Episode 3 of the eighth and final season of HBO’s hit fantasy drama, Game Of Thrones, delivered what fans have been waiting years for: the battle against the living and the dead.
It was when Jon went beyond the wall, to Hardhome, and witnessed the numbers and brutality of the White Walkers in full strength that we realized that this war was inevitable. The Great War was coming, and that was solidified when the Night King turned Viserion into an ice dragon, and used him to destroy the wall.
The Season 8 premiere was the calm before the storm, the beginning of the preparation for the great battle to come. While Episode 2, A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms, made our favourite characters come to terms with the fact that these might be their final hours. And they made that time count. But the second episode ended with the arrival of the White Walkers, and the entirety of Episode 3, aptly titled The Long Night, is 81 minutes of nothing but the battle against the dead. And it is as horrifying and epic as we imagined. There’s a lot to talk about, so sit back, relax, and let’s recap!
The key to an episode, especially of this length, that consists of nothing but war, is to ground it in believability and empathy. Which is why beginning the episode with a shot of a soldier thrusting daggers of dragonglass into Sam’s shaking hands was a genius decision. His fear is obvious, his hesitation even more so. He marches through the courtyard, passing countless Unsullied. Passing Lyanna Mormont, who barks orders at her men with an unwavering bravery. And he passes women who are heading down to the Crypts. He wants to join them. But he marches forward, determined to join the fight, even if all he wants is to run away. And we can’t blame him.
Meanwhile, Tyrion is facing the opposite dilemma. As scared as he is, he wants to fight. But whether he wants to admit it or not, he knows he’s better off in the Crypts. Up there he’s more of a liability than anything else. So, he grabs as much wine as he can and heads down, passing Theon and Bran on the way. Theon is rolling Bran to the Godswood, where he and the Ironborn will defend him until their last breath. We can only hope that isn’t what it comes to.
On the battlements, Ser Davos arms the archers with as many arrows as he can find, while Arya and Sansa stand side by side, waiting in the darkness, both looking on edge. Drogon and Rhaegal fly overhead as Daenerys and Jon watch from a distance, waiting for the Night King and his army to arrive. And outside the castle walls, the Unsullied stand in perfect formation, ready to defend Winterfell. Brienne and Jaime stand at the front of the left flank, while the Hound and Gendry join Beric and Tormund. Jorah sits atop his horse, next to Ghost, and is at the head of the Dothraki. They will be the ones leading the charge. As for Sam? He’s the last one to join the fold, sneaking in next to Edd. Better late than never.
Silence falls over the land. But for a horse neighing, and the whispers of the wind, nothing can be heard. So when a single rider emerges from the darkness, no greater tension has ever been felt. But to everyone’s relief, the rider is not with the dead. In fact, she will be a great asset in the coming battle. If you guessed we hadn’t seen the last of the Red Priestess, you were right.
Melisandre rides up to the army defending Winterfell, still in her hooded red robes. And she rides to Ser Jorah, requesting that he ask the Dothraki to raise their swords. And after hesitation, they do. She directs her horse to the nearest rider, and places one of her hands firmly on the blade. And as she does, she begins to repeat a phrase in High Valyrian. She’s speaking to the Lord Of Light, and he answers her call. Not only does the rider’s blade catch fire, but every single sword held by a Dothraki catches flame. It’s an awe-inspiring scene, reminding us just how much power the Red Priestess has. And it gives both us and our heroes a shred of hope. The Lord Of Light is on their side tonight, it seems. For now, at least.
The Red Woman rides past the Dothraki and the Unsullied, giving Grey Worm a traditional greeting.
Melisandre: “Valar morghulis.”
Grey Worm: “Valar Dohaeris.”
This translates to, ‘All men must die”, and ‘All men must serve’.
Melisandre rides into Winterfell, and it isn’t the least bit surprising that Ser Davos leaves the battlements to meet her. After all, he swore that if she ever returned to the North, he would execute her himself. But that is not how this night will go.
“There’s no need to execute me, Ser Davos. I’ll be dead before the dawn.”-Melisandre
There is no sadness or despair in her voice, though perhaps a slight fear as she looks up and sees Arya. But Ser Davos lets her pass without a word. Melisandre may have been wrong about many things, but there’s no denying she has a great power. And her prophecy, and how she’s so calm regarding it, is chilling.
With the gates closed, perhaps for good, the war begins. The Dothraki begin to shriek, their war-cries echoing throughout the night as Jorah leads the charge. Their swords light the way, but for a little extra light, the Unsullied catapult balls of fire toward the unseen army of the dead. And while they find their marks, it isn’t enough.
