NICK: Alright Keith, it happened. It’s been eight years and eleven days from the show’s premiere—and over two decades since the first pages were published—when we first got wind of a cold enemy in the bitter North with bad intentions. Throughout the ensuing episodes, glimpses and teases of the Night King and his southward marching army left us in mystery shrouded wonder. What is he? What does he want? But seriously, what is he? After slow and painstaking revelatory drops, the past became clear but gave way to more questions.
Then, in the longest filmed battle in television or movie history, we saw his end. Not by dragon fire. Not by Longclaw. Not by Theon’s admirable but measly pole vaulter attempt. But by the bravest and deadliest person with the same blade that nearly ended her brother’s life under the same tree in which he gave her, plunged into the same spot the Children of the Forest drove dragonglass into the First Man. Too poetic? Perhaps. But Arya being the one to end the Night King’s reign felt solidifying.
Like many, I, a fool, would’ve bet the house that Jon’s path led him to hand-to-hand combat with the Night King, and it almost happened. Jon has made eye contact with the Night King more than anyone, and he’s never let us forget it. But while he was cornered by Viserion and unable to make his way to the Weirwood tree, Arya’s destiny took over.
There’s a lot to dissect in this eight-two minute episode, but let’s start with the ending first. Do you feel vindicated in how the Army of the Dead was relinquished, given how much time was spent on them throughout the series, or were your expectations ill met?
KEITH: My response to Arya’s killing the Night King was, much like my response to the episode as a whole, mixed. On the one hand, I love the upending of expectations and rather enjoyed the layered significance of Arya and Bran and the Godswood (A + B + G = NKD [Night Kind Dead]?). On the other, I find it irritating that the Night King and the army of the dead ended up being little more than a seriously creepy boogeyman. In any other show it would make perfect sense for Cersei to be the true Big Bad, but to kill the Night King off after decades of building him as the true threat seems like somewhat poor writing to me. I’m also miffed that this robs Game of Thrones of a lot of its power as an allegory for fighting climate change.
Far more interesting for me here, though, was the rest of Arya’s arc. The sequence where she has to stealth through the library and avoid wights was tense and one of the true highlights of the episode for me. And that nod to Syrio when Melisandre asks, “What do we say to the god of death” was just so, so good.
What are some of your high points from the episode?
NICK: I too was hoping for more from the Night King. The connection between him and Bran never felt fleshed out and the mysticism behind their relationship was concluded with three episodes to go. Here’s hoping Bran does some vision questing and we get a little more, but it won’t be surprising if Benioff and Weiss have completely moved on.
High points, in no particular order:
- Every scene with Arya. From saving the Hound as he’s retreating to putting her bow staff training to use. Then the library scene as another pretense for her uncanny ability to be very very sneaky as she attacked the Night King. She’s been a fan favorite for nearly the entire show and cemented her legacy as such during the battle.
- The initial, literal wave of wights that descended on the Unsullied. From darkness came not just some dead bodies running, but a massive swell attempting to overwhelm Grey Worm and his crew.
- Tyrion and Sansa in the crypt. I really enjoy the respect these two have found for each other, and it was nice to get this classic Tyrion joke:
Tyrion: “maybe we should’ve stayed married”
Sansa: “You were the best of them”
Tyrion: “What a terrifying thought!”
- And later, as Sansa’s relatives return for an impromptu reunion, the moment the two share right before making a run for it was the most touching moment in a violent episode.
- Theon and Jorah’s deaths. Both died protecting someone they’ve wronged. Both went out redeeming their honor.
Speaking of redemption, let’s talk about Melisandre. The Red Priestess returned, providing magic and a quick pep talk to Arya before her purpose was served. We’ve watched Mel birth a shadow assassin and horrifyingly burn a young girl. She had intent to kill Gendry, then bailed on Stannis after whispering in his ear for years about a promised victory that never happened. When confronted with failure, she hightails it out to do some soul searching while Stannis’s army falls victim to the Boltons. Her ability to read the Lord of Light’s messages wavered, and it wasn’t until she brought Jon back from the dead that she regained confidence and found a new promised prince to follow. In the battle, she proved extremely useful in her final hours, and closed the book on another attempt at redemption.
