Friday night, while dinner was in the oven and the laundry was finishing, I sat down in the easy chair, and rewatched last week’s episode of Game of Thrones. I wanted to watch “The Long Night” again; knowing how it ends, and what is coming, I could pay more attention to what was going on and view it from a story perspective, rather than riveted to the screen, barely able to breathe, watching in nervous apprehension and building tension as literally anything could have happened.
(Aside: While I get why they called it “The Long Night,” I kind of wish they’d called it “Not Today.”)
And I did notice several things, and appreciated the episode much more than I did on first viewing.
I didn’t, for instance, think it was too dark. There were a lot of complaints and commentary that it was shot too dark for anyone to see anything; and yes, there were times when I couldn’t see what was happening. But that was intentional, and it wasn’t all the time. I also thought it worked for the dramatic arc and helped amp up the tension for the viewer. I was aware of who was fighting every time the camera was on them; the action was also moving so quickly it was hard for the eye to ever focus. I did keep mixing up Gendry and Podrick, and am still not entirely certain I was correct every time I saw one or the other.
In some instances the cinematography was so beautiful it was like looking at a painting. Dany and Jon on the dragons, flying in place above the clouds watching for Viserion and the Night King–that was breathtakingly gorgeous. There were so many iconic images–the lighting of the Dothraki scimitars and watching the flames spread across the army in the darkness; the lighting of the fire moat surrounding Winterfell; the battle of the dragons in sight of the Godwood; Drogon surrounding Dany as she wept for Ser Jorah. And the opening three to four minutes are all one continuous shot following first Sam, then Tyrion, through the courtyard of Winterfell as it prepares for the battle. Visually, I thought the entire episode was an extraordinary achievement.
I also was a little disappointed, on first viewing–and actually, when I thought about the season and how the episodes were scheduled to play out, really, since it was announced very early on that the big battle between the living and the dead would air as Episode 3, leaving three episodes to go; it had always seemed as though this was battle, this war, was the actual point of the entire series. I thought the way everyone ignored the imminent danger while they squabbled amongst themselves for wealth and power and yes, the Iron Throne, was a metaphor for how these things occur in reality–the real danger is ignored as it grows until it is too late, or almost too late. But the name of the series is Game of Thrones, and while the book series they are based on is called A Song of Fire and Ice, the show didn’t take that title, rather taking the name of the first book in the series and sticking with it. This show has always been about the struggle for the Iron Throne; the Night King and the Army of the Dead were simply yet another threat, another obstacle, that had to be faced by our heroes before they could focus on the final struggle for the Seven Kingdoms. I’ve also gone back and forth many times while viewing the show about the title A Song of Fire and Ice–originally I assumed it meant the struggle between the dragons and the people of the south–fire–and the Night King and the Army of the Dead–ice. I then began to think Dany was fire and Jon was ice…only to discover, as I wondered deep down, that Jon is actually both fire and ice. The revelation that Jon Snow, the bastard of Winterfell, treated like a second class Stark for most of his life and held down for his illegitimacy, is actual Aegon Targaryen, the rightful heir to the Iron Throne–particularly since Robert’s Rebellion was also based on a lie in the first place–had me convinced that this was simply another retelling of the Arthur story; almost to the point where the world of Westeros was an easy stand in for the Britain of the Arthur tale (I’ve always thought Westeros was shaped like Great Britain; and of course Hadrian’s Wall is there as well), but Westeros is much bigger.
Now, though, after last week–is Game of Thrones Arya’s story?
But the thing about Game of Thrones, and what this latest episode has shown us, is that there is no one hero; Jon Snow would probably come the closest to what would be considered a traditional hero, but he has so many flaws…his sense of honor, and that nobility, often causes him to make bad decisions and get in trouble…rather like his uncle, Ned Stark. The main characters are clearly Jon, Daenarys, Arya, Sansa, Tyrion, Jaime, and Cersei; the question now is which of them will fall in the Last War, which is now coming.
The character arc of Theon Greyjoy also isn’t talked about enough in the aftermath of last week’s episode, and Alfie Allen has, over the years, given a stunning performance in the role. I cried when I originally watched, and did again on the second watch, when Bran grants Theon the absolution he so desperately wants before he tries to take out the Night King and dies.
And seriously, shouldn’t we have known all along that the obvious choices for killing the Night King–Jon and his sword, Dany and her dragons–wouldn’t be where the show went? The chills I got when Arya’s flying form appeared through the murk behind the Night King; the gasp as he grabbed her by the throat, the instant thought when she dropped the knife (no no no no!) and the sudden realization that the drop was deliberate as it fell into her right hand…on first watch the elimination of the threat seemed too sudden after all the misery and horror of the entire episode (as I said to a co-worker the next day, “Classic storytelling; make everything look as desperate and hopeless as possible and then at the very last second good triumphs–think the Death Star, Starkiller Base, etc.”) but on a rewatch–knowing it was coming–you can see how it was foreshadowed throughout the entire episode; so many things, so many small touches in an epic episode full of them that it’s easy to forget them as the action moves on; Melisandre looking up to the castle walls as she rides in at the beginning and locks eyes with Arya; Arya taking out a wight about to kill the Hound with an arrow fired from the wall and their eyes meeting; Jamie and Brienne fighting back to back like the true equals they’ve always been and finally are; Sam, shivering in fear as he lies on his back on a pile of the dead killing everything that comes near him despite his quite obvious terror; and finally, the amazing epic filming of the collapse of the Army of the Dead.
Tonight is the aftermath of the battle, and the beginning of the final arc of the show, and then it’s goodbye to a cultural event like few this country ever sees.
It’s going to be hard to wait until Thanksgiving week to read Book Two.