Tuesday 30 April 2019

TV Review: Game of Thrones S8E3 - 'The Long Night'

Game of Thrones has teased and teased the final showdown between the living and the dead for years – so did the eagerly-awaited Battle of Winterfell live up to expectations? Here's my thoughts on season eight, episode three, 'The Long Night'.

Ever since we first went beyond the wall in season one, episode one, scene one, Game of Thrones has been warning us about what lies in the lands of always winter. From The Night King and his posse of White Walkers to all manner of icy beasts and ghastly ghouls.

Lyanna Mormont went out like a champ...
Last night's massive throwdown between the assembled forces of Westeros and the hungry, hungry hordes commanded by the Night King didn't quite match up Old Nan's bedside folk tales – but it did bring the war to a head on a scale never before seen on television.

Miguel Sapochnik, who previously directed both 'Hardhome' and 'The Battle of the Bastards', was once again on deck to helm this epic clash. And while it just falls short of these aforementioned episodes – we'll get to why in just a sec – let's run through what I thought worked a treat.

First off, the opening. Without utter a single word, Sapochnik conveys the sense of dread and hopelessness facing our heroes. Staring out into the void of the night, with no idea what horrors will reveal themselves, the opening few minutes really set the tone.

...while the Night King went out like a chump, according to some critics.
The crashing waves of wights was a sight to behold, carrying themselves up and over the ramparts without a care in the world; The swirling snowstorm bearing down on Winterfell; the Night King swooping from above atop Dany's fallen dragon. The survival horror element continues deeper into this chapter – Arya, trapped in one of Winterfell's libraries, is made to creep through the bookshelves once the wights are inside the walls.

I loved all of this and more. But the reception from both audiences and critics to 'The Long Night' has been decidedly chilly compared with previous battles, with everything from the cinematography to the overall plot copping some flak. I'll pay some of that - the action was choppy and less coherent than in previous scuffles. I found the geography of where everyone was supposed to be a little muddled. Everything is happening at once and it's all a bit...messy. Who is dead, who is still fighting? Who knows. The logic behind Jon and Dany's tactics was dubious to say the least – not sure they will winning many medals for losing the whole Dothraki horde in mere seconds.

That said, I wasn't too troubled by how dark everything looked. After all, this is the midst of winter and there are no floodlights to light up the night. I especially liked the moment where the army of the dead emerges from the darkness - it really sold me on the inescapable doom and gloom.

When all was said and done, the death toll (aside from extras of course) was surprisingly low. Only Ed, Beric, Lyanna, Jorah, Melisandre and Theon bit the dust. The big surprise for some was that the Night King got smoked. Or Snoked, as I've seen it described by some. Swift as a deer, quiet as a shadow, quick as a snake and calm as still water - Arya raced past the horde at the crucial moment to stick the Night King with the pointy end.

Arya Stark from outta nowhere with the deciding play in the dying seconds of the game.

I've got mixed feelings on this one, but overall I think it works. What were they going to do, have a second battle with the Night King later in the season? We've still got a lot of ground to cover, and now the final few episodes can delve into the fallout from the Great War (or whatever they decide to call it). This isn't Lord of the Rings; no-one is going to crown Dany queen of the Seven Kingdoms like they did with Aragorn once Sauron was defeated.

I feel like this quote, from an interview George RR Martin gave with Rolling Stone in 2014, says a lot about the overall vision for the end of both the show and the books.
"The war that Tolkien wrote about was a war for the fate of civilization and the future of humanity, and that's become the template. I'm not sure that it's a good template, though. The Tolkien model led generations of fantasy writers to produce these endless series of dark lords and their evil minions who are all very ugly and wear black clothes. But the vast majority of wars throughout history are not like that."
Essentially, this wasn't going to end with the Night King dead and Jon/Dany gazing out over a peaceful, grateful universe. The ultimate evil isn't the Night King or Sauron - it's humanity's unquenchable lust for power. This lust has consumed Westeros for generations, and now that The Long Night is over, it has the potential to consume those who are left.
The final three episodes are going to be anything but straightforward - there is too much friction between Dany, Jon, Sansa and the rest for everything to end happy and rosy. We're back in the game of thrones now - it's all about who gets to fill the power vacuum at the top. Will Dany break the wheel, as she has so often vowed to do? Or will she give in to her urge to rule over all the Seven Kingdoms?

If the war against the Night King was World War II, what comes next will be (ironically) Westeros' version of the Cold War. Allies fracturing to fight and snipe at one another, just as they always have in the past. Can or will our characters buck the trend? Maybe that's the ultimate aim of the show. We've got three weeks in which to find out.

What did you make of 'The Long Night'? Are you left feeling satisfied or disappointed by the Night King's demise? Let me know in the comments below.

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