Like Avengers: Endgame, this week’s Game of Thrones was the long-awaited culmination of a decade-long build-up to a decisive battle. We could argue all day about which one was better, even though the clear answer is Game of Thrones. Say what you will about “The Long Night,” at least it wasn’t three hours long. But I digress. Among the cultural products featuring decisive battles this week, Barry was notably the best.
I accepted that the current Game of Thrones would be more like Game of Thrones fan-fiction than the first four seasons about a season ago. Without getting too deep into the minutiae of the episode (where the hell has Ghost been for two seasons? what was Bran even doing with those crows? who actually died?) — or that it was too dark, which has been true of Game of Thrones since episode one — the most basic criticism of “The Long Night” is probably the truest: that a show that was once predicated on doing the unexpected wrapped this storyline in a somewhat predictable fashion.
I don’t mean predictable in the sense that we knew exactly how the story would play out, beat for beat, or who would kill The Night King, just that the outcome was essentially a remix of elements that already existed in the story without introducing new ones. “The Long Night” didn’t expand Game of Thrones’ universe of possibilities. Maybe that’s a petty criticism, but this was a show that consistently blew our minds with new revelations — the knowledge that shadows could kill people, that The Mountain could crush skulls with his hands, that it would kill off the main character at a moment’s notice, that Arya would do sex, etc. (Last week’s episode was notably the best in a few years; the non-battle episodes of Game of Thrones are almost always better.)
I might’ve told myself I was expecting too much of this show if Barry hadn’t come on right afterward and accomplished exactly the things we used to expect from Game of Thrones. If you haven’t been paying attention, Barry has been far and away the best show on television since this season began, but this most recent episode raised the bar even higher. Bill Hader’s Barry, who in the previous episode had finally been cornered by the cop chasing him, instead of being killed or arrested, had instead been given a get-out-of-jail-free assignment: kill the cop’s wife’s new lover, and get a clean slate.