In “The Long Night,” Game of Thrones finally gives us the long-awaited battle between the living and the dead. This conflict has been coming since the very first scene in the series, when a White Walker attacked a group of Night’s Watch rangers scouting beyond the Wall. After the battle of Hardhome it was evident that if the Night King and his ever-growing army made it beyond the wall, all of Westeros could be lost. Game of Thrones brings closure to this conflict through a punishing battle with an unexpected conclusion.
“The Long Night” was directed by Miguel Sapochnik (The Gift, Hardhome, Battle of the Bastards, Winds of Winter), who has proven his skill in directing scenes of medieval battle, fiery conflict, and complicated special and visual effects. He knows how to tell a complicated story without relying on dialogue to convey meaning and emotion. Written by Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, “The Long Night” reflects their commitment to the philosophy of showing, rather than telling, a story. The collaboration of Sapochnik, Benioff, and Weiss, as well as the impressive work of the cast and crew, creates a surprisingly affecting action episode of Game of Thrones.
In Hardhome we were overwhelmed by the ferocity of the wights and the power of the Night King. In the Battle of the Bastards we were fascinated by the complex medieval combat strategies. During the attack on Winterfell, we follow significant characters as they engage in battle strategy, react to the dead, and help each other survive. Outside of the battle scenes, “The Long Night” focuses primarily on the Starks, as they each do their part to protect their home and each other.
Outside the castle
Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), with Ghost by his side, leads the Dothraki cavalry on the field. We have been missing Ghost, but we’d rather see him safe in the crypt. Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) is overseeing the battle from the castle and he isn’t happy when the Red Woman Melisandre (Carice van Houten) arrives. She tells him there’s no need to execute her because she’ll be dead by morning. Providing a moment of hope, Melisandre gives flame to the swords of the Winterfell forces on horseback before they ride off to face the dead. The battle quickly extinguishes their lights and their lives. As Ser Jorah and the few other horsemen left alive retreat, it quickly becomes obvious that the army of the dead may be undefeatable.
After seeing the Dothraki decimated, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is no longer willing to wait for the Night King as they had planned.
Jon: “The Night King is coming.”
Deanerys: “The dead are already here.”
When she flies off on Drogon to help, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) must follow on Rhaegal.
Greyworm (Jacob Anderson) leads the Unsullied. Grim determination plays alongside fear on his face as he readies for the approaching dead. Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) stands behind Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), who leads the left flank. Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman), Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju), Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), Gendry (Joe Dempsie), Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), and Eddison Tollett (Ben Crompton) also stand outside the castle. They are quickly besieged by the dead. Brienne is almost killed, but Jaime fights off her attackers.
Daenerys and Jon arrive on dragons, flaming the dead. As the Dragon Queen’s musical theme swells, it feels like maybe everything’s going to be all right. But the night is dark and full of terrors, and the White Walkers create a storm that blinds Daenerys and Jon to what’s happening on the ground.
As the dead approach Winterfell, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) tells her sister Sansa (Sophie Turner) to go the crypt, giving her a knife. When Sansa protests she doesn’t know how to use it, Anya gives her sister the same advice she received from Jon when he presented her with Needle: “Stick ‘em with the pointy end.” It’s a nice family moment, in a brutal Game of Thrones sort of way.
On the ground, the battle rages. Edd saves Sam from a blade to the face. Unfortunately, Sam is unable to return the favor, and Eddison Tollett is killed. His watch is ended. Sam falls back to his craven ways and runs.
The battle outside the castle is not going well for the living. They eventually call for a retreat to the castle. Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) and her men open the gate. During the retreat, Arya shoots a flaming arrow into a wight about to attack Sandor Clegane. Guess she does care, after all. Greyworm calls for the Unsullied to protect the retreat. The armies from Essos get the worst of it in this battle. Greyworm appears somewhat traumatized, when he must command his remaining men to stand against with no possible retreat. Melisandre provides another assist for Winterfell, courtesy of the Lord of Light, by magically lighting the trenches before the dead can attack the castle. Daenerys is finally able to see the castle and Drogon unleashes fire on the dead once more.
