I’m sitting very comfortably tied for first place in my Thrones mortality pool, although I’m stymied regarding who- if anyone- dies next week, but I’ll get there. For now, we have some prophecies to deal with, things continuing to come full circle.
Broadly, I thought this was a fantastic episode. One of the reasons I loved Battle of the Bastards was its choreography and direction creating the sense of desperation, confusion, and chaos a battle of this scale would have. There were a lot of complaints about the darkness of the scenes, and perhaps that did make it confusing, but per the point of immersion in the battle I think that was the intent. When we shifted into the castle where Arya was fleeing the wights, the darkness suited the more horror movie slant Arya’s scenes took on.
My one callout of the dark tone not working would be the dragon dogfighting. It was nigh impossible to tell Drogon and Rhaegal apart in air, and unless Viseryon was breathing fire, he was indistinguishable too. Cheating and coloring the dragons a bit more might not have gone amiss, but it was still thrilling even if it felt like there was more of than there ultimately needed to be for how inconsequential the dragon dog fights ended up being except to show why Dany and Jon couldn’t continue their aerial support of the lines against the siege. Since we’re talking battle specifics, I’ll go into the episode based on key players/battle points.
The Front Line
I’m having a hard time seeing the Dothraki charge and subsequent annihilation as anything other than a plot device to handicap Dany further. Westeros is now completely white washed again, go figure. Shout out to Ghost who I definitely saw in that initial charge, but is somehow the sole survivor of it. The long wide shot of the flaming weapons slowly going out in the distant darkness was powerful and harrowing though. There was a point in the scene where I wondered what the point of Melisandre’s enchantment was except for that cool visual since it proved ineffective for the offensive assault.
I’m not going to nitpick battle tactics too much (why the hell did they stop using the trebuchets?) but once the battle began in earnest, I could feel the plot armor protecting our favorites. Ed Tollett seemed present on the front line just to die protecting Sam Tarly (point to me in the death pool), meanwhile I was on the edge of my seat when Greyworm was looking desperately for the trenches to be lit as man after man was cut down attempting to light it. It seemed the perfect moment of self-sacrifice for Greyworm, but he stood still watching the chaos while Melisandre went to the barricades to light the flames.
Besides that, there were multiple times I expected death to claim various characters in the frenzy but the plot armor still seems to be sturdy: Jaime, Sam, and Brienne were at a variety of points completely surrounded but seemed to be able to fend off the hordes surrounding them for the twenty or so minutes cameras weren’t on them while we visited the other areas of Winterfell…
Bran, and Theon’s Last Stand
The outcome felt obvious, but Theon’s last stand was a dramatic culmination of Theon facing down all he’s done wrong in the course of the series. I think it’s fair to say that his coming back at all was his knowing that all he could do to absolve himself of his crimes was to die for the Starks. There’s a lot of debate flying around about whether or not he is redeemed, and I think they end up being too mathematical in counting sins versus good acts on a scale.
Ultimately, I think it doesn’t matter what the net gain/loss in his ledger is, what matters is that he attempted it, that he died doing his best to be a better person rather than just giving up and killing himself as Yara challenged him two seasons ago when they were on their way to meet Daenarys for the first time. Fighting until he was exhausted, staring down certain death in the face and charging at the Night King nonetheless, maybe it doesn’t “make up” for all the evil he did, but he died a doing a brave and good thing. He died a good man in that moment and place.
As for Bran, there’s much to be said for how everything perfectly fell into place at the end for him to witness the end of the Night King. Giving his sister the weapon she used to defeat him (the same dagger that was used in his own attempted assassination years ago), that so many people who helped Arya find her way there over the course of the episode were themselves subjects to (Melisandre), or people resurrected by the Lord of Light (e.g. Beric). I’m curious what Bran was warging and seeing during the battle, I doubt he spent the entire time in the crows he possessed at first, and the next episode he may shed some light on what Cersei’s been doing while the North fought for humanity.
Arya and What We Say to Death
Arya’s horror movie scenes fleeing the wights through the halls of Winterfell was tremendous, and I didn’t notice the call back to her youth in King’s Landing until Melisandre found her. Beric sacrificing himself for her to reach the room with the Hound so Melisandre can remind her of Syrio’s words it felt like perfect providence. Really, this entire episode can be traced back in cause and effect through so much, and there’s no shortage of people catching small details that led to the moment of Arya killing the Night King:
- We saw her practice the dagger hand switch in her little sparring match against Brienne last season.
- It was said that no one could kill the Night King, and what did Arya learn to be from the assassins? A girl is no one.
