“The Long Night” Review

Like most people on Twitter, I spouted my immediate reaction to the epic battle between the living and the dead on “Game of Thrones”. I waited a bit to process how I truly felt about it before writing up my thoughts here.

!!SPOILERS AHEAD!! Game of Thrones: pros, cons, and feelings

The Iron Throne morphed with the head of Drogon, Daenerys Targaryen's black dragon.
Drogon peers from the base of the Iron Throne.
This was one of the big battles the storyline has been building to from the first episode of the first season of Game of Thrones. I had really been looking forward to it and ended up frustrated. The battle between the living and the dead was epic, as promised, but the lighting was so dark and the fog effects were so thick that it made it too difficult to see and be able to appreciate the action.

From what I could make out, there were parts to the story that I liked:

  • The tenacity of Lyanna Mormont. Even while being crushed to death, she managed to shatter a giant by stabbing it in the eye with dragon glass.
  • The scene in the crypt of Winterfell. Once the Night King pulled his customary move of raising the newly dead to join his regiments, the buried Stark ancestors broke out of their tombs and started ravaging those who were sheltered there for safety.
  • Arya shattering the Night King. As the Night King was stretching out his hand to kill her brother, Bran, Arya leaped toward the Night King. He turned and grabbed her by the throat as she dangled in the air. As we hear her choking, she drops her blade into her other hand and stabs him with her Valyrian steel dagger, shattering him to bits of ice. This destroyed all members of the army of the dead, saving everyone who remained alive at Winterfell. It was so gratifying for Arya to play the key role to win the war.

An 80 minute episode only delivering 3 remarkable things during a battle we've waited 2 years to see so that the Game of Thrones post production could provide cinema quality editing, was the source of my disappointment. I had expected so much more from the experience. I have a 4K UHD television that should have provided something special in the viewing, but it fell very short.

I read online that many other people shared my dismay which was only mildly comforting. However, other people shared what they did to be able to actually see the action: turning the brightness on their television way up and watching it during the daylight instead of at night. I waited a few days and then tried that to see if I could forgive the episode and find some satisfaction. It worked. I was able to see much more of what happened, but the quality of the video suffered as I had the brightness turned up so high that it appeared to have a transparent white overlay over the whole thing. I wondered if that would make the foggy scenes even more unbearable, but luckily it did not.

During this viewing, I was able to appreciate a few more things:

  • The battle in the air between the two dragons was much more interesting when I wasn't straining to see what was going on in the dark and the fog.
  • The wights overrunning Daenerys while on top of Drogon was much more intense in the lighter version than the darker one.
  • The battle scenes with Daenerys and Jorah fighting off undead made his death more bittersweet because the emotion was much clearer to witness.
  • Because I was less annoyed, I noticed just how beautiful the score of this episode was, especially the portion leading up to Arya's victory over the Night King. That one will definitely make it into my Instrumentals playlist.
  • Drogon flying in as Daenerys weeps for Jorah, shrouding their bodies with his wing, was quite sweetly portrayed. It was as if he was there to mourn along side his mother and provide what comfort his enormous body could. It reminded me of how my dog used to cuddle up near me.

Even with an appreciation for more of the episode, there were things I still didn't care for:

The battle, while epic, had some scenes that went on for too long and the pacing felt off. I realize the episode is called The Long Night, so feeling long isn't the issue all by itself. In fact, I was quite excited that we were finally getting a long episode. However, when Melisandre was working her way to the trench to light it on fire I couldn't understand why she didn't feel more of a sense of urgency. She was moving so slowly toward it as thousands of wights are rapidly streaming toward the living. WTF, Melisandre? I realize you're super old and all, but get a move on!

The action when the Night King descends upon the Godswood was very fast, but once all the living except Bran and Theon are dead it turned slow in a very unnatural, illogical way. The slow conversation delivered between Bran and Theon while the Night King (politely?) waited for it to come to and end made no sense. Theon running what felt like several hundred yards with a long spear toward death while the Night King (politely, again?) waits for him to arrive at his location before dispatching him also seemed like an odd choice. Then it took for-fucking-ever for the Night King to walk that same length to get to Bran's wheelchair while they exchanged looks for an agonizingly long time just to set up Arya's leap to put an end to "The Long Night." Seriously. WTF?! It still would have been possible to appreciate what took place near the Weirwood tree without drawing out those scenes. It felt excessive. I have a decent attention span and I don't like when scenes get rushed, so you would think I would have appreciated this. Alas, I did not.

Lastly, Arya's leap to kill the Night King. Yes, yes I already claimed it as one of the good things about the episode, but it's the specific piece regarding the leap that remains unexplained. Arya is a highly skilled and capable assassin. Clearly, she is able to move without making much of a sound, as evidenced in the scene in the castle where she is dodging white walkers, moving from bookcase-to-bookcase-to-table-to-door. Just before she leaps into the scene, we see a lock of hair shift in a breeze on one of the Night King's generals. I take it we are supposed to understand that is Arya whooshing by. But in 8 seasons, we haven't been shown Arya having invisibility or Spirit-of-the-Cheetah-like superpowers. There is no plausible explanation for how she slipped in, making it past the circle of undead generals, traveling the long distance between them and the Night King unscathed. It seemed highly unlikely.

It's a wrap

Game of Thrones is my favorite television show of all time. Seriously, I'm that big of a fan. That doesn't mean I can't find fault with it. Maybe if I hadn't had to wait 2 years for this season to air, these things wouldn't have bothered me as much. And yet, it is clear that the episode wasn't a total miss. There are quite a lot of things I liked about it, especially when I saw it a second time.

The weekend was bookended by experiencing the blockbuster movie, Avengers: Endgame, on Friday morning and a seminal episode of Game of Thrones Sunday evening. I expected both to be very satisfying and entertaining. I was really unprepared to be let down by Game of Thrones...even if only a little bit.