Game of Thrones S8E3 ‘The Long Night’ review | Was the long night supposed to have a dawn?

Spoilers ahead!

Just like the Night King (R.I.Pieces), the fountainhead of the great Wight/Whitewalker hive-mind who animated lifeless sacks of bone and sinew into WMDs, it has always been George R.R. Martin who has blown life into all our beloved characters, puppeteering their arcs into the highly cogent story we know and love as Game of Thrones. And just like the show hasn’t had the same cogency since D.B. Weiss and David Benioff jumped and ran from Martin’s slow-moving wagon, the army of the dead no longer has the same life or threat level since Weiss and Benioff doubled back and killed the Night King. Just like that.

I’m not quite sure that the show-runners pulled off this heist with Martin’s unqualified blessings. Surely Martin wouldn’t have allowed his story’s overarching villain to so callously be taken out of the picture without any great revelatory payoff. As it stands, the only payoff we got for the death of the Night King is learning that his eyes can dart as swiftly as they can stare icily. We still don’t know what sort of relationship he’d have had with Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright). Will we ever know why he was unscathed by gallons of dragon-fire, but shattered at the touch of Valyrian steel? All the reams of discursive speculation done on online forums about the Night King’s nature, motivations, back-story, ambitions, fears, pet peeves, hopes and dreams, etc, have been nullified dismissively in one fell anticlimactic swoop.

The episode, though, in traditional GoT style, is visually spectacular and aesthetically compelling. It systematically ticks all the checkboxes in the formulaic tropes the show has thrived on — Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) boosts Dothrakis’ morale with magical fire, Dothrakis are the first to be decimated; Jon and Daenerys plan to ambush the Night King together, Dany abandons the plan thanks to her ruthless compassion; once again, the Hound (Rory McCann), after a bout of fire-lit disillusionment, rediscovers his purpose in carrying Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) off to safety; side-characters die after performing their scripted heroic act, including the long-reviled Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen); Melisandre’s “I will be dead before dawn” line was the perfect two-faced misdirection the show is famous for; we get that remarkable shot of Jon running across the fiery valley towards the Godswood, mirroring his sprint towards Ramsay Bolton during the Battle of the Bastards; and mid-air dragon-fights are always a pleasure to watch, even in poor lighting. The pacing is exquisite — laying out a one-and-a-half-hour-long battle sequence in the same dark-blue-dirty-yellow-tinged colour tone calls for smart scene-breaks and focus-shifts — Arya’s pussyfoot sequence in the pitch-black haunted corridors of Winterfell provided a fun change of pace from the pitch battle raging outside.

The seasoned GoT-watcher has been trained to expect the unexpected. But, after ages of waiting for Winter to come, the fact that it lasted just one gigantic episode was not so much shocking as disappointing. The show’s forte is its big budget and grand cinematic scale. It’s not particularly blessed with the creative genius needed to puzzle out an intellectually satisfying conclusion to a plot-point as complex as the Night King. And it’s almost as though, part way into the Winter-Has-Come project, it realised it was ill-equipped, and decided it needed to fall back on what it has done easily before. So it closed the chapter with a fittingly grand cinematic effort before reorienting the show to political intrigue between human beings, back to King’s Landing.

And that’s where we’re now headed once again (and if this feels to you like a regression on the show’s part, I don’t blame you). Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), for all her smugness, has actually proven to have hedged right after all. With all the shrewdness of an expert tactician, she calculated that she could count on all her heroic-minded enemies to foolishly face off with and get slaughtered by the Undead while she stays safely ensconced in the Red Keep, ready to face whoever remains armed with the Golden Company. With the grievous losses that the ‘victorious living’ have sustained, they are going to be easy pickings for the Queen of Westeros.

So, let’s take stock of where this leaves us as viewers, and what we can look forward to in the three remaining episodes. The death of the Night King has clearly left a gaping hole in our lives, and after we have mourned and refused food for a week, we can anticipate learning what Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is up to really with all his apparent stupidity and what he learnt during his nightcap tête-a-tête with Bran; the fight for the Iron Throne is back in play, and it will be interesting to find out what new line of work Dany will be going into if Jon decides to enter his name in the ring; after their scrape with death, I wonder if the characters’ approach to politicking will change in any way; and we will find out whether Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek) will die horribly or worse — it would be the least the show-runners could do.

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