This all raises the question of what the Azhor Azhai prophecy about a sword of flame quenched in blood meant- Arya may have lived an arc over multiple seasons all leading up to this moment (even her telling Sansa to stick them with the “pointy end” was a callback to her first episode appearance when Jon told her the same thing). Methinks that prophecy is still in play, but is going to come out in a later battle, maybe not against the Night King as we knew him, but against more undead still to be dealt with.
The big one though, is what do we say to death? Not today. So what about tomorrow then? I have the sneaking suspicion this isn’t the last of the dead we’ll see in some form, 3 episodes of battling Cersei, Euron and the Golden company seems a little too basic for this saga to end with. More on that in my what to watch for…
Dany, Jon, and The End of the Mormonts
I was probably the only person who didn’t have Jorah on the list for the week in my death pool, and my excuse is I thought it was a little too soon for Dany to lose her closest advisor. Dany at least still has both her dragons, but it’s been a brutal pair of episodes for her: the night before the battle, she lost the man she loves and her claim to the throne thanks to his heritage. She’s lost her Dothraki army. She lost Viseryon again. She’s losing Missandei and Greyworm as soon as the pair can set sail because it turns out her most faithful don’t actually want to be her subjects.
Now she’s lost Jorah, and what a gut wrenching, moving way for him to go. Fighting against all logic and reason to remain on his feet fending off the wights for his Queen, Jorah proved once and for all that he was the biggest bad ass on the show- or rather, the third biggest bad ass behind two young women. I may have been disappointed to see him die and tighten the competition in my mortality pool, but I couldn’t have been more pleased with how they had him go out.
Not to be outdone, Lyanna defied her uncle’s command and remained topside for the battle, and outdid her Uncle’s badassery by seemingly defying death just long enough to take out a wight Giant. What a girl, Lyanna Mormont, RIP. When I saw her eyes reopen with the walker ice blue for a moment, I immediately stated that Winterfell was fucked now that she’d switched sides.
Okay, so everyone saw it coming. It was so obvious that I even thought it was too obvious, but thankfully the dead coming to life wasn’t the biggest event in the crypts. The big notes were the human drama between Sansa and Tyrion. Her telling him that he was the best of the men she’d known was genuine enough- he really was. I wonder if it isn’t her playing Tyrion against someone she’s recognizing early on as a rival, but it seemed to be effective.
I’ll keep sounding the gong on this, but we have yet another moment in this alluding to Tyrion’s suitability for kingship. Sansa seems to be in on the game too: Tyrion would make a better king than the woman he’s serving, and if it weren’t for his loyalty to her, Sansa might just be his queen.
I’m sure we’ll hear more of this, but I want to believe his moments with Sansa were genuine. Imagine if Tyrion were King hiding in the crypts with his Queen instead, and Sansa had to advise him that the better part of heroism was their survival. His was Kingly dedication to the people and doing whatever he could. Hers was Queenly wisdom. Would that not be perfect? It’s the happy ending I want and I’m putting it out there into the universe.
What to Watch For
- I’m almost certain we’ll get a decent helping of the goings on at King’s Landing finally, Cersei and Bronn have both been up to something since the premiere, so expect an update on Bronn’s progress on the contract. I’m hoping he stops by for a meal at Hot Pie’s on his way North.
- I think we’re coming to a head on the house of Greyjoy and the future of the Iron Islands. Euron has also been absent since that first episode, and Yara went back to the Islands, so I think we’ll see a clash of niece and Uncle. In this arena, I’m predicting further tragedy for the house of Greyjoy.
- The Aftermath: There’s sure to be an accounting after the battle, and Bran is going to have some revelation that lets us know it’s not over yet (there are 3 episodes left, after all).
- Yohn Royce should have been among the battle at Winterfell, but I don’t recall seeing him. I’ll be looking for an update on the Lord of the Aerie and his stance on Littlefinger’s demise and where he allies himself with Cersei gathering strength. Littlefinger killed his father, so he has no reason to oppose Cersei, does he?
- The prophecy: there’s tragedy to come for Dany and Jon, we didn’t see the prophecy play out in this battle, and I think it’s still very much in play. Melisandre played her part in the Long Night, but that doesn’t mean things have been wrapped up and finished.
- Hot Pie has to return, seriously. Where’s my thicc baker boi?
- Qyburn: I wonder if there won’t be something with his dark science. Did he give back the arm of the wight he was examining at the summit last season? Part of me thinks he’s been at work improving his resurrection science and we might not be done with undead fighters just yet… He has an entire temple of corpses to work with thanks to his Queen after all.