This post is a recap of some major points of Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3 and The Battle of Winterfell.
Before you go on, there are tons of SPOILERS ahead so stop and leave now if you don’t want to see them.
Really, many SPOILERs so go away if you don’t want to see them! Spoilers are coming…
(Note that I’ve provided an update on this post after sleeping on the episode, see more below).
In the lead up to this middle episode of the final season, it felt like the main conflict would be between the Night King (the leader of The White Walkers who has the power to animate the dead to do his bidding), and Bran Stark. And that’s what was the climax…kind of. It was more interesting than that.
Leading up to that ending, The White Walkers and their army of zombies (wights) battled many kinds of good guys including most of our favorite characters, while a few other favorites hid in “The Crypts” where past generations of Starks are buried. Yeah, no possibility for trouble there, right?
Most of the episode was taken up by intense, almost incomprehensible high-speed battle footage between the living and the wights. Things seemed hopeless even early on as the Dothraki zoomed off on horseback with flaming swords (courtesy of Melisandre, who makes a dramatic reappearance) toward the wights and get wiped out. Totally. Like they were nothing. We got the clear sense as the lights of their swords went out and only a couple of horses (including one with a shaken Jorah Mormont who had gone with them) returned that the wights are unstoppable.
Despite various defensive and heroic acts by the main characters during various stages of battle both outside and inside Winterfell, the wights overrun it. Everyone above ground is fighting for their lives and it seems losing. At some later point down in The Crypts ancient Stark zombies start crawling out of the graves. Did Gilly get killed?
We see an epic act by Jorah Mormont’s cousin and head of their house, Lyanna Mormont, as she faces a zombie giant. The giant is in the process of killing her when she stabs it in the eye and kills it. She’s amazing. This act has definite echos to The Lord of The Rings, when Éowyn kills the chief Nazgûl and says, “I am no man!” You see this head Ring-Wraith could not be killed by any man, but Éowyn was up to it.
In fact, The Battle of Winterfell reminded me in many ways of key battles in The Lord of The Rings trilogy of movies. Nothing wrong with that.
Anyhow, the two normal dragons and one zombie ice dragon (the latter ridden by The Night King) also do battle and at first I thought that one of the normal dragons (the one John was riding, Rhaegal) was killed, but I guess not. The other dragon Drogon survived and made a reappearance to kind of protect Dany.
More dragon battle scenes would have been welcome and I was a bit disappointed on that front.
Finally, we get to a point where everything has gone to hell and all seems lost. All our favorite characters (those still alive including in my view all the key characters) are in jeopardy. Theon tries to kill the Night King to protect Bran, but gets killed.
The Night King approaches Bran. This is it.
Right as it seems the Night King is about to slay Bran, Arya Stark jumps towards the back of the Night King with her Valyrian steel dagger ready to dispatch him. Unfortunately he catches her before she can stab him and we think all is lost for a moment, but Arya performs a very impressive switch of her dagger from one hand to the other and stabs him. He shatters, then all his generals shatter, and all the zombies (including the ice dragon) become inanimate again. It’s a major relief.
Arya is one of my favorite Game of Thrones characters so I’m happy she took out the Night King. It was the best moment of the episode. Arya’s killing of the Night King was also an interesting juxtaposition to Jon Snow’s unimportant role in the whole battle and Dany’s relatively limited role, although the two of them did fry up a ton of zombies while riding the dragons.
Also, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that Bran didn’t do anything cool. If he’s some kind of superhuman being now, he really just plays the role of the lure for the Night King? At some point his eyes got white and he’s using his power, but we just see crows flying around. Nothing seems to come of that. What was the deal there? Did I missing something important?
(Update: After sleeping on the episode, I’m feeling a bit less positive about it, but still think it was good. The build up to the Night King and White Walkers for 8 years seemed to be resolved a little too quickly. Also, it was literally too dark to see some of what was happening and while perhaps that was an artistic choice of the director, it made the episode less enjoyable. Several times I was asking myself “What is going on?” because it was too hard to see.)
So, in the end, the living prevail, and things are set up for an epic battle with Cersei Lannister in the remaining 3 episodes. It kind of felt like this was inevitable given how the first other two episodes had already gone and with Cersei sitting out the battle.
Overall, I’d say it was a very good episode.
By the way, some people have asked me if my daughter Julie and I timed our new book How To Build a Dragon to coincide with the last season of Game of Thrones. (You can see more about our book here). Honestly, it was mostly luck that the timing turned out this way, but it was in the back of my mind. The book should be out in about a month. I think Game of Thrones fans will enjoy it.