“The Long Night” was directed by Miguel Sapochnik, who also helmed “Hardhome” and “Battle of the Bastards,” and it was filled with all his favorite visual flourishes. There were long tracking shots that staked out the location of every character before chaos arrived at the walls of Winterfell, plenty of shaky naturalism once the violence began, and, of course, darkness. Lots and lots of darkness. That the Night King fights at night is hardly surprising, I suppose, but as a result the action was mostly choppy and unsatisfying. Less was always more: The opening sequence involving the Dothraki charge into total darkness was gripping and clear. Once the horde of corpses arrived, though, my brain quickly turned off.
Hence my main point: The Night King is dull as dishwater. The comparison between his army of death and the looming threat of environmental catastrophe might feel facile, but in the end that’s all it really amounted to. The White Walkers were a means to unite ice and fire—Jon and Daenerys—and build an alliance in the North in order to sort out all the lingering conflict in the South. They served no plot purpose other than to threaten to bring about the apocalypse, and the only thing more boring, story-wise, than defeating the Night King would have been letting him win and cover the world in mute zombies.
The manner of his offing—death from above by Arya, wielding the Valyrian-steel dagger an assassin tried to murder Bran with way back in Season 1—was undeniably cool. I was a little let down, though, that Arya didn’t get to use her specific skills more (why not have her disguise herself as a White Walker?), but as far as dei ex machina go, it’s hard to argue with the pint-size killer Stark. Her supposed rulers, Daenerys and Jon, were by and large duds throughout the conflict, zooming around the sky on their dragons, unable to see most of the action. Bran, meanwhile, did little more than warg into a flock of ravens to alert the Night King to his presence.
But then, that was Bran’s apparent purpose in this Deathbowl: to sit tight and draw the Night King close so that Arya could get a clean shot at him. Melisandre’s return to Winterfell suggested that the final outcome had been preordained, much like some of the episode’s big deaths (Beric and Theon, along with Jorah, Edd, and little Lyanna Mormont). Melisandre even brought up a prophecy from Season 3, when she referred to Arya killing someone with brown eyes (the long-departed Lord Frey), blue eyes (the Night King), and … green eyes. Could the latter be Cersei?
Who knows. As the dust settles in Winterfell, major characters will mostly be happy to be alive, but they might quickly get to pointing fingers over what a disaster this battle was. Fighting an army of the dead is never easy, but Daenerys and Jon’s output was so pitiful here that I worry their alliance might not make it to the final conflict with Cersei. Either way, I’m glad the story can make its way south again, where the sun shines and the action is a little easier to follow. Spencer and Lenika, did you hope for more from the Battle of Winterfell?