WARNING: FULL SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES SEASON 8 EPISODE 3 “THE LONG NIGHT” AHEAD
WOW!!!…..The Long Night is an episode that will be front and centre in fans’ minds for a long time to come, but now that we’ve had time for the adrenaline flow to cease and the tears to dry, let’s take a look back at what made this episode so special.
Leading in, the stage was set for the epic showdown between the living world’s finest and the armies of the dead that the show first teased nearly a decade ago. The layout followed in the footsteps some of the show’s best outings, such as Season 2’s Blackwater and Season 4’s Watchers on the Wall, by focusing solely on one location and the world-changing events that take place there. Despite a lengthy buildup and lofty expectations, The Long Night more than lived up to its hype, adding a unique and emotionally brutal experience that stands up as one the all-time greats.
The alternating use of heavy, pregnant silence and bloody, manic violence balanced perfectly, ensuring that the periods of anticipation never went on too long and the battle scenes were the right length to maintain their intensity and impact.
The feeling that permeated through the whole episode was desperation. The united forces of Westeros found themselves on the back foot from the word ‘go’, overcome by waves of unrelenting dead men, each minute becoming less a battle, more a struggle to survive a little longer. This desperation radiated through the screen as we stood side by side with characters that we’ve followed and grown with for so many years.
In terms of highlights, we have to start with the episode’s undisputed MVP: Arya Stark (Maisie Williams). Electric for every moment she graced the screen, from her acrobatic killing spree with her newly crafted weapon, the exchange of last-minute rescues with The Hound (Rory McCann), the tension-soaked stealth scene to her showdown with the Night King (Richard Brake) in the closing moments. After taking a backseat in the last couple of seasons, this episode did a great job at re-establishing Arya as the resourceful badass that fans fell in love with.
Visually spectacular throughout, The Long Night is a testament to the efforts of everyone who worked on it. Within minutes we are treated to a wave of Dothraki swords bathed in flame exploding through the dark night with the help of Melisandre’s (Carice Van Houten) magic. From there the dirty, claustrophobic battle scenes throughout showcase the horror of the struggle on the ground, whereas high above the gruesome airborne dragon battle showcases the strength of Game of Thrones’ visual effects. The only flaw was that the bleak, night setting sometimes made it difficult to distinguish what was happening in the more chaotic scenes.
As expected, there were plenty of casualties and several fan favourites didn’t make it. By the end of The Long Night Dolorous Edd (Ben Crompton), Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey), Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) all fell to the Night King’s forces (with Melisandre’s death occurring after the battle), but it was easily the death of Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) that was the most heart-wrenching of the episode, and arguably of the show’s history. Dying as he lived, Jorah’s final moments were spent defending his queen from her enemies, doggedly fighting against his injuries to stay by her side, before succumbing shortly before the end credits rolled.
The final standout aspect of the show that we have to talk about is the use of Ramin Djawadi‘s amazing score in the last ten minutes of the episode. A prime example of using music to elevate a story to new heights, the piano piece is a sonata of longing that compliments the desperation and hopelessness of the situation that the characters find themselves in during the show’s closing moments. In a move of genius, the music then picks up as the Night King walks towards Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), as if leading to a definitive confrontation, hinting that Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is about to run in and make his stand, but he doesn’t and the music fades back to the lonely piano piece. This return underlines that all hope is gone and the fight is lost, which makes the sudden descent of Westeros’ saving angel of death, Arya Stark all the more impactful. A magnificent score, masterfully used.
Despite her absence from the episode, the spectre of Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) loomed over the battle. We know that she’s waiting in the wings, ready to take advantage of a weakened Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). The next few weeks promise to be exciting as the series heads towards its conclusion and we can’t wait to see what happens next. The war for the living may be over, the war for Westeros is just about to begin.
In closing, The Long Night showcased many elements that make Game of Thrones great: Excellent story-telling, world class special effects, deep, beloved characters and gut-wrenching intensity. This episode had a lot to live up to but proudly stands as one of the best.