has never looked so stressed and he fights tirelessly, as expected, to hold off the horde. The onslaught felt familiar, however, as we’ve seen most of these characters take on waves of the dead many times over by now and it felt a bit…boring? I know, that’s kind of crazy to say, but perhaps all the moments of the White Walkers leading up to this point actually felt more significant. It also feels like the battle may be over quickly, but a rain of fire changes it up quickly as Daenerys and Jon sweep through, decimating the Army of the Dead from above, which makes for some rather cinematic-looking shots that would make Godzilla proud.
Back at the castle, Arya hands Sansa a dragonglass blade and tells her to get to the crypt. “I don’t know how to use it,” Sansa tells her. “Stick ’em with the pointy end.” Ah, you gotta love those payoff moments, eh? She’s come so far since the days of Syrio. A lot of that lately, although some Starks have had better luck than others in the pop culture zeitgeist this week.
The first casualty of the Battle of Winterfell is Edd, longest running Night Watch Brother from Samwell and Jon’s induction, who saves a fallen Samwell before taking a blade to the back. his watch has ended and I guess it was a pretty easy one to predict, sadly. Being a member of the Night’s Watch isn’t exactly the safest profession, as this series has clearly demonstrated. It’s the last of the new recruits from that iteration, leaving Jon and Sam as the last of them. What becomes of the Night Watch in the final moments of this series will certainly be interesting. Will they close up shop completely or rebuild and reinforce? Do they even need to? We’ll see.
Daenerys and Jon, meanwhile, have an even tougher time as the dragons are hit with a massive storm, blinding their attack on the swarming white walker army. It’s a muddled affair and one that isn’t helped by the night-time setting and flurry of flurries that make much of the proceedings a bit difficult to decipher. It’s no easy feat to pull off when you’re staging a nighttime attack on film, but man, could they have just lit a few more torches or something? You have to wonder why or how they (our heroes) wouldn’t anticipate a massive storm as a weapon from the dead, seeing as similar storms have always preceeded their arrival. But, I digress…
Everyone is fighting with all their might, but it seems to be of little use. Melisandre approaches to light the trench fire when Daenerys fails to do so as she’s lost in the storm. This of course helps light the way for Daenerys and Jon, as well and helps turn the tide a bit. But, the battle is hardly won and the absolute fear and exhaustion in everyone’s face shows that this is far more than they are prepared for. All our key warriors who were sitting around fires and chatting about dying last episode are now, as they say, in the shit, which is displayed by their battered, bloody faces and barbaric yawps in the throes of battle. Will their prophecies of impending death come true? Certainly for some.
Sansa, meanwhile, is in the crypt with Tyrion and Varys and it feels like a nod to her time with Cersei during the Battle of the Blackwater. Surrounding by women, children and non-combatants, they all engage in banter about being helpless to fight. Sansa, however, points out that it’s the most heroic thing they can do. Once again, Tyrion is stymied by her wisdom. “Maybe we should’ve stayed married.” Sansa smiles. “It wouldn’t work between us.” Tyrion asks why and she implies that the “dragon queen” and her “divided loyalties” would make that a problem. Missandei speaks up, saying that without the dragon queen they’d all already be dead. She has a point and one that can’t be disputed. Yet. It feels like the real war that lies ahead is the one between Daenerys and everyone else. Also, my point still stands in that I think both Tyrion and Sansa have something going on there. Could they be the perfect match? Maybe. Maybe not.
Theon and Bran are staged at the Weirwood Tree and Theon takes a moment to confide in Bran, lamenting all he’d done against the Starks. Bran, ever the wise, stops him. “Everything you did brought you to where you are now. Where you belong. Home.” It’s a moment of resolution for Theon, at least with one of the people he ended up hurting most. This is his path to redemption, which hopefully justifies the loss of his manhood.
Bran then says, “I’m going to go now” and his eyes go white and the ravens around Winterfell take flight. Bran is getting his warg on and you can’t help but feel some dread when he does, especially when they fly straight into the damned Night King on top of his dragon, the resurrected Viserion, headed toward Winterfell. But, what was the true purpose of him doing that? I mean, if he (presumably) already knows that the Night King is coming, what does it matter to “send out the ravens” if it’s a foregone conclusion that he’s coming?
It isn’t long before the dead get wise and start sacrificing themselves onto the trench fire, creating a way in for the rest, which in turn floods Winterfell with the dead, who scale the walls with ease. At this point it’s a wash of fast and furious hack-and-slash moments with our key characters, all of them looking positively manic in their desperation to fight for their lives. There’s no confidence here, only survival and it’s captured in a murky, amber-hued palette of death and destruction. While some may champion this creative choice, I found it a bit too muddled to get too invested and it played more like a videogame level than a narrative work with actual stakes.
