Maisie Williams in GAME OF THRONES - Season 8 - "The Long Night" | ©2019 HBO/Helen Sloan

Maisie Williams in GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “The Long Night” | ©2019 HBO/Helen Sloan

Stars: Peter Dinklage, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Liam Cunningham, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Gwendoline Christie, Alfie Allen, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jacob Anderson, Carice Van Houten, Conleth Hill, Rory McCann, Isaac Hempstead Wright, John Bradley, Hannah Murray, Daniel Portman, Kristofer Hivju, Iain Glen, Richard Dormer, Bella Ramsey, Ben Crompton, Vladimir Furdik
Writer: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, series created by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Network: HBO, Sundays @ 9 PM
Original Airdate: April 28, 2019

 The GAME OF THRONES episode “The Long Night” is an epic that could (and probably should) stand as a feature film on an enormous screen. The scope of it is mind-boggling.

Under the direction of Miguel Sapochnik, and scripted by series developers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, “The Long Night” proceeds mainly to ratchet up the stress level to eleven. Yes, there are a number of scenes that go for pure zombie movie scares in this eight-five-minute episode, but even when we’re not worried about what might be directly around a corner, we’re in dread about the possible fates of these people (and dragons, and direwolf).

Near the climax, we are thinking, “Okay, did this episode of GAME OF THRONES really have to air the same weekend AVENGERS: ENDGAME was released? So, the Night King is now going to kill all of the characters we love, or even like [except maybe Yara Greyjoy, who’s holding down the fort on the Iron Islands], and destroy human memory. On the plus side, we’ve got three more episodes, so he will deliver that butt-kicking Cersei so thoroughly warrants.”

Night has fallen at Winterfell, and the massed troops can barely see a few feet ahead into the darkness. Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) watch from a high vantage point. Sisters Arya (Maisie Williams) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) are on the battlements. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) watches unhappily as the soldiers mass on the battlefield. Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham) is above the Winterfell gate, guarding it.

Richard Dormer in GAME OF THRONES - Season 8 - "The Long Night" | ©2019 HBO/Helen Sloan

Richard Dormer in GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “The Long Night” | ©2019 HBO/Helen Sloan

Just about everyone else is on horseback or on foot, in formation, ready for combat. Ghost the Direwolf is down with the troops for some reason. Okay, he can’t be with Jon, who’s going to climb onto a dragon shortly, but shouldn’t he be with, say, Sam, or Sansa?

Ser Jorah (Iain Glen) is in command of the Dothraki contingent. He is surprised to see a lone, live figure ride in out of the shadows: Melisandre (Carine Van Houten), priestess of the Lord of Light. She asks Jorah to have the Dothraki raise their swords. Melisandre says an incantation, and suddenly the Dothraki swords blaze with fire.

Davos is still not happy that Melisandre is here – he had sworn to kill her the next time they met. Melisandre asks for entry into Winterfell and assures Davos there’s no need to execute her – she’ll be dead by morning.

The Dothraki riders look incredible, riding into the darkness – and then the swords are extinguished, quickly and silently. Riderless horses gallop back behind the lines, followed by running men. Ser Jorah rides back, with terrible wounds on his face. Daenerys determines it’s time for her and Jon to take the dragons into the sky.

The White Walkers charge out of the darkness. Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) leads his men forward. Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) orders, “Stand your ground!” at her troops. She is overwhelmed by Walkers. Jaime (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) tries to come to her aid.

Arya tells Sansa to go to the crypt for safety and gives her a knife for protection. Sansa doesn’t want to abandon her people, but Arya insists. When Sansa goes, Arya takes up her longbow. She fires a shot that saves Clegane (Rory McCann) from the Walker coming up behind him.

Daenerys, riding Drogon, and Jon, riding Rhaegal, use the dragons to rain arcs of fire down on the White Walkers. Aloft, Daenerys and Jon are beset by a strange fog. This covers the grove where Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), guarded by Theon (Alfie Allen) and his men, awaits the Night King.

Theon starts to apologize to Bran, who says that all of Theon’s actions have brought him here, where he should be. Bran then excuses himself – his consciousness departs his body and goes into a flock of crows that fly out over the armies of the dead.

