The much hyped Season 8 of Game of Thrones has done everything but live up to the hype, and the most recent episode, “The Long Night” or as most people are calling it, “The Battle of Winterfell” might have been one of the show’s worst episodes. In fact, I would argue it’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi level of bad.
I’ll cut right to the chase, The Battle of Winterfell is Star Wars: The Last Jedi level bad because it doesn’t stay true to what the show has been about for the past eight years.
For the past eight years, Game of Thrones has been warning us about the Night King and the impending winter. In fact, “Winter is Coming” is the motto for House Stark, the rulers of Winterfell. Not to mention, the first episode title of the first season is “Winter is Coming.”
Not only, have they been warning us about the Night King, but they’ve shown that the realms of humanity don’t stand a chance against this threat as they’ve needlessly entangled themselves into power struggles rather than uniting in order to take on the impending threat from beyond the wall.
The people of the Seven Kingdoms have been embroiled in petty power struggles that have lead to outright war, but the show made it a point to knock down characters that might be seen as heroes. It gave us a brutal world full of political intrigue where the most ruthless usually came out on top. This was shown in the first episode when Bran Stark catches Cersei and Jamie Lannister. The young lad is surreptitiously thrown off the tower in order to conceal Cersei’s incestuous relationship, and maintain her position as Queen.
This type of storytelling would be the hallmark for Game of Thrones. In fact, the Lannisters were able to get Eddard Stark to compromise his principles in order to stay alive. That compromise was shown to be useless as he is betrayed and beheaded. It’s this type of storytelling that became a hallmark for Game of Thrones that separated itself from other television shows and made it the phenomenon that it is today.
This type of storytelling would be repeated with the Red Wedding where Eddard’s son Robb Stark is betrayed. Joffrey Baratheon would find himself betrayed and murdered. The list of betrayals and murders runs deep for Game of Thrones. Characters you think are key, somehow end up being betrayed or end up dead in battle.
None of this happens in “The Battle of Winterfell.” In fact, the opposite happens. The heroes aren’t betrayed or defeated. In fact, they are victorious despite overwhelming odds. They are victorious despite the Seven Kingdoms being divided and Cersei keeping her troops in King’s Landing. The plan to use Bran as bait to kill the Night King actually goes as planned. The unfathomable force of the Night King that has been teased since the first episode is seemingly defeated before the end of this final season. The great foe is done in, in the first pitched battle against a human force. The Night King and his forces did not live up to the hype.
What might be worse, is that none of the main contenders for the Iron Throne even fall in battle. They all survive. The people that die during the Battle of Winterfell are all supporting characters. None of them were major players.
But it’s not just that none of the major characters died, it’s how the show portrayed them surviving this episode. Let’s break it down.
The opening of the episode, much like The Last Jedi, was simply god awful. While The Last Jedi gave us a terrible prank call from Poe Dameron, Game of Thrones gave us an idiotic military strategy where battle-hardened military strategists decide to charge headfirst at an undead army in the middle of night without any line of sight.
What’s even worst is that Jon Snow had seen the army of the undead. He knew what they were capable of. He should have advised against a suicide charge with your ferocious cavalry. The cavalry should have laid in wait to be used to flank the undead similar to how they are used in The Patriot or even The Two Towers.
Not only, was the Dothraki charge absolutely idiotic, but the genius commanders also positioned their artillery out in the middle of the battlefield directly behind the cavalry. After the Dothraki are wiped out, the artillery is exposed. However, the worst part is that the artillery stop firing after the Dothraki’s fiery weapons are extinguished.
Jorah Mormont somehow survives this death charge and appears to be the only one to actually flee the undead onslaught. If Game of Thrones had stayed true to its identity. Mormont would have been savaged along with the rest of the Dothraki. It didn’t. His character was saved for a more emotional scene later in the episode.
After the Dothraki are extinguished, the infantry remains in their position. While the Unsullied appear to be a very organized infantry, they didn’t appear to be using any kind of formation similar to a Greek phalanx or Roman legion. The rest of the infantry appear to not have any kind of discipline whatsoever and just swing at anything that attacks them. These infantry units include Jamie Lannister and Brienne of Tarth.
After the inevitable conclusion that they would get overrun, they decide to retreat back into the fort. Why in the Seven Kingdoms they weren’t using the defensible location from the beginning is a complete mystery. Instead, they wasted their troops and as we’ll find out later, fueled the Night King’s own army. These soldiers should have been stationed inside the castle and been defending it from the ramparts with hot pitch, dragon glass arrows, and more.
Once the troops finally get themselves within the walls, they rely on Melisandre to light a single trench they had built in order to keep the undead at bay. There’s some tension as Melisandre’s spell doesn’t work until the last second. They’ve appeared to keep the undead at bay for a little while. However, no one in the castle is attacking them. They have an easily identifiable enemy and they all just enter a staring contest. It’s horrible writing. Soldiers should have been using the opportunity to take out as many undead as they could with fire.
The undead finally end the staring contest and create land bridges with their own bodies. It’s not until they realize the undead are storming the castle that orders are even given to man the walls. It’s just laughably bad coming from veterans of war including Jamie Lannister and Tyrion who have successfully defended and captured a number of castles throughout the Seven Kingdoms.
The castle should have had multilayers of defense. There should have been more than one trench. There should have been hot pitch being poured on the undead. The defense of the castle was completely inadequate and almost unbelievable given the castle sieges and defenses we’ve seen on Game of Thrones in the past.
