THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THE THIRD EPISODE OF SEASON EIGHT OF GAME OF THRONES. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
Death arrives in Winterfell. Last week was the calm before the storm and this week the storm arrives in full force. We’ve known since before this season even began that this episode was going to be a long battle sequence. We’d heard about the seventy days of night shoots, coupled with more work on sound stages and in post-production to create this monumental battle, and it did not disappoint.
One of the things David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are so great at is establishing and maintaining an ebb and flow in this grand battles. A battle can get boring quickly if it’s just people smashing into each other. This episode starts off with the tension cranked all the way up. We get about ten minutes of anxiety building as it’s established where all the characters are and the roles they’ll serve in the battle to come. And all the while we see the absolute fear in their faces as they await death. We get an awesome moment of hope when the Dothraki have all their swords lit ablaze by the Red Woman.
This moment of hope is almost immediately crushed as we see a grand shot of the Dothraki riding towards the army of the dead only to be swallowed up and extinguished within minutes. It’s a terrifying sight to see an entire people effectively wiped out in the darkness and it sets the tone for the dire odds all of these characters face. From this point on the ground assault gets brutal and chaotic. The army of the dead begin to charge the living and all hell breaks loose. The editing is fast and disorientating, leaning into the chaos being unleashed on Winterfell.
While the battle on the ground takes place, Jon and Dany ride both Drogon and Rhaegal in an attempt to find the Night King on his dragon and take him out. They encounter an impenetrable ice storm that completely obstructs their vision, which is something I never even considered being an obstacle. The cat and mouse game played out between the dragons is intercut with the ground battle as the dragons on occasion come down to rain fire on the army of the dead. I love seeing Jon and Dany riding dragons into battle together and seeing them work together. We even get an ice dragon vs dragon battle in the sky and yes, it’s exactly as epic as it sounds.
The battle has many stages, from open field confrontation to defending the walls, to brutal fighting in the courtyard and halls of the castle. We even get a slick heartstopping stealth sequence featuring Arya that does wonders for the pacing. There’s just the right amount of insane action mixed with character moments and brief respites. And the ending, my god the ending. Arya Stark kills the Night King and it’s one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen. The episode does an excellent job at misdirection and for the last twenty minutes or so you’ve completely forgotten about Arya.
The focus has been on Jon and his attempt to stop the Night King from getting to Bran. The Night King approaching his victory and wanting to savor it gives Arya the perfect moment to unexpectedly jump in. At first, the Night King catches her and I thought she was done for, then she drops the Valyrian steel knife, that was almost used to kill Bran way back in season one), into her lower hand and stabs the Night King, killing him. I’ve never been more shocked to see a character die. I, of course, wanted it to happen but I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as he died. It’s so surreal to think that the living have finally defeated the dead, though it wasn’t without a heavy toll.
This cinematography in this episode was absolutely stunning. The sets work wonders for the believability of the show and the way the camera is used elevates everything. The use of fire and smoke create incredibly striking images and this episode is full of jaw-droppingly gorgeous and equally terrifying shots. Ramin Djawadi also deserves ALL of the awards for his work on this show. The score puts this episode on that next level and carries the story as much or more than anything else happening on screen. There’s one scene in particular where he used the piano again (first time since The Light of the Seven I believe) and it was quite impactful.
Overall the biggest battle in television history did not disappoint. The multi-layered battle gives every character moments to shine, the audience a ridiculous amount of stress, and the series a satisfying conclusion to one of the biggest plotlines on the show. I was genuinely surprised by the lack of major character casualties, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The show going forward has one goal in mind, the battle for the Throne, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.