And just two hours into the final season of Game of Thrones, the moment you’ve all been waiting for has arrived: The Army of the Dead reached the gates of Winterfell, igniting a battle that, at least in television terms, was unprecedented in scope. It was, per Entertainment Weekly, “expected to be the longest consecutive battle sequence ever committed to film,” filmed over the course of 11 weeks, by night. (The battle takes place at night; it’s very dark. Visibility is poor. There’s a lot of wind and snow.) Director Miguel Sapochnik, who also choreographed the battle at Hardhome and the Battle of the Bastards, analyzed the second Lord of the Rings film’s epic Helm’s Deep siege for inspiration—and to figure out how to unspool a movie-length battle scene without alienating his audience.
Immediately, we’re thrust into it: Dolorous Edd, Samwell Tarly, the Hound, all on the front lines of the assembled army; Arya and Sansa Stark, Brienne of Tarth, Jaime Lannister, observing from the battlements. Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, with dragons, soaring overhead. This is their chance at cutting winter a little short, but it is certain to be a long night.
It came as a bit of a surprise—at least to this Game of Thrones recapper—that the only casualty of the season so far had been poor Ned Umber. That, of course, changed during the battle at Winterfell: Over the course of an hour and twenty minutes, the show dispensed with fan-favorite Lyanna Mormont, Night’s Watchman Dolorous Edd, Jorah Mormont, Beric Dondarrion, and Theon Greyjoy.
Of course, with the death of Ned Stark in the show’s first season, Game of Thrones demonstrated that it was willing to dispense with its beloved protagonists, the characters its audience is meant to identify with, and its moral focal points. This, after all, is a world in which Euron Greyjoy has outlived his (admittedly embattled) nephew. So here’s who won, who lost, and where the survivors will stand when the mud dries and they’ve swept away the dust of the Army of the Dead next week.
Everyone left alive.
That includes Davos Seaworth, Tormund Giantsbane, Podrick Payne, Gendry Baratheon, Brienne of Tarth, Jaime Lannister, and Grey Worm. And let’s get this out of the way: That’s no small feat, what with the Army of the Dead and its second coming.
Sapochnik gave actor Maisie Williams a call to give her a bit of advanced warning: “Start training now,” he told her, per EW, “because this is going to be really hard.” Well, that training paid off because Arya Stark has come through as this week’s absolute MVP. Arya Stark had never before entered into battle; she’s been knocking people off her perverse Christmas list in less bombastic ways. And what she might lack in battle experience—the Hound had to swoop in and save her on one occasion—her hand-to-hand combat skills certainly make up for.
“What do we say to the god of death?” Melisandre asks her. “Not today,” Arya says with a snarl. It seems as though Arya “not today, Satan’ed” the god of death, and it worked. (Okay, it’s actually a callback to something her old swords teacher told her in the first season, but it could be both.) When they last met—when Melisandre came to take Gendry away to be leeched of his blood, remember that?—the Red Priestess told Arya she foresaw her with brown eyes, green eyes, blue eyes, eyes closed. This week, she reminded the young Stark of this prophecy—emphasizing the “blue eyes” part, and giving me palpitations about the idea of an undead Arya Stark. Instead, it seems as though maybe the blue eyes just belonged to the Night King, who Arya Stark killed?? Moments before the Night King was about to kill her brother?
Not the Night King. Everyone owes Isaac Hempstead-Wright an apology for the theory that became the “bane” of his existence. But also, what did he really do this week, besides go sightseeing via raven.
Sansa might not know how to use a dagger—the pointy end, dear—but Tyrion, and by extension, the rest of us, was efficiently reminded of what hell Sansa has been put through over the seven previous seasons. “Maybe we should have stayed married,” he tells her. “You were the best of him,” she replies. (Not wrong: preceded by Joffrey Baratheon; succeeded by Ramsay Bolton.) “What a terrifying thought,” Tyrion says, not unkindly. She also makes clear, despite her brother, where her alliances lie. We love a loyal queen.
Honestly, she probably should have stayed away, but she’s not really one for reading the room. Anyways, she really came through for everyone this week with the fire and everything. Then, she just walked off into the snow—apologies to Arya, who is not going to be able to cross this one off her kill list. So we’ll give her this final win.
Came through with a win two weeks straight, this time for saving Daenerys from certain death at the hands of a wight. He went down swinging. This, too, is a win.
Missandei and Grey Worm
Game of Thrones’s resident star-crossed lovers (a reference I was reluctant to make until this week, when it started to feel a little more real, higher stakes and all) might end up getting that beach vacation.
“At least we’re already in a crypt,” he says, as the battle overhead turns against the living. But not only did Varys live, as had not been prophesied—turns out, things in the crypt don’t really stay dead.
Before Arya swooped in, one might have thought the fire-breathers to be tonight’s MVPs. It’s not totally clear why they didn’t just breathe fire on their undead counterpart—he certainly didn’t hesitate to blast them with blue blazes—but all’s well that ends well-ish, we suppose.
Probably still just drinking wine in a room in Belfast.
How could anyone see anything?
The Night King
Probably goes without saying, but when an 18-year-old shatters you into a million itty-bitty shards of ice, you have lost the game of thrones. Not today, god of death. (See also: Thanos.)
The Army of the Dead
It was looking good for them for a little bit in there—they even got some new recruits—but, yeah, that was probably really ever going one way.
The first to be sacrificed to the Army of the Dead, flaming cutlasses and all.
This is why we can’t have nice things.
Everyone in the crypts.
I would love to not have been right about this one...
A good week for heroic deaths, this one.
Well, that was sad.
Not great with fire. Came through for Arya, though.
The episode opens with Sam, who’s very eager to remind everyone he was the first to kill a White Walker, just absolutely quaking. Plus, Gilly was down there in the crypts. This was not his week.
Did… did no one teach her any hand-to-hand combat before this? Dragons can’t fix everything, you know. (Obviously, since one of her dragons became one of the biggest menaces to mankind.)
He did swoop in to save Daenerys; then again, he didn’t manage to kill the Night King. That’s no way to prove you belong on the Iron Throne.
Dude is still so hung up on what a hero he was at the battle of the Blackwater. “If we were up there, we might see something,” he huffs, sitting in the crypt. He doesn’t even get his heroic moment—as soon as he and Sansa are about to fight their way out of the crypt, Arya comes through and all the wights dissolve into dust.