Clearly they were not kidding with that title. Clocking in at 84 minutes, the long awaited, highly anticipated, and immensely dark (both literally and figuratively, making it a bit tough to see anything for those who streamed a lower-quality version) episode certainly delivered on a lot of the promises for the season, and almost made it worth the 2 set-up episodes… Almost.
Jumping right in, the White Walkers have arrived at Winterfell, and Jon and Daenerys and their army are ready… seemingly, though their strategy is lacking a little bit of logic in my opinion (and to a lot on the internet as well). Aside from the brilliant idea of sending those unable to fight to the “safety” of the crypts when they are being attacked by a zombie army whose leader raises the dead (more on that later), their first strategic mistake is sending out the Dothraki horde to meet the White Walkers horde on in the field. Luckily, they are given extra strength by the late arrival of Melissandre, as the Red Witch ignites all of their swords to help them combat the wights, which does little more than give us a light show in the distance as the swords are extinguished and the Dothraki are taken down. Why not save your horsemen (aka the cavalry) for reinforcements and helping out later? Why go to the enemy like that when you are already out-numbered and the force you are sending out are your only fighters seemingly NOT armed with dragon-glass, one of the only substances capable of killing them? It just seemed such a waste.
So, not going to go into detail on every character, just the highlights for the rest. Melissandre manages to light the wooden pyres around Winterfell when Dani and her dragons are lost in the massive storm conjured by the Night King, which gives the defenders a brief moment of respite after they retreat from the slaughtering horde, but soon enough the walkers push through the flames, smothering sections with their own bodies to make bridges for the rest to pass through and storm the castle.
Jaime and Brienne spend the episode (along with Pod) fighting back hordes of wights side by side, saving each other from being overwhelmed, and looking tired and desperate the entire time. Same goes for Tormund and Gendry, who do not get any stand-out moments, and for the most part Sam, who does have one big scene where he falls down and kind of freaks out right as everyone is retreating, and Edd picks him up and tells him to keep going, and Sam watches as Edd is killed, the first (somewhat) major character to die in the battle, but certainly not the last.
Among the best of the moments of the episodes was the death of Lady Mormont, who alone faced down a giant wight, and though she was picked up and being crushed in his grip, spends her final moments thrusting her dagger into its eye, destroying the wight and ending that particular threat for everyone.
Davos spends most of the episode running through the fight, somewhat holding his own, and he gets to be among the first to see Arya’s skill in battle, watching her take down a group of Walkers with her Gendry-made weapon before she is overwhelmed and hurled onto the roof, and is chased inside the castle.
The Hound and Beric Dondarrion end up teaming up after everyone retreats into the castle, with Beric encouraging the Hound to pull it together (the man still hates fire, which is everyone’s primary weapon against the Walkers), and the Hound loses all hope and will to fight until they see Arya chased into the Castle.He decides to go with Beric to help the girl.
Meanwhile, inside, Arya has a somewhat slow, but I suppose important moment in the library, where she sneaks around what looks like at least a dozen wights, trying to escape without fighting as she is currently unarmed, and we remember all the skills she learned about moving without making a sound, though eventually they catch up to her just as she escapes. She is quickly met by Beric and the Hound, and they have a running retreat which sadly includes Beric losing his life to ensure Arya lives. They end up trapped with Melissandre in the room where just a few hours before Tyrion had his wine party, and all hope seems lost, until the Red Witch reminds Arya that she once prophesized that Arya would kill many beings, including ones with BLUE eyes. She then recites a line to Arya that Syrio once told her, asking Arya “What do we say to the god of Death?” to which Arya replies, “Not today,” just as she sprints away, a new task in mind.
Jon and Dani engage in the aerial combat for the episode, first swooping in to shoot dragon fire at the wight armies to help slow them down, but then losing each other amidst the aforementioned dark winter storm conjured by the Night King. After colliding mid-air to prove how much confusion the storm was causing, they eventually engage the Night King and Viserion in dragon combat, which is somewhat confusing because of the storm, the editing, and the fast pace, but the whole thing ends with Dani and Jon managing the knock the Night King from Viserion (and ripping half the wight dragon’s face off) though Jon himself also falls off Rhaegal (who appears injured) and Dani is left to confront the Night King with Drogon, instantly spraying the King with Dragon fire in what she hoped would be a triumphant moment.
Sadly for her, the fire does nothing and the King throws a spear at her, causing her and Drogon to take flight to safety and leaving Jon to chase after the Night King who senses Jon coming and uses that moment the resurrect all the dead on the battle (both sides!), including those dead in the crypt. And while Jon is now in the middle of a new wight army fighting for his life and watching the Night King head into Winterfell to look for Bran, those in the crypt are suddenly attacked by the wights of the long-dead Starks.