A majority of viewers (myself included) were surprised at the amount of A and 1A characters are still around. However, you felt the character deaths would be limited, and you were correct (wait, something just occurred to me. ARE YOU THE THREE-EYED RAVEN? IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW).
Are you pleased with the redemptive arcs of Theon, Jorah, and Mel and their exit from the show?
KEITH: Among those three, Jorah and Theon were two that I had predicted wouldn’t make it—it just made too much sense for Theon to go out defending Bran; and although I was somewhat surprised that’s how Jorah died (I had figured it would have been during the main fighting, which, for some reason, would probably have held more impact for me), I thought it was handled very well.
Of the three, I was least expecting Melisandre, although I feel like that’s mostly because I wasn’t really expecting her to show up at all. I loved the fact that we finally got to see her in full-on fire mage mode, and where she buffs the Dothraki before the battle starts is one of my favorite shots from the show—perhaps because it was one of the few things that were clearly lit, perhaps because it was just so damn cool. We’ll never know.
Another aspect of Mel’s death that really surprised me was the fact that she just kind of fades away into dust, closing out the episode. The fading to dust thing makes a bit of sense. She is, after all, ancient and has been kept alive by the Lord of Light for the express purpose of aiding in the defense against the Night King, so her disappearing once her purpose was accomplished made narrative sense. What didn’t make sense to me was why they chose to end the episode with that shot. Wasn’t there something, anything, else they can or should have closed the episode on? Not Jon? Not Dany? Not Arya or Sansa or Tyrion? But Mel? In the sense of giving her a redemptive moment, I get it, and it could conceivably be some sort of symbolism in that the threat of the White Walkers has now faded to dust just as she has. But I think closing on her robbed what I thought was a rather middling episode of a final shot that could have really held a lot more weight.
That said, I was pleased with the redemptive arcs of these three characters, especially Theon. I wouldn’t necessarily place his arc in the realm of The Hound’s in terms of how my view of the guy has improved, but I couldn’t help but feel for the guy, and seeing him get that one moment of grace at the end was nice.
So, with the Great War over, we’re moving on to the Last War. What are your expectations for episode four?
NICK: The show is at its strongest when politics and back-alley dealings reign supreme. As much as I wish the show would have explored the fantasy and mysticism behind the magic, it ultimately hasn’t been a top priority for Benioff and Weiss. That being said, I am all for seeing a group who just lived through a legitimate nightmare suddenly start showing cracks in their relationships. It’s already started with Dany and Jon. Sansa is now one of the smartest players left in the game, and while she isn’t going for the Throne, she wants the North secured. I don’t think for a second that Arya’s done killing, but whose eyes does she close next?
With Miguel Sapochnik back to direct episode five, it’s likely that this week’s episode allows the folks in the North to catch their breath, if only for a second. News won’t take long to reach Cersei and her 20,000-plus well-rested army, so I expect we’ll be spending ample time in King’s Landing and hopefully learn more about Harry Strickland and less about Euron’s need for sexual affirmation.
What about you, good Ser? Aside from better lighting, what are your hopeful expectations for the next episode?
KEITH: I’ll agree with you there—for as much as I’ve enjoyed the fantastical elements of the show, it really has always been all about the Iron Throne. It kind of makes me wonder why we were all so invested in the Night King’s story arc to begin with.
It only makes sense that we return to King’s Landing after not seeing it for nearly two full episodes. I’m very much looking forward to seeing more of the Golden Company and seeing Cersei’s plans take shape, although I doubt that we’re going to truly understand what she’s plotting until it comes to fruition. Even more so, I think I’m looking forward to seeing how the folks up at Winterfell handle the fallout of “The Long Night”: what is the relationship between Danaerys and the North going to be like now? What is her relationship with Jon going to be now that he’s revealed his true name and heritage? How do they plan on combating the threat to the South? How is the best boy Ghost? These are all very important questions, and ones that I’m very much looking forward to having answered.