In the crypt, Sansa consoles Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who wishes to be on the battlefield. As they joke about marriage and loyalty, Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) notices that Sansa isn’t giving her Queen the respect she deserves. Even after she watched Daenerys swoop in to support the troops, Sansa doesn’t seem to be coming around to the Dragon Queen.
Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) and the Ironborn guard Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) in the godswood. They mostly remain silent, but after the trenches are lit Theon tries to address the brother he once betrayed.
Theon: “Bran, I just want you to know. I wish … the things I did—”
Bran: “Everything you did brought you where you are now. Where you belong. Home.”
Bran joins the mind of a raven to fly over Winterfell in search of the Night King. The Night King reaches his hand out, alerted to Bran’s presence.
Inside the Castle
The dead have laid themselves over the burning trench to make a bridge for their brethren. They may be dead, but apparently they’re not stupid. The men try to defend the walls, but the wights eventually make their way into the castle. Arya fights with her new weapon and she’s brilliant. Unfortunately she knocks her head a couple of times and it seems to shake her.
Sandor Clegane is having a little breakdown. Who can blame him? Between his greatest fear—fire—and most people’s greatest fear—being attacked by the dead—it’s a lot. Beric calls to Clegane. Clegane points out that their attackers are death and they can’t beat death. Beric points to Arya fighting for her life in the courtyard and says, “Tell her that.”
In the courtyard the gate has been crashed by a giant. He sweeps aside Lyanna Mormont and her men, but she gets herself up and charges him. The giant is able to grab Lyanna and begins crushing her. As he draws her closer, Lyanna manages to stab him through the eye. The giant and Lyanna crash to the ground, both dead. Lyanna Mormont may be small in stature but she’s giant in spirit.
Above the castle
Jon and Daenerys are searching for the Night King. They are still impaired by the storm. When they head up to clear sky above the storm, the Night King comes after them. Daenerys and Drogon barely escape. The Night King heads back towards the ground. After taking a moment to recover and share consoling looks, they follow.
The halls of Winterfell
Arya is shaken after several concussive blows to the head. She makes her way through the halls of her home, finding her way to the library. It’s a scene straight out of a horror movie as Arya tries to not be seen by the wandering dead. It’s hard to reconcile this Arya with the Faceless Man assassin we’ve come to know, but we’re meant to take her injury into account. She’s physically hurt and her confidence is shaken. Once she makes it to the door on the other side, her terror continues as more wights arrive.
Arya is being attacked by a wight when she is found by Beric Dondarrion and Sandor Clegane, who rescue her from the dead. They steal into a room and Clegane barricades the door as Arya watches Beric die. She’s surprised to hear the voice of the Red Woman, who is waiting in the room.
Melisandre: “The lord brought him back for a purpose. Now that purpose has been served.”
Arya: “I know you.”
Melisandre: “And I know you.”
Arya: “You said we’d meet again.”
Melisandre: “And here we are at the end of the world.”
Arya: “You said I’d shut many eyes forever. You were right about that too.”
Melisandre: “Brown eyes green eyes … and blue eyes.”
They prepare for the dead to come through the door.
Melisandre: “What do we say to the god of death?”
Arya: “Not today.”
They look at each other. Arya walks into another part of the room and disappears. Arya is getting a lot of help from those who were once on her kill list.
Battle of the dragon riders
The Night King has arrived at Winterfell and Jon is ready for him this time. Rhaegal savagely attacks the dragon formerly known as Viserion. The Night King falls to the ground and Rhaegal rips off half of Viserion’s jaw. Rhaegal and Jon come crashing down to the ground. Daenerys arrives on Drogon and finds the Night King. She calls out the deadly command, “Dracarys,” and Drogon rains down fire on him. After the flames subside, the Night King remains standing, unharmed. When he grabs his icy spear, she must fly away to protect Drogon. So much for the dragon fire plan.
Jon runs after the Night King, carrying Longclaw. We’re anticipating a fight to the death, but the Night King takes the advantage by raising the dead, putting a mass of dead soldiers between himself and Jon.
