Despite there only being about a dozen conversations in the HBO series’ longest episode to date, the stunning and record-breaking battle for Winterfell left us with plenty to ponder as we await the final three episodes of “Game of Thrones.” It also left us with a death count much lower than expected, but heartbreaking all the same.
“What is dead may never die.” It is astounding how George R. R. Martin and the writers of the on-screen adaptation managed to turn the most hated character into someone whose loss would be this devastating. Theon Greyjoy’s storyline was complete, and his death was fitting. He died at home in the Godswood of Winterfell defending his brother. And in my eyes, Theon ultimately saves Bran, as he keeps the dead at bay just long enough for Arya to make it there. Most importantly, he died as Theon Greyjoy—because he stood against the dead longer than Reek ever possibly could have.
“Blood of my blood.” Unless one of them lost or traded his or her weapon, there were really only five people in the running to kill the Night King in Episode 3: Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Jaime Lannister, Brienne of Tarth or Jorah Mormont. I’ll admit, I thought Jorah would at least take down a few White Walkers or something with that Valyrian steel sword; but he did do some damage, and if there were ever going to be a satisfying way for Jorah to die, it would be defending Dany. And at least Sam Tarly will get his family’s sword back.
“The Lord of Light brought us together all the same.” It’s a good thing Arya took Beric Dondarrion off her list of people to kill, because apparently she was his purpose all along. Although Beric didn’t live to see it, his death proved the Lord of Light knew that Arya would be the one to kill the Night King—or some other completely different deed that we will see in a later episode—and that Beric was going to have to save her life in order for her to do so. This is the seventh time Beric has died, but now he can finally rest knowing that his purpose was fulfilled.
“The night is dark and full of terrors,” but it was illuminated here thanks to Melisandre. Many expected another “Knights of the Vale” moment in this episode from Melisandre, and for a minute there it seemed like she’d pulled it off. But her move with the Dothraki arakhs was quickly rendered useless, and her move with the trenches didn’t last quite long enough to be of much help either. What she did manage to do, however, was give Arya the confidence she needed to save everyone…
“You know I can help you win that war.” Last week, I mentioned that the RMS Titanic sank on the same date that Season 8 aired, and in yet another nod to the blockbuster movie “Titanic”—albeit likely unintentional—the old woman was only laid to rest after her life’s mission was complete. Very much like Theon, Melisandre was a hated character that you ultimately couldn’t help but root for. I will never forgive her for Shireen, but she genuinely thought she was doing the right thing and it has been eating at her ever since. She didn’t want to live with the guilt anymore but still knew she could make a difference first, and I can be satisfied with that.
“Fire cannot kill a dragon.” Dany goes in for the kill with dragonfire and it doesn’t work because although fire can destroy wights, it cannot do the same to White Walkers—something we as the viewers have known for years but none of the characters have actually witnessed. Her failure to burn the Night King brings back the question of whether the Night King is a Targaryen after all, making nearly all of the White Walkers (most of whom are Gilly’s brothers/cousins by the way) are Targaryens as well. But I suppose that doesn’t really matter now… RIP Night King.
“We will not break faith today.” Lyanna Mormont’s departure, while horrifying and heartbreaking to watch, was as heroic as it gets. As if the giants weren’t terrifying enough in life, the Lady of Bear Island single-handedly took down a dead one that could have wreaked havoc on those fighting inside the castle walls. She pledged to fight for the North and she delivered.
“And now his watch has ended.” Ah, Edd Tollett, Acting Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. On the bright side, without the Night King and the Army of the Dead, I suppose we don’t really need the Night’s Watch anymore. Still, we should say a proper goodbye... He came to us from somewhere near The Vale of Arryn. He gave us some good laughs along the way, was a good friend to Ghost and spoke for Jon Snow when half of Castle Black had already turned against him. He was a true ranger right to the very end. And now his watch has ended.