On the battlefield, Ser Jorah is still fighting on the human side despite his injuries. Sam (John Bradley) breaks and runs after seeing his friend Edd (Ben Crompton) killed right in front of him. Can’t blame him much – even the normally unyielding Brienne (oh, good, Jaime did save her) and fierce Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) are ordering their soldiers to fall back. The gates are opened, allowing the troops to stampede back into Winterfell. Grey Worm and the Unsullied, and Lady Mormont (Bella Ramsey) and her Bear Island soldiers, guard the retreat.

Archers with flaming weapons shoot at the wooden barricade outside the walls, trying to ignite it, but the Night King’s snow and fog prevent it from catching fire. Melisandre goes outside the gates and prays to the Lord of Light until the barricade blazes. Alas, the Night King uses a spell of his own so that the White Walkers can pass through a space in the fiery barrier, then ramp up so they can get over the Winterfell walls. Eventually, they begin tumbling into the yard.

In the crypt, Tyrion fretfully says aloud that if he were outside, perhaps he could see something that would make a difference. Sansa says that the reason they’re all in the crypt for safety is because they can’t make a difference out there; the bravest thing they can do is face the truth. Tyrion jokes that perhaps they should have stayed married. Sansa says sincerely that he was the best of them. Considering the other men in Sansa’s life (Prince Joffrey! Ramsay Bolton! Petyr Baelish!), this isn’t a high bar, but in truth, Tyrion always treated her honorably and respectfully. Sansa says it would never work between them, because of his divided loyalties between her and the Dragon Queen. Missendei (Nathalie Emmanuel) observes that if it weren’t for the Dragon Queen, they’d all be dead already.

Now-undead dragon Viserion blasts his brother Drogon and Daenerys with his destructive icy breath. This is frightening, but seems for now non-lethal.

Vladimir Furdik in GAME OF THRONES - Season 8 - "The Long Night" | ©2019 HBO

Vladimir Furdik in GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “The Long Night” | ©2019 HBO

Tiny young Lady Mormont charges, yelling, at a Walker giant  (not a big person, an actual giant) before her. The Giant picks her up and crushes her ribs – and she stabs him through the brain. Lady Mormont falls to the ground, dying, and the giant Walker falls, disintegrating.

Clegane, normally fearless, stands against a wall. Arya wades into the fray, wielding her Valerian steel-tipped spear. She fights valiantly, but is knocked into a wall and disarmed. Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) tries to rouse Clegane to action. Clegane protests they’re all already dead, but when Dondarrion points out Arya, still fighting even without her spear, Clegane is moved to action.

Arya takes shelter in the library. She still has her knife, and is able to kill a Walker, but she is almost overwhelmed when Clegane and Dondarrion reach her. Dondarrion guards them, and is stabbed repeatedly by Walkers. Arya and Clegane take him with them to a room, where Dondarrion dies of his wounds. They barricade the doorway and find that Melisandre is with them. Arya remembers that they met before, and that Melisandre prophesied, accurately, that Arya would close many eyes, “brown eyes, green eyes, blue eyes.” (Blue eyes like those of the Walkers.) “What do we say to death?” Melisandre asks Arya rhetorically. “Not today,” Arya replies.

Viserion continues to fight with his living brothers. He downs Rhaegal, leaving Jon on the ground. However, the Night King is knocked off Viserion. At first, this seems like a good thing. Daenerys commands Drogon to breathe fire on the Night King, and Drogon delivers a blast of flame that could take out a city. However, when the fire clears, the Night King stands unharmed, and, for him, smiling.

As Jon advances on him, the Night King uses his power to resurrect all the dead soldiers who had formerly been fighting on the side of the living. They come to unlife inside and outside of Winterfell, even Lady Mormont (auggh!).

Daenerys on Drogon comes to Jon’s aid, but when she lands, the undead swarm up the dragon. Dany has to leave Drogon’s back. She is almost killed, but saved by Ser Jorah. Drogon goes aloft again, trying to shake off the undead. Daenerys and Ser Jorah fight side by side. Ser Jorah is badly stabbed – and at one point, Daenerys uses him as a shield – but somehow stays on his feet.

In the crypt, the Walkers start to break through the walls. Sansa and Tyrion take temporary refuge behind a wall. Sansa draws the dagger Arya gave her. Tyrion kisses Sansa’s hand, then charges the dead.

Sam is being overwhelmed by Walkers. Jon tries to reach him, but is surrounded. Viserion keeps blasting Winterfell with undead dragonfire.

