If there was one anticipated episode in the entire show, I would wager this would be it. You could say that this episode is the culmination of 8+ years in the making along with additional time from the books publishing. How does this episode deliver in the 90 or so minutes given?
First, I want to say that I want to focus on the broad strokes of this episode because it’s hard going through every single moment, especially in a very action driven pace. The real story was simply the living vs the dead. Would we see surprises? How many would die? Would we see any key character developments?
Let me start off in talking about the Night King. To put it bluntly, he’s one cool guy. Had to get that one in there. But that’s the type of tongue-in-cheek feeling I felt when he met his rather untimely demise. You would think that despite all the build up, he would receive a bigger send off. Or better yet, there would be a real purpose to him.
It’s just as Brian Cogman mentioned: he only exist as a fuck you to the Children of the Forest. There really isn’t any depth given to him outside of the glimpses we see here and there. You could say that he was a poorly calculated mistake by the Children of the Forest and that Bran’s explanation hits it on the mark.
To say I’m disappointed is a vast understatement. I thought he had more symbolism with his marks and the way children often were used in assaulting characters. In truth, he really was just death incarnate and if anything his only symbolism was absolute real power.
There were plenty of rumors up to this point talking about his origins and purpose. Also, that he would have a far more significant role to play. Some said that he planned on assaulting King’s Landing directly while others mentioned that the Golden Company would come about to attack Winterfell after a first assault. None of this happened (which also should say a lot about placing faith in online unconfirmed rumors). All these things felt compelling as possibilities.
Since he met his end in this episode and that we have three more episodes to go, I want to make a bold statement in saying that I have a pretty good idea where the show is heading. Given that GRRM is a fan of Lord of the Rings, it feels as though he might’ve adjusted that format of a story. So while the whole Army of the Dead vs living was the main story behind the LOTR series (meaning humans/elves/hobbits/dwarves vs orcs), the ending seems to be leading towards the aftermath where the Hobbits, now wiser after their travels, end up confronting Saurumon taking The Shire hostage. Except that in this case, we have more depth in the aftermath with three episodes.
Without delving more into that part, I want to talk more about the little plots that were concluded or key pieces that happened. First, there’s the Dothraki scene where Melisandre appears and offers transient hope in lighting their weapons with fire. Then bizarrely, the Dothraki charge into the night and get obliterated with only a few survivors. We even get a brief moment with Ghost in the field before things turn dark. Even though it’s mentioned about the success of a Dothraki on an open field, the reality is that they’re dumber than their horses (as demonstrated by Khal Drogo’s manly refusal for succor) and that they’re no longer a piece Daenerys can rely on for her conquest of the throne.
Next, let’s talk about the Unsullied with Greyworm leading. Sure they probably had better surviving chances than the Dothraki but their orderly discipline pretty made them as easy target for the dead. With many dying in battle, that’s fewer pieces Daenerys will have to use against her battle for King’s Landing.
Then there’s the whole Jon Snow trying to prevent Daenerys from taking off. It’s funny that the showrunners talk about the “plan”. Honestly, that plan (which seems to be Jon Snow and Bran’s) sucked. Without the dragons breathing fire on the dead, more of the front line forces would have been decimated. If you really think how things went down, the plan was pretty stupid all around and there was no way anyone outside of Bran could have calculated the events that would cost that many lives.
The whole crypts thing turned out to be not as big of a situation as most people made out. People thought that we would see more dead Starks or key dead Starks make their return. While it did provide a few tense moments, the only thing it served was showing a tender moment between Sansa and Tyrion.
For deaths, the key ones were Ed, Beric, Lyanna Mormont, Theon Greyjoy, Ser Jorah and Melisandre. Ed was a bit sad in that he managed to save Sam, who end up fighting but still remaining a coward. Beric’s was a bit sadder in that he fought to keep Sandor Clegane and Arya alive. Lyanna’s was unexpected since she really wasn’t a big character but ended up going out in a big manner in killing a giant after sacrificing herself.
For the last three, I want to talk about each individually. Theon’s had the best conclusive arc in the series because he ended up finding honor and restoring himself to the Starks by defending Bran. Even having him outside with Bran seemed doubtful since he was a coward. But as the Night King entered the Godswood with Bran laying out in the open, Bran gave Theon the thing he needed to hear, which was forgiveness that allowed him to bravely meet his end and give Bran more time.
Ser Jorah’s was a sad one but not unexpected. I had hoped that he would be able to make it until King’s Landing. But like Theon he died with purpose, in this case sacrificing himself while standing by his Queen, the one he loved most in the world. While I never imagined the concrete manner or when Ser Jorah would die, I always imagined him somehow standing like iron as a wall next to Daenerys with her weeping as only in death would she appreciate the man he was.
Lastly, Melisandre’s demise was her own self-prophecy as she told it one season prior and at the beginning of the show. If you really examine her purpose, it was pretty pointless in the end. She only had two key moments in this episode: 1) setting blaze the wooden barricade; 2) revealing/reminding of Arya her purpose. As she walked out of Winterfell and removed her necklace, she took to her true age with Ser Davos witnessing her real form and lying to rest as an ancient crone in the snow. If anything it seems that she only existed to see the Night King and his army end but did little beyond that.