(Speaking of Ghost. In case anyone else was wondering what happened to Jon’s direwolf, he appears to be safe and sound in the preview for next week. I would have liked to see more of him in the last two seasons, but it seems to me the writers felt the money was better spent elsewhere. Against all odds, both dragons are also in the Episode 4 preview.)
Once again, the episode description only delivered one brief but telling statement: “Arya looks to prove her worth as a fighter.” And prove herself she did.
In Season 3, Melisandre told Arya that they would meet again, and that in Arya’s eyes, there were brown, blue and green eyes staring back that Arya would shut forever. Until now, I took the many eye colors to reflect Arya’s ability to change faces, and that if the two ever met again, it meant that Arya would die—therefore shutting her eyes forever. Now we know it wasn’t Arya’s own eyes that Mel was referring to. All Mel had to say was "blue eyes" for Arya to understand where she needed to go.
This is crucial for two reasons: the obvious one being that this gave her the confidence she needed to kill the Night King, who has blue eyes; and the second one, more important now with the Night King out of the picture, is the fact that Cersei Lannister has green eyes.
If there is one page-to-screen consistency that has been prevalent throughout the series, it’s that Cersei Lannister is known throughout the Seven Kingdoms as the most beautiful woman in the world with her golden hair and bright green eyes. Arya Stark only has two names left on her list: Cersei and The Mountain. Whether she dies trying or lives happily ever after with Gendry, her next move is to kill one or both.
Clegane Bowl is upon us. Maybe Sandor Clegane hasn’t been brought back by the Lord of Light six times, but he bested Ser Beric in a trial by combat and survived a fall that would have killed anyone else because the Lord of Light wants him alive. It seems the Lord of Light had the same mission for both Beric and The Hound: keep Arya safe at all costs. Win or lose, however, The Hound will someday need to face his brother. If Arya feels a debt is owed to her protector, there’s a good chance she’ll be the one to kill The Mountain—either in an attempt to save The Hound or in an act of vengeance after The Mountain bests him.
A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell. This season has been a major turning point thus far for Arya. She let love in—not only with her family, but with Gendry as well. She accepted help from two men that she had once been out to kill. And as she and Lyanna Mormont proved on Sunday, sometimes the biggest heroes come in the smallest packages.
In the midst of it all, a power struggle...
The Battle for Winterfell continues. I’ve been praising Sansa a little more so than Dany over the last few weeks, but longtime fans of my GoT recaps might recall that Sansa has been my least-favorite character from the start. Sansa is an unbelievably well-written character with an outstanding character arc—and I will always give credit where it’s due—but the credit this week is finally due to Daenerys Stormborn.
While Sansa sat below the castle proving herself useless with the dragonglass when the dead came crawling out, Daenerys was out on the battlefield fighting her own dragon-child to the death. Missandei, gods bless her soul, defends her queen with the simplest and most accurate statement: without Daenerys, they would all be dead already…
Daenerys, who just discovered Jon is a threat to her throne but chooses to save his life; Daenerys, whose Dothraki and Unsullied armies led the charge and died trying; Daenerys, who’s never held a sword in her life but grabbed one rather than let Jorah do all the work; Daenerys, whose dragons burned thousands of wights and who took the Night King head on in an attempt to end the war; Daenerys, whose heroism in this fight started long ago when she relinquished her dragonglass in order to arm EVERYONE.
Although Dany strays the plan by getting on the dragons too early—ultimately causing her to miss the memo to light the trenches—can you honestly blame her? Forget about what she’s already lost beyond The Wall; Dany is the first person to ever inspire the Dothraki to cross the Narrow Sea and watches them ride basically into extinction right before her eyes. The girl was on a mission—the Night King needed to die, and it’s not in Dany’s nature to stand around waiting for the opportune moment.
Divided loyalties. Of the very few conversations that took place in this episode, it was the ones between Tyrion and Sansa that kept the story moving forward and gave us any insight into what comes next. Tyrion loves Sansa in his own way, but he is with Missandei on this one. He insists that they should leave the Crypts and join the fight—suggesting that even noticing the slightest thing that could make a difference would be worth their lives—and Sansa refuses.