Lyanna Mormont was easily swatted aside when an undead giant stormed the castle’s gates. In fact, one has to even question the idea of trenches when the forces of the Night King included giants. I don’t think the trench was hardly wide enough for a giant. However, after being flicked aside like a gnat on a hot summer’s day, Mormont gets up and charges at the giant. The giant grabs her and begins crushing her with his big hand. For some reason, this undead creature decides to bring the girl so he can look at her face to face. She then stabs him in the eye. Mormont gets a hero’s death.
If this episode had been treating their characters with the respect it had treated them throughout the show, Mormont would have been crushed under the giant’s boot and it most definitely would not have raised the girl up to his face. There are no heroes in Game of Thrones.
Beric Dondarrion’s death comes after he and The Hound decide to try and help Arya Stark, who is being relentlessly pursued by the undead. Somehow, the undead who have just broken through the front gate and are beginning to breach the walls are already inside the upper rooms of the castle. Arya tries to sneak her way out before she ends up running into Dondarrion and The Hound.
The three try to flee the undead, but are soon overtaken. Dondarrion appears to sacrifice himself as The Hound and Arya leave him. Yet, somehow he ends up right next to Arya and The Hound as they enter into a room and barricade the door. It’s weird the undead just leave him as they are repeatedly stabbing him as he stands in an almost crucifix like position in the hallway.
Jon Snow, can not only come back from the dead, but he appears to be able to face down hundreds of undead alone. These are the same undead that unceremoniously wiped out the entire Dothraki cavalry charge. After he is unseated from his dragon, Snow attempts to run down the Night King. However, he is thwarted when the Night King performs his resurrection magic and brings all those who have fallen in the Battle of Winterfell to join his army of undead. Jon Snow is surrounded by undead, as he is unable to get to the Night King in time.
When the show returns to spotlight Snow, he’s somehow still standing and has cut down a number of the undead. They aren’t dog-piling on him or ripping him to shreds as they do a number of the other throw away characters. He’s saved by Daenerys, who arrives on Drogon.
Given how the show portrayed the undead wiping out the human army, Jon Snow should have been killed too. The show has made it a point that no one is a superhero, but it went out of its way to make Jon Snow look that way in this episode.
This was one of the more infuriating scenes in the episode. After Daenerys and Drogon save Jon Snow, Drogon is swarmed by a bunch of undead, who begin attacking him. The dragon stays on the ground and allows more and more undead to get on his back. The scene is only used to put Daenerys in danger as she is eventually tossed off the dragon. The dragon doesn’t try to fly in the air and perform aerial maneuvers to get the undead off or even using it’s fire breath to kill the oncoming undead. Drogon just stays grounded and tosses a little bit. After Daenerys is thrown off it finally flies off into the air.
The dragon is removed from the picture, in order to set up a desperate showdown between Bran and the Night King. What the show should have done is have the dragon injured much like they did with Viserion. Or if they wanted Daenerys removed from the picture along with Drogon, they should have had her fall off the dragon’s back after the Night King tosses his ice spear at her. Daenerys could have fallen from the dragon and been seriously injured. Drogon would then defend Daenerys from the undead effectively removing the dragon from the battle.
The overall lighting in most of these scenes was just too dark to even make out what was happening. Obviously, that’s done on purpose, and was more than likely used to try to highlight the chaos of the attack, but it just makes for bad TV especially when you can’t figure out what exactly is happening or your viewers can’t follow the show. I think it’s also used to cover-up the rampant mistakes made with the flow as seen with Berric Dondarrion and the undead in the upper levels of Winterfell despite just breaching the walls and the gates.
This might be the biggest Deus Ex Machina of them all. Just when you thought the Night King was going to claim his victory and defeat Bran, Arya Stark seemingly comes out of nowhere and offs the undead leader. You get a sense that something is about to happen as they show a rush of wind passing by one of the Night King’s generals. She then leaps into the air to take out the Night King, and successfully does so.
The biggest problem with this scene is that she is able to somehow get past an entire army of undead without anyone noticing. As we saw in this episode, she doesn’t have those powers. The undead were on to her when she attempted to escape the upper floors of Winterfell castle. How in the world she snuck by them is anyone’s guess. I’m sure people will chalk it up to her assassin skills, but they weren’t on display earlier in the episode.
“The Long Night” betrayed what has made Game of Thrones such a wild success. It treated its characters as heroes. It made them heroes. It gave emotional heroic death scenes to Jorah and Lyanna Mormont. They weren’t cut down like so many others throughout the show.
Much like The Last Jedi, there were a few good moments in this episode. Maybe the best was seeing Clegane nearly give up, understanding the futility of the situation. The scene showed the harsh reality of the world that even a hardened warrior like Clegane, who has fought in numerous battles, declare there was no longer a point in fighting.
The undead taking over the crypts was also very on point. Unfortunately, no one died in that scene. It would have been much better if the undead arose in the crypts and Sansa, Tyrion, Varys, Missandei, and the rest were summarily killed before Arya killed the Night King.
Hope for Game of Thrones
Despite this episode betraying what has made Game of Thrones such a rousing success, there is still hope for redemption as the season continues. The Stark’s have passed down their warnings about the long night for generations. In fact, it’s been hinted at that previous generations have had to fight off the Night King and his forces. It’s the reason why the wall in the North was built in the first place.
It’s possible that they might have defeated the Night King this time, but like death, you can’t actually kill it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the show ends with the rebirth of the Night King and the idea that humanity will once again have to face his terror.
What did you think of the most recent episode of Game of Thrones? Do you think I’m being too harsh on the episode and that I shouldn’t judge this single episode given there are still a few more episodes left in this final season?