THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS
After almost eight full seasons, the battle between the living and the dead has finally arrived. There might never have been an episode of a television series anticipated quite like this one. Surely it couldn’t live up to the hype. There is far too much for the writers and production crew to accomplish that it must be impossible. Well, it is quickly becoming clear that The Long Night will go down as one of the most impressive yet divisive episodes in television history.
There has already been so much said about this episode. It’s too dark (literally not figuratively). No one important died. The writing was all over the place. It was anti-climactic.
Well…they’re not wrong. These complaints are totally justified. However, before I get into the negatives, I want to mention everything that The Long Night did so well.
Following, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, an episode which expertly created a sense of dread and despair among the characters, it was crucial that The Long Night continued this, and it absolutely did. The shots of the characters staring into the darkness were haunting. As the episode progressed, it became clear just how terrifying the dead were as they swarmed through the living, whose screams echoed. We, the audience, have seen the dead before. However, not like this. Hardhome was our first lesson on the danger that the Undead army pose, however, in that episode, as the swarm approached, we cut back to the characters on the other side of a gate, temporarily safe, and only heard the screams of the poor souls not on that side. Granted once they got through the gate, we got to see more of the danger they pose, but not in the manner that the characters experience it in The Long Night.
Music is a crucial aspect of any Game of Thrones episode, and that is all down to the creative genius of composer Ramin Djawadi. With The Long Night, he has composed one of the greatest scores in television history. Which really says how incredibly talented he is as it isn’t even the greatest score for a Game of Thrones episode. That, in my opinion, remains The Winds of Winter. In The Long Night, Djawadi utilises older scores and mixes them together to create some truly mesmerising music that is expertly placed throughout the episode. His standout of the episode and one of the greatest tracks he’s done for Game of Thrones is “The Night King”. Featured in the final minutes of the battle, with Theon making a last stand against the Wights and Jon cornered by an Undead Viserion, Djawadi’s use of piano (or keyboard I’m not sure) is hauntingly beautiful.
When it comes to action sequences, Game of Thrones rarely disappoints. Thankfully, they don’t disappoint with The Long Night. David Benioff and DB Weiss wisely decided to split the episode into three segments to avoid draining the audience with non-stop action, which for an 82-minute episode would become rather tiring. The first segment was intended to be nothing but suspense as the Undead began their attack and the living began to realise the seemingly insurmountable odds they are facing. Watching the Dothraki horde bravely (yet stubbornly) charge into the darkness, with their inflamed arakhs (Dothraki weapons), which are quickly extinguished, was shocking and thrilling. And all this happened within the first ten minutes! The shot of the horde charging into the darkness was breathtaking, as were so many shots throughout the episode. Once the Dothraki were all but eliminated, and the Wights began to massacre the Unsullied, my heart began to race, and it didn’t stop for the rest of the episode.
The second segment of the episode was supposed to play out like a horror film, and it was a total success. Arya’s (Maisie Williams) stealthy scene in the library was my favourite sequence in the entire episode. It was in this sequence, that not only do we see just how skilled Arya has become, but we also see some of her barriers begin to crumble. She is still a young girl, who despite all she has been through and all she has done, is terrified. The scene feels very similar to John Krasinki’s A Quiet Place, as Arya silently navigates her path between the Undead and the exit door. It is thanks to Maisie Williams’ impeccable performance and Miguel Sapochnik’s wonderful direction, that the scene works so well.
The final segment of the episode was designed in the form of an action film and it really feels like one. The relentless onslaught of the dead made for a thrilling sequence. As did the final stands of both Jorah (Iain Glen) and Theon (Alfie Allen) who went out in a way that seemed perfectly fitting for both their character arcs and the characters around them. The use of claustrophobic corridors as the characters, (most notably Jon), worked their way through the battle, added even more tension to an already tense episode. Sapochnik is THE director when it comes to action-oriented episodes, having previously directed Hardhome and Battle of the Bastards. It’s clear that they desperately tried to outdo themselves, however, having already set the standards so high, it is unsurprising that, in my opinion, they haven’t accomplished this. Sapochnik once again handles the action expertly, but the experience on behalf of the audience is ruined by the simple fact that many struggled to see what was happening throughout the majority of the episode, and this will be discussed later with the negatives. Splitting the episode into three segments was a sensible decision as it offered the audience something different, and actually improves the experience as those 82 minutes just flew by, and that was largely down to the segmented structure of the episode.
The episode was understandably expected to be one that would have fans reaching for the tissues, with many beloved fan favourites at jeopardy. As already mentioned, Jorah and Theon received the deaths that their characters deserved: fighting for their honour and defending those they love. Out of all the deaths that Game of Thrones has delivered to its audience, none were as heartbreaking yet satisfying as that of Theon Greyjoy’s. Satisfying, not because we wanted him to perish, but because it felt like the perfect way for him to exit the story. Throughout the series, Theon has had one of the best, most developed arcs. We’ve seen him go from an arrogant youth to a conflicted murderer, to a physically and emotionally tortured soul, to a repentant man trying to reclaim his sense of self, and finally to a man who is willing to lay down his life protecting the only family he had ever known. Seeing him finally receive the forgiveness that he had been seeking from Bran was an extremely rewarding moment and made for the most emotional moment of the episode as Bran declared Theon a “good man”. It’s something that Theon has been working towards ever since he captured Winterfell back in the second season, and to finally get that redemption and forgiveness was the right way to end his arc. One thing that many may have missed regarding Theon’s death was that The Night King seemingly, for a split second, showed respect to Theon, as he waited for Theon to nod before advancing, and even looked down on him, with a brief hint of admiration as he impaled him. Considering he just turned his back on Jon, that speaks volumes. As the scenes play out, with Ramin Djawadi’s outstanding “The Night King” theme playing alongside, the emotion builds up at a rapid rate. These are characters that have gone through so much and seeing them go out on their own terms was incredibly rewarding. It’s a fitting end not only for their characters but for Alfie Allen and Iain Glen’s time on the series. They have delivered magnificent performances for eight seasons that have shockingly gone under-appreciated far too often. That being said, it isn’t just the deaths that made for emotional moments in The Long Night. Despite all of the action, there was time for several tender moments, most notably Sansa and Tyrion’s conversations in the crypts. There is something beautiful in their relationship, the genuine affection and trust that they have for each other, which despite all of the odds, might just make them the most stable relationship on the show.