Atop the wall, Sansa didn’t want to abandon her people, but Arya makes it clear that Sansa will be of no use to them dead, which is what Sansa will be if she stays. It couldn’t have been easy for her to stand by watching Dany out there on her dragon making a real difference, but she also knows Arya is right. It’s sad, really, because Sansa is visibly disappointed when she realizes that “looking the truth in the face” means accepting that her value is limited to politics and not much else.
The crucial moment for Sansa here is when she admits to Tyrion that her loyalties will never lie with the Dragon Queen. Standing her ground is an admirable quality, but at what cost? With their collective armies essentially zeroed out, it will be interesting to see how the Targaryen-Stark dynamic plays out in the aftermath of the Great War.
You will never walk again, but you will fly...
Apart from giving Theon that final sense of relief so he could die knowing that the Starks forgive him, Bran was essentially useless in this fight. But this is “Game of Thrones,” and nothing is ever irrelevant—so the question is whether there was some unspoken purpose of having him warg into a flock of ravens mid-battle. Does he have to be in this state in order for the Night King to find him? Was he simply getting a bird’s eye view of the battle to keep tabs on the important players and make sure all is going according to plan? At least he has the war documented for future reference, I suppose…
Although some think that Bran knew what would happen all along and therefore deliberately hands the dagger off to Arya, I respectfully disagree with this theory. If this were the case, Arya would have been stationed alongside Theon from the start unless Bran warged back in time unbeknownst to us in order to give Arya the dagger hoping it would make the difference with the Night King the second time through. I don’t buy it.
I prefer the theory that Bran genuinely did not anticipate winning this war—he only knew that they had to try. Things did not go according to plan. Dany and Jon were supposed to be nearby waiting for the Night King so that they could protect Bran and they didn’t. Both of them as well as the Night King fell from their respective dragons and Jon couldn’t make it there in time on foot. Bran thanks Theon for giving it his best shot because he thinks it’s too late for both of them and accepts this fate.
Bran messed up when he allowed the Night King to mark him way back when. To give him the benefit of the doubt: Bran was an adventurous kid, and if he didn’t listen to his mother’s pleas to stop climbing, then it was unrealistic to expect teenage Bran to heed the Three-Eyed Raven’s insistence that he stay inside a cave for months on end without exploring his newfound powers. The problem is, Bran wasn’t ready to leave that cave and he still has minimal control over his visions—as he has told us several times. He’s doing his best, but he can’t see everything, and I do not believe he saw his survival at the hands of his sister as the probable outcome to this situation.
Simply for the sake of mentioning Jon…
Jon has no reason to believe that he is immune to fire despite discovering his parentage. In fact, we learned in Season 1 when Jon burned his hand in the heroic rescue of Lord Commander Mormont that he is very much capable of burning. (Don’t forget, Jon is also half Stark whereas most Targaryens are the products of incest, including Dany.) He looked that ice dragon in the eyes once again ready to sacrifice himself for the greater good.
History being made…
Continuing to give credit where it’s due: whether you enjoyed the episode or not, the brilliance of the cinematography is undeniable. It took 11 weeks to film this $15 million-plus episode, marking the longest battle sequence in television history and likely film as well. Although the physical darkness of the scenes was frustrating to most fans, this was not an oversight. The writers wanted to give us a real sense of what these characters we’ve been following for so long were working with, and they achieved that.
It was enchanting and gut-wrenching and everything in between, but it’s not over.
Off to break the wheel...
For reasons not to be analyzed until after I have properly mourned from Sunday’s episode, it doesn’t make very much sense for Cersei to be our final Game of Thrones villain. Which means there will be other factors at play moving forward.
I don’t know if the Night King comes back, or Dany goes full Mad King, or Edmure Tully escapes the dungeons of House Frey and recruits Robin Arryn and Meera Reed to repopulate the world. All I know is the Great War ended sooner than anyone imagined, and there are only three episodes left that are bound to be even more painful than the last.