Let’s see what the fuss was all about. Spoilers!
Just in case you didn’t see it above: this review has major spoilers!
Read at your own risk!
I have never reviewed a single episode before, but this one is about the length of a feature film, so why not? I already see folks out there trashing it (and I suppose I wanted in on the action) and others praising it as the greatest thing ever.
I found myself annoyed more than anything—and I’m not sure if it is just my problem.
“The Long Night” caps off an 8-year storyline about the slow-moving White Walkers coming from high in the north to decimate all of humanity. Since the pilot episode, these undead marchers have been a known threat. The series creator George R.R. Martin has compared them to global warming, and that they represent how we lose sight of the big picture when we focus on our smaller problems.
Assuming you watch the show, you know how much of it is people fighting over an uncomfortable chair and humanity’s undying search for power. We have had countless betrayals, shocks, twists, and action to lead to this point. However, this is the second-to-last battle, which means the small-picture human shit is going to take the focus—and this disappoints me.
I know it would be this order as the titles of the episodes were spoiled for me thanks to social media (thanks, assholes), but I was still bummed out that our big bad ended up being resolved in one battle. I did not love the episode (“The Rains of Castamere” being the only episode I have truly loved), but I also did not hate it. I found myself more frustrated as it seems we have finally seen behind the curtain—and the wizard is nowhere to be found. Instead, we have a genre-fiction story—albeit a fantastic one.
The battle has some beautiful moments. Watching the entire Dothraki army melt in the face of the White Walkers was amazing—and I loved the tone it set. The apocalyptic feel of the episode worked well, and our heroes never stood a chance. All hope for a victory rested with the idea that killing the Night King would kill all of the White Walkers (and of course it worked).
Despite the excellent shots and harrowing feel of the episode there was no doubt that someone (everyone including me figured it would be Jon) would kill the Night King and save the day. Sure, the show pushed this moment back a bit further than I had thought, but it still happened. The undead immediately collapse and the day is won—and a whole lot of people are gone.
Well, mostly people we didn’t know and/or care about.
Sure, some important people died. Sucks for Jorah that he doesn’t get to be there for Dany, and poor Edd who has been in like three episodes in the last two seasons—what will we do without Edd? I might be crude here, but for a show that revels in its ruthlessness we had a surprisingly tame epic battle. I can’t imagine too many people lost their favorite character last night, and it became clear shortly into the battle they weren’t in real danger. Both Brienne and Jaime Lannister are pinned against a wall for the last quarter of the episode, and while this gives the appearance of their being in danger there wasn’t any. We have seen the White Walkers rip armored people to shreds in seconds, so the simple “pinned against the wall” thing is manufactured suspense.
The battle was entertaining—don’t get me wrong—but none of it seemed to matter. Our walking Deus Ex Machina Arya Stark gets a surprise sneak kill on the Night King and saves the day and we do have plenty of excellent shots, but it underwhelmed me.
I suppose I should also mention the horrid lighting of the episode. Before you say “But Jay, it was supposed to be dark”—sure, but not so dark that you couldn’t see shit. The darkness annoyed me (and I’m sure it ruined the episode for many), but worse was the overuse of the quick-cut combat and shaky cam. The quality of the stream also suffered (meaning folks who stole the episode got a better experience than us who paid for it) and this to me is a serious mistake on HBO’s part.
Game of Thrones is probably my favorite television show—ever. I will overall enjoy this season and will certainly watch it again. However, after some of the decisions up to this point, I don’t think this show will remain in the canon of greatest show of all time.
The White Walkers were supposed to represent something bigger (like global warming): something we can’t stop unless we stop our stupid petty crap right now. By ending it on politics the show is (perhaps unintentionally) arguing that we can overcome world-ending challenges without unifying. A lot of people were hoping the army of the dead would split and attack Winterfell and King’s Landing—I didn’t. I wanted the dead to obliterate everyone in Winterfell, move south and do it there, and then end with them building boats. That would be a point.
The show had a chance to do something amazing (and something that would annoy the shit out of the fans—but hey, win-win??) but choked at the last second. Humanity is doomed unless we stop our stupid petty crap—and having a show actually make that argument all the way through would be something special to me. Doing so would defy expectations in all the right ways.
Did the episode meet or exceed expectations? Sure, but it hasn’t defied them since the Red Wedding. I think the show is an excellent fantasy series, and at this point nothing more, which is either a great compliment or a horrid criticism depending on your view.
I think this was a missed opportunity.