Much like last week the entire episode takes place at Winterfell, with the full 82 minute run time being dedicated to the battle between the living and the dead. We open with a terrified Sam as the battle preparations rage around him. Not for the first time I’m going to have to mention the brilliant music from the wonderful Ramin Djawadi who scores this with some brilliantly tense music. As Jon and Daenerys overlook this from a cliff with the dragons we see a single rider approach. It turns out to be Melisandre who sets the Dothraki’s swords alight (set to some more epic music from Djawadi). Once she is inside she tells Davos not to bother executing her as she’ll be dead by dawn.
The battle begins as Jorah leads a Dothraki charge alongside Ghost. We don’t get to see the enemy, but the wide shots of the flaming swords charging is truly spectacular. Instead of focusing on this battle we see it from the view of the rest of the army as the number of flames is slowly extinguished. As Jorah and a handful of Dothraki make it back the next line where many of the heroes are situated prepare. I didn’t see Ghost returning here, so he may well have been killed in the fighting.
Then come the horde of the dead who overrun the front lines. Daenerys and Jon proceed to rain dragonfire upon the White Walkers’ army. Jon spots the Whites waiting by the trees, but in the end he is prevented from reaching them by a snowstorm the blows through. Some of the visuals here with the dragon against the storm are incredible. After Arya sends Sansa down to the crypt, Sam finds himself in trouble during the battle. Dolorous Edd saves hims, but becomes the first main character to die helping Sam to his feet. Meanwhile the storm is making it nearly impossible for Jon and Daenerys to see what is going on, after crashing into one another, so Jon lands on the walls near the Godswood where Bran is being protected by Theon and the Ironborn.
As Tormund and Brienne order a retreat of their soldiers to the gates The Unsullied stay to protect their retreat. Grey Worm orders for the trenches to be set on fire, however Daenerys can’t see the signal through the storm, and the arrows fired from the walls are put out. Melisandre comes out and uses her magic to set the trenches on fire in the nick of time. In the crypts Tyrion laments being kept down here, however Sansa says that everyone who is down there, is so because they can’t do anything. They joke about their past marriage, with Sansa saying it would never have worked because of their divided loyalties, him to Daenerys, her to the people of the North. Meanwhile Bran wargs into a raven and sees the approach of the Night King on the undead Viserion.
The begin to fall onto the flaming trench one or two at a time, using their bodies to douse the flames and create a path through for the remaining army. Jon is the only one alert to the Night King’s arrival. As the dead begin to climb the walls we see a number of the heroes fighting them off, Arya becomes overwhelmed with the number and is chased through the halls. Seeing her in trouble is the only thing that Beric can use to snap the Hound of the panic attack he appears to be having. Meanwhile the gates don’t last long as an undead giant breaks them down. Lyanna Mormont charges it down, and whilst it crushed the life out of her, she manages to kill it by stabbing it through the eye.
We see the first small skirmish between Jon and Daenerys’ dragons and the Night King’s, with Jon and Daenerys seeming outmatched. We then move away from the grand scale of the battle, as we follow Arya creeping around a hall trying to avoid the dead. She eventually makes it out, only for more to burst through a door and chase her. She is saved by The Hound and Beric, with Beric killed before they can make it to a hall where Melisandre is waiting. She reminds Arya of the prophecy she told Arya in The Climb, that she would kill many people, including those with blue eyes. After quoting Syrio Forel’s line of “What do we say to the God of Death” Arya with new confidence turns and runs off.
While the dead arrive in the Godswood, The Night King has Viserion blow a hole in the wall allowing more of the dead into Winterfell. Jon launches a surprise attack, with the dragons tussling, before Drogon knocks the Night King from Viserion’s back. Daenerys order Drogon to burn him, however the Night King is completely unscathed. Daenerys barely avoids one of the Night King’s spears as she flees. Meanwhile Jon rushes the Night King on foot, but he raises those how have been killed in battle, replenishing the dead’s numbers. This includes Lyanna, Edd, and those in the tombs housed in the crypts. Daenerys and Drogon save Jon, who heads for the Godswood, however Drogon is overrun by the dead. Daenerys is knocked off his back, as Drogon flees, but she is protected by Jorah.
We see Sansa and Tyrion hiding in the crypts, but the show their resolve as they pull out the weapons. Ramin Djawadi once again steals the show here, with a beautiful and harrowing piece of music that plays over the fighting. Jon is unable to reach the Godswood as he finds himself pinned down by Viserion, and Jorah dies protect Daenerys. Theon valiantly fights off the dead until the Night King’s arrival with the other White Walkers. Bran thanks Theon and tells him he is a good man. Theon charges the Night King, but is slain. As the Night King prepares to kill Bran Arya jumps at him with her Valyrian Steel dagger. The Night King catches her, however she drops the dagger to her free hand, and she stabs him destroying the army of the dead.
We see that all of the other main characters have survived, but with their armies decimated. The episode closes with Melisandre walking away from Winterfell, removing her necklace allowing herself to die of old age.
Honestly The Long Night was a bit of mixed bag. We were promised the most epic battle in the show’s history, but I’m not sure it actually outdid Hardhome or The Battle of the Bastards. Director Miguel Sapochnik actually directed both of those episodes, and whilst at times a lot of his skill as a director came through, at others some of his direction left a lot to be desired.
But obviously people came into this episode expecting a lot of major deaths, and whilst it may not feel like it, we did actually get quite a lot. Edd, Lyanna, Beric, Jorah, Theon, and Melisandre all went down, and Ghost may well have joined them as he never came back after the initial charge, and given that there is still most of this season still to go, that’s a lot of fairly pivotal characters. I guess that many people were expecting the confrontation with The Night King and the army of the dead to be the biggest moment of the season, but the first two episodes were actually pushing the rift between Jon and Daenerys much harder.
As for the actual battle, there were a number of beautiful shots, and I loved some of what Sapochnik did. But much of the action actually felt far more choppy and full of quick edits that made it hard to really tell what was happening. He was far more successful in the quieter moments away from the battle, which really allowed Ramin Djawadi’s music to shine. Honestly, Djawadi’s music has consistently been excellent in the show, but I don’t think he has ever shone as much as he does in The Long Night, there were at least three times where his music was scene stealing in the best way. It really served to enhance what was happening and wasn’t distracting.
But we are now in a Westeros seemingly free from the dead. It turns out that Arya was the one to slay the Night King and destroy the army of the dead. Now this moment was set up previously that destroying the White Walkers would stop any of the dead they created, and as the Night King created all the Whites his death would stop them all, but I cannot help but feel reminded of the Phantom Menace in this moment with everyone suddenly saved by Arya’s heroics. I knew it was coming, and Sapochnik did a good job to not make this feel silly.
What did feel a bit stupid however was the moment when Arya was trying to sneak out of the room with the dead listening for any sound she would make. It felt far too much like a moment from a stealth horror game, something like The Last of Us, or even just a Splinter Cell game. It just felt like we were taken too far out of the chaos and desperation of the battle that was happening.
On the flip side the highlight of the episode, and truly the most emotional moment, was probably Lyanna’s death. It was heartbreaking to have her die, but to go out taking a giant with you was epic. Theon also got a great send off, heroically defending Bran to the last moment. Jorah went out just as you would have expected, saving Daenerys as he fought off the dead around them. This would probably have been even more emotional if it hadn’t come right at the crescendo of the action where so many of the main characters were fighting in desperate situations.
As I said The Long Night is a little bit of a mixed bag of an episode. There were a lot of great things about it, but it didn’t live up to Miguel Sapochnik’s previous battle sequences on the show.