Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Assorted Thoughts on Game of Thrones s8e3, “The Long Night.”
– I’m already wrong about so many things I predicted in the lengthy essay that I feverishly typed out yesterday and yet I’m incredibly happy for it. My guesses came from a place of love and I didn’t need to be right about them; the things that surprised me tonight allow me to feel like the story somehow loves me back. Which is to say: I’m not here to dwell on the places my predictions were amiss, but to ruminate on the episode we were given.
– Purely from a production standpoint, the myriad ways that director Miguel Sapochnik, writers David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, and composer Ramin Djawadi worked together to create tension from scene to scene were masterfully handled. So much of the episode was built on the dread of what we could not see or hear, whether in the darkness beyond torchlight or within the clouds and snowstorms of the air. Silence and sound were constantly dancing and intruding upon one another, from sounds of battle abruptly cut off to the terror of knowing that your own drops of blood landing on the stone floor of the library might betray you. The first doomed Dothraki charge, with its flaming arakhs extinguishing as they break against the swarm of the dead, sets the tone of the threat succinctly and frighteningly fast. The loudest and brightest moments, such as Melisandre lighting the trench on fire or the dragons tearing at each other in the skies above Winterfell, felt so much louder and brighter because of those shadows and silences. The shift in the score as the wights began to overrun the castle cast a pallor of inevitability upon the battle, especially after watching the Night’s King endure a full-throated blast of dragon fire without suffering so much as a blister. The opening camera movements from character to character, following Sam’s palpable fear past Lyanna Mormont’s confident strength and landing on Tyrion’s weary, frustrated countenance, as well as other shots of this kind, reminded us of the stakes of this battle and gave us a final look at the architecture before it was overrun by the dead.
– Jon’s first encounter with the Night’s King occurred north of the Wall, a realm that grew to feel more like a home to him than he could ever find as long as he’d lived under the disdainful eye of Catelyn Stark. Since the first time he slew a White Walker with the Valyrian steel of Longclaw and then watched as his nemesis raised the dead around him to do his bidding, the story has seemed building towards a final duel between them.
But the final battle instead occurred in Winterfell, not at the Wall. Throughout the night, Arya stands as the embodiment of her late father while blending in the lessons she learned by surviving her journeys halfway across the world and back. She knows every inch of every room in Winterfell but has also learned how to walk in these rooms as quickly and quietly as a cat. For all of the enmity between them, it was fitting that Arya be one of the last to be with Beric when he died, as the mission that first took him on his pilgrimages between life and death was one he’d been charged with by Eddard when he’d briefly served as Robert Baratheon’s hand. And when the most dire of moments arrives, it would be Arya who knows the place to position herself and the moment to strike.
– How beautiful as well that Bran would be saved by a dagger once used in an attempt on his life; that the war against the dead would be ended by the same weapon that started the War of the Five Kings.
– Let us honor in song the strength and endurance of Lyanna Mormont, lady of Bear Island, who put it upon herself to hold the gates and who, her body broken, her breath ragged, slew the undead giant that the White Walkers had sent to sow ruin upon the forces of the living. Let us also sing of Jorah Mormont, who died saving the woman he loved over all others, whose sins were many but whose heart had grown pure. The Mormonts at this point become one of the more common tragedies of Westeros, a noble house whose leaders and heirs have all died, leaving the house to be cut free from the tapestry. They deserved better but did not get it, save for the ways their names may loom large in the tales told of this night.
– Seriously, I’m not okay with Lyanna dying even though I’m okay with the way she died. Does that make sense? The showrunners point out that she was supposed to be a character for only one scene but their luck in finding Bella Ramsey compelled them to reimagine the role she would play and to write this sad and lovely arc for her.
– For as graceful and powerful as the dragons are in flight, when fighting for their lives with another of their own it’s monstrous and brutal, which is exactly as it should be shown. I can’t tell yet if Rhaegal survived the fight, although we also saw tonight that Drogon is so bonded to Dany that it is willing to be her comfort during a moment of her most devastating sadness. The empathy between dragon and rider has been described by the histories as symbiotic; when one of the two dies the other might slowly wither. It leaves one worried about what might happen if Danaerys wins the realm but loses her dragon.
– Melisandre’s end was much sweeter and more delicate than I expected to see, and possibly more than she expected to have. One of Melisandre’s abiding qualities is that she’s something of a charlatan; while she does have powers she regularly oversells her handle on them to appear more enigmatic or valuable. Carice van Houten did amazing work tonight with only a handful of scenes, drawing together everything she had shown us of her since her first appearance around Stannis Baratheon’s war table, with the first crescendo coming as she chants fire into being and the second when her mission has at last ended, and she tosses aside her mystical choker, wanders into the snowy fields beyond what remains of the dead, rapidly ages and then dies, with Davos Seaworth the last one left who she might deem worthy of bearing witness.
– I’m fairly certain that the first corpse to burst out of the crypts was meant to be that of the Stark family’s beloved Maester Luwin, who we last saw dying in the godswood from a wound given to him by Theon Greyjoy. Not much time was spent on this, so perhaps I’m wrong, but if it was him that must have been difficult for Sansa and other of those at Winterfell.
– While Sansa didn’t die tonight, I did find it telling that she speaks on their hiding being “the most heroic we can be right now.” That she has seemed to reconnect quite affectionately with Tyrion indicates to me that the two of them may bring their honed cunning together to create the counterattack needed when Cersei finally makes her own move.
– Ghost is prone to appearances and disappearances without warning, and I don’t think he died with the Dothraki in that first charge. I want to believe we’ll see him again, alongside the Wolf Army that Nymeria will be bringing with her for the last of the battles to come.
– Despite the slaughter, it can be tempting to act as though not many people died in this battle because the largest characters to go were Theon and Jorah, both of them dying in defense of people they’d once betrayed. I suspect that we occasionally fall victim to an assumption about this show’s decisions to kill characters, that it can be cavalier about death because of how many seeming protagonists — such as Eddard, Robb, Oberyn, Catelyn, and Jon — end up murdered. But in nearly all of these cases, the major deaths only seem like surprises because of our own expectations, when you examine them you see how each of them were the result of fatal mistakes that may have been made long before they could have realized what mistakes they were. Death is not random in Martin’s world, it is carefully engineered and strategized. I complain as much as the next impatient reader about how long it’s taking Martin to finish his saga, but I also understand that he is a student of both gaming and military strategy, and it’s important to him that when a piece is removed from the board you can see the multiple steps that led to that removal. It takes this long because he has given himself a task requiring this much consideration.
That said: The show is hardly ever quite so meticulous. At best, it thinks 3-5 moves ahead compared to Martin’s 10-15. So for every moment that seems carefully planned — such as Cersei’s destruction of the Great Sept — there are others that seem more like convenient plot shakeups, such as the assassination of Prince Doran Martell or the final defeat of Ser Barristan Selmy. And I don’t know what that means for the finale of this show, now that the Battle for the Dawn has been fought and won.