Game of Thrones, by a Fucking Idiot, S8E3: The Long Night

by thethreepennyguignol

Look, arguably, the Battle of Winterfell, the central point around which this week’s episode of Game of Thrones revolved, was set to be one of the most impressive episodes of action television ever made. And quite well it fucking should be: it took an alleged two straight months two film, is the length of a full fucking movie, and is pretty much what everyone, including the show, has been holding their breath for since the start of this season. The living versus the dead! Fire versus Ice! Some dragons versus, uh, some more dragons!

And yes, of course, I’m not going to be the idiot who sits here and says that this was an atrocious episode, or anything. There were some truly gorgeous bits of film-making, some tremendous performances, some awesome moments. But what stuck out to me most of all about The Long Night was that it was kind of a big old mess.

Trust me, I’ve written about big action scenes before – I get that battles like this one are meant to be intense and confused and constantly shifting. But it shouldn’t be confusing. And that’s what a lot of this episode devolved into: Miguel Sapochnik, veteran of Game of Thrones battle scenes, basically seems to be standing by and watching the coherence of this fight slip through his fingers. Capturing the wildness of a fight like this is difficult (hey, hello, can I just talk to you about how I think Vikings has some of the best fight scenes on TV? Thanks), but The Long Night didn’t even have the good manners to make it intelligible.

Patrick H Willems has a great video about the geography of action scenes, a notion which has stuck around at the back of my head ever since I first came across it when it comes to analysing any action sequences, and I think the Battle of Winterfell is a prime example of the mishandling of that notion. The gloomy, patchy backdrop (was it meant to be watched in super-high resolution? Because I’ve seen a lot of complaints about the fact that it was hardly visible a lot of the time, and that seriously sucks for people who are actually taking this seriously, unlike me) rendered any attempts to navigate the landscape basically impossible, but more than that, the sheer scale of the beast meant that the episode was constantly tripping over itself to keep up with where everyone was and what they were doing and where they were headed next, and not doing a very good job of it to boot. Dany and Jon were shooting off on dragons for most of this episode (the show has three episodes left, by the way, to convince me that floating about on dragonback doesn’t look inherently ridiculous, since The Long Night couldn’t do it), for example, but where they were – in relation to each other and to the rest of the battle – was constantly obscured in gales of icy wind and choppy cuts.

And even the hand-to-hand combat, which this show usually excels at, really didn’t stand up to much this week for my money. It’s one thing to have a fast-moving camera, quite another to have one that barely takes a second to focus on anything before it whips off again. I’m sure there was some great fight choreography in there, but I’ll be damned if I could make it out against the perennially greyed-out background and the ridiculous levels of over-editing. What were meant to be these intense quickfire sequences turned into exercises in “uh, but where’s – is that guy next to that one, or are they – oh, fuck, who’s inside the castle and who isn’t?”. Not to mention the intense idiocy of the people who thought that the best place to hide vulnerables during a zombie attack was inside a crypt. Honestly, you deserve to get eaten, or whatever it is they do. Nah, you deserve to get eaten anyway. Just to make a point.

To be honest, too, I really expected this episode to be more of a bloodbath. Okay, no, that’s unfair – it wasn’t like we didn’t get a high body count, and we did lose a couple of major characters (shoutout to Ser Jorah, Westeros’ biggest cuck). But The Long Night kept cutting to dramatic shots of major characters sinking into great hulking piles of the murderous undead, only to cut to them a few minutes later and reveal that they were fine. I understand that we’re probably hanging on to these characters for future dramatics, but there was something a little funny about seeing the literal stacks of bodies and then all the top-billed cast just hanging out on top of them, draped in impenetrable plot armour and imbued with the unassailable power of the fan favourite. It honestly felt like a bit of a cop-out – not that I would have been glad to see many of these characters go, but because it would have been a powerful emotional underscore if they had, you know?

And, hey, in case you missed it, The Night King and his army are officially out of the picture. Just when you thought your Night King x Bran ship (just me?) was going to sail, Arya (who had a great episode, by the way – Maisie Williams, with her stealth and smallness, has a very unique kind of physicality and brought a lot to her exhausting outing this week) pops up behind him like me overhearing a conversation about musical theatre that I’m in no way invited to join. It’s a cool moment, for sure, but it didn’t feel like an earned finale to the episode – it felt like a “gotcha!”, a little cheap, a little forced, sprung on us out of nowhere because it would make for a bigger oh-fuck than actually putting in the work to explain how on Earth Arya got there.

And that’s really where I fall on this episode as a whole. The Long Night, for all those cool moments, really felt like it should have aimed a little higher. What has to be one of TV’s most-anticipated action episodes was mostly unintelligible half-visible sword-swinging against a confusingly disparate backdrop, and one that pulled its punches on a lot of major characters to boot. Was it awful? No – there was too much bloody budget for it to be truly awful – but I think the Battle of Winterfell deserved better.

If you enjoyed this post and want to read more stuff like it, check out some of my other recapping projects – I’ve looked at Stephen King’s Carrie and the first Harry Potter book, as well as writing episode-by-episode recaps of RiverdaleDoctor Who, and American Horror Story. I also run the film site No But Listen, where you can find my musings on movies along with writings from my brilliant co-editor. If you liked this recap and want to support me, you can do so on Patreon!

(header image via Yahoo)