Sweet zombie Lyanna Mormont, what an episode! Having recently also seen Avengers Endgame, I can say without hyperbole that this was the most emotional Nerd weekend of my entire life. Just for the record, I will not be going in order as to how I recap this episode – I will be jumping around quite a bit for the sake of the narrative. I’m also not going to be covering every little thing, as per usual. I think that in the beginning, with the ominous, deep noted music and the eerie quiet of the battlefield really set the tone for the episode. We see Sam checking his hands to see how badly they’re shaking as he’s handed daggers of dragonglass, and it may as well be us. We see Tyrion in search of wine, taking two enormous wineskins with him into the crypt where he would wait out the battle. We see everyone steeling themselves for the coming storm (literally) and preparing for the inevitable.
FROZEN HELL ON EARTH
Death is coming. It reminded me of the scene in 40 Days of Night where Ben Foster’s character is locked in a cell and says “That cold you feel ain’t the weather. That’s Death approaching.” He was right then, and it would be appropriate now as well. This episode, the 70th in the series, had innumerable moments of pure adrenaline and emotion. There were many times you watched the screen and had to make sure that you were actually seeing what you were seeing. The first of these moments was when Melisandre showed up and somehow was able to magically engulf all of the Dothraki arakhs with mystical fire simply by touching one of them.
When those blades were lit, and the trebuchets began unleashing their fiery projectiles you could see hope, and even a little bit of confidence in the eyes of the warriors. All of our heroes were on the front lines, and the initial charge of the Dothraki screamers led by Jorah Mormont with Ghost at his side seemed like it was going to go well. But as we watched from afar from the same vantage point of the rest of the living, we watched as each little flame of hope was extinguished by an unseen enemy. Of the thousands that rode out, only a handful returned, many running scared without their horses and a few horses without their riders.
The music then amps up, building to a crescendo akin to a missile homing in on its target. Then we see the army of the dead, and there is no music save for the song of clashing weapons and screaming warriors until Jon and Daenerys arrive riding Rhaegal and Drogon respectively and using their greatest weapons – the dragons’ combustive breath to cut a huge swath through the undead army which was crashing into the armies of the living like waves over rock. Jon and Daenerys then see the White Walkers, far away from the battle and sitting back waiting as their disposable minions do most of the work. They figure this would be an ideal time to take the Walkers out and thin out the ranks of the undead army, and that is exactly when the Night King makes his presence known as a massive swirling cloud system unlike anything the world has ever seen appears and engulfs the dragon riders in freezing, hurricane winds. They are disoriented and lost, even crashing into each other at one point. I said before that the Night King has been patiently planning this attack for thousands of years, and it seems like I knew that I was talking about.
FIRE AND ICE
Meanwhile, we go back to our heroes as they are seen slashing, hacking, stabbing at the undead. But it seems no matter what they do, it isn’t enough. We lose our first character, Dolorous Eddison Tollett (the last Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch) because he stopped to help up Sam. Sam is not much of a fighter but he is doing his best, despite his terror. When Edd is killed, he drops to the ground and Sam comes face to face with the wight that did it. It would seem that Sam has had enough at this point because he simply turns and runs away. I do not consider Sam a coward here; he is simply the first to retreat. Everyone else does the same seconds later, except the Unsullied, who protect the retreating warriors.
Amidst all the carnage, Grey Worm calls for the trenches all around Winterfell to be lit, but because Daenerys got lost amongst the storm, she is unable to see the signal to unleash dragonfire. Several others try to light the caltrops within the trench as a means to dissuade the undead, but the air is too cold and the flaming arrows die out before they can light anything. Then, in an incredible sight, a square formation of Unsullied soldiers comes out of the castle and Melisandre comes walking through the middle of them, straight up to the trenches. She begins chanting the same incantation from when she gave fire to the Dothraki.