Jamie, Brienne, Jorah, Tormund, Gendry, Beric, Arya, Greyworm etc. all work together to lead the troops inside the castle to fend off the attack, but it’s a shitshow no matter what. There simply aren’t any rules for an Army of the Dead. Even the dragonglass takes its sweet time to kill them off and it’s a vicious, brutal scrap. Jamie and Brienne share a nice moment fighting side-by-side, Samwell once again proves he’s more than a would-be Maester and Arya shows her intent with the weapon Gendry made for her (and, maybe a little inspired by their earlier passionate tryst). It’s The Hound who finds himself in a pickle, once again surrounded by fire, just like in the Battle of the Blackwater, which rendered him useless there and changed the course of his journey forever. He’s frozen yet again and it takes an endangred Arya to snap him out of it.
Meanwhile, Mag The Resurrected Giant (I’m assuming it’s him, as they have many other giants) smashes in and knocks Lyanna Mormont away and I thought she was an instant goner. But nope. Lyanna has proven to have way more fight within her than most of her adult counterparts since her introduction and she’s no slouch here either. She’s picked up and slowly crushed by the giant, but she reaches out and stabs the bastard in the eye with dragonglass, killing him just before she dies. Hot damn, you know they’re going to build statues in her name! What a way to go. One of the most courageous moments ever in Game of Thrones’ history and one of the most surprising to boot.
Back at the castle, Arya plays cat and mouse in a room against a bunch of sneaking white walkers and it was nice to see her skills at play, but even she is overwhelmed by the power of the dead. Thankfully for her, The Hound snaps out of his pyrophobia long enough to join Beric in saving her ass, but it’s the last stand for Beric, as he’s overwhelmed and stabbed to death. I’ll miss his gravely voice of wisdom, but it’s no surprise he was killed, especially after losing his resurrection priest last season. “The Lord brought him back for a purpose. Now that purpose has been served,” a voice says from the dark. It’s Melisandre. Hmm, yes, but what is Arya’s purpose, I wonder? As the dead begin to push harder against the barricade, she turns to Arya. “What do we say to the God of Death?” Arya doesn’t miss a beat. “Not today.” Again with those Syrio lessons!
Meanwhile, Jon and Daenerys take flight higher in the sky, fending off surprise attacks from the Night King, literally fighting fire with fire. It’s an aerial display of battle not yet seen on the show and it had me on the edge of my seat. The loss of another dragon could spell certain doom for their race and I was on pins and needles waiting for that hammer to fall. The dragons tear at each other, trying to burn, bite or otherwise dismount their riders and it’s not long before The Night King is knocked loose and sent sailing through the sky. Jon’s dragon is wounded, however, and they crash to the ground as Daenerys moves in for the assist. She then comes face to face with the dismounted Night King. “Dracarys” she commands as Drogon lights him up. But, I think we all knew it would be to no avail. No way it was ever going to be THAT easy. The Night King is revealed to be unharmed and he gives a little snarl. I was kind of waiting for him to brush his sleeve, Tupac Skywalker style, but alas he simply walks toward the Weirwood with confidence, ready to take out the Three-Eyed Raven. The confidence of The Night King has always been impressive, but it’s also the thing that is sure to be his downfall.
As Jon is in pursuit, The Night King quickly stops and turns, doing a very familiar maneuver we last saw in “Hardhome”, rising all the dead around him to defend against Jon’s attack. And, honestly, why in Westeros would he want to fight Jon one-on-one? He’s already seen what kind of fighter Jon is, so it makes sense. He has nothing to prove in that sense. Jon picks up the pace, running to attack, but he’s not fast enough. he’s surrounded by the newly risen dead. However, that has also included all the recently killed INSIDE the castle, including our recently departed Edd and Lyanna. This is the “Oh, fuck” moment of the show and one I dreaded before it ever came to fruition. Talk about irony.
The Night King simpy turns and keeps on walking toward Bran after his arisen back-up get to work, his problem now easily solved with Jon. Or is it? Theon does his best Hawkeye and unleashes the arrows at the approaching dead and Jon is saved by Daenerys and Drogon at the last minute. He runs for Bran as Daenerys and Drogon are overwhelmed with the dead, who cover the dragon like an army of ants. Drogon then takes flight (for a moment, I thought he was done for) as Dany falls to the ground, leaving her vulerable. Just as she’s about to be overtaken, a sword in the dark saves her. It’s Jorah! Of course it’s Jorah! Man, this guy…he has more than earned his way into Daenerys’ heart, even if it feels like a mostly resolved issue between the two since his betrayal early on in the series.
Back in the crypts, in a truly twisted turn of events, the LONG dead are resurrected as well and it’s the first time I can think of where the “weak” were forced to fight in that type of situation. And, for Sansa, this means fighting much of her family all buried in the crypts. Wow. Just when you think it can’t get any worse for her! She hides with Tyrion as the dead tear everyone apart and they share a silent, but strong moment, each of them pulling out a dragonglass blade, the look in their eyes spelling out their intent. Tyrion kisses her hand as they both prepare to meet their fate, whatever it will be. I’m still predicting some kind of union between the two and perhaps this is the moment that forges it.
Meanwhile, The Night King and his generals make their way toward Bran with only Theon standing between them. “Theon. You’re a good man. Thank you,” Bran says. It’s the redemption that Theon has sought, maybe even before he turned bad. He always sought acceptance, from the very beginning, and he ultimately gets it in the sacrifice of his life. He makes his final charge, spear in hand and you know it’s his last. The Night King dispatches him with ease, but it’s still a victory for Theon. He has earned his honor back. What is dead may never die.