You could say she had a redemptive arc in her character but I really wouldn’t call her ending that. She knew what was coming and still did nothing beyond providing false hope to everyone except for Arya. Her demise really leaves a lot of questions remaining like who she really was or if there really was any point to her character at all. This is where the writing starts to fall apart in my book just because these loose ends aren’t tied up neatly.
So what about the other characters? It felt empty for the most party except seeing certain key characters fighting together. Brienne, Podrick and Jaime did little beyond their action sequences and keeping each other alive. If anything the only thing significant for Jaime is that he managed to fight honorably. Hopefully, as the North recuperates, they remember where he stood in battle.
The Hound still has yet to find his purpose as well as figuring out how to deal with his fear of fire. At some point, I thought he would become the Prince that was Promised due to a few key shots from Season 7 Episode 10 as well as the way the birthing of his origins took place. With him encountering Melisandre, I thought there would be significant dialogue between the two. Instead, the only significant thing that occurred was him still trying to aid Arya in her endeavors.
Now, let’s talk about the Big 4: Jon Snow, Daenerys, Bran and Arya. Let’s be real and just say Jon Snow is fucking useless. Not only does he know nothing, his battle plans suck and he doesn’t really do anything significant except cause more shit to happen because he’s an idiot. There’s the moment where he’s about to fight the undead dragon but ends up not doing much except hiding. He looks to confront the Night King a few times but again nothing happens. He’s just there and manages to get all the credit.
Daenerys probably did a lot more overall. It was good seeing her take flight and use Drogon to burn a significant number of the dead. But the most impressive aspect was seeing her take up a Dragon Glass sword as she could do nothing else once Drogon had undead ants crawling up his asshole (okay extreme description but it’s kinda similar to what happened to that Holiphant in Return of the King). If anything that’s the first time we’ve ever seen her actually take up arms and be a warrior out in the field. I kinda hope for more.
Then there’s Arya. Arya’s training makes full sense now. In a way, I could see this a while back. The main idea here is that she’s the only one capable of hitting the Night King. Essentially, David and Dan are pulling out their Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rules with Arya being a thief/assassin and doing a move silently/hide in shadows success role vs something that has a pretty good detection rate. She would’ve pulled off the +4 attack to hit backstab with x5 multiplier except that she went for the abdomen in getting a critical hit with a natural 20 as per later edition rules.
Also, Bran handing her Cats Paw in the Godswood makes sense. But in general, her main purpose has come to conclusion, although it does imply that she could hit another target like Cersei if she’s hidden away in a tower.
Finally, let’s talk about Bran. If Jon Snow is useless, Bran is the equivalent of a terrible project manager in tech who refuses to provide clear requirements, despite knowing better. He’s kind of a cold hearted asshole at this point because he knows what will happen and doesn’t give a single damn hint to anyone whether or not what they are doing is right or wrong. But he can see it. Heck, with him channeling it seems he’s doing his best to draw the Night King close. Did he just use Theon to allow for ample time to let Arya sneak up behind the Night King? That’s pretty fucked up.
Now with the Night King out of the way, some of the characters don’t feel like they serve much of a purpose anymore. Bran’s entire story has been about his connection with the Night King. Arya’s instagib talent had its moment so there’s few people left for her to deal with (outside of the Mountain and Cersei). You still have people like Brienne, Gendry, Greyworm, Missandei and Baby Sam just hanging about. So else for them?
Obviously, the next major thing is King’s Landing and dealing with Cersei. Most likely, they’ll call Cersei a treasonous traitor for not participating in the battle while Cersei may have an advantage since none of her troops were used. With most of the Northern forces obliterated, the fight might seem fair, even with both dragons still possibly being alive.
So what does this mean for the ending though? It’s pretty much resolving the remaining conflict. I think the tale is that people never learn. While the North might now follow Daenerys since she helped provide victory, the reality is that nothing seems learned in this fight. If anything the purpose of the battle of the living vs dead should have been about what’s important in life. Instead, it seems that Daenerys’ is more convicted than ever in her vision for conquest.
What about Tyrion in all of this? He seems to be the big switch player that’s hidden. Some say that he will betray the North and be executed for treason. At this point, if he were to betray the North, it had better be for some really good damn reasons.
Since Cesei did not send her troops, it should be very clear to Tyrion that his sister has no intention of ever helping them. If anything, she’ll do as Jaime heard and she’ll deal with the survivors. On that level, I would have a hard time believing Tyrion would still be loyal to his family; at least his sister.
So his reasons for betraying the North and Daenerys will not be for family’s sake. I think if anything he’ll feel unappreciated and possibly be blamed for a crime he doesn’t commit. That seems to be his fate as a tragic figure. We see that occur twice; once when Catelyn accused him and the second for Joffry’s murder. Maybe Cersei will set him up and he’ll face an unfair trial. In this case, he won’t succeed as his game is at an end.