This post contains spoilers, reactions, and a recap of Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 3, “The Long Night”
After spending two weeks resolving character arcs and winding tension like a coiled spring, Game of Thrones exploded with its most thrilling episode to date, “The Long Night.” The previous episode was the last moment of relative peace on the series. The third episode of the final season was the first of three that will be immersed in blood, death, and drama.
“The Long Night” and Helm’s Deep
There was little doubt that Game of Thrones would try to reach for something epic in Season 8. After all, this moment has been building since the first novel was published in 1996. The only comparable to the Battle of Winterfell was a lofty goal. Prior to the episode, director Miguel Sapochnik noted the Battle of Helm’s Deep from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was his guide:
“For my reference point I watched [The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers] because the siege is a 40-minute sequence, but it’s actually three different battles in three different places intercut. That was the biggest thing I could think of that was contemporary. I was trying to get a sense of when do you tire out. I think we’re going to blow past that. It feels like the only way to really approach it properly is take every sequence and ask yourself: “Why would I care to keep watching?” One thing I found is the less action — the less fighting — you can have in a sequence, the better.”
Sapochnick had previously directed the Game of Thrones episodes “Hardhome,” “Battle of the Bastards,” and “The Winds of Winter.” All three episodes pushed the envelope for what viewers expect in a battle scene and drama. Including “The Long Night,” they all may well go down as four of the best five Game of Thrones episodes.
So did Sapochnick succeed in matching Helm’s Deep, one of the greatest action sequences ever?
“The Long Night” Recap And Reaction
Writers George R.R. Martin, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and director Miguel Sapochnik deserve praise. They crafted a heart-pounding episode that not only met expectations, but will go down as one of the finest pieces of entertainment ever created for television or film. Composer Ramin Djawadi also created beautiful music that threaded the chaos together.
Like Helm’s Deep, the episode featured a large scale battle with the base concept of the living vs. the dead. A battle for humanity with desperate consequences. Sapochnick achieved his goal by bringing intense action, isolated stories, and an unforeseeable ending.
The episode began with the shaking hands of Samwell Tarly and whistling winds of Winterfell. Both elements elevated tension that was soon ignited by the flaming swords of the charging Dothraki horde. The fiery swords, trebuchets, and trench did not hold up to the dead. Instead, they were extinguished along with the last stand of many of the Unsullied, Lyanna Mormont, and Edd Tollett… in the first half-hour.
Sapochnick went to the crypts, libraries, and fields of Winterfell to exploit the audience bond with so many beloved characters. Whether it was Lyanna Mormont dying like a boss or the dead creeping in the crypts, “The Long Night” created a true feeling of humanity having their backs to the walls of Winterfell.
There are moment in the chaos that brought to mind the claustrophobia and anxiety of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. The episode did not allow viewers the time to breath and the consequences for humanity were dire. Sapochnick brought an insane pace to the battle without making it a straight action sequence. Everything was relevant, fresh, and visually stunning.
Arya Stark and the Night King
This all led to the unexpected hero of the hour-plus episode: Arya Stark. After clear expectations that Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, or Brann Stark would be the savior, few would have expected Arya to stick the Night King with the pointy end and save Westeros. Her Dancing Master and Ed Sheeran would have been proud.
It was a brilliant bit of writing that allowed Arya to kill someone who was not on her list and hurdle the legion of dead to slay the Night King. It was even more compelling because of her conversation with Melisandre, alluding to Arya’s killing of people with “brown eyes, green eyes, and blue eyes.”
The prophecy of Azor Ahai and the power of dragons could not match the Girl With No Name. The woman who watched her father’s beheading and spent much of the series just missing reconnecting with her family is the biggest hero of Game of Thrones (barring whatever surprises that are in store for us next).
What’s next on Game of Thrones?
In his interview with Entertainment Weekly, Miguel Sapochnick said “What I really like about 3, 4, and 5 is their a complete piece with a beginning, middle, and end.” It is hard to believe after the “The Long Night” that there is anything left to cover.
The potential to have a series of episodes like “The Long Night” creates a last-glimpse triumvirate of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy universe. For a show that has produced game-changing episodes like “Baelor” and “The Rains of Castamere,” it unlikely that Episode 3 can be topped. With that in mind, besting expectations is the biggest constant of the show.
The survivors of Winterfell are now set to lick their wounds, count the actual dead, and march south to King’s Landing. Cersei Lannister, the Gold Company, and the destiny of the Iron Throne are next.
Despite having lost the Dothraki, Jorah Mormont, and many of her Unsullied, Daenerys still has some power left. The trailer for the next episode indicated that two of her dragons remain alive. She also has a stable of heroes at her disposal, as most of the key characters did not die in this episode.
The biggest outlying stories are Cersei’s enlistment of Bronn to kill her brothers, the prophecy that a younger brother would kill Cersei, and the political love triangle of Westeros. As natural as it is to assume that Jon, Danenerys, or Cersei will win the Iron Throne, few would have predicted Arya as being the one to kill the Night King. Game of Thrones always has a twist up its sleeve. The next three episodes may not match the action that we saw on “The Long Night,” but it will be a ride to remember.