The Battle for Winterfell certainly did not disappoint!
(Major spoilers entail this episode review!!)
After eight seasons of build up to this monumental climax, the Night King and his army of the dead finally pitched up at Winterfell and faced off in a gargantuan clash against the combined armies of the living in a battle that would decide the fate of Westeros. With this being the longest episode in Game of Thrones‘ history (82 minutes) and directed by a series favourite Miguel Sapochnik, (‘Battle of the Bastards’, ‘Hardhome’, ‘The Winds of Winter’) anticipation was fever-pitch as to who would survive the oncoming onslaught as well as the visual spectacle that was in store for us all. Thankfully, it did not disappoint as (to paraphrase last week’s review) we were treated to one of the best battles that has ever been on a TV episode to date.
On a visual scale, words don’t begin to describe how jaw-dropping it was to behold. The poetic wide shot of Rhaegal and Drogon flapping under a waxing crescent moon; the Dothraki charging into battle with flaming arakhs aloft only to witness them slowly extinguishing as the white walkers slaughter them in the dark, there is no doubt that plenty of desktop wallpapers will be created long after this episode. At times it was total chaos to watch, especially during the beginning, as a swarm of wights charged at the Unsullied, which was terrifying and reminded us as to why they pose such a threat to our characters. This chaos did lead to brief moments of exhaustion in trying to locate characters and follow their trajectories which was frustrating, but this quickly settled down and suddenly I was seeing characters react in ways I’ve never seen before.
It wasn’t the determination or courage that we normally notice in Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster Waldau), and Samwell Tarly’s faces (John Bradley), but rather hopelessness and exhaustion as The Night King’s army descended upon Winterfell in their thousands, and a realisation that holding off their inevitable deaths is now their only option. Even in the crypt, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) ominously says ‘the most heroic thing we can do now is look truth in the face’ and wait to see what happens. It’s surprising how Sapochnik and the script by David Benioff and Dan Weiss creates these quieter potent moments from all the bloodshed occurring around them, and it’s effective in breaking up the huge set pieces that engulf this entire episode.
And on that note, let’s raise a glass of red wine to some of the folk who sadly met their demise this week. Although there were not as many big name deaths as I anticipated – and I’m guessing this will be rectified in the final three episodes – Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) will be sorely missed, with Daenerys losing the only person who knew her better than anyone and Theon finally redeeming himself by protecting the one he betrayed until the bitter sweet end, Bran. What is dead may never die! In addition, it’s a sad farewell to Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsay) and even though she stabbed an undead giant in the eye, I will miss her insightful remarks within the Great Hall. Last but not least, our key followers of the Lord of Light, Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) and Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) passed away with both their purposes fulfilled in preventing the ‘The Long Night’ from taking fruition. Melisandre surprisingly played a major role this week as she helped to light the fortified trench on fire and explained to Arya that she will kill ‘blue eyes’, and that final shot as she died of old age in the snow as dawn came was beautiful and a fitting way to bow out.
But this episode not only concluded character storylines, it also produced one of the show’s most shocking and triumphant moments in that the character who would plunge a Valyrian steel knife into The Night King’s chest would be none other than Arya Stark (Maisie Williams)! But surely we must have seen this coming way back in ‘The Climb’ from Season 3 where Melisandre prophesies her destiny by telling her she will shut blue eyes, brown eyes, and green eyes forever. On the other hand (after some YouTube searching) that scene only lasts 47 seconds so no wonder most of us leapt from our sofas and chairs in shock and delight at this profound revelation. Furthermore, composer Ramin Djawadi’s score during this build up was impressive as The Night King approaches Bran in the Godswood accompanied by a piano melody that set a balanced tone of hope but failure on the verge of losing the Great War. It was reminiscent of how Sapochnik and Djawadi used music with the Great Sept of Baelor exploding at the end of Season 6, and it will be interesting to see whether they do this again in Episode 5 later on in the season.
But where do we go from here? With The Night King and his army defeated at last, are all eyes turning towards King’s Landing and The Iron Throne? Judging by next week’s trailer, that’s sure to be the case but let’s hope there are more twists left in store. Nonetheless, let’s hope the impact of this extraordinary conflict resonate throughout the rest of the season as we have definitely witnessed television history forming in front of our eyes. Thank you David, Dan, George R. R. Martin, and Miguel!
Game of Thrones continues next Monday at 2am and is repeated at 9pm on Sky Atlantic/NOW TV.