This is one of the most haunting scenes in the entire episode. The army looks on from Winterfell, and watches as all too quickly, the lights from the Dothraki’s swords diminish one by one, until there is not a single light left. The army of the dead consume them all. But luckily, they don’t manage to kill them all. One by one the Dothraki and Jorah retreat, each with horror clear on their faces. Dothraki do not retreat under any circumstances. For them to run from a fight says a great deal about the severity and horrific nature of the threat.
Daenerys knows what this means, and is about to climb atop Drogon when Jon tries to stop her, warning her that the Night King is coming. But as she points out to him, the dead are already here. It won’t matter if they save Bran if everyone else dies.
As she mounts Drogon, the armies down below prepare themselves as much as they can. Their terror is palpable. With each passing second, the dead come closer, they grow louder. And before they know it, they’re on them.
Thrones is known for never holding back with their battles. Every season has brought more gore and more intensity, and this episode truly outdid itself. The dead do not falter, do not hesitate. They launch themselves at every living thing, killing hundreds within seconds. And already, things look dire for our heroes. Brienne is tackled by a hoard of Wights, but luckily, Jaime is able to stab his way through and get her out. And just as he does, the dragons appear and rain fire down upon the Wights.
With Daenerys riding Drogon and Jon riding Rhaegal, the tide turns in favor of the living. In one shot, they kill hundreds if not thousands of Wights. But Jon, as he often does, gets a little too ambitious. And when he sees the White Walkers in a line near the forest, he’s determined to take them down. This was a fatal mistake.
Before either of them are able to get near the Walkers, a storm of snowy winds and dark clouds overtake them, brought, of course, by the Night King. It seems he can manipulate aspects of nature, and this storm proves that he’s grown in strength. Within seconds, Dany, Jon, and the dragons are lost in the storm.
Arya watches this happens, and doesn’t hesitate in handing Sansa a dagger of dragonglass and telling her to get down to the Crypts. As the Lady of Winterfell, she isn’t quick to abandon her people, but looking down at the dagger, she realizes she has no idea how to use it, and she admits this to her sister. Arya might have smiled as she gave her response, had circumstances been different, for it was the same advice Jon gave her all those years ago.
“Stick ’em with the pointy end.”-Arya Stark
Arya couldn’t have made her decision at a better time. The living are getting slaughtered outside the castle walls, and even some of the most central characters look to be in mortal danger. A Wight grabs hold of Jaime from behind, trying to bite at his neck. Even warriors as great as Brienne and Tormund are struggling to keep the Wights at bay. There’s too many of them. And Sam, after being tackled by one of the dead, is an inch away from a knife in the skull when Edd comes to his rescue. At first, Sam can’t stand. But Edd forces him up, helping his brother stand. And in doing so, gets a sword viciously torn through his body. Edd manages to whisper Sam’s name before falling to the ground. And now his watch is ended. And the death count has begun.
As Sam runs, the commanders yell to their troops to fall back. They can’t properly defend the castle or themselves on the ground, there’s too many Wights to possibly stand a chance. Their best hope is to defend Winterfell from within. As the armies pull back, the Unsullied stand their ground, protecting the retreat. And somehow, they manage to hold line. The dead descend upon them, some fall, some manage to get through the trenches, but none of them breach the castle walls. All because the Unsullied do the impossible.
Grey Worm has never once shown a fear of death, nor has any Unsullied. But it’s written all over his face, in his eyes. He’s terrified. But his voice doesn’t falter as he orders his men to retreat, knowing a lost cause when he sees one. And when as many people as possible are past the trenches, he collapses the bridge and yells to Ser Davos to signal Daenerys. It’s time to light the trenches. But Jon and Dany are still flying in the middle of the dark clouds. When Davos waves the torch, the Mother of Dragons has no idea.
The archers shoot countless flaming arrows at the wood, but it’s wasted ammunition. The trenches don’t catch fire. All seems lost until Grey Worm lays eyes upon Melisandre. If anyone could light them, it’s her.
A handful of twenty or so Unsullied act as a shield around the Red Priestess as she steps out of the castle and clasps the wood in her hands, repeating the same phrases over and over again, begging the Lord Of Light to answer once more. Her voice trembles and her eyes widen in fear as a Wight runs straight towards her. But just before he reaches her, he bursts into flames, and the entire trench is engulfed in fire. And with that, everyone living can breathe. They have a moment of respite. All, of course, but the Hound. As soon as he sees the fire, he gets lost in a daze, and wanders to a corner of the Winterfell courtyard, away from all the fighting.
