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‘Battle of Winterfell’ was a thrilling ride

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I remember when, not all that long ago, I decided to finally culture myself and marathon all three “Lord of the Rings” movies. When I finally arrived at the Battle of Helm’s Deep, I strapped myself in and prepared for forty minutes of orc bloodbath, making it the longest cinematic battle ever recorded. Lo and behold, less than a year after I watched it, “Game of Thrones” decides to more than double that run time. The Battle of Winterfell occupies an entire episode and clocks in at around a whopping ninety minutes. “The Long Night” truly does live up to its name, but did it live up to the hype?

Though I have my reservations about this episode, in particular how shockingly quickly the Night King’s story line ended, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it on a visceral level. I think my face has permanent lines from grimacing so much. Watching it in a dark room, I was perpetually teetering on the edge of the desk I was perched on (probably so I actually had a chance to see what was going on — the episode is chronically pitch black). This wasn’t the best “Game of Thrones” battle we’ve seen yet, but the route this one takes sets it apart. It’s more hair-raising than adrenaline-pumping, but definitely with healthy doses of both throughout.

Even though it seemed to serve no purpose, the scene of Arya sneaking through the castle library was enough to finally silence the dorm watching group with tense anticipation. “The crypts are safe,” they said. “Let’s stick all the defenseless characters there,” they said. Everyone had called that the ‘safe’ crypts full of dead people just begging to be reanimated were not in fact safe, but the claustrophobia was all too real. The sight of watching all of the Dothraki’s flaming swords get extinguished off in the darkness? Terrifying. Watching the writhing piles of undead cascade against the walls “World War Z” style? Bone-chilling. Sam Tarly lounging comfortably on a pile of bodies for half the episode as if it was a Lowe’s loveseat, though? Not so much. “Game of Thrones” got a lot right with this episode, but also a lot of not-quite-right alongside it.

See, I understand that suspension of disbelief is necessary when watching a TV show, especially one about, you know, dragons and zombies. Thing is, I watched the episode twice that night and on a second viewing the novelty had worn off and I started to actually think about what was happening. Aside from the atrocious war tactics as a whole, what was Jon trying to accomplish himself? His battle strat: run out, see undead dragon, run back in. Rinse and repeat not one, but two more times. On top of that, the amount of dragon/Jorah ex-machinas probably contributed to the fact that so few characters actually died. They get saved right in the nick of time even if they’re — oh, I don’t know — surrounded by a replete mass of undead well away from the walls of Winterfell. And what was Bran doing the whole time, playing Raven Flight Simulator 2000?

Perhaps that’s just my nitpicky self. With all that said, despite the plot holes, the episode is still a wild ride from start to finish, and provides a satisfying enough (if abrupt) ending for the storyline of the Night King. This storyline has been building up since the very first shot of the pilot episode; if this is only worthy of the midseason battle, I’m curious to see where the remaining three episodes will go. I have faith in the Old Gods and the New that the writing team has even bigger and bloodier battles in mind to finish off the show. Just don’t think about them too hard.

Contact Hannah Blum at hannahbl ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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