The Battle for Winterfell is over.
We’re now halfway through the final season of Game of Thrones.
Your Westerosi correspondents Pete and Dan have emerged from the crypts of Winterfell with their latest recap.
These recaps are dark and full of spoilers, so only continue reading if you’ve caught up on the latest episode of the show.
We won’t be spoiling anything from any production leaks that may or may not have found their way onto the internet. Some deep book lore may feature.
The Long Night
DAN: That was … WOW. Halfway through I knew I should have turned my phone and watch off. It kept buzzing me with this:
It’s fair to say that going into the episode I was nervous for all my favs and my hands were shaking much like Sam’s in the opening. The tension! Director Miguel Sapochnik is a master of these battle sequences (even if there were some bits that were a bit too dark to see).
After directing Hardhome and the Battle of the Bastards, he ratcheted up the suspense even more.
Long, sweeping shots of the Winterfell army setting up, the deathly silence as they awaited their end … and then someone appears from the shadows …
PETE: Melisandre! Gotta put my hand up here. I told you all she wasn’t coming back this episode and I was very wrong.
I’m happy to be wrong if it means we get a thousand flaming Dothraki arakhs though.
Everyone gets their own Westerosi lightsaber!
DAN: Definitely. I’m glad she was there. That *beautiful* shot of the Dothraki — weapons alight with not only fire but hope — charging into the dead was spine tingling. It set the scene, and our expectations, as hope was quickly snuffed out and replaced with dread.
There were some elements of the battle that were predictable (Jon “I’ve only had one lesson” Snow flying his dragon into battle), but I loved where the White Walkers went with the battle tactics.
The tempting White Walker generals stayed back at the tree line to draw in our dragon riders before summoning an enormous snowstorm as their weapon to ensure the dragons were distracted and wouldn’t be any problem.
There was some other beautiful cinematography too. The image of those dragons hanging above the clouds and the storm was beautifully put together.
We lost poor Lord Commander Ed Tollett early on — one of the original Night’s Watch crew.
Now only Jon and Sam remain (or is that just Sam remaining as the final member of the Night’s Watch since Jon died earlier?) Ed’s death was noble but a bit predictable. At least his watch has finally ended.
PETE: Can we all just appreciate the discipline of the Unsullied for a second? Even in the face of literal death those battle formations are *crisp*, which allowed everyone to escape inside of Winterfell and for Melisandre to light the trench.
It was when we finally got inside Winterfell that it started to become apparent how hopeless this struggle was.
It didn’t matter what anybody did. The Night King was going to make his way to Bran.
I know you’ve mentioned Sapochnik’s work already, but the shot of Jaime and Brienne desperately fighting for each other on the walls of Winterfell was just so beautiful. I thought *for sure* that was the moment one of them would meet their demise.
And look if you’ve gotta go out, STARING DOWN A GIANT is one hell of a way to do it. I’m sure Lyanna Mormont could have taken it out with pure sass, but a dragonglass dagger to the eye is almost as good.
Do NOT mess with a Mormont.
A huge bravo to Bella Ramsay, who’s crushed every single moment Lyanna was given.
DAN: I think that’ll go down as one of the bigger deaths in the series. That first *whack* when the giant smacks this tiny little girl away and we’re all thinking she’s already dead but then she manages to take it down. That was a spectacular end for Lyanna.
The smallest fighter on the field took down the biggest.
And you know how the crypts were the safest place hide? Yeah … no.
I think we all saw that coming, but it was later in the episode than I expected and more people survived than seemed reasonable.
Extras? You betcha you’re going to die.
Main crew? Nah, you’re fine.
I was extremely nervous for Tyrion and Sansa though after that terrifying moment hiding behind the wall of one of the tombs.
When Sansa took out the knife I was actually more worried that they’d use it on themselves rather than the undead. That’d be tragic on another level.
I’m secretly devastated that Skeleton Ned and Zombie Cateyln never showed up. I guess laughter wasn’t what they were going for in that scene. Shame.
I’m also surprised both Jaime and Brienne made it through. Like many people, I thought when Brienne was made a knight, that was signalling that she’d reached the end of the road.
PETE: I was feeling a bit light-headed before we got to the end, Dan, because I didn’t take a breath the entire time Arya was inside that library.
Sapochnik said before the episode that this would be survival horror, but I didn’t think we’d go full Resident Evil.
I think all of this stuff worked so well. There was a danger that 80mins of battle was going to get exhausting.
