How are we all? Have you recovered? I certainly haven’t. I’m still reeling over the most incredible television I’ve ever seen. I should probably start off with explaining why my post is late this week – for the first time in a long time I watched the episode later than it’s initial 2am release. I had the most amazing opportunity to go to Sky studios to watch the episode, the recording of Thronecast and then meet the wonderful Kristian Nairn afterwards. It’s my second time watching an episode with Kristian (or Hodor) as you may better know him – and I feel so lucky to be able to say that. A million thanks to the wonderful, the marvellous, and the effortlessly funny Sue Perkins (and Sky Atlantic) for the brilliant opportunities that I will never forget!
I thought I would wait to watch the episode in the studio for a change as they had asked if they could record our live reactions too (tears, lots of tears). By the time 3pm came around I was ITCHING for it to begin and as soon as it started I was thrown, headlong and submerged into the battle.
The beginning of the episode ignited so much hope as Melisandre arrived to light the swords of the Dothraki. ‘Yes! What a great idea! This is amazing!’ My hopeful heart and mind sang as the Dothraki charged forward in all their glory. When the darkness consumed their lights and sound it really hit me and I realised well, this was going to be as emotional as I thought. The cinematography was epic as we watched the horse lords charge forward with shots of the hooves kicking up snow as their fiery Arakhs illuminated the gloom and fireballs shot over and ahead of them towards the awaiting Wights.
When Jorah returns alongside the few remaining Dothraki, I was expecting his eyes to glare blue. Shortly after we witnessed our first named character death as Edd was struck from behind after saving Sam from a Wight. I don’t mind Sam in general but his presence really pissed me off this episode. I know his whole character is based on his cowardice but we really didn’t have time for that.
The battle was soon underway and a lot of fans complained how it was too dark to make anything out. I recommend fiddling with your TV settings and rewatch (I used ‘Dynamic’ setting) to really appreciate the cinematography. In particular the quite literal ‘dance of dragons’ by moonlight. It was not an error that it was shot the way it was. It was a night battle with dragons and a snow storm – visibility isn’t going to be a strong point. Although when you watch it again with a lighter contrast you do get to appreciate the moments you perhaps missed first time around such as segments where we see Podrick, Jaime, Brienne and Tormund wreaking absolute havoc with their fighting. Since the criticism surfaced the episode cinematographer Fabian Wagner has said ‘We tried to give the viewers and fans a cool episode to watch…I know it wasn’t too dark because I shot it’ He went on to explain that the cinematography was purposely supposed to feel claustrophobic and disorientating. I personally thought it was incredible. There was a scene towards the end which was a long tracking shot where we see Jon trying to avoid the icy flames of Viserion. The long shots and takes were similar to how he was tracked in the Battle of the Bastards and Kit Harrington is an absolute pleasure to watching during his combats. My only complaint for the most part of the episode was that he spent too long in the air when his fighting skills were so desperately needed on the ground. The different pacing of elements of the battle were brilliantly manipulated by director Sapochnik, lightning quick noisy jump cuts in the hand to hand combat, slow and silent in the library with Arya and the achingly anxious and deathly quiet in the Godswood as the Night King walked towards Bran.
Melisandre is a strong contender for MVP in the battle. She had the initial Dothraki lighting moment, she lit the trenches (and provided me with my favourite shot of the night – see photo below) and she of course provided Arya with the motivation she needed in order to continue in her fight for the living. I could write an entire post in itself about Melisandres involvement in the episode but I’m really aware of my word count right now! All I can say is – she, like Jorah and Theon fulfilled her arc in an incredibly satisfying way. She provided us with prophetic foreshadows such as her last meeting with Arya, and has opened up questions about her true identity and whether or not she has a direct affiliation / connection to Jaqhen H’gar and Syrio Forel who I believe to be the same person (ok let me know if you want a Melisandre centric theory post so I can move on now.) The last thing I will point out regarding her scene was when Melisandre said ‘Brown Eyes, Green Eyes and Blue Eyes.’ – I think that this was a big hint towards Arya killing Cersei but using Jaimes face thus fulfilling both the prophecy from Maggy and also Melisandres prophecy. I don’t know who will kill Jaime but I can only suspect it may well be Bronn which would be totally heartbreaking but as I discussed last week – Bronn is a sell sword. He has no loyalty, he technically doesn’t owe it to Jaime to keep him alive – especially with Jaimes disassociation from the Lannister’s he truly has nothing to offer him.
Other valuable battle members were of course the Unsullied – in particular their commander Greyworm who surprisingly survived the battle. It was really interesting to see the physicality that Jacob Anderson delivered as for the first time we see Greyworm seemingly afraid. His hyperventilating beneath his helmet was especially powerful in portraying this. We also have his quick thinking to thank for Melisandre being able to light the trenches after several other failed methods.
Some of my favourite moments (asides from THAT moment) all included Arya. Her fighting atop of the castle with her fancy double ended spear even had Ser Davos shook. I could watch her fight like that for hours. The fast pace of those exterior scenes to her entering the castle and creeping around the library which was eerily silent was not good for my heart rate. We saw her years of training come together as even the blood she bled was louder then her footwork. As she was joined by The Hound and Beric I felt really emotional seeing the Hound scoop her up and carry her away to safety as he did all those years ago at the red wedding. Berics sacrifice was really symbolic as he stood in the doorway arms stretched into a crucifix position to reinforce his religious centre and his resurrection arc directly before we witness his fall and we realise his whole sixth life was led to get Arya to this moment.
A hallmark of Game of Throne’s battles is despite the action, we are never shortchanged in terms of the storytelling and the focus on relationships. I LOVED Jaime and Brienne, back to back fighting off Wights with the two halves of Ned Starks sword. It is quite literally ice and fire personified as they battle with the sword once named Ice in front of the bellowing flames.
