Unsullied Recap—Game of Thrones, Episode 803—“The Long Night”


Spoiler note: “A girl says nothing. A girl keeps her mouth closed. No one hears.” — Girls, boys, and everyone alike, Jaqen H’ghar has spoken, so please remember: Spoilers don’t make friends. Feel free to take book discussions over to our book-reader’s recap here at WIC, but keep all spoilers to yourself. Thank you!


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Remember when Miguel Sapochnik directed season 6’s “The Winds of Winter,” and we all collectively held our breath until the Sept of Baelor exploded in a frenzy of wildfire? That pretty much sums up the mood of Game of Thrones’ latest episode, except that it goes on for the entire 82 minutes.

Sapochnik, you’ve done it again. I’m going to need several drinks and a full-body massage to relieve the tension.

Unlike its predecessor (and most other episodes of this show), “The Long Night” is light on the dialogue. Instead, it relies on the score and visual effects to convey the characters’ experience of battle. Many scenes, particularly the opening, are immersive, as we follow one character after another as they gird themselves for the fight of their lives.

We open with Sam. We walk with him through the courtyard as troops and civilians head to their posts. We hear only his breathing and background noise — footsteps, the clink of armor and swords, a crying child, and snatches of discernible dialogue: “Head down to the crypts” and Lyanna Mormont’s direction to “Help the lads!”

We continue to cut to more familiar faces as they man their positions: Tyrion in the courtyard; Theon and Bran on their way to the godswood; and Davos, Sansa, and Arya on the battlements as Jon and Daenerys ride the dragons overhead. The Unsullied and the Northern armies stand outside the gates. The camera pans to Jaime, Brienne, and Podrick, then to Grey Worm, then to Tormund, Beric Dondarrion, the Hound, Gendry, Edd, and back to Sam when he joins their ranks. Then, Jorah Mormont and — if you can believe it, as his appearances are so rare — Ghost. I’d be ecstatic if I weren’t so worried about the CGI dog, but that’s what this show has reduced me to.

These shots are a reminder to viewers of all there is to lose, for the characters and fans both. But before we can lose anything at all, we gain one hell of a surprise: Melisandre, who shows up out of the shadows to get this party started. She stops short of Jorah and the Dothraki. “Do you speak their tongue?” she asks Jorah. “Tell them to lift their swords.”

Melisandre then speaks in High Valyrian, a spell that sets the Dothraki blades to flaming. I definitely shouted “YO. THAT WAS DOPE,” which would have perhaps disturbed my housemate if she weren’t watching the same thing; as it is, she understands.

In a season rife with reunions, it’s only fair that Melisandre has a couple of her own. She comes upon Davos first, whom she informs it would do no good to execute her now, as she’ll “be dead before the dawn.” Despite Davos’ lingering animosity towards the woman who burned Shireen at the stake, he leaves her be. It seems that she has some purpose to serve of which she is well-aware, and is hinted at when she and Arya silently acknowledge one another. The last time they met, Melisandre appeared to know what Arya would do, and all that she would become, in her mission to avenge her loved ones. Arya’s journey takes a prominent place here, which we see more as the episode progresses.

On a hill near Winterfell, Jon and Daenerys keep watch, awaiting the Night King’s arrival so that they might destroy him with dragonfire. But as the wights and the living face off, Daenerys deviates from the plan, which was to wait on the NK in an effort to intercept him before he could reach Bran in the godswood.

"JON: “The Night King is coming.”DAENERYS: “The dead are already here.”"

She flies Drogon above the battlefield, taking out the enemy (and likely some of her own, though no familiar faces are among the casualties). Jon follows suit, flying Rhaegal as he searches the ground for the Night King.

This deviation from their strategy could speak to a breach in trust between Jon and Daenerys, now that the former’s parentage and subsequent claim to the throne has been revealed. This may seem unimportant at the moment, but there is little rest for political intrigue in Game of Thrones. Once the battle against the White Walkers begins, the scenes are action-packed whilst providing both character and narrative development. With three episodes left, the story doesn’t stop here, so the set-up for the coming weeks is necessary.

The scenes continue as such, cutting back and forth between action and some more character-centric moments.

Sansa and Arya watch from the battlements as the destruction unfolds.

"ARYA: “Get down to the crypt.”SANSA: “I’m not abandoning my people.”ARYA [handing over a dagger]: “Take this and go.”SANSA: “I don’t know how to use it.”ARYA: “Stick them with the pointy end.”"

This is, of course, a callback to season 1, when Jon gave Arya her sword along with the same advice. Now, it serves as a scene meant to reestablish the Stark girls’ bond. Arya wants to protect her sister, and Sansa trusts her expertise in battle, which is why she heeds Arya’s order with so little argument.

