55 nights. It took 55 nights, from what I understand in a row, to film the Battle Of Winterfell. A month and a half to film what I believe might be the greatest single episode of television in history. Sure, we’ve gone less than 12 hours since it aired so raw emotion is playing its part in my bias, but considering the immaculate way character arcs were both forwarded and ended, how what little was actually said was so spot on it permeated the risen-dead blood shed it was surrounded by, and how redemption was found in the most final and selfless of ways, I don’t think S8E3 of Game Of Thrones can be topped.
The only sounds we heard, from the side of Man, throughout most of those 82 minutes were the primal howls of terror, pain, and defiant rage that almost served as a second score to the already, and always, brilliant one laid down by the show, When characters did speak, or even experienced a one-sided interaction such as the look of shear panic on Jamie’s face when he saw Brienne being attacked. It was perfect.
When Sansa, resigned to the fact that she was going to die, told Tyrion “you were the best of them”, an allusion to her three abysmal marriages, the sad gut-punch of gallows humor that followed was almost as crippling as the grip of a white walker giant.
When Bran told Theon he is a “Good man”, you instant realized the only living son of Balon Greyjoy, the heir to the Iron Islands, had been set free. That after a lifetime of being cast aside and being considered an afterthough, that is when he wasn’t being brutally tortured and used as a pawn, he had done what was necessary to die a hero, to matter.
And lastly, although there many other fantastic interactions, when Lady Melisande evokes Arya’s first mentor and inspiration Syrio Forel, prompting House Stark’s resident assassin to tell Death “not today”, you saw the fire light ABLAZE inside A Girl.
The battle itself, somehow, was the most grueling of the show’s history, and I use the word grueling specifically. There had been more blood. There had been more dynamic fight scenes, whether due to wildfire or Bolton cavalry tactics. But in terms of pure, brute exhaustion, this one won. I’m not sure if white walkers or whites have breath, but if they do, the army of Man was fighting them close enough to smell it the entire time. For every one hardy northern solider, Unsullied, or Dothraki screamer, there were 10 white walkers with limitless energy and a thirst for, I don’t know about blood, but human souls. And they did not…stop…coming. And so as the battle continued, from when the dead breached the wall to when the Night King brought every one that had been vanquished back to their feet, it was not so much fear or anger on the faces of our favorite warriors, but fatigue. They were past facing down death, they just didn’t think the fight would ever stop, and to them, in the moment, that was worse.
Two long-time, divisive characters met their ends at the Battle Of Winterfell, as well as one recent fan favorite. Little Lyanna Mormont, Queen shit of Bear Island and ardent defender of her people and her ethics, went out on her fucking shield, killing the white walker giant as he held her is his death grip, having already shattered and pulverized her tiny frame. They say to be a true champion you have to defend your title. Lyanna Mormont did.
Jorah Mormont, the friend-zoned knight and former subversive to the Dragon Queen Daenerys, also met his demise, defending her from a sea of white walkers outside Winterfell. Each time they sliced and stabbed him, his will to defend her only got stronger, sort of knowing dying right there would be the only way to complete pay Khaleesi back.
And finally Theon. The guy was, if you dont mind me saying, a little prick for what he did to Robb and the rest of the Starks years ago. But as I mentioned, he went out “a good man”, standing guard for Bran until the very last moment, when he made an attempt on the Night King we all knew would fail.
I’d be remiss to not wrap up by touching on two things. I’ll go with the less positive first. Jon Snow, the epicenter of many a battle for the last eight years, sort of just flailed his way through this one. Just when you thought he was going to make a climactic move on the enemy or take one last shot at killing the Night King, he just started scurrying somewhere else. I am guessing his “moment” was supposed to be facing down the ice dragon, but I don’t think it landed.
What did land was Arya. Fucking. Stark. Now a bona fide killer and expert tactician in assassination, she survived earlier thanks to Dondarrion and the Hound and then heeded Melisandre’s advice. I thought she was just going to pyscho and start killing every White Walker in sight, but she had other plans. As the Night King closed in on Bran, as did Arya on the Night King, literally from the top rope. As with seemingly everyone who has tried to Kill Arya Stark, he thought he had her and he didn’t, as she deftly switched hands with her dragon glass dagger a la the NBA’s best slashing guards, gutting the head of the undead and his entire army in one fell swoop.
We have three episodes left now and an entire war left to fight. The North/Khaleesi faction has a, let’s just say weakened army at best. They face the 20,000 men of the Golden Company, Euron Greyjoy’s ironborn, as well as the rest of the Lannister loyalists. They have (I think) two dragons left, a handful of soliders, and one Arya Stark. Can this war play out the same way as the one against the dead? If Arya, Jamie (I think he’s alive?), or someone else can get to Cersei, will her soldiers still want to fight. Are her’s the green eyes Melisandre told Arya about? I guess we’ll find out.
All men must die. Last night, all men served.