Sansa and Arya stand atop of the castle as the battle begins contemplating their family home and Arya delivers the famed ‘stick them with the pointy end’ when instructing Sansa to take herself to the crypts. It was down in the crypts that we had a real emotionally fulfilling Sansa and Tyrion scene as they prepared themselves for what looked to be a joint suicide. Of course, these great thinkers would never go through with that as they successfully got themselves (and surprisingly Varys) to safety. The dialogue between them was especially touching – as was the moment he took her hand and kissed it.
Ok so the second most emotive moment of the night for me. Lyanna Mormont – take a bow. From the start of the episode we saw her making moves and giving orders like the boss she is. Her death will reign as one of the best in Game Of Thrones history as big faced small and despite her body being crushed like it was nothing at all, she fought to the very end defeating the Wight giant. Bella Ramsey was only due to appear in one episode but D&D loved her so much they kept her in – and what a choice they made because that was definitely one of the episode’s highlights.
As the episode enters its final sector the incredible music score by Ramin Djawali picks up into a dastardly piano composition – which reminded me of ‘The Light Of The Seven’ that we have previously heard during the Season 6 finale. We watch our heroes exhausted and over run.
The camera follows Jon’s point of view as he tramples through the grounds looking at Sam who is in a pile of the dead fighting aimlessly, he sees Tormund on top of a pile of wights attacking them menacingly. He sees Jaime and Brienne separately looking as though they will be over ran at any moment. The camera cuts to Daenerys who looks for the first time so vulnerable as we see her on the ground, unsure how to arm herself and without her dragons. I think this really shows just how vulnerable she is without them. It was a really strange kind of image to see her in that way.
Enter Ser Jorah -the knight in shining armour he always wanted to be for her – after all my talk last week of who would have the Eponine/Marius style death scene between Brienne,Jaime or Tormund I didn’t think it would be Ser Jorah. It was the perfect death for him and it really showed Daenerys in a different light. We have never seen her cry before. Not over the death of Khal Drogo, not over the death of Viserion. She usually greets grief with anger and venegence so to see her break down sobbing was really emotional made ever so slightly more emotional as her dragon curls around the two of them.
Theon is still chopping down Wights as the night king arrives in a chilling shot surrounded by his loyal subjects. The shot zooms out to show the destruction Theon has done armed with only an arrow. It’s amazing but his efforts are exhausted as he takes in the Night King face to face serving his redemption arc. He knows it’s time, bran knows it, and the Night King knows it. It’s emotional but it’s almost satisfying because we know he is dying knowing that he managed to repay his debts to the Starks after his long and winding history serving and then fighting them. He goes down like a true hero taking on the Night King running fearlessly at him. The score is suffocating and builds anxiety as the screen constantly cuts between the fighting in the castle, to Jon and Viserion, to the scenes in the Godswood. The anticipation reached a crescendo and I could feel myself catch my breath as the Night King stands before Bran.
What can I say about what happens next? It truly was one of the best moments of my life. The shock of Arya flying above the Night King, only to be caught by the throat, to then out-assassin him was just indescribable. The whole studio I watched the episode in let out roars as the Night King and his cohorts shattered into ice. Arya is seriously that bitch. There was so much foreshadowing to consider. As soon as Melisandre said to her ‘brown eyes, green eyes, and blue eyes.’ I just knew that that was her spurring her on to fulfil her destiny. When The Hound was freaking out and Beric tried to coerce him out of his PTSD state we heard:
‘Clegane! We need you! You can’t give up on us.’…
‘We’re fighting death! They can’t beat death’
‘Tell her that.’
Even in former seasons and episodes there have been foreshadowed moments such as Arya jumping onto Jon in the Godswood, Bran giving Arya the fateful dagger in the Godswood. Again, this could be another post in it’s entirety. There has been some backlash on unanswered questions the episode has left so I do want to address them. Is the beloved Azor Ahai storyline out the window now? Does it not matter that much anymore? It hasn’t been touched upon since Season 2 properly so I’m unsure whether it’s been written out and doesn’t matter that much in the television interpretation of the story. The lack of acknowledgement of The Prince Who Was Promised (if you’re confused by this read my theories post and skip to TPTWP section!) also ties in with the deflation some fans feel towards the end of The Night King. Is this the end of him and the White Walkers? All that magic just gone? No motive, no explanation, no chance of a return? Personally, aware that the show is foremost based on the inter-personal relations of the human politics – ergo the Game Of Thrones – I do find it plausible that that could be it for the shows depiction of the Night King. This effectively means that Bran has become the show’s ‘MacGuffin’ in that he had no real purpose other than to provide a focus for the other characters. I don’t doubt for a second that in George RR Martins final book release we will get more detail and context for Westeros history swots but I do suspect the rest of this season will mainly focus on the war for the throne and the interpersonal conflict that will entail. One question on the ‘magic’ remains though…if Beric was being resurrected by the Lord of Light to fulfil his purpose to keep Arya alive so she could fulfil her destiny, then what is the purpose of Jon’s resurrection? Is it just because of his true heritage, or is there some other higher purpose as yet unrevealed? I also would be especially interested as to whether The Night Queen theory I previously spoke about would have any truth behind it as a final plot twist.
So what happens now? We have the axis of Jon between Dany and Sansa, the Lannister siblings, North vs South, Cersei’s forces vs the depleted allies, Yara Greyjoy in the Iron Islands and the Golden Company minus elephants on the warpath. 3 episodes to go and it’s all still to play for, but how do they top the Battle of Winterfell?