Jorah and Daenerys are having no better luck as one after another they try to fend off the dead, but Jorah continues to take blow after blow and with ever stab through his armor you know he’s done for. However, like Theon, this is exactly where he wants and needs to be; dying for his honor and, additionally, for what he loves most; his Queen. This felt written in the stars from early on, although I can’t help but feel like it should’ve happened earlier, when the stakes were higher and his trust still in question.
The Night King approaches Bran slowly, Bran looking on in his usual distant, emotionless stare. The Night King reaches for his sword, ready to slay the Three-Eyed Raven once and for all. But, a yell from the dark kills his moment and it’s motherfucking Arya, sailing through the air! The Night King catches her by the neck and I thought for sure her neck was about to be snapped, but I should’ve known that a badass assassin like her would have another move. She drops her blade from one hand to the other (take that Rey) and delivers the killing blow to The Night King’s body, exploding his icy torso and that of his army to follow. It’s Arya for the win as the Army of the Dead crumbles into a heap, the survivors staring in awe and relief. None of them should be alive and yet…here they are.
Daenerys cradles Jorah in his final moments, crying for the one man who served her better than anyone (and, likely, better than anyone ever will again), just as Drogon flies down and returns to her side (Man, his timing sucks). Meanwhile, as Viserion is decimating the castle, Jon jumps and hides as best he can, before relenting and facing the dead dragon as it suddenly falls before him. It is finally at peace and Jon is luckily not a barbecue. He’s also not the hero we expected him to be in this episode, as his showdown with The Night King was swindled by Arya. That said, Jon has had more badass moments than anyone in this show and may have a few more in the last three episodes before his final fate is revealed. In the end, it felt fitting that a Stark was the one to save The North and I’m sure that will come into play in the next few episodes.
Inside the castle, The Hound and Melissandre exit, still alive. Melissandre walks out onto the field of battle, taking off her necklace (which we know keeps her alive and young, seemingly as the source of her power). She staggers, slowly deteriorating (think INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE) and dissolves into the air. Her fire is extinguished. Soooo, anyone gonna pick that necklace up, orrrr….?
So, it’s no Battle of the Bastards, but a very different kind of battle in this episode, which claimed the lives of many familiar and long-standing faces. It was a battle of brutality and survival. It was the culmination of everything set up with the white walkers since the very first episode and a threat that’s continued through every season since, even as other threats loomed on the horizon. It’s the end of that storyline, presumably, as I don’t know what more they could do with it, but I can’t help but feel a little bit…that’s it? The stakes were high, no doubt, but we barreled toward this finality without much fanfare and I felt more would be revealed in the overall part the white walkers played in the actual “game of thrones” but it feels like they ultimately just turned out to be some creepy supernatural force that was defeated rather easily by killing off their leader. It’s become a tired tradition and has been overused in multiple franchises, including the MCU, Star Wars, etc. Take out one and the army falls. It always feels so convenient; a trope I hope dies with this episode.
You could say “Well, what were you expecting?” but all I can respond with is…more? It’s not all meaningless, of course, but I can’t help but feel the threat existed simply to cull the herd of main characters a bit (and, let’s be honest, not by any measure of the unexpected). No one that died in tonight’s episode was all that unexpected. Director Miguel Sapochnik, who helmed both “Hardhome” and “Battle of the Bastards” had a near impossible feat; to make this as memorable as those, while making it stand as it’s own significant chapter. Is it? For me, no, but everyone will have their own opinion on these final benchmark episodes. It’s a technical marvel, without question, and he deserves all the kudos for pulling it off, but the emotional impact wasn’t quite as powerful as it needed to be. Ultimately, the Army of the Dead/The White Walkers/The Night King went out almost too easily and without much fanfare, leading me to believe they were never anything more than a distraction. Maybe that was always the point? This is an episode I’ll toil with and think over for the next few days as the events feel wrapped up with a bow, despite the losses we acquired.
Hopefully, the real finale, which will rest on who rules Westeros, will bring things home in a more satisfying way, even with the deaths of multiple beloved characters. We’re “in the Endgame now” as they say and it’s closer than ever with three more episodes to take us to that final moment.
Death Count: Dothraki Army – The Unsullied (or most of them, anyway) – Lyanna Mormont – Jorah Mormont – Viserion (again) – The Night King – The White Walkers – Edd – Melisandre – Theon Greyjoy – Beric Dondarrion
SEX/NUDITY: None. We’re at war here people!
VIOLENCE: Uh, yeah, pretty much ever frame.
BEST SCENE: We’re at a point now where it’s hard to narrow to just one, so it becomes a question of notables: Arya killing The Night King, Jorah dying while defending Daenerys, Lyanna Mormont killing the giant and Theon meeting his fate (and redeeming his honor) all make for viable candidates here. I’ll leave it up to you.
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THIS EPISODE? Let us know in the comments below!
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