“The Long Night” falls short of expectations

Whenever I tell anyone who hasn’t seen HBO’s Game of Thrones that they definitely should get into it I get the same response nine times out of ten. “A fantasy show with dragons, giants, and other supernatural components? That’s not for me at all.”

Normally, I’d firmly agree with this stance. But Thrones is a fantasy show that originally hooked its audience with the character development of members of a very fascinating handful of families fighting each other in a struggle for power in Westeros. The human element and characters we either love to love or love to hate were so easy to get attached to that they emotionally captivated a wide audience that includes many anti-fantasy viewers like myself.

But then the show began to shift the focus from the dynamics of its characters to supernatural beings, particularly the Night King and the wights versus the humans. Once Lady Olenna poisoned King Joffrey at his wedding, the House of Lannister  — and in effect the entire family conflict that made the show — never had quite the same compelling flair again.

Other houses picked up the slack and became major players in the ultimate battle between House Stark or House Targaryen or House Lannister. But the intrigue was at its peak as the diabolical and destructive Joffrey was terrorizing Westeros from his perch atop the Iron Throne.

Fast forward to the current season and my stance on this remains the same. The Battle of Winterfell in this week’s episode “The Long Night,” was supposed to be the ultimate clash between the living and the dead, and the show’s most memorable moment.

Some fans, me among them, felt the episode didn’t quite live up to the hype. The most common complaint on social media has been the lighting. I understand it’s “The Long Night” and not “The Long Day” but the dim lighting made lots of action hard to follow. Bran performed some  three-eyed raven stuff that was confusing. And what on Earth was Jon thinking — standing in plain sight of the ice dragon yelling his brains out? He and Dany, who were flying aboard their dragons for most of the episode, didn’t accomplish much in the grand scheme of the battle. Peter Dinklage, who plays everyone’s favorite half-man Tyrion Lannister, was quoted as saying said this battle would make the Battle of the Bastards from the end of season 6 “look like a theme park.” Instead, this battle turned to be far more gimmicky and pretty poorly executed.

There were plenty of awesome cinematic moments and sick camera angles, but the battle still left me feeling empty. The almighty villain of the show didn’t kill any characters we care about outside of Theon Greyjoy?! Given all the build-up, it just seems wrong for the Night King to have virtually no impact on any serious Iron Throne contenders.

He was set up to be one of the most badass villains in TV history. I was also expecting more insight into his background story. We know the children of the forest created him by stabbing him with Valyrian steel to make him the first White Walker. And we know that led to his goal of creating an endless night by adding everyone in Westeros to his army of the dead.

But is that really all there is? I wanted some twist revealing a connection or two he might have had with a the main character. Instead he went down as quietly as the mute he was, his death delivered Arya’s Valyrian steel dagger.

Prior to Arya saving Bran at Weirwood (and basically saving the rest of Winterfell since we know the Night King is an extension of his army), we do get one reveal about the Night King that COULD have turned into an interesting subplot before he died.

When Dany gave her “Dracarys” command, and her dragon unleashed its biggest fire-breath to date upon the Night King. Unsurprisingly, the almighty Night King was unaffected by this attack. Since we know Targaryens can’t die from fire, we can conclude that the Night King was a Targaryen.

But for what? Outside of turning one of Dany’s dragons into a white walker before it died, plus killing Theon, what did he do to leave a lasting impact on the show? The only thing we learned about the Night King Sunday is it turns out he can actually show emotion, which he did when he gave Dany the creepiest of smirks after her murder attempt on him failed miserably.

Even though the Night King’s narrative turned out to be underwhelming, his army did manage to wipe out the Dothraki and nearly all of the Unsullied Army despite losing the Battle of Winterfell.

With three episodes remaining and half the final season in the books, the show’s ending feels very uncertain. Daenerys and company in Winterfell now have no muscle, outside of two dragons. Even though both were wounded in the battle, they’re so powerful they may be able to take down Cersei and Euron’s army in King’s Landing.

I’m curious how they’ll go about it without getting annihilated. They have a fire breathing cheat code on their side, but with no army to lead them into battle versus the fresh and healthy army waiting for them at King’s Landing, I don’t see how they’ll pull it off.

I’ll wait until the show ends before jumping to conclusions, but it’s going to be difficult for the writers to create a satisfying ending with all these question marks.

I am, however, thrilled that the show will end the way it originated. The person vs person route rather than a person vs supernatural force route is a more fitting way for Game of Thrones to wind down.

Part of this, like I said, is thanks to the characters and the way they interact. But it also seems that the show had no real direction with the Night King and White Walkers storyline and so the writers decided to give up on it.

-Simon Brady


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