Winter is here: The final season of “Game of Thrones” is one of the most highly anticipated television events of the last decade. Follow our columnists as they explore students’ weekly reactions as an iconic era of pop culture comes to an end. Beware, spoilers lie ahead.
Game of Thrones’ longest, most expensive episode yet pulls out all the stops to deliver a battle fans will never forget.
The armies gathered at Winterfell are in for a long night, and this week’s episode makes great use of timing, stretching moments to build on the tension of battle.
While Winterfell’s army stands in darkness, prepared for battle, the Red Witch, Melisandre (Carice van Houten), returns and chants a spell to light the Dothraki’s swords on fire. The flaming swords quickly become the only things visible on screen as Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) leads the Dothraki on the first charge against the White Walkers. The Walkers completely overwhelm them, with swords extinguishing until the screen returned to the dark black of night. The entire battle, taking place throughout the night, is dominated by intense shots of fire and darkness. But the grim setting isn’t overwhelming, as the cinematography feels well-thought-out.
Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Jon (Kit Harington) join the battle atop her dragons to help the overwhelmed armies of Winterfell, abandoning their plan to hide nearby. Dragons haven’t failed the queen before, so it’s shocking here when the creatures only slows the army of Walkers. The battle was never going to be easy, but it’s clear early on that Winterfell has a difficult path to victory.
Over the army of the dead, a massive storm blows in, filling the sky with a white haze that combines with roaring flames to give the episode some much needed respite from darkness.
The change in setting provides the perfect light to watch Sam (John Bradley) hesitate on the battlefield and watch Edd (Ben Crompton) die as a result. Heroically, the Unsullied defend the retreat as long as they can. Inside, an anxious Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) chooses to return to the battlefield, escorting Melisandre to light the trenches. She struggles, but ignites the area moments before Walkers make it through – this will not be the episode’s last close call. Things happening at the last possible second is a theme in this episode, and anxiety runs high early on.
Seconds later, the Walkers manage to snuff out the trenches and quickly infiltrate Winterfell. Inside the castle, Arya (Maisie Williams) uses her new double-sided spear to cut through Walkers left and right. Arya dispatches Walkers more quickly than anyone else thus far, and it’s clear that she is one of the strongest fighters on the battlefield. Most importantly, she’s not just fighting to survive – she seems to be on a larger mission.
As Jon tries to attack the Night King, his foe predictably raises Winterfell’s dead, both from the army and those buried in the crypt, before walking away. Everyone but Jon saw this moment coming – last episode’s emphasis on the crypt’s safety made it clear this wasn’t true. The twist was expected, but its timing wasn’t.
Finally, the Walkers come for Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright). Theon (Alfie Allen) protects him, even charging at the Night King in a last-ditch effort but is killed instantly. This death was fitting, and one of the most predictable given the redemption arc he has been on this season, beginning with the rescue of his sister. Theon could only atone for his greatest mistakes by giving his all for Bran, whom he once betrayed. Bran forgives him before this fight even begins, and this exchange only heightens the scene’s emotional payoff.
The Night King walks over to Bran and begins to draw his sword. For the first moment in the episode, there is no foreseeable victory for Winterfell and the living. But a scream pierces the silence – it’s Arya, running at the Night King with her Valyrian steel dagger. In a crushing instant, he catches her in midair, choking her and grabbing her arm. With a practiced intensity, Arya drops the dagger, catches it with her other hand and stabs him – the same move she used against Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) last season. The callback provides some fun and manages to avoid being predictable. The Night King shatters and, all around Winterfell, the army of the dead dies with him.
Natalie Dybeck, a fourth-year communication student, thought the episode and its story were great, but the ending surprised her.
“It felt very sudden. Winter has been coming this whole time, and suddenly, they ended it,” Dybeck said. “I thought it was kind of cool how the show has been preparing Arya for this since the beginning.”
Matthew Schulze, a fourth-year chemical engineering student, hopes further episodes will explore the Night King’s motivations.
“I hope they explain somewhat who the Night King is and and why and how he was doing what he did,” Shulze said. “I would assume the dragons are going to destroy the fleet to start. Probably one of the dragons will die because (Cersei has) those ballistic crossbows that are going to try and shoot them down. I think Cersei is going to get deposed.”
This was the episode’s most shocking moment. Considering that there are still three episodes remaining and one of the show’s central conflicts has seemingly been resolved, it’s clear the creators don’t plan on withholding the satisfaction that viewers have long awaited. Granted, this creative choice will give the show time to truly explore the battle against Cersei for the throne. But nonetheless, it surprised viewers, perhaps not in good ways.
A quick resolution also limits the episodes’ emotional payoff. Had Winterfell’s army been forced to retreat further South, the later victory would truly have felt like getting payback for the dead, including Jorah and Melisandre, who die in the episode’s final moments. But since the entire conflict is wrapped up in one battle, it also allows for the writers to make every moment significant. Overall, the choice was successful. It was completely unexpected and simultaneously delivered a satisfying conclusion.
Given that the Night King seemed to have no true motivation beyond simply killing all humans, it makes sense the show would end this conflict early to focus on its more human storytelling elements.