If you’re not up to date on Game of Thrones, avert your gaze as we’re about to go full spoiler mode for season 8, episode 3. But do come back once you have caught up!
After considerable build-up and hype, it finally came to this. The Night King and his undead hordes showed up and Winterfell’s doorsteps for a battle that was promised to be the biggest battle put to television. Coming it at around an hour and a half and taking a reported 55 nights to film, this certainly was a jam-packed episode, being one consecutive battle scene from almost start to finish. Things went from bad to worse pretty quickly, as Daenery’s horde of Dothraki were seemingly wiped out in a few seconds; their flaming swords extinguishing in the dark horizon.
It was an effective tool at the start of the show, relying on the viewer’s imagination to fill in the horrors that lay in the dark. But the first thirty minutes or so were a bit of a technical nightmare for the viewer. With the episode being filmed at night, it was often times difficult to make sense of what was happening. This problem was exacerbated with the quick and choppy editing, coupled with crowded shots of the undead and our heroes fighting them off. Who was fighting them? Who was even a hero? Eh, it was not always clear, and the lack of lighting didn’t help. The Night King only made things worse when he summoned an ice storm to block out visibility even more.
I understand that while the scope and budget for this episode were massive, HBO still needed to cut some corners to get it done. They’re still not a Hollywood blockbuster, nor do they have the budget of one. So these shortcomings essentially allowed the filmmakers to get away with some things they may otherwise couldn’t have. For the most part, it did work, but when the screen is wrapped in darkness, with silhouettes fighting each other with quick cuts, it didn’t make for the best consistent experience.
But thankfully, this was the only major blemish on an otherwise epic episode. This episode really didn’t’ hold back, giving us a huge army laying waste to Winterfell, giants breaking through the gates, the Night King and his undead dragon mount fighting in the sky against Dany, Jon and their respective dragon mounts over the moonlight above the clouds. It really was quite something seeing that many effects, extras and action unfolding at once. A shot of the Dothraki horde charging into the darkness from a distant cliff, with their swords all on fire, was a thing of beauty.
As established last week, The Night King was seeking out Bran and he was placed by the Weirwood in order to draw him out into the open. For most of the episode, Bran was warged into some ravens, watching the action unfold, or rather, watching his former home get utterly destroyed. All hope seemed lost in the episode was the horde of the dead never ended, breaking into the castle and even being brought back to life from the Winterfell crypt. The crypt segments, while brief, gave us a quieter yet fearful look into the characters who aren’t battle hardened, who are forced to retreat in the dark, unable to help their friends. That is until the dead came back to life to kill the living in the crypt, George A. Romero style. In fact, there was a decent amount of horror elements in this episode, showing that despite the fighting, this was death coming after our heroes and they will be hunted, not fought. The sense of dread and terror was palpable and it felt like our heroes-and the audience for that matter-couldn’t get a moment to catch their breath.
Considering all the death that happened, it’s a bit of a miracle that so many of the primary heroes survived. We lost the likes of Melissandre (willingly), Theon, Jorah, Lyanna Mormont, Beric and Eddison, yet none of the major characters that many of us thought would die, like Jamie, Sam, Grey-Worm, Tormund or Brienne did die. In fact, everyone who was sitting by the fire in last week’s episode made it out alive. This has been a major criticism of the show ever since they passed the writings of George R.R. Martin and despite being a visual treat, having so many of the heroes survive-when there were moments when they clearly should have died-took away some of the tension, stakes and payoff.
The biggest payoff-and surprise-came from Arya. She started her campaign as a serious force to be reckoned with but was quickly overwhelmed. She sought refuge in the castle; only for the dead to be wandering inside. She, in turn, do what most gamers do in a stealth mission: slowly advance through the room and dodge the assailants. Arya never truly felt safe as there was danger around every corner and even once she cleared a room, danger followed her. Helping her though was The Hound and Beric, the former of which died saving Arya in the end, thus doing the one thing the Lord of Light seemingly was sparing him for. Arya, being given a second chance at life thanks to Beric’s sacrifice, was able to tell death “not today” and kill the Night Kill, which caused a chain reaction and killed the entire army moments before the Night King killed Bran. So that whole part of the story is now over and the primary antagonist, the Sauron of this series, is dead. But this isn’t the end of the show.
With three more extended episodes to go-and all of that footage being hidden from the trailers if I’m not mistaken-we now venture into the unknown. Where do we go from here? Can we expect another giant battle against Cercei at King’s Landing? She does have 20, 000 mercenaries and Euron’s fleet so the survivors of Winterfell are not out of the woods yet. The Battle of Winterfell was certainly epic, entertaining and a spectacle, unlike anything we’ve seen on television before. But it was also plagued by poor lighting and editing decisions and by putting a safety net around the primary characters. What’s in store for them in the final three episodes? Stay tuned for our thoughts! Until then, let us know what you thought and why not check out our review of the other big piece of entertainment this week, Avengers: Endgame (spoiler free!) and a look back at the Titans of the Godzilla franchise!