The mood, atmosphere, and production value were all top-notch. The lack of dialogue really set the tone for the long night.
The opening tracking shot takes us through the minds of our heroes. Some more resolute than others, but all of them concerned with war, and their imminent death.
The single greatest moment of this episode, and one of the greatest shots in the all of Game of Thrones, was when we see the Dothraki flames charging into the dark horizon, and one by one, being slowly extinguished until none remain.
It touches cinematic greatness there, LOTR level storytelling, and while it aspires in many ways to maintain that greatness, I think there are some real subtleties in the storytelling that could have made this episode feel less like fan-service, and more like George R.R. Martin.
No longer feels like George R.R. Martin is telling the story
It doesn’t have the harshness and brutality that George R.R. Martin is known for.
For them to have gone through so many seasons talking about the White Walkers, for them to have revolved multiple seasons worth of plotlines and kill off that storyline in a single episode without overwhelming consequence, that just doesn’t feel like G.R.R. Martin to me. If this were at all like The Red Wedding, The Mountain and The Viper, The Purple Wedding, etc., then at least a major character like Bran, Arya, or Jamie would have died, or at least more minor characters that all somehow seemingly survived the night, like Samwell Tarly, Gendry, Podrick, all the major and very vulnerable characters in The Crypt.
I understand that the writers are setting up for bigger events in the next 3 episodes, a showdown between the Lannister Iron Army and our heroes at hand. It just makes everything that came before it feel really insignificant. Like it wasn’t a big deal, that you just defeated the army of the dead, the greatest fear this world has ever seen. I love Samwell Tarly as much as anyone else, but do we really expect him to survive the night, looking completely rattled, and being bailed out over and over by those fighting around him?
A Perfect Death, for Everybody!
Everyone who died was given a near perfect death, or at least an extremely heroic one. Little girl, about to die, lets out one last battle cry and manages to fell the giant before succumbing to her own demise. Beric and Eddison both die valiantly while protecting our heroes, holding off the dead while they escape. Again, the harshness of G.R.R. Martin’s world is somewhat tamed, but I do understand why people want to see honorable deaths for greater characters like Jorah Mormont and Theon.
The Death of Theon
Theon’s death didn’t feel entirely realistic to me, given that he’s been fighting successfully to the brink and is the last one standing to protect Bran. I feel like Theon would be the kind of character who would fight to his last limb until death, almost moreso than anyone else in the entire GoT world.
The decision he makes is heroic, but the way he dies is a bit pathetic. At least let his death trigger and setup Arya’s attack on the Night King in some way. For Arya to just Lebron James her way in, right behind the Night King without a single White Walker noticing, I get that she’s incredibly stealthy, but that was just a bit too much. Maybe because no one was left to protect Bran, that the Night King let his guard down, opening the way for Arya to attack, but I think that’s a stretch.
The way it goes down, the dagger switch and sleight of hand was very cool, but at that point, it feels like they were overcompensating a bit. Give Theon a pretty mediocre death, then give Arya the coolest kill ever, in a near impossible scenario…
The Long Night is still one of GoT’s best action-oriented episodes, purely based on tone, execution, and sheer scale alone. But in terms of storytelling and the direction of the story, things have changed a bit. Game of Thrones used to feel very harsh and very unforgiving. Catering to a niche audience. In it’s present form, it retains some of it’s quality as a show, but now feels mainstream. It no longer caters to the hardcore fantasy audience. It caters to everyone.
As if it’s trying to satisfy it’s entire audience and give everyone a bit of what they want, something that G.R.R. Martin never set out to do.