The Night King is advancing on the weirwood grove where Bran and Theon are waiting. Despite losing all of his men, Theon defends Bran valiantly. Bran returns to his body just before the Night King’s arrival. Bran tells Theon that he is a good man. Theon runs at the Night King, who allows Theon to reach him, then easily takes Theon’s weapon and stabs him with it. The Night King then resumes walking toward Bran.

As Bran calmly gazes at his approaching doom, there is a furious yell from offscreen. Arya leaps onto the Night King’s back. He plucks her off, but she stabs him – with the same dagger that was used in the attempted assassination of Bran way back in Season 1. The Night King freezes, and shatters. Every other undead being also freezes. If they’ve been dead long enough, they shatter. Otherwise, they just go back to being dead.

And to think, the Night King didn’t even start off being on Arya’s list. All hail this hero of Westeros – and Williams, who has made us believe that Arya is truly capable of saving the world.

Jon is stunned. Daenerys sobs as the life leaves Jorah’s body. Drogon flies down to comfort her, sheltering Daenerys with his body and wing.

Tyrion finds a lot of the people who’ve survived the crypt, including Lord Varys (Conleth Hill), and Sam’s love Gilly (Hannah Murray) and little Sam. Sansa is still standing as well. That’s a lot of unarmed folk to have survived a zombie horde, but there’s clearly a lot to be said for running and hiding.

Melisandre leaves the Winterfell keep. Davos watches her go. In light (pardon the pun) of what she’s done for Winterfell, he may not kill her after all. Then again, she did cause the death of Princess Shireen Baratheon, and Davos has hardly forgotten about that.

Melisandre told Davos she’d be dead by dawn, and the sun is coming up. Melisandre drops her red cloak and walks away through the piles of corpses. As she does, she removes the necklace with the red jewel that has bestowed agelessness upon her. By the time she reaches open ground, her true age catches up to her, and she falls and fades away.

Ramin Djawadi’s always distinctive score delivers some especially potent new compositions, piano solos and quiet strings. Furdik also deserves special mention for creating a real sense of character without a word, who is so scary he’s actively demoralizing.

Other people (especially those who watched next week’s previews) may have a better sense of this, but this viewer couldn’t tell whether Sam, Brienne, Jaime, Clegane, Grey Worm, Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and/or Podrick (Daniel Portman), as well as Rhaegal and Ghost, made it through the battle or not. Sam, Jaime, and Brienne particularly seemed to be in hopeless straits several times. If they’re still around next week, learning how they survived would be welcome.

It’s hard to imagine that Daenerys or Jon would die during this episode. The drama over who gets the Iron Throne looms so large that it would seem a cheat if it were settled by something as simple as one of them dying before it can be fully addressed.

We know for certain that we’ve lost Ser Jorah, who died protecting his beloved queen, and lived long enough to understand she was safe. If he had to go, this was the death he wanted.

Theon died respected and loved by his sister, and forgiven by Bran. He redeemed himself for being a coward, but for some, it may still be hard to forgive his execution of Winterfell stalwarts and murder of a couple of orphans. Theon’s final charge on the Night King is admirable, and Allen demonstrated great versatility through all of Theon’s many phases. Since Theon did help prevent human extinction (and helped save Sansa, and rescued Yara), he does ultimately merit a pass.

Melisandre likewise has done some truly reprehensible things. Still, she has been so helpful since then – resurrecting Jon at the start of Season 6, bringing fire to the long night’s fight – that we can’t begrudge her a calm death on her own terms.

Beric Dondarrion, the other acolyte of the Lord of Light, had been resurrected (to full life, not as a Walker) six times already. He died helping to save Arya, who in turn saved everybody, so his seventh and final demise had meaning.

As for Edd, he has been around since Jon joined the Night’s Watch, and he was good company. Farewell, Edd. Now your watch is ended.

One doesn’t envy director Sapochnik trying to decide how to light the episode. Too bright, and it detracts from the idea that this takes place at night. Too dark, and the audience can’t see what’s happening. There are some sequences where between the darkness and the smoke and the rampaging combat, it’s hard to tell what’s going on, but this is arguably the point.

With its deaths, saves, scares and emotions, the GAME OF THRONES episode “The Long Night” leaves us wrung out by its end. That’s an effect few works of television ever achieve.

Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “Winterfell” – Season Premiere
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “The Dragon and the Wolf” – Season Finale
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “Beyond The Wall”
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “Eastwatch”
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “The Spoils of War”
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “The Queen’s Justice”
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “Stormborn”
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “Dragonstone” – Season Premiere

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