The final season of “Game of Thrones” has finally arrived, after nearly two years of making fans wait for the next installment. The season will run a scant six episodes, but are considerably greater in length, with Episode 3 being an hour and twenty two minutes in length and featuring the longest battle scene in film or television history. Fans are predictably eager to see how directors David Benioff and D. B. Weiss wrap up the franchise and bring resolution to many of the show’s long-running plotlines.
I came to the series late, but have always enjoyed the fantasy genre. Game of Thrones combines it with politics, another interest of mine. The writing and directing is top notch and the huge fanbase it has acquired and how it permeates pop culture is testament to that.
Episode 1 is a table setting for the war on horizon, with characters who have been separated for several seasons finally reuniting. Episode 2 is a continuation, when the characters catch up and put grudges to bed before they potentially all die, filled to the brim with fan service and warm fuzzy feelings. It has the distinct feeling of being the calm before the storm, with the characters we have watched struggle and grow throughout the years spending what may be their last supper together in front of the hearth.
But because it is Game of Thrones, a show centered more on politics and the darkness of man more than defeating magical evil, there were also wedges driven between the characters to sow the seeds of conflict to come.
All the weighty revelations are put on hold when the horn sounds, announcing the arrival of the army of the dead, which has been steadily building since the first episode of the show.
Episode 3 may be one of the best attempts to combine a war scene with a horror flick ever made on television. It is exceptionally dark, both figuratively and literally (it is aptly named “The Long Night”). The directors use the atmosphere to increase audience dread at every turn.
The atmosphere quickly morphs into a hellscape filled with chiaroscuro carnage and numerous close-calls for the fan favorites on the front line. Non-battle scenes are interspersed throughout the episode, notably Arya navigating the shadowy corridors of the castle and the townspeople hiding in the crypts.
This is when the writing of Game of Thrones takes the turn it’s known for. Unlike most shows, the narrative doesn’t labor to make the reader’s expectations or to make them feel good: it is far more interested to let things unfold as they naturally would, even if it makes the audience cry. You can’t expect the good guys to be forgiven for their mistakes just because they’re good guys. In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die: the stakes aren’t fair and honor gives you very little credit.
When the army of the dead is replenished with new recruits and it is clear they cannot be defeated, the resonant piano music begins to play and the characters we’ve been following seem to slowly succumb to the hoard. The villain effortlessly bats aside the last ditch efforts to stop him. The Night King begins his foreboding march through the hellish ruins of the castle to his – and their – final destination.
Or so we thought.
Fans of the show will be spending days trying to digest what just happened and what it means, but the forces of Winterfell are utterly depleted and there are still three episodes left to enjoy.
Having watched the previous seasons, when the show was faithfully adhering to the books (which it has since passed), I couldn’t help but feel unsatisfied at just how sudden the end was. This is a show that killed off the main character in it’s first season, then his son in the third season, mercilessly punishing them for their very dumb mistakes. But even the best executed plans can be derailed at the slightest miscalculation. Sometimes luck strikes and it does go someone’s way, even if they don’t deserve it.
Rest in peace, Night King. We thought you had it, too.