In the crypts, Sansa, Tyrion, Varys, Gilly, Little Sam and Missandei are among a cast of unnamed characters. The atmosphere is tense as they listen to the battle raging out of their control — a frustrating concept, as Sansa and Tyrion discuss. Tyrion expresses his agitation, wanting to “make a difference” the way he did during the Battle of the Blackwater in season 2. Sansa, however, stays rooted in realism.

"SANSA: “That’s why we’re down here, none of us can do anything. It’s the truth. It’s the most heroic thing we can do now — look the truth in the face.”"

Sansa, too, is frustrated with her inability to aid in the war as a soldier. These characters’ abilities lie elsewhere. Sansa and Tyrion’s political savvy, Varys’ knowledge of spycraft, Missandei’s mastery of foreign languages…these have no place on the battlefield. They must accept their limitations, and know how to put their skills to use when the time is right.

Further foreshadowing for what’s to come after this war is provided by Sansa, who tells Tyrion that his “divided loyalties would become a problem” if their marriage was intact while he remained Daenerys’ advisor. This suggests a rift in the Stark/Targaryen alliance, which has been tenuous from the start. There is little time to explore this possibility in this week’s episode, but this dialogue hints it will be something to look out for in the second half of the season.

Meanwhile, the battle carries on. Edd dies, Jon and Daenerys are hindered by the winter winds, and the armies are retreating, thus bringing the fight closer to Winterfell. Daenerys cannot see the torches signaling for her return, so there is a call to “light the trenches.” It’s a hapless feat until Melisandre tries her magic hand at it, and soon enough she lights up the grounds around the castle.

Nearby, Theon, Bran, and a small retinue stand waiting in the godswood. Theon struggles to apologize once more, but Bran reassures him that his journey, despite his missteps, was exactly what it needed to be: “Everything you did brought you where you are now. Where you belong. Home.”

This exchange signals an end to Theon’s arc, a full-circle development from Theon Greyjoy to Reek to who he is now — a part of the Stark family, defending Bran and Winterfell, where before he had betrayed them.

Bran then goes full Three-Eyed Raven, warging into a flock of birds that lead us to the Night King. He’s here to ruin everything. Thankfully Arya is totally killing her water-dancing swordplay, taking down wights left and right, thereby improving the whole aesthetic that the Night King spoiled with his appearance.

The Hound has lost hope in this fight, a fact which is only exacerbated by his fear of fire, which surrounds them on all sides. Beric tries to rouse him, to no avail at first.

"THE HOUND: “We’re fighting Death! They can’t beat Death.”BERIC: “Tell her that.”"

The “her” in question is Arya, who’s somersaulting off a nearby rooftop like a champion gymnast, all the while cutting down the enemy. Once again Arya’s personal journey takes the limelight, as we’re reminded of how her story has revolved around death. From her training with Syrio Forel to her kill list to her time in Essos, death has been a running theme throughout, and now she’s fighting it in a way she never has before.

Chaos continues to reign on land and in the sky, and more lives are lost. Lyanna Mormont sacrifices her own life to end an undead giant’s, stabbing him through the eye as he crushes her to death. Tragic as it is, it was the only way the fierce Lady of Bear Island could get taken out. Jon and Daenerys face off against the Night King, all of them on dragonback. Arya uses her training with the Faceless Men to her advantage as she stalks dark corridors, avoiding wights when she can and killing them when she can’t. Beric and the Hound come to her aid, and Beric dies protecting them both.

This brings Arya and Melisandre back together, in one of my personal favorite scenes of the episode.

"ARYA: “You said I’d shut many eyes forever. You were right about that, too.”MELISANDRE: “Brown eyes… green eyes… and blue eyes.”"

Emphasis on blue. I don’t think I’ve ever Aaawwww yeeeeeaaah’d that hard in my entire life. That is, until the pair face the closed door ahead of them, beyond which come the sounds of undead screeching, and Melisandre quotes the late great Syrio Forel:

"MELISANDRE: “What do we say to the God of Death?”ARYA: “Not today.”"

I can’t believe HBO expected us to handle this with another thirty-odd minutes left. I can only yell “Yas queen!” so many times before I run out of breath.

In the interim, more battle! The soldiers in the godswood shoot flaming arrows at oncoming wights while the dragons are going full-on sibling rivalry overhead, somehow without upending their respective riders immediately. Jon does, however, find himself on the ground soon enough. Before he can fight the Night King, though, Daenerys tries to “Dracarys!” the undead king, which proves to have no results whatsoever.

It’s an arguably surprising turn of events, but I’m more disappointed that Daenerys and the Night King didn’t duke it out via musical number, perhaps with this apropos Christmas classic. Alas, it was always a pipe dream.