The final positive that I have is the fan-pleasing moment of Lyanna Mormont’s death. Not fan-pleasing because she died, but fan-pleasing because of how she died. Ever since the audience was introduced to the feisty young female, the character has had a devoted fanbase. We have repeatedly watched as she never shied away from speaking her mind, or giving Danaerys Targaryen an ALMIGHTY death stare. So it only seemed fitting that she went out in a brutal fashion, but not before she single-handedly eliminated the threat of a Giant Wight.
In order to convey the idea of the world being plunged into darkness by the dead, the decision was made to shoot the episode on extremely low lighting, using as much natural light as possible. The intention behind this is admirable as if done well, would increase the tension of the episode. Unfortunately, it totally backfired. The episode is so unbelievably dark that most of the incredible work being done all departments of the production are wasted as the audience can barely see anything occurring on screen. I personally managed fine for the most part. I really only struggled in the opening ten minutes but considering the number of people that have complained about this, it cannot go unmentioned that this is a serious error on behalf of those involved in the production. The audience should not have to adjust their exposure settings on their TV’s, or close all of their blinds and switch the lights off, or squint at the screen, just to see who is in the frame at the time. However, despite all of the criticism that is, justifiably, being thrown in the direction of the episode for its (intentionally) poor lightning, The Long Night features some of the most striking imagery of the entire series. The shots of the Undead Viserion engaging his two living Dragon brothers in an aerial battle is incredible, as is the simultaneous lighting of the Dothraki’s arakhs. It’s just a damn shame that so many of the audience missed it.
Now, the moment which really left a horrible impression on me in The Long Night is what happened to The Night King. After eight seasons of build up, never-ending warnings that “Winter is Coming”, and the threat that had so clearly been demonstrated he and his army posed throughout earlier episodes of the series, most notably Hardhome, he finally makes his move. And…..that’s it. The writers have really shot themselves in the foot by limiting the final two seasons to comprise a total of thirteen episodes. They repeatedly stated that any more would feel as though they were dragging the story on. Yet, it has become far too common to hear complaints from fans, including myself, that everything just feels rushed. The writers made the bold decision to kill off The Night King without expanding upon his story. He had been billed as the ultimate threat and yet his FIRST TIME actually doing anything himself and he is killed far too easily by a scrawny little girl. Now, I love that it was Arya who killed him, although it definitely should have been Jon. Killing him off was inevitable. However, few would have predicted this early and at Arya’s hands, especially considering Jon was believed to be Azor Ahai (or The Prince That Was Promised). I really hope that the writers have one more twist up their sleeves in regards to The Night King and his connection with Bran (who did nothing in this episode). One of my favourite theories for years has been that Bran is or would eventually become The Night King through time travel, while that is looking unlikely now, I’m still backing it as it would make Bran’s last words to Theon all the more tragic.
A final negative is the fact that there were too few major deaths. Jorah and Theon. That’s it. Thousands died in the battle but only two major characters, and only three other supporting characters that most of the audience would be able to name. A battle of this intensity should have claimed more beloved characters. Brienne. Grey Worm. Podrick. Tormund. All of these characters are adored by fans, yet many will feel disappointed that they’re still around. They have completed their arcs and have nothing left to offer the series. It reminds me of the recent season of The Walking Dead, where the show adapted the infamous pike moment from the graphic novels. In it, several major characters and several major supporting characters are decapitated by the new (now old) villains and their head are placed on pikes as a warning. It’s a shocking moment. However, the show toned it down by killing off largely forgettable characters who meant very little to the audience apart from three characters. This naturally generated controversy with fans claiming that the show was too scared to kill off major characters. Despite the controversy, they HAD to do it. The show had not developed any of the new major characters enough for the audience to care, and has too few major characters left that the audience does care about to kill any off. If they had, they undoubtedly would have lost more of its already depleted audience. Game of Thrones is different. This is the final season. There are only three episodes left and by leaving so many characters alive, the writers have broken the rules established during season one. Previously, if a character was outnumbered or in a seemingly impossible situation, they died. There was no last-ditch escape. No successful one-man stand against hundreds. Yet, there is constantly in The Long Night and there have been for the past three seasons. It’s an error on the writer’s part and just leaves the audience scratching their heads as to why they were so kind when they used to treat their audience so ruthlessly.
In the end, The Long Night is an incredible achievement. It will go down as one of the most impressive action-orientated episodes in television history. However, it is bogged down by poor lighting and frustrating creative decisions. Still, it currently stands among the best of Game of Thrones, despite proving divisive. Only time will tell how audience reaction to the episode will change in the years to come.
So the big question following The Long Night is: What’s next? With The Night King and his army seemingly done for good, the attention will once again turn towards the Iron Throne, as it always was going to. I’m really curious as to how Daenerys will react to Jon’s revelation, now that she will have had time to process it. Only three more weeks until we will finally know who ends up on the throne, and then we’re done… until the prequel series begins airing, presumably sometime in 2020, maybe 2021, and then we can hopefully look forward to many more years of stories within George R.R. Martin’s world.