Nothing happened. Wights are closing in, they’re doing as much damage as is being done to them. She repeats the incantation again. A third time. Still nothing. Her words are becoming more desperate, and fear is in her eyes. She is worried that perhaps R’hllor is no longer listening to her, no longer working through her, but in the final, most desperate and frightening moment, fire bursts from her hand and spreads throughout the entire trench. She came inches from death, but her lord had not forsaken her.
This is one of the greatest battle scenes I’ve ever seen at this point. Swarms of enemies battling each other, seeing the exhaustion and desperation on the faces of some of the bravest characters we’ve ever known…and then it gets even better. Lyanna Mormont charging the undead giant that is simply wreaking havoc and destruction to all the warriors of Bear Island is easily the most badass scene of this entire series. When it picks her up and begins crushing her, I was sure things were going to be bad when it went to try and stuff her in its mouth, I thought that she might die a gruesome death. But then she screamed a primal scream and jammed a dragonglass blade into the giant’s eye as they died together. It was surreal, and it was incredible.
HOT DRAGON ON DRAGON ACTION
Then we have an aerial dragon fight! Good gravy this was awesome! Then Beric Dondarrion taking about a million stab and slash wounds trying to stop the wights from attacking Arya as the Hound battled with her and literally carried her to safety. He died for the final time; no resurrections. Melisandre was waiting in the Great Hall for the three of them. She looked at Arya and told her that Beric was brought back for a purpose and that his purpose had been fulfilled. Arya recognizes her, remembers that she took Gendry away and because of that was a name to be crossed of her list that she recited with the same reverence as a prayer.
Melisandre reminded her of what she told her when they first met. That she would close eyes- brown eyes, green eyes…blue eyes. Arya knew now what that meant, and I yelled it out at the television, not quite believing the words even as I said them.
Then we cut back from that to Theon and the Iron Born preparing for the wights to attack the Godswood in an effort to get to Bran. They are interrupted with the continuation of the dragon battle as Jon riding Rhaegal gained the upper hand on the Night King and Viserion. It was difficult to tell what exactly was happening as the dragons scratched and clawed at one another, but when Rhaegal ripped half of Viserion’s face off, that was clear as day. The battle was fierce, and when Daenerys swooped in and Drogon slammed into Viserion, knocking the Night King hundreds of feet to the ground, we let out a cheer. We thought we were about to see Jon vs the Night King one on one, even when Dany had the Night King dead to rights and said the word that we love hearing her say, Dracarys, I had a feeling that this would not fell the Night King. And I was right. Not only did the fire not hurt him at all, we actually saw the first inkling of emotion from him as he actually smiled up at Daenerys, right before hurling an ice spear at her, which narrowly missed.
Meanwhile, Jon also crashed to the ground and was preparing to battle the Night King. He unsheathed Longclaw and went after him. The Night King knew it, stopped and turned around. In a moment reminiscent of Hardhome (which was directed by Miguel Sapochnik, as well as this episode and The Battle of the Bastards) the Night King faced Jon and raised his arms as well as all of the fallen soldiers around him. Once again, a look of smug satisfaction came across his face as the battle we were waiting for seemed destined not to happen. Like I said in my prediction article, the Night King has had thousands of years to prepare for this battle, and he wasn’t going to take any chances. Jon may have had the skill to defeat him, but we will never know now.
SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK
We then get treated to the dead rising all over the castle and our heroes now battling those they called friend only moments ago. Lyanna Mormont, Dolorous Edd, Qhono…they and literally thousands of others began rising. Jon battles and suddenly flames began spreading all over the battlefield around him as Daenerys lands Drogon near him, and he tells her that he needs to get to Bran. She tells him to go, not noticing the wights begin to swarm her dragon. In an effort to escape Drogon takes off in such a hurry and is shaking like a dog covered in fleas and in the process Daenerys is thrown to the ground and Drogon takes to the skies, covered in wights. I was hoping that they would not bring him down, but I wasn’t holding my breath.