Meanwhile, in the Crypts, the men, women, and children who cannot fight wait in fear, wondering what could possibly be happening outside. And Tyrion is nearly furious. He thinks he should be out there, that he could see something that everyone else is missing, something that would be crucial to winning this fight. But Sansa tells him the truth that he doesn’t want to hear. He would die before he ever got the chance.
“It’s why we’re down here, none of us can do anything. It’s the truth. It’s the most heroic thing we can do now…look the truth in the face.”-Sansa Stark
To that, Tyrion only has one reply. He suggests that maybe they should have stayed married. And like Sansa, we can’t help but smile. The two are oddly suited for each other. But as the Lady of Winterfell points out, Tyrion’s conflicting alliances between her and Daenerys would become problematic, which is why a marriage between them could never work. But Tyrion can be quite convincing when he wants to be. Could these two former spouses become actual love interests? It’s an indulgent thought in the middle of a heavy episode. But if the two survive, it’s an indulgence worth considering.
Meanwhile, in the Godswood, Theon and his men surround Bran, waiting for the Walkers to strike. And while they wait, Theon takes this opportunity, what may be his last opportunity, to apologize.
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.”
It’s an intimate, moving moment between the two, and it’s particularly vital to Theon. He has held onto so much guilt for many years over every choice he made, and those few words are enough to provide resolution and closure. But before he can say anything else, Bran wargs into multiple ravens, flying over Winterfell, over the battlefield, and coming across the Night King, who makes his appearance for the first time this episode. He rides Viserion, looking down on the battle, on the fiery trenches. And then, he manipulates his Wights.
One by one, they fall onto the spikes, into the fire, killing themselves without hesitation or thought. At first, the living look on in horror. But when they realize what they’re doing, they couldn’t move faster. The archers head to the tops of the walls as the soldiers man the battlements. And moments later, the Wights are overcoming the trenches in full force, quickly climbing atop one another to breach the castle walls. And it’s working.
The dead are over the battlements in no time, causing chaos and leaving nothing but destruction in their wake. Some of our heroes manage to hold on. Brienne and Jaime fight side by side, back to back, never leaving each other alone. And somehow, both are still fighting with the same sheer determination and energy that they had at the start of the battle. Jorah has moved from the battleground to the battlements, and cuts down hundreds of Wights as if it were effortless. He displays his true talents as a warrior here, while others, like Sam, lose their nerve and crouch in terror, unable to watch or fight in the gory scene before them.
Back on the ground, Sandor Clegane is still cowering from the fire. Beric tries everything he can think of to lure him out, but the Hound thinks it’s a lost fight. That is, until Beric points out Arya, who’s spinning her spear seamlessly, killing Wights as if she were born to do it. She was taught well, it almost looks like she’s dancing. Her gruesome kills are undeniably graceful. And as soon as he sees her fighting for her life, getting knocked into a wall, bleeding everywhere but still getting up, he charges back into battle. But it may be too soon to celebrate.
Seconds later, the castle gates are destroyed when a giant bursts through, wiping out everyone in his path. Those who can run from him, do, and rightfully so. But one charges straight for him, the most fearless person in Winterfell, and arguably, in Westeros. Lyanna Mormont shouts as she runs towards the giant, sword in hand, but the giant sees her coming. He scoops her up in his hand and begins to slowly crush her, bringing her right up to his face. But before he can crush the life entirely out of her, she takes her dragonglass dagger and plunges it into his eye. His corpse falls to the ground, as does hers. And while seeing her killed was morbidly heartbreaking, it was the best way for her to go. Her final act in this world was killing a giant. A death certainly befitting Lyanna Mormont.
Up in the sky, Daenerys finds herself in mortal danger when the Night King finally comes across her and Drogon. Viserion unleashes his icy blue flames upon them, and though fire cannot kill a dragon, this is no ordinary fire. She narrowly escapes with her life, and we have a feeling it was only because the Night King wanted her to. It was an incredibly close call, after all.
Winterfell may be overrun with White Walkers, but the inside of the castle is surprisingly still. Arya sneaks through the castle, into the library, with nothing but a single dragonglass dagger to defend herself. But this is Arya Stark. She could defend herself with a Needle (get it?).
There must be at least 20 Wights spread across the library, but darting in and out of shadows, the youngest of the Stark sisters manages to escape the sight of all of them. It’s a close call when the scent of her blood attracts them, but she’s able to throw them off by tossing something in the other direction, causing the Wights to run towards the noise, giving her enough time to get to the door and escape. But her relief is short-lived when countless White Walkers burst through the door behind her, nearly tackling her to the ground. She runs for her life, but there are too many of them. Eventually, one catches her and pins her to the ground. He’s about to kill her when Beric’s flaming sword comes flying out of nowhere, hitting the Wight in the chest and killing it.