Jon doesn’t get a shot at the NK, either, as the latter raises more troops from the accumulated dead. It’s all crackling fire, swelling music, and Jon’s frantic breathing as he races forward, determined to kill the Night King before the deed can be done. But the dead are already stirring, and beloved secondary characters like Edd and Lyanna awaken with piercing blue eyes. Drogon roasts the wights as they converge upon Jon, whom Daenerys bids “Go!” when he shouts Bran’s name, telling her that he needs to go protect his brother.

Daenerys then loses her safe perch atop Drogon when the dragon is overrun by wights. She’s nearly killed by one when Jorah seizes his knight-in-shining-armor moment and beheads the creature. The two fight alongside one another, signifying their years-long journey together. They haven’t always been in a position to protect each other, but Daenerys is Jorah’s first priority and he’s the man she trusts most in the world. We see the physical manifestation of their years of struggle as they fight off almost-certain death together.

Inside the Episode

The characters in the crypts are forced to listen to death right outside the door, all the while knowing there’s nothing they can do to help or stop it. And when the Night King raises more followers, the crypts become a scene of horror all their own, as corpses rise from their graves to kill those who sought refuge therein.

Sansa and Tyrion share a poignant moment as she pulls the dagger from her cloak. There is a silent sort of agreement between them, that they’ll take their own lives if needs must. Sansa is the only one with a weapon, and she can’t defend everyone against the dead awakening all around them. Despite all that’s happened between them, this is a significant scene for Sansa and Tyrion. They’ve both suffered at the hands of his family, married off to each other at some of their lowest points as they endured torment from Cersei and Joffrey, both of them trapped. Now they’ve found themselves trapped again, but this time they won’t let anyone else dictate what becomes of them, even if that means taking their lives before something else can.

But because I deserve nice things, they live, along with the rest of the familiar characters in the crypts.

Jon fights his way through the courtyard, dodging the undead Viserion’s fire as he tries to make it to the godswood. But the Night King gets there first, and apparently the universe runs out of nice things for me, no matter how much I deserve them.

Theon is Bran’s final defense, and they both know how it ends. Bran tells him, “You’re a good man. Thank you,” effectively ending Theon’s story. He’s been forgiven for the sins he committed against the Starks, and his final act absolves him completely: He charges the Night King head-on and is run through with a blade, dying a hero’s death and breaking my heart. There is some poetic justice to it, as Theon has faced so much tragedy and trauma that the only thing that could finish him was Death itself.

The final scenes are cut together, as Jon faces Viserion and Bran faces the Night King, both of them prepared for what awaits them. But before ice and fire can destroy either of them, Arya comes in for the kill. She ambushes the Night King, who catches her by the throat but isn’t quick enough for her, and so she stabs him with the Valryian steel knife Bran bequeathed to her last season.

It is, in a word, exquisite.

When discussing our theories for the show’s endgame, dear friend, fellow WIC writer, and Arya aficionado Sarah suggested the possibility that Arya would be the one to kill the Night King, because of the character’s relationship with death, which is what the NK represents. As the audience is reminded throughout this episode, Arya has been serving the god of death for almost her entire journey, via her own kill list and during her tenure at the House of Black and White. Her desire for vengeance robbed her of her identity for so long. At last that violent, solitary chapter of her story can come to a close — because she was able to face Death and say, “Not today.” This was not only an excellent plot twist, but an insightful addition to Arya’s character arc.

But even as the Night King dies, so do others. Jorah perishes in a sobbing Daenerys’ arms, rounding out his story as he defended his queen ‘til his last breath. And as the dead follow their king in obliteration, the battle done, Melisandre’s role comes to an end as well. She removes her necklace and walks out past the fallen, aging until she’s nothing but dust in the wind.

And so our final death count comes to seven named characters: Edd, Lyanna Mormont, Beric Dondarrion, Theon Greyjoy, Jorah Mormont, the Night King, and Melisandre. Despite who we’ve lost, fan favorites are still well-stocked, so let’s speculate on what becomes of them in the second half of the season. They may have survived this week, but Murphy’s Law remains a viable option in the upcoming three.

Will the Stark/Targaryen forces hold up against Cersei, or will dissonance among supposed allies cause the next war to be more nuanced than the classic “good versus evil”? How willing are the Northern armies going to be to fight another war after all they’ve lost? Will the knowledge of Jon’s parentage become public, and how will it change the characters’ relationships? Does Cersei have more tricks up her sleeve? What role does Bran play now that the Night King is destroyed? What effect will the Long Night have on the coming war? With Jorah dead, whose counsel, if anyone’s, will Daenerys trust implicitly? And, as always, where did Ghost go now?

Remember — speculation is encouraged, spoilers aren’t! Thanks, and see you next week!

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