There are, once again, no books to work from on Game of Thrones this season (the final season!) and things could get confusing. To help you out, after every new episode, two resident Thrones experts/dragon enthusiasts, Josh Kurp and Ryan Harkness, will answer your eight most pressing questions.
1. Who was the MVP of the episode?
The obvious answer is Arya Stark, who killed the freaking Night King, and it’s probably the “correct” one, too. But I’m going to pull a Barry Sanders/Brett Favre or Steve McNair/Peyton Manning and split the vote between Arya and Melisandre. The living wouldn’t have, well, lived if hadn’t been for the Red Woman: she lit countless swords (even if they were quickly extinguished in the most chilling scene of the episode…), set fire to the trench around Winterfell, and gave Arya the inspiring words she needed to hear to do what had to be done. And then, like Manning after winning Super Bowl 50, she went out on top.
It was good dramatic timing for Melisandre, who hasn’t been seen since season seven when she told Varys that she would “die in this strange country, just like you.” She was half-right (so far): Melisandre fulfilled the Lord of Light’s purpose, removed her magical necklace that concealed her true age, collapsed in the snow, and turned into dust, which is all the rage these days. The night is still dark and still full of terrors, but it’s a little safer now thanks to our co-MVPs.
As for the LVP: everyone hoping for ice spiders. — Josh Kurp
2. Were you surprised how few characters died?
Let me clarify: a lot of people died. Beric, Theon, Jorah, Lyanna. The Night King, obviously. But Jaime and Brienne, both of whom were expected to perish in the Battle of Winterfell, are still alive. So is Tyrion. And Daenerys. And Jon. And the Starks, Arya, Sansa, and Bran. This is a little surprising, and I’m fine with it. Or maybe I’m trying to convince myself I’m fine with it because I’m more invested in the Cersei stuff, anyway, and I’d rather have Sansa die in King’s Landing than in a battle where half the participants don’t have names and I can’t see a darn thing. But I digress. These characters, many of whom we’ve been following since the first episode of the series, have a bigger purpose than to get stabbed by some random wight: Jaime needs to face his sister, Jon and Daenerys haven’t acknowledged the whole being related thing (is there couples counseling in Winterfell?), and Brienne — I guess Brienne could have died, but I’m happy she didn’t after what happened in the last episode. That would be like choking on the 12th sandwich in a “eat 12 sandwiches, get one free” promotion. As for the Starks, Arya JUST saved the day (by preventing long night), Sansa has more tea to spill, and we’ll get to Bran. Oh, we will get to Bran.
Thrones has rarely delivered a shock even close to the level of the Red Wedding or the Red Viper in the post-George R.R. Martin seasons (maybe Arya as Walder Frey to kick off season seven?). In refraining from the expected cast-trimming ruthlessness, “The Long Night” was a different kind of surprise, but a surprise nonetheless. Of course, this means everyone is going to die next episode. So it goes. But seriously, how did Grey Worm, who’s already talking about going on a beach vacation with his girlfriend, not bite the dust? — JK
3. Was it smart of Cersei to sit out the Great War?
I’ll make this one quick: Yes, yes it was. — JK
4. That defense of Winterfell wasn’t very good, right?
No, it was not. And I get it: the whole point is to hammer in just how unstoppable the army of the undead is (or was, anyway). They rolled into Winterfell less like a conventional army and more like a tidal wave, hitting World War Z-levels of swarming at points. If anything, the most unbelievable parts were the brief glimpses we got of their advance being slowed and people surviving on the front lines. But that defense still sucked. Past clever strategic moves incorporated into major battles include stuff like Tyrion setting the Blackwater on fire, or Ramsay luring Jon Snow into a Hannibal-inspired meat grinder. Winterfell’s ace in the hole was… a flaming barricade?
Unfortunately for the suckers who made up Winterfell’s defense, the White Walkers were the ones who showed up with a solid game plan. That poetic “coming of winter” thing they pulled took Daenerys’ dragons out of the majority of the battle, and they were the only ones doing any significant damage. Melisandre’s flaming sword thing with the Dothraki? Useless. The addition of dragonglass to the castle walls? Slowed the undead down for about five seconds. And then there’s what us sports folk like to call unforced errors, screw-ups that have more to do with you sucking than any particular skill on your opponent’s end. Sticking everyone in the crypts when fighting an enemy whose whole thing is raising the dead? Dumb. Waiting for the Others to show up at Winterfell and wipe out half your army before starting to strafe them with dragonfire? Jon Snow levels of know-nothing. Relying on those same dragons to light your barricade is putting too many eggs in one basket. And setting it ablaze with a large number of your Unsullied still on the wrong side? Wasteful!
We don’t doubt that a much more competent and creative defense would have resulted in similar results, but at least the people involved could have died knowing they did a better job. — RH
5. Did Bran serve any purpose this episode?
It was easy to dunk on Bran’s role in this episode, or lack thereof.