This act raises all the dead in and around Winterfell, including those in the crypts. Maybe the raising the dead thing should have been considered when they were making a plan for the children and elderly to hide in the crypts. Varys, Missandei, Tyrion, and Sansa are in there too. Tyrion wanted to be part of the battle against the dead—turns out he got his wish.
Daenerys saves Jon from the dead soldiers and wants him to go with her, but Jon rushes off to protect Bran. Let’s hope she won’t hold a grudge about that. Daenerys is slow to act and the dead overwhelm Drogon. She falls to the ground and he manages to take off in flight. Jorah, who heard Drogon earlier and came to find Daenerys, stands with his Queen as the dead attack. Daenerys is no wilting flower and grabs a sword to fight, thought it’s Jorah who takes all the cuts.
Jon is trying to get to the godswood where he knows the Night King will find Bran. He manages to get past the dead people, but no matter how he tries, he can’t get past the dead dragon.
The Night King cometh
Theon has bravely fought off dozens of wights. When they realize the Night King has arrived in the godswood, Bran says, “Theon, you’re a good man. Thank you.” Theon makes a final attempt to protect Bran, running at the Night King with a spear, but he’s easily outmaneuvered by the ancient creature. With Jon and Daenerys both trapped, it seems that all hope is lost.
Before the Night King can take out his sword, Arya is suddenly coming at him. He swirls around and catches her throat and wrist. Her Valyrian steel knife, which was used in the attempted assassination of Bran, drops from one hand to the other and she stabs him in the chest. He shatters, then the White Walkers shatter, and the dead collapse throughout Winterfell.
His death doesn’t come soon enough for Jorah Mormont, who collapses when the dead fall and he knows his Queen is safe. As Daenerys cries over Jorah, Drogon encircles them in an attempt to comfort her. The final death was the one predicted at the start. As Davos Seaworth watches, the Red Woman walks toward the rising sun and removes the necklace that conceals her true age. Her red hair turning gray, she collapses and dies.
Who died in the Long Night
The entire episode was a battle, but there were important character moments throughout. The fight scenes shifted from outside Winterfell, to inside the castle, to the air, to the crypt, and eventually to the godswood, which kept it engaging. There were several moments between characters that felt particularly meaningful—Jaime and Brienne keeping each other safe, Sansa making peace with Tyrion, Jorah fighting alongside Daenerys, and Bran reassuring Theon.
By the time Theon died, he had completely redeemed himself, particularly with Bran and Sansa, both of whom he had wronged so greatly. Even as he lay dying, you can see on his face the desire to get back up and protect Bran. Jorah’s death had the greatest emotional punch. Daenerys stood in for the audience as she expressed her grief for the most loyal of men. Eddison Tollett, Lyanna Mormont, Beric Dondarrion, Jorah Moront, and Theon Greyjoy all had good, heroic deaths, which few characters get on Game of Thrones. Lyanna killing a giant as she died couldn’t have been any more fitting. Even Melisandre, responsible for one of the worst things we’ve seen in the series, managed to be redeemed to some degree before she died.
The Long Night Review
The moments with Arya slightly dazed making her way through the castle were hard to reconcile with her skills and training, and it went on too long. Of course, if she had been a superhero throughout the fighting, her killing the Night King would’ve been less of a shock. It never even occurred to us that Arya would come to save her brother, which is in part due to this diversion and in part because we were being dumb.
Using Arya instead of a traditionally heroic character like Jon or Daenerys worked well because Arya is so underestimated. She wasn’t even in the war council meeting. Her assassin training pretty much saved the world, so we feel a little bad about how impatient we were with that storyline. The final scene was slowed for effect, pulling the viewer in for the most significant moment in the series so far. The musical score playing over the background noise added substance to the scene as we watched everything unfold.
If the Game of Thrones series ended with “The Long Night” we’d be very happy with the product. It was an outstanding ending to the part of the series we were most invested in —the North and the White Walkers. It’s hard to imagine how Game of Thrones will top such a well-done ending to this particular story arc, particularly now that Daenerys has lost her armies and the North is depleted. We can’t wait to see, though.