Sansa is sent to the crypt earlier in the episode by Arya, though her sister does give her a dagger and the advice Jon gave her in the first season, (i.e. “Stab with the pointy end”) and I really thought we might see Sansa use that dagger when the dead in the crypts rose up and started attacking everyone. Gilly dies in the carnage (I think, I missed it but my co-viewers swear it happened), and Sansa and Tyrion seem prepared to fight after a night of reminiscing about the past, and a moment where they are both hiding together and seem ready to die to defend the others down there. Though we see them ready, little actually comes on this besides them hiding with everyone else.
Bran meanwhile is in the Godswood being defended by Theon and his men, oblivious to everything because he had warged into some crows to watch the Night King earlier, though we have no idea what he has been up to since then. Theon and his crew fight heroically to defend Bran, but in the end Theon is the only one left standing to defend his adopted brother, who he had apologized earlier to for everything that happened. As the Night King approaches, flanked by his commanders, Bran tells Theon he is a good man, and Theon finds the courage for one last (somewhat useless) act, charging the Night King with his spear, which the villain easily stops and uses the spear to stab and kill Theon.
Outside, Dani returns and saves Jon from the wight army, spraying the surrounding area with dragon fire so Jon can head inside after the Night King, but then Drogon is attacked by dozens and dozens of Wights climbing onto him and stabbing him repeatedly, causing him to go into fight or flight mode. He accidentally tosses Dani off as he takes to the skies.
Left alone amidst the wight army, things do not look good for Dani but at just the right moment, Jorah Mormont arrives to save her, as he always seemed to do in the series, and he fights back the wights with Dani grabbing a sword and fighting at his side, the two of them alone against the massive army. Jon meanwhile passes many friends and allies in desperate situations against the overwhelming number of Wights inside Winterfell on his way to stop the King and save Bran (particularly hard to watch was him not stopping to helping Samwell), but Jon has a mission. Unfortunately for him, Viserion has landed right between Jon and the Godswood and is spraying blue fire all over the courtyard, meaning Jon has to fight through the dragon to get to Bran and time is almost out.
With Theon dead, the Night King approaches Bran, just as Ramin Djawadi begins a beautiful score for the final moments of the episode, highlighting the desperation and hopelessness of all the remaining characters, struggling to stay alive against the White Walker army. We see Jorah take multiple mortal injuries, but he continues to get up, determined to protect his Queen, and we realize he is going to die. Sam is still fighting but is buried in Wights, as are Jamie, Brienne and Pod, and Jon cannot find a way past Viserion, and is about to attack the dragon directly.
The Night King reaches Bran, and they have a moment staring at each other, almost in recognition. The King reaches for his sword, but in the moment a wisp of hair moves on one of his commanders, and we see Arya flying through the air, Valeryian steel dagger at the ready, the perfect assassin. But still, the Night King is a supernatural creature and he has sensed the danger and spins to face the threat, grabbing Arya’s throat mid air, and then the hand holding the dagger, stopping her attack. She drops the dagger, and there is an awful moment where it looks like all hope is lost. Then her free hand grabs the weapon and stabs the Night King, instantly causing him to shatter like ice and the rest of the White Walker army collapse, no longer alive and under his control.
In the closing moment of the episode, Jorah collapses to the ground and is cradled by Dani, who weeps like we have not seen before as her greatest defender dies right before her. At least he died in a manner he would have wanted, defending Dani, which should give comfort to all those saddened by his loss. As for Melissandre, her task done, she leaves the front gates of Winterfell, with Davos watching, and walks out the doors into the dawn, dropping the necklace that has maintained her youth as she goes. She instantly ages once more, collapsing to the ground as she ages all of her years, and her body disintegrates into dust.
GAME OF THEORIES:
- Where did Bran warg to during the fight? We know he was in those crows watching the Night King at first, but I cannot believe that was all he did that entire time… any chance he went into Ghost and was attacking the White Walkers in his own way? Or was setting something else up for the future?
- Will we see Cersei take advantage of the drastically weakened Daenerys next episode? (she did lose most of her her army) Or will the North rally around the Dragon Queen who sacrificed so much to stop the White Walkers?
- Do you agree with all the folks online saying the “green Eyes” Arya still has to kill belong to Cersei? Or are you in the camp that her eyes are really more grey?
- Is there any chance that White Walkers could be created again by pushing Dragon Glass into the heart of another human? Perhaps to conjure an army to take out the Golden Company…
- Does this mean Arya was Azor Ahai? Or did the series drop all of that? Strange to see Melissandre die without talking about it one more time.
The episode as a whole was not quite what I expected, and as I said in last week’s review, still leaned a little heavily into visuals and techniques done years ago by ‘The Two Towers,’ but all in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and one of the best of the series. My friends and I were on the edge of our seats watching all 84 minutes, which FLEW by, and everyone seems to have really enjoyed the end especially, that amazing shot of Arya appearing over the Night King’s shoulder, and the follow up of her dropping the dagger into her other hand and stabbing him. The only sad part is the fear that this was the high-point for this season, and they may not have much more left after defeating the biggest threat of the series (though the producers are saying Cersei has always been the biggest threat of the show). Definitely looking forward to see where they go from here!