But to be fair, Bran did exactly what he said he’d do in the previous episode: “We need to lure [the Night King] into the open before his army destroys us all. I’ll wait for him in the Godswood.” Bran knew that the Night King wanted him, and him alone (everyone else, including Jon Snow, was a sword-carrying distraction), so he volunteered as bait-tribute. The plan worked: the Night King moved to a smaller, more-contained space, where Arya was able to get the drop on him. (I will run with any excuse to use “get the drop on” in casual conversation.) It’s unclear whether she and Bran planned this in advance or if she saw an opportunity and went for it, but either way, it was successful. Maybe the warging was unnecessary (we did not need a raven to show us that things were not looking not great, Bob out there), but overall, it was mission accomplished for Bran; he used his particular set of skills to best his Voldemort. Now he can retire to a quiet life of… doing what he’s already doing. — JK
6. Was Arya the “right” person to kill the Night King?
She is simultaneously a great and terrible choice to single-handedly kill the Night King and wipe out his undead army. Terrible because George R.R. Martin spent decades weaving together a complicated collection of prophecies and legends devoted to a mythic figure borne of specific magical bloodlines might overcome the great darkness, and Arya fits none of this. None! Not even a bit! As we’ve discussed in the past, you could make a decently coherent argument for anyone from Jorah Mormont to Hot Pie being Azor Ahai reborn, so Arya’s complete lack of cred in this department is undoubtedly going to — deep sigh — fuel angry fanboy forum posts and YouTube videos for years to come.
But it was still a surprising great moment that made sense for the television series. There was nothing that implied The Prince That Was Promised would personally deal the definitive final blow that killed the Night King. Hell, the Night King doesn’t even exist in the books! And while Daenerys loses out on some bragging rights in this scenario, she still fulfilled the key elements of the prophecy as laid out in the show. She woke the stone dragons and brought them to Westeros, turning the tide of battle enough to allow the living to strike a fatal blow to the Others. And who better to pull off a stealth attack on the Night King than Arya, trained by the greatest assassins in the world?
As for foreshadowing, Thrones has been building Arya’s Valyrian steel dagger up as important since Bran gave it to her halfway through season seven. Did he know the whole time that this is how things would play out? Past that, we’ve got Melisandre’s vague premonitions of death surrounding Arya from season three, and Beric’s resurrections now being sold as a part of R’hllor’s plan for her survival… both of which seem a bit retconned to fit the finish. For those of you who hate it, take solace in knowing the books will do it differently, given there’s no single baddie to kill that will defeat the Others. — RH
7. How many theories did Game of Thrones just destroy in one episode?
Oh, so many theories. I love me some wild speculation, and things hit a fever pitch between episode two and three with some great possibilities being bandied about. The Night King was going to skip Winterfell and attack King’s Landing with his zombie dragon! The dead were going to rise from the crypts of Winterfell… to fight on the side of the living! Bran and the Night King: actually the same person! Entertaining stuff, occasionally backed up with a little logic or material from Martin’s source material. And all much more clever than what ended up happening in this episode of Game of Thrones.
Again and again, we’ve tried to factor complexity into a show that’s been pretty simple and straightforward since it outpaced its source material in season six. There are hundreds, if not thousands of attempts from fans to anticipate how Bran’s time traveling would ultimately save humanity from the White Walkers. Not one got it right because the show ditched that whole time loop trippiness and went with a much simpler solution to the undead problem. People have been obsessed with Azor Ahai, who he or she may be, and how this figure would play into the defeat of darkness. Again, the show sidestepped as much of all that as it could, going in a completely different direction.
Maybe we’re the ones at fault, expecting strict adherence to vague visions. The show’s even taken a couple potshots at our obsession with theories and prophecies over recent years. “You never know what people will do,” Shireen’s mother says in season six. “All your books, and you still don’t know.” And in season seven, Jon points out how crazy it is for Daenerys to accept Mirri Maz Duur’s supposed prophecy as a suitable form of birth control. Were they preparing us for the Ahai lite conclusion we’re witnessing here, or am I trying to give the show more credit than it deserves yet again?
I don’t want to suggest people should stop with the theorizing. It’s too much fun, even when we end up being completely wrong. But just be emotionally prepared for events to be uncomplicated as things wrap up. Is Meera Reed the surprise twin sister of Jon Snow? Did Tyrion and Cersei make a secret pact during their meeting in Kings Landing? No. It’s entertaining to consider, but just no. This episode has made it clear: your theory isn’t true. — RH
8. So… what’s next?
You know, it’s funny … for all the crazy theories and predictions people had, very few actually thought that the Night King would fall in the third episode, wiping out the entire undead threat and leaving the noble houses to duke it out for the remainder of the season. But that’s exactly what happened. And when you think about it, it makes sense for the television adaptation. The White Walkers were always the B-plot, the Other bad guys in a show that is way more Game of Thrones than it is A Song of Ice and Fire. And now we’re set to return to our originally scheduled regional conflict already in progress.
There were signs this would be the case during the first two episodes, in retrospect. Too many characters giving too many f*cks about Northern sovereignty and Targaryen succession, all behavior that seemed absolutely insane given the impending end of the world. But it wasn’t the end of the world. It wasn’t even the end of the season! The Night King got merc’d halfway through like some sort of Karl “I was a f*cking legend in Gin Alley” Tanner chump, leaving more than enough survivors to provide the political intrigue and backstabbing that is the show’s real bread and butter.
That means Jon and Daenerys’ steamy relationship will continue to wither, as is to be expected when you find out you’re “having relations” with a direct relative. The climate change parable will probably move on to a racism and xenophobia parable now that the citizens of Westeros don’t need Dany’s outsider army to save them. And in what will undoubtedly be the most entertaining aspect of the final three episodes, we’ll get to see Cersei’s reckless megalomania come to a head and her spectacular fall into ruin. Honestly, who needs some supernatural boogeyman hovering over things when you’ve got so many flawed human characters (including one extremely horny pirate) to play with? — RH