Beric and the Hound have been searching the castle for Arya, you see, and they found her just in time. They help get her up and together, the three of them fight off as many Wights as they can. With great sacrifice.
Beric has been a follower of the Lord Of Light for many years. It was in his name that he was brought back so many times, and he couldn’t help wonder why that was. And it’s now that he realizes that it was to protect and save Arya. He gets stabbed in the leg, and then in the back. And as he places his hands on either side of the door, the Wights stab him ten, twenty times over. But he doesn’t fall. He’s buying them as much time as he can.
The force of the Wights against him makes him stumble, but he uses all of his might to make it to Arya and the Hound, who barricade themselves in the hall. But with all of his wounds, Beric doesn’t last long. He manages to stumble to the ground and smile at Arya before he fades. Her face falls. This man who once was on her list is now dead, and he died to protect her. He died to save her. It’s a heavy weight. But Melisandre, who has been waiting in the hall, undoubtedly for her, is there to unburden it. And it is a most telling conversation.
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.”
She says these last words with a smile nearly upon her lips, a knowing smile. And when the White Walkers bang against the door, nearly knocking it down, she only has one more thing to say to Arya Stark.
Melisandre: “What do we say to the God Of Death?”
Arya Stark: “Not today.”
And with that, Arya sneaks out of the hall. We later find out why.
Back in the skies, the Night King, still atop Viserion, quickly makes his way toward the Godswood, where Theon and the Ironborn are ready to defend Bran. But before the Night King can reach him, Jon manages to surprise him, attacking out of nowhere. Yes, we’re about to see a dragon fight.
The dragons claw at each other, with Viserion injuring Rhaegal more than once. The Night King takes his ice spear in hand, aiming it for Rhaegal’s chest, when Drogon appears and knocks the White Walker off of Viserion and out of the sky. We would have cheered, if his spear didn’t fall with him.
Rhaegal flies to the ground, but as he tries to land, he collapses, sending Jon flying, and that’s the last we see of the dragon for this entire episode. Could he still be alive? We think so. The death of another dragon is not something to happen off screen.
Daenerys flies after both Jon and the Night King, and when she comes across the latter, he doesn’t even looked harmed. He stands in one piece, without a scratch on him, still holding his ice spear. He stares at her as she takes her chance, uttering the word ‘Dracarys’. Drogon rains fire upon the Night King as Jon watches on, both of them praying that it will destroy him. But when Drogon shuts his jaws and the fire dissipates, the Night King still stands, unharmed, and almost looking amused.
He throws the spear as Dany flies off, and luckily, it narrowly misses her. He doesn’t seem too concerned. It’s Bran he wants most, after all. But there’s still one thing standing in the way. Jon is ready to give the fight of his life, and he will, but it won’t be against the Night King. As soon as the White Walker turns his head and sees Jon, he does what we prayed he’d never do. He raises his arms.
And just like that, the battle that might have been won seems forever lost. Every corpse rises from the ground, including Edd and Lyanna’s. And it isn’t just those that were killed that night that rises. Skeletons begin to break out of their coffins in the Crypts. The safest place in Winterfell is now one of the most dangerous.
The White Walkers descend upon Winterfell, the Wights attacking every living thing. And the Night King? He leaves Jon to fight the fresh corpses and walks calmly away, ready to end the Three-Eyed Raven. But Jon Snow doesn’t go down without a fight. He’s encircled by hundreds of Wights, and still, he fights with endless determination and fierceness. Luckily, he isn’t alone. Daenerys and Drogon return to scare off the Wights long enough to allow Jon to escape. Dany can hold them off on her own. His look is a silent thank you as he runs after the Night King. Things might be okay, if Daenerys didn’t linger on the ground too long.
The Wights crawl over Drogon’s legs and tail, climbing up his back, trying to reach Daenerys and take the mighty dragon down. There are so many that Dany has no choice. She slides off of Drogon and slips onto the ground as her dragon takes to the skies, twisting and ripping the Wights off one by one, leaving the Mother of Dragons completely defenseless. And it seems it may be the end as a Wight charges toward her. But it never gets close enough. Jorah slices it in half before it gets the chance.
We should have never doubted Dany’s closest friend, a man who loves her more than anyone. He’d cut down the world before he let anything happen to her. He may have killed the most Wights during the battle, and he isn’t about to stop now.
