What happens when you combine every battle scene Game of Thrones has ever held and squish them together into one 90 minute episode? Clenched fists, bated breath, and a whole lot to cover. So, grab yourself a horn of rotten goats milk, pull up a chair, and help me unpack The Battle of Winterfell. [And yes, spoilers.]
Considering I had even odds that the writers might go for a Total Party Kill, a surprising number of main characters lived to see another day. Like, all of them. The remaining Starks and Lannisters and Dany all managed to survive the undead horde. Secondary characters, however, didn’t fare as well. Jorah, Bedric Dondarrian, Theon, Melisandre, Dolorous Edd, even the savage little bear cub, Lyanna Mormont – who won the most badass exit, putting a piece of dragon glass through an undead giant’s eye as her final action – all ended their watch. We also lost most of the Dothraki, all of the Iron Born, and an uncounted multitude of Northerners, Wildlings, and Knight of the Vale.
For an episode as tense and emotional as this one, there was a surprising lack of emotion in their deaths. Part of it may have been the nature of the episode. With non-stop action, as the point of view bounced around Winterfell like some sort of sentient superball, there really wasn’t any time to grieve when one went down. Part of it was because the deaths were somewhat predictable; they fit. Theon’s death was telegraphed the moment he took leave of his sister. His sacrifice to protect Bran in the place where he first betrayed him simply ended his arc. And I think a little bit has to do with relief because it wasn’t one of those core characters falling. Jorah in particular, whom you did have time to grieve (as he actually died after the Great Shardening), seemed to fall victim to that little bit of viewer ennui. You were just so damn exhausted by that point, and glad that it wasn’t Arya that was skewered, that even Dany’s grief, nor her comforting dragon, wasn’t enough to drag you down.
The Mostly Dead:
OK, it’s quite possible there may be a few more among the dead that we just missed. When we last saw Sam, he was practicing his structured breathing exercises atop a pile of stabby corpses. I’m not entirely sure Gilly and little Sam made it out of the crypt, though this show wouldn’t be cruel enough to kill a baby, right?
I don’t think Pod is accounted for, but I’m pretty sure the wails of sadness from the ladies in Kings Landing would have alerted us to his demise. I wasn’t sure about Gendry or Rhaegal, until I saw them in episode four’s sneak preview. There was so much happening this episode, that if you didn’t see the character in the closing scene, it’s really anyone’s guess as to whether they are alive or dead.
Again, pretty much everyone else from the core storyline remained, but there were a few surprises. BOTH Jaime and Brienne made it through after last week’s emotional knighting scene. I’m guessing the Braime shippers across the land are rejoicing. Looks like there’s an outside chance that beach vacation Grew Worm promised Missendei is still on, despite our favorite Unsullied’s best attempts to die a hero. And I would have lost money on Varys making it through, simply because the writers have run out of things to do. If Tyrion didn’t have a big sister to kill, I would have included him in these ranks as well.
Of course, as the sneak peek of the next episode reminds us, the living still have work to do, and it will be interesting to see how they work it out. Dany’s army has been greatly reduced, but she still has two dragons, not to mention a ton of momentum, so I’m unsure what Cersei looks so smug about. I guess she knows there are still a number of plot points to work out, like Jon’s reveal about his parentage, and the North’s insistence on independence, and exactly where is Bronn wandering off to right now?
Things that were AWESOME
Arya’s death-from-above leap at the Night King. Prior to Melisandre’s little hint about killing blue-eyed things, I never would have pegged Arya as the Night King’s assassin, but it really makes sense, especially with this episode’s theme of everyone, and every moment, having a part to play. All of Arya’s training wasn’t to get revenge or to scratch names off her list, it was to become the only one who could kill the frozen bastard. And kudos to the writers for turning that exciting (if not unexpected) scene up a notch. When old knobby head catches Arya mid-leap, I really thought it was game over for our favorite cold-blooded muppet, which made the little freehand dagger drop move all the more satisfying. It was enough to make me forgive the awful “kill the main guy and the rest drop” trope the writers threw at us.
Things that weren’t so awesome
Jon Snow must be the worst military tactician in Westeros. Let’s see, wights don’t like fire. Dragons breath fire. So, it makes sense that you let an unending army of ice zombies engage your very warm and stabbable army of people. Yes, I know, they wanted to draw the Night King because of the theory that killing him would kill everyone (they apparently are big Phantom Menace fans in Westeros), but you know what else would kill a lot of wights? Dragonfire. In the same vein, where were the vats of pitch to pour over the side as the wights crawled up the wall? Why weren’t there huge bonfires every 20 feet? Way back in season two, one little torch made the ice wight attacking Mormont blow up like a 1930s zeppelin. Did Jon forget that important fact? And he has a Valaryan steel sword. All he probably had to do was give Viserion a shaving cut and he could have moved on. Instead, he decides to get up in his scaly face and dare dragon(ish) fire. Let’s make sure if he reaches the Iron Throne, someone else plans the military campaigns for him.
And pure Miscellenia
Yes. I loved the episode. It was tense, thrilling, delivered most of what we expected or wanted, but it should have been the penultimate episode of the series, the next to the last one that delivers all the feels and allows us to move on to denouement. The greatest threat Westeros faced wasn’t Cersei and her little machinations, it was the Night King and his threat to wipe out humanity. The resolution of this greater threat – this great battle replete with ice dragons, and undead giants, and rivers of blood staining the snow – is stuck in the middle of the season. I hope I’m wrong, but I can’t help thinking these last few episodes will be a little anticlimactic.