WARNING: This article will include spoilers for both the show and the novels. I’m just going to be straight forward, I think “The Long Night” is hands down the worst episode in the entire series. This is not a hyperbole or an exaggeration, and I’m genuinely surprised that this is an unpopular opinion. Even compared to the butchered Dorne and Iron Islands plotlines and the entirety of the rushed season 7, season 8 episode 3 has exhibited a gross misunderstanding of the source material. When I talked with friends and other fans of the series, I was shocked to hear that most people loved the episode and consider it to be one of their favorites. Did I watch a different version? Am I expecting too much? I just feel like this episode was a such a departure from what the series used to be and simultaneously kills off years and years of plotlines and lore for the sake of “flashy” moments. I usually don’t write about TV or movies or really anything outside of video games, but I would be remiss to not explain my viewpoint on one of my favorite pieces of media.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first. Arya kills the Night King. And it was done in the most unceremonious and inexplicable way possible. She somehow leaps out of the sky to catch the Night King off guard while he is staring Bran down. She doesn’t do it while he’s distracted by Theon. She doesn’t use her face-swapping abilities. It’s just… disappointing. Not only was it done poorly, but why is Arya the one to do it in the first place? Arya did not even know of the Night Kings existence until an episode ago. Her entire story arc is about crossing off members of her list and getting revenge on those who murdered her family. The Night King and Arya really have no overlap in their plotlines, and this was done just to be surprising and unexpected. Meanwhile Jon has been building up to this moment for the entire series. Every decision he has made has been to prepare of the fight against the Night King. He doesn’t get a duel or any sort of resolution. I would’ve been ok with Arya delivering the finishing blow if Jon was fighting the Night King and Arya stabs him in the back. This would give closure to Jon’s story arc and simultaneously parallel how Howland Reed stabs Ser Arthur Dayne in the back while fighting Eddard Stark. What happened was nonsensical, it would be the equivalent of having Chewbacca kill Darth Vader halfway through Return of the Jedi.
Being unexpected for unexpectedness sake does not make for good writing. And it seems like the writers of the show think that Game of Thrones is all about being unexpected. Some of the show’s best moments are Ned’s execution, the red wedding, and Jon’s parentage reveal. All of these things were unexpected, but they had reasons behind them. They were logical and made sense in the context of the story. Arya killing the Night King was done just to be surprising and to give a fan favorite character a badass moment. Furthermore, the entire series has always had the looming threat of the white walkers, the others, and the Night King. The first scene in the whole show sets them up as the big bad villain. This has been building since the first book came out 20 years ago, and the threat was over so unbelievably quick. We don’t really even get an explanation of their goal or their backstory other than “the Children of the Forest made the Night King”. Building up a villain for literal decades and having them get killed in their first battle without getting into any combat at all just seems like unsatisfying storytelling. Also, the Azor Ahai prophecy now seems entirely pointless, so that’s cool.
Ok, so other than that, the episode was still really poorly written. Since when has every character in Game of Thrones been as dumb as bricks? The series used to have a bunch of clever characters that would outthink each other to victory, but everyone is apparently incompetent now. Let’s start with the Dothraki charge, the first thing in the battle. What exactly was the plan here? Cavalry are generally used to break enemy lines, cause fear/panic, or the flank the enemy. A suicide charge into an undead army achieves none of this. In fact, all it does it give the army of the dead more soldiers. Worse still, nobody knew Melisandre would come to Winterfell. She literally shows up last minute to light the Dothraki arakhs on fire. So how would they even kill any undead if she didn’t show up? Seems like a poorly thought out plan. Furthermore, the Dothraki have always feared witchcraft and they murder witches. This is apparent in both the novels and the books. Yet they are somehow unphased by a magical lady literally lighting all their weapons on fire via witchcraft. Did the rest of the series before this point just get completely thrown out the window? I don’t understand the blatant disregard for all the lore and previously extremely important plot points.
What was Bran doing the whole time? He can see the past and present and has visions of the future, but instead he flies ravens around to facilitate cool camera angles. I hope they will explain something regarding what he was doing during that whole battle. Additionally, Lyanna Mormont should not have killed the giant, it feels completely out of place that a 12-year-old girl with no combat experience slays one of the largest threats on the battlefield. I mean there is literally a character called Tormund Giantsbane, I feel like it would make sense for him to prove himself by fighting a giant. This episode is riddle with poorly conceived ideas that seem like they are meant to just create “cool” moments.
Another dumb idea was the crypts. They send all their defenseless people to the crypts, conveniently forgetting that the Night King can raise the dead. Yet somehow all the main and side characters that were in the crypts lived by hiding in a corner. None of them could fight and they had no weapons other than Sansa’s knife. How did all of them live? The show has gotten really bad about setting up characters to die and then not going through with it. It was particularly bad in this episode because numerous characters were shown being absolutely surrounded by the undead and then the camera cuts away. Then when the camera cuts back the character is fine and everything is great. I’m not saying you need to kill off every character, but it’s a cheap “suspense” moment when a character is clearly going to die then somehow makes it through. If you set somebody up to die, you have to go through with it. It would be like if in season 1 when Ned is going to be executed, he somehow escapes when the camera wasn’t looking with no explanation.
Another bad writing example is main characters constantly being saved by other main characters at the very last second. Sam being saved by Ed, Jon saved by Dany, Dany saved by Jorah, Bran saved by Arya, Arya saved by the Hound, etc. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t fear for characters anymore. You know that it’s likely that somebody is going to swoop in and save the day for the 10th time in one episode. The writers are obviously scared of killing off fan favorite characters, but it has gotten to the point where the show is nothing but a hollow imitation of what it used to be. Dolorous Ed, Beric, Theon, Jorah, Lyanna, and Melisandre were the only characters who died. Only Theon and Jorah could be argued to be main characters but even they don’t carry the same weight as any of the Starks, Dany, or Jaime. The Long Night was supposed to wipe out all of humanity, instead it killed a bunch of unnamed soldiers and a couple side characters. It was more of a mild inconvenience rather than the apocalypse.
Well what about the cinematography? It was way too dark. I’m no expert filmmaker but I feel like audiences should be able to see what is going on. I think it was meant to portray absolute chaos but that can be achieved without a billion jump-cuts and pitch-black lighting. The music was really well-done so that’s one redeeming quality from the episode, I guess. I think why a bunch of people did like this episode was that it had a bunch of “cool” moments. Granted these scenes are entertaining in the moment, but they really make no sense on further inspection. The Dothraki charge, Arya killing the Night King, Lyanna killing the giant, all the characters saving each other at the last moment, etc. The priority seems to have gone from clever writing to action and feel good moments. Game of Thrones has become this “turn your brain off” type of entertainment. Which is a valid sort of entertainment, but it is the antithesis of what Game of Thrones originally was.
If anything, this episode exposed the writers of the show to have no understanding of the source material in the slightest. Any point where the show deviates from the book is universally seen as the worst parts for good reason. Dorne, the Iron Islands, and seasons 7 and 8 have shown me that the writers just are not capable of writing the plot themselves. It feels like one of my favorite series has just been killed off in favor of brainless mass entertainment. Lore, theories, prophecies, foreshadowing, are all completely thrown in the garbage for cheap suspense and “feel good” moments. Maybe I’m completely wrong and the show will redeem itself in the final episodes, but at this point I expect the worst. I don’t want to be a negative Nancy but after years of being invested in the novels and show I am just extremely disappointed that it is ending this way.