To be honest, the character moments away from the battlefield (like Arya’s tense, desperate escape) saved this episode for me. I don’t think I’d rate the Battle of Winterfell alongside the Battle of the Bastards … but it did the job well enough.
Plus, it delivered two of the best moments of the episode for me — the Hound finding his courage to finally save Arya and Melisandre fulfilling her purpose.
WHAT DO WE SAY TO THE GOD OF DEATH DAN?
DAN: NOT TODAY!
Dan actually shouted “YES” at this moment. True story.
PETE: It was nice to be reminded of Syrio Forel one last time. Arya sure did use all of the dancing lessons he left her.
Swift as a deer, quiet as a shadow, quick as a snake and calm as still water — she ended the Night King.
I love that the seeds for this scene were planted last season.
Both Bran giving Arya the Valyrian steel dagger and Arya pulling the same switcheroo move she did while sparring with Brienne.
That dagger has been on a journey! From once being used to try and end Bran’s life to becoming the instrument that saved it.
Catch up on our season 8 recaps:
And I believe there is some gloating in order Dan. You picked that it would be important in this final moment.
DAN: I’m feeling pretty smug with myself right now. It’s like Cluedo! Arya with the Valyrian dagger, ending the Night King.
I like how Arya showed signs of vulnerability this episode. Despite her confident Faceless Man shtick, she was terrified for a good portion of the episode, only to regain her courage.
And let’s not forget poor Theon. He found his courage and went out with more bravery than most.
I think I teared up a little when he charged. He’s had *quite* the character arc throughout the series.
Even Bran managed to say a kind word to him before the end. However, I suspect Robo Bran (Three-Eyed Raven) was just being calculating and buying time so Arya could show up.
PETE: It didn’t buy enough time to avert the other big death of this episode though — Jorah.
This got me. There’s been so much complicated history between these two over the course of the series, so the grief Dany (and the rest of us) felt was so earned.
I may have been struggling to see through the tears, but this was amazing work from Emilia Clarke here. And Drogon curling up like a pet to comfort Dany *broke* me.
Dany was all of us saying goodbye to Jorah.
Dealing with what was lost
DAN: And with that … the White Walker threat is gone. Boom. As the Night King shattered to ice (along with his Paddle Pop sword), so did all my dreams of an endless night, an undead army sweeping across Westeros and a final climactic battle for survival at King’s Landing.
They sure wrapped up this big threat quickly. And while I did cheer when Arya dived at the Night King (not sure from where … ), it’s left me a little bit deflated. I actually *wanted* the bad ending to the show. How do you go from THIS to squabbling about the Iron Throne?
PETE: We’re back in the game of thrones Dan! My turn to be a little smug here. I predicted that Cersei would be the final villain of this series, and we’ve got three movie-length episodes to watch that happen.
This interview George R. R. Martin gave in 2014 has been so enlightening when you look back at what’s happened.
If you want an explanation for how we got here … and a clue for what happens next, look at one of the most repeated quotes from that story
Here’s Martin on The Lord of the Rings and the genre of fantasy stories it spawned:
Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine?
We’re not going to spend three episodes on Westerosi tax policy, sure. But we’ll be doing what Game of Thrones does best.
Characters coming to terms with what’s been lost, a bitter power struggle, a few brutal betrayals (we’ve got to sort out which Targaryen will sit the Iron Throne, remember?) and those left standing asking if it was all worth it.
I can’t wait.
DAN: “Stick them with the pointy end.” — Arya instructing Sansa on the finer points of swordplay
PETE: “Theon. You’re a good man. Thank you.” — Bran delivering a fitting farewell for one of our favourites
DAN: Chest crushed and blood gurgling from her throat, Lyanna Mormont wasn’t going to go down without a fight. She rammed that dagger into the giant’s eye socket and felled the monster.
PETE: The Night King smiled! I guess some of that human that got turned long ago is left in there after all.
Ghost showed up, only to disappear later. He was there at the start of battle, rushed at the dead with the Dothraki and then … nothing. No direwolf ripping out throats on screen, and Jon didn’t even seemingly know or care what happened to his good boy.
But is that the last of Ghost?
Nope. He’s been spotted in the teaser trailer for next week’s episode. Hopefully our bloodlust will be sated then.
In the end, this list probably isn’t as long as we were expecting. Plenty of those we thought were in trouble survived.
Here’s the ones that didn’t:
- All the Dothraki
- Ed Tollett
- Lyanna and Jorah Mormont (RIP Mormonts)
- Beric Dondarrion
- The Night King
- And … the White Walkers