The hype leading up to “The Long Night” had several people who’d never watched a single episode tune in this week.
If you were one of these desperados, my heart bleeds for you. Unless you’ve religiously followed these characters from season 1, this episode would have been a series of grunts, blood spurts, screams and dragon fire against a murky as hell backdrop. To the rest of us, it was one of the greatest clashes in epic fantasy (the parts we could see, in any case).
With a running time of 82 minutes, this was the longest instalment in the series. By the end of the episode, you’re left with the peculiar feeling like you’ve ploughed through a whole season – so much happens! The death toll reached thousands, but very few key players perished. The episode switches between scenes on the battlefield, the godswood, the crypts and the sky where Dany and Jon fly upon their dragons.
We get a visit from Melisandre (The Red Woman) who boosts morale by dramatically setting the Dorthraki swords aflame. We expect much from them after this, but the fires are extinguished as soon as they charge into battle to face The Night King’s zombie army. When seasoned warriors like Ser Jorah fall back, you know this is no ordinary battle.
This week, several characters who’ve never shown an inkling of fear, are shaken to their core. Even Greyworm, leader of the Unsullied, starts hyperventilating at some point. The GoT zombies move fast and sound like angry insects. The battle scenes are action-packed and confusing – there are moments when you cannot see what’s happening on-screen. As frustrating as this was, I think it was intentional. The characters might be a whole fictional world away, but I was able to share some of their panic and truly feel their terror when I couldn’t see what was going on. Those murky scenes create quite an immersive experience.
The episode alternates between loud action sequences and silent scenes. While the battle rages around him, The Hound decides to have a meltdown because of all the fire, and Arya’s display of bravery is the only thing that can draw him from his trance. For the first time since becoming A Faceless Man, we see something that looks like terror on her face. After being saved by her friends, Melisandre delivers an inspirational speech that renews her strength. Jaime and Brienne fight side-by-side, while Samwell gets covered in wave upon wave of zombies. Lyanna Mormont teaches us that the young don’t always have to be locked away and protected. When she drives a knife through the zombie giant’s eye, it’s a true David and Goliath moment. Her child’s scream as she charges toward certain death, is haunting.
Dany’s dragons are undoubtedly the assets in this war, so it’s strange that they have about 2 minutes of fire-breathing screen-time before getting lost in dense smog. We witness a bloody family reunion between Viserion (ice dragon) and the others. Now fighting for the Night King, he spits blue flames and sends one of his brothers plummeting to the ground along with Jon. After we learn about the Night King’s immunity to dragon fire, Jon (very stupidly) tries to sneak up on him with a sword – this doesn’t end well. Jon spends the rest of the episode trying to fight his way through The Night King’s Army, and to avoid having his pretty little face flambéed by an ice dragon.
Many character arcs are completed this week. Theon redeems himself by protecting Bran and giving his life in an attempt to kill The Night King. Melisandre plays her part, then relinquishes her power, youth and life by discarding her enchanted necklace. Sandor sort of overcomes his fear of fire and proves he’s good by saving a girl who’d once left him for dead. And Ser Jorah, arguably the most stupidly loyal character on GOT, dies the only one he knows how to: by protecting Danaerys. It’s a tense scene, after Dany is shaken from her dragon and forced to fight on the ground. For the first time in history, we see her swing a sword to protect both herself and her best friend. Jorah was the traitor who’d fallen in love with Danaerys, almost died from Greyscale, only to return and fight for her one last time. Him, dying in her arms, is a more dramatic moment than Arya killing the Night King. For all Jorah’s unwavering loyalty, the least Dany could have done was kiss him goodbye, but I think the shock was too overwhelming.
For me, the Night King’s death came too soon and could have been avoided if he wasn’t so obsessed with theatrics. He’s standing in front of Bran, no obstacles in sight, but instead of killing The Three-Eyed Raven, he has a creepy staring match with him. Come to think of it, he would have made it to the godswood a lot sooner if he hadn’t wasted time gloating with Dany and Jon. The Night King is responsible for his own downfall; the battle could have lasted years (or at least another episode) if he’d crushed Arya’s throat immediately. But he pays dearly for his hesitation.
“The Long Night” wasn’t perfect, but we got exactly what we were promised: A war we will remember. The quieter moments sped up my heartrate and made me feel like I was right there with them, hiding in the crypts, trying to escape death for one more day. The characters we bid goodbye to this week, had a good run. While Ser Jorah will always have a place in my heart, I’m more concerned about the ones who remain. We’re halfway through the final season and there are far too many hearts still beating. Perhaps this was just one battle. Maybe the real massacre is coming.
*Ayesha Abrahams is a former high school English teacher and editor, who's currently completing a MA in Creative Writing. She's also an IOL's "Game of Thrones" panel contributor.