Spoilers for Game of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 3
Game of Thrones’ third episode of its eighth season, “The Battle of Winterfell” premiered on Sunday. The episode opens with the Army of the Living is making their final preparations before the battle begins. As the army is about to charge into battle, Melisandre (Carice van Houten) arrives and offers a helping hand. Unfortunately, nothing could have prepared them for what they were about to face.
With a small portion of the Army of the Living charging towards the white walkers, most of them are quickly killed before they can cause any real damage, the fires they carry going out like the hope the army has. Most of the casualties in that initial attack are the Dothraki horsemen, while the rest of the army, and those watching from the walls of the castle, are horrified with what they just saw. Slowly, a few survivors from the attack return, including Jorah (Iain Glen).
In this opening, the show did a fantastic job of setting up just how unprepared and naive the Army of the Living was in thinking they could just charge into battle. It was eye-opening to see our heroes take a major hit within minutes of the battle starting. The looks on their faces after seeing the fires of the swords go out was more than enough to show what kind of fight this would be.
As we know, Game of Thrones is brutal, and the army isn’t given any moment to grieve those they’ve lost as the battle continues. As the wights make contact, the Living are quickly overpowered and forced to retreat to the castle. As soon as the last of the soldiers retreat behind the castle walls, Melisandre casts a spell that sets fire to the trench that surrounds Winterfell, allowing them one sigh of relief.
From here, the show switches to different fights throughout the episode. Fans see Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), and Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) fighting together. Many die trying to fight off the dead, as the horde cascades through the castle, including fan favorite Lady Mormont (Bella Ramsey), slain by a giant that she kills in return. In truth, Lady Mormont went out in the most Lady Mormont-way possible, which was such a bittersweet moment. In addition to the hopelessness of watching a fan favorite die, Arya (Maisie Williams) is fighting several white walkers but is quickly outnumbered and injured.
The major element of this episode is the splitting up of the long battle in different segments is executed well. All main characters had their own time to shine, although some had more time than others. Seeing Jaime, Brienne, and Tormund teaming together was fantastic. It does make me wonder how their friendship and Tormund wanting to be with Brienne moves forward from here.
Meanwhile, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Jon (Kit Harington) fly around Winterfell trying to even the odds. A thick mist appears out of nowhere which prevents them from helping. Attempting to find a way out of the fog, the Night King (Vladimir ‘Furdo’ Furdik) arrives with his dragon to confront them. After a fierce battle in the sky, Jon is able to knock the Night King off of his dragon. But as Daenerys tries to burn him, it’s revealed that the Night King is immune to dragonfire. In an attempt to end the battle, Jon begins to charge at the unaffected Night King, but he raises the slain Winterfell defenders to fight Jon.
Having raised the fallen defenders of Winterfell, the Night King also resurrects the dead who are located in the crypts. As the undead begin to attack the civilians who are down there, a few manage to hide, including Sansa (Sophie Turner), Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), and Lord Varys (Conleth Hill). With Winterfell overrun with wights, on the outside and the dead attacking Jon on the outside, Daenerys saves Jon from the undead. Remebering that his brother is nearly defenseless, Jon rushes to save Bran, leaving the Mother of Dragons to fend for herself as her dragon is swarmed and must flee. Luckily, Ser Jorah (Iain Glen) has emerged, ready and willing to give his life for his Queen, and when the time comes, he does.
While all of this is going on, Theon (Alfie Allen) and the Ironborn defend Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) at the Godswood. The undead prove to be too much for them, leaving it up to Theon to protect Bran. The Night King makes his way to the Goodswood and Theon realizes that he will need to fight him. Bran, in an act of empathy, thanks Theon for defending him. Theon lunges at the Night King, but he’s quickly killed.
As the Night King begins to move in on Bran, Arya sneaks up and goes for a killing blow. He grabs hold of her but Arya manages to kill him with the Valyrian steel dagger, in the same move she used to win her sparring match with Brienne in season seven. With the Night King dead, his army collapses, leaving the survivors in shock that they have won, and by what they have seen.
I mentioned in my review of episode 2 that both “The Battle of the Bastards” and last week’s episode have been my favorite episodes of the series, but this episode quickly earned that title. A lot of hype was surrounding this episode for the past few days, especially with it being reported that it would feature the longest battle in television history. Looking back, nothing could have prepared fans for what they were about to see.
The hero of the episode, to many fans’ surprise, was Arya Stark. Her character growth from the start of the series until now has been one of the strongest elements of the entire show. She’s no longer the scared child who is running away from death. She can now call herself the warrior who took down the Night King. Had someone told me that she would be the one to save the Seven Kingdoms from the army of the undead, I would not have believed them. I wouldn’t mind this being the reason for her to take the Iron Throne, or even become the Hand of the person who does take the throne. She’s shown that she’s more than capable of holding such a prestige responsibility.
One of my main complaints on the episode was the belief that major things would be at stake. Yes, things were at stake within the universe of the show, but this was the major battle that she show has been setting up since the start of the show. Having no major characters die within the series was a bit disappointing. It’s not like I would want them to die, but at least one major death would have made it clear that this battle was truly important.
It’s also quite disappointing to see that one of the major battles in the history of the seven kingdoms wasn’t saved for the last episode. The show set up the Night King as this all-powerful being, but he was defeated after one episode. I’m just not sure why the show decided to make Cersei the big-bad of the series. She’s definitely more villainous, especially after destroying the citadel and everyone in it. But it’s a letdown that the undead aren’t really the major villains.
This episode took me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions that I enjoyed from start to finish. Like I said, I’m not quite sure it was the right decision to have this battle now rather than at the end, but I’m confident that the show won’t disappoint with the next three episodes. But one thing’s for sure, both Avengers: End Game and “The Battle of Winterfell” will be talked about for a long, long time.
The final three episodes of Game of Thrones will air on Sundays at 9 p.m. EST / 6 p.m. PST only on HBO, HBO GO, and HBO NOW.
Final Rating: 9/10 Valyrian Steel Daggers