As Jorah defends the Queen, Jon runs through Winterfell, fighting his instincts to help his friends. Brienne, Jaime, and Podrick are pushed against a wall, fighting off the Wights as best they can. Sam is lying among corpses, fighting them off and screaming in anguish. And Grey Worm is on his own, drenched in blood, and still managing to fight with a seeming ease. But Jon can’t stop now, because if he does, the Night King wins.
Jon runs through the castle, killing as many Wights as he needs to, and it seems he might break through and get to Bran in time. But then, Viserion arrives. And Jon can’t escape the icy blue flames.
In the Crypts, the dead tear the living apart, and Sansa and Tyrion hide together behind a wall. This is one of the most tear-jerking scenes of the episode, due, in part, to the fact that we actually question whether or not these two are going to choose to kill themselves rather than be killed by the Walkers. The way Sansa holds the dagger, pointing at her stomach, the melancholy music that plays, there’s a terrifying moment when we think the worst might actually happen. But these two aren’t leaving this world so easily. Each armed with a dragonglass dagger, Tyrion kisses Sansa’s hand before the two sprint through the Crypts, cutting down whatever they can, whatever they need to. And somehow, they manage to make it to others, Varys and the children, who are also hiding. A temporary solution, but right now, that’s the best they have.
Up above, in the Godswood, the Wights and Walkers have finally arrived. And every single Ironborn puts up an unbelievable fight. Theon hits his mark every time, until there are no more arrows left. Until none of his men are left.
Theon is the last man left to protect Bran. And he does not take his promise lightly. He picks up a dragonglass spear and slaughters what must have easily been 50 Wights, all on his own. This is a man determined to fight for his family, determined to redeem himself, to wash away his sins and save Bran, the boy, the brother he betrayed. And no one can question that he succeeded. When the Night King arrives, a look of exhaustion and sorrow overcomes Theon. And Bran returns to his body to thank him one last time.
“Theon. You’re a good man…thank you.”-Bran Stark
With tears in his eyes, as his lips quiver, Theon grips his spear harder. And with an acceptance of what to come, with redemption finally achieved, he charges toward the Night King with no fear. The Night King rips the spear from his hands, breaks it in half, and plunges it through Theon’s stomach. He drops to the ground, and you can see the fight in his eyes. The determination not to leave this world until Bran is safe. But this time, death wins. He can’t get up. All we can hope is that he lived long enough to see what happens next.
As the Night King approaches Bran, the two simply look at each other. It isn’t with hate, but almost an understanding. There’s something greater at play, though we don’t yet know what it is. And as the Night King reaches for his sword, we fear it may be over. And that’s when we see Arya appear behind him, in the air, jumping toward him with dragonglass dagger in hand. But he turns around at the last second, grabbing her by the throat, again with that amused look on his face. We are certain this is the end. But Arya drops her dagger, causing the Night King to look towards her left hand. He doesn’t expect her to catch it with her right and stab him in the ribs.
She pierces his armor, and with a single blow, the Night King breaks into a thousand pieces. And all of his army fall with him, even Viserion. Thanks to Arya Stark, the army of the dead is destroyed, and many of our heroes saved.
It’s a moment of relief, followed by moments of utter melancholy. Daenerys survived the White Walkers, thanks to Jorah. But he took countless hits, using his body as a shield in order to defend her. He saved her life more times than we can count in the course of those ten minutes, and when all was said and done, when he knew she would be safe, he collapsed. He looked in her eyes as she cradled him in her arms, and as he tried to whisper ‘Khaleesi’, he passed on. And this is the first time we see Daenerys weep.
It’s a defining moment, a change of character. We have never seen her as emotional as we do here. Jorah’s death will change everything. But for better or worse, we are currently unsure of.
The episode ends with Davos watching as Melisandre walks through the gates of Winterfell and onto the battleground. She tears off her necklace, and there’s no sadness or relief in her eyes, only an acceptance. As she wanders into the snow, her hair turns white, her body frail. And within seconds, she collapses into nothing but bone and ash. And with that, the credits roll.
So, the death count stands at 6 known characters. Edd, Lyanna Mormont, Beric Dondarrion, Theon Greyjoy, Jorah Mormont, and Melisandre. Perhaps not as many lives as fans expected the Battle Of Winterfell to claim, but each death was more emotional than the last. And though we never want to see anyone go, many found peace in this episode. At least we can take comfort in that.
With the Battle Of Winterfell over and the army of the dead destroyed, the question on everyone’s mind is about what comes next. Cersei now has the greater army. But the war is far from over. And according to Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington, the next 3 episodes are the best to come.
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The Final Season Of Game Of Thrones Airs Sundays At 9 On HBO.