Eammon Jacobs reviews the third episode of Game of Thrones season 8…
Valar morghulis, all men must die. And the third episode really did prove the iconic phrase as the threat of the White Walkers and the Night King overwhelm Winterfell. As it starts, Sam is basically the audience’s viewpoint; nervous and pacing before the inevitable slaughter. It’s understandable – this is the biggest battle episode we’ve yet to see. It’s hammered home who the obvious offerings are for the chopping block, lulling the audience into anticipating each character death for the rest of the 82 minute run-time.
One of the most impressive things that the opening shows us is the might of the Winterfell army, but it’s a stark reminder of what they’re all up against as well as the long road this far. But even in the face of certain death, the flaming Dothraki swords is a brilliant rallying moment – more than any inspiring speech could be. The visual of them hurtling across the battlefield is a genuine sight to behold. But that bold imagery is quickly dispelled and becomes haunting as all their fires are extinguished and the battlefield is plunged into darkness.
If there’s one thing this show can do it’s deliver a chilling atmosphere within a split second. Well, it is when we can see it, ‘The Long Night’ is another example of the show’s literal darkness, which can become incredibly frustrating at times. Although the scope of the episode is obviously commendable, because of the darkness, snow and the speed of the Night King’s army it’s sometimes difficult to comprehend what’s on screen. It’s not so bad towards the back half of the episode, but that’s to bring more gravitas to the dramatic ending, of course. There isn’t much room for conversation here, and the dialogue is quite singular. After all, the sheer size of the Wight army is enough to strike even the most talkative soldier speechless. And that’s before they overwhelm everyone in horrific hordes, similar to that of World War Z.
Since this threat has been building from the beginning of season one, there’s a real impending sense of doom that surrounds every main character – leaving the audience on edge in anticipation for a fatal stab wound or a bite to the neck. As the battle rages on and the dead spill into the castle, that doomed sensation only increases. Surely they can’t win? Although the rest of the battle is bold in scale and completely enthralling, the audience is immediately pulled out of the dramatic weight of it all when Bran starts talking in cryptic sentences as per usual. Poor Theon was just sincerely trying to apologise. Isaac Hempstead-Wright gives an eerie performance – but the character is undoubtedly unlikeable for now. Is it bad that we might have wanted the Night King to get him? Nevermind.
After the tension keeps increasing we finally get our first big death; Lyanna Mormont. The smallest warrior on the field died killing a giant… It’s heartbreaking but poetically perfect. Just when it couldn’t get worse, the Night King raises all the dead, including those in down below in the crypt. The doomed atmosphere only increases as the terror sets in on the remaining characters, it’s bleak. While the dead assault the vulnerable folk in the crypt, it’s so claustrophobic – especially as Ramin Djawadi’s piano score comes in over the top. Will there be a light at the end of the tunnel?
The best sequence in the episode is unequivocally Arya sneaking through all the Wights in the castle, it was a genuinely terrifying atmosphere that not only cranked up the tension but proved once again how bold the young Stark is. And as the episode reaches its peak with the Night King advancing on Bran – it seems as if it’s the last stand for most of the cast. Within the space of thirty seconds we’re reminded of the monumental journeys these characters have been on. Arya went from lusting after battle, to becoming a master assassin, Jon is riding dragons with ease and Jorah proves his love for Daenerys by sacrificing himself by her side.
The Battle of Winterfell is a visual treat for fans, mixing the epic battle genre with the terrifying zombie horror of the Wights – Miguel Sapochnik has truly outdone himself. It was disappointing that none of the main characters had to face off against a Wight-version of a former friend, as it could’ve been truly horrifying. But the real treat of the episode comes at the end with a satisfying dagger strike from Arya… As she shatters the Night King with a single blow that decimates his army. The only trouble is, now their own army has been cleaved in two – what will they use to fight Cersei and the Golden Company? More answers only reveal more questions… And we’re only halfway through.