***The Following Post May Contain Spoilers! Read at your own Risk!***
First of all, could the title for this blog post be any longer? Secondly… there is no secondly. Let’s just get down to business. I’ve been wanting to write these blog posts for a while, but I needed to consume the episodes again (and sometimes again and again) to really wrap my head around things. This has been building up for a long time, you guys. For some, it’s been coming since they dove into the first book and started reading in 1996. For others, it began when the show launched. For others still, like my dear friend John, it started in like March/April of 2019 during a massive binge because he probably got tired of listening to everyone talking about this show he’d never seen.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s been just over eight years since HBO began airing their adaptation of one of my favorite high fantasy novel series. At the time, I’d hoped it’s airing meant a swift kick in the backside to George R.R. Martin and a timely delivery of the final (or at the very least the next) books in “A Song of Ice and Fire”. I was wrong in hoping, I guess, but over time a part of me started to feel grateful that at least I would get some closure on things, even if those things deviated from GRRM’s original plans. He certainly didn’t seem like he was in a big hurry to provide closure, or even continuation, so in time I contented myself with the steadfast reliability of HBO.
“Sure,” I said to myself, “it won’t be the closure George intended, but at least I’ll have closure, right?”
Mostly right, yeah. I’m getting my closure, but the quality of that closure has come into question as the final season aired between April and May, rushing through things that could have been more powerfully (and sensibly) developed with even just a few more episodes in this final season. When HBO first announced there would only be six episodes in the final season, I felt a little slighted. After years of ten episodes seasons, it felt like a bit of a ripoff being shorted those four episodes, but then they said each episode would be near movie-length, several of them clocking in at 90+ minutes. Oh, plenty of time to wrap everything up in a neat little bow, right?
Though I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to see this iconic show come to an end, (dying tragically before a show I love reaches its finale is a longstanding irrational fear of mine–ridiculous, I know!) and I’ve enjoyed just about all of it, I do have a lot of issues with this final season. At first, I didn’t really notice them. I was excited my favorite show was back and we were finally going to be getting that coveted closure I keep talking about.
Episode one was mostly a talking episode, and I was all right with that. I tend to enjoy the talking episodes more than the blowing everything up episodes because it helps develop character and strengthen plot. Episode two turned out to be another talking episode, and I enjoyed that as well, but as we rounded the corner on episode three and the Battle of Winterfell, I started to feel a little unhappy with the turn things were taking. Not because I didn’t see these things coming. I knew the Night King was coming with his army, and it was going to be horrifying by the time they were done, but then Arya did her thing, ended that whole massive threat with a well-placed stab, and it was time to get back to the real purpose of this whole show: The Game for the Throne.
Winter was coming for years, you guys. And according to Maester Luwin, Old Nan, and Ned Stark, it was going to be a bad one. It would last for five, maybe ten years, and there wouldn’t be enough crops to feed everyone, but even worse was the fact that North of the Wall something horrifying was stirring, and it was coming for everyone. Grumpkins and snarks and–oh yeah–an army of freaking dead wildlings and giants and bears and snow tigers and eventually a dragon… It was a big army, and it swallowed up everything in its path, making itself seemingly impossible to beat. and some important people died, like Lyanna and Jorah Mormont, Dolorous Edd, Barric Dondarion, and Theon Greyjoy, but overall it felt like far too many major players survived.
I saw Samwell Tarly getting swallowed up by the dead numerous times during that incredibly dark (pun absolutely intended) episode, and then he just got up and went into the great hall after all was said and done and was like, “Welp, I’m ready to go be the only Tarly left on my family’s land.” I watched Brienne of Tarth screaming as the dead dogpiled her, Podrick Payne barely standing while Jaime Lannister managed to beat back the throngs with one hand basically tied behind his back. And I get it… They’re dead. Corpses are pretty easy to fight, but I’ve watched enough zombie movies and shows over the years to know that getting dogpiled by a bunch of gnashing, mindless dead usually means you’re not coming back. But they all did. Jorah fought hard, but he wasn’t strong enough to stand against the repeated attacks against his queen, and poor, sad Dolorous Edd went out saving Samwell Tarly. Little Lyanna Mormont was crushed by a zombie giant, but managed to stab its eye out before she went down. Barric Dondarion died and came back so many times so the Lord of Light could put him in the path of Arya Stark (credit where it’s due, that was a pretty cool plot twist). And Theon? Someone build that guy a massive monument in the courtyard at Winterfell because he basically took out half the Night King’s army by himself, a host of corpses at his feet when he finally charged the Night King in a futile attempt to buy more time.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not discrediting the power of the deaths mentioned above, but when all was said and done it felt like far too many familiar faces survived the greatest battle Winterfell, and possibly the Seven Kingdoms itself, had ever seen. At first I thought my disappointment was the fact that so many predictions went out the window with that episode, but in truth I’m actually a little disconcerted by how easily that giant, massive, millions strong story arc was put to bed. Well done, Arya. All that training and torture and suffering she underwent seriously paid off, but the whole Night King business felt like it needed a bit more to feel truly satisfying. Maybe more important peoples’ deaths? I don’t know. I just know that the ending of that arc left me wanting, and that was the first moment I began to notice my growing dissatisfaction.
You’ve probably noticed I didn’t mention Melisandre above, and that was intentional. She didn’t die at the Battle of Winterfell; it was after and completely unrelated to the battle itself as the Lord of Light completed her contract. Out of everything, her role and her death felt like the most natural thing to me–the quiet surrender to the end of her purpose.
I’m not going to complain about how dark the episode was, which seemed to be a major sore spot for a lot of viewers. We didn’t seem to have that problem at my house, probably because I turned the brightness up on my TV before it started and everything was perfectly viewable for us. I am going to complain about spending an entire week not sure whether or not Tormund survived because they barely focused on him at all during the battle. I expected to see more of him, as fighting this battle with Jon Snow had sort of become his purpose for his people, so they might return home. And yet, I barely saw him during the Battle of Winterfell. This disappointed me more than I probably have a right to be, but over the course, and even in the books, he was one of my favorite characters, and they’d given him so much screen time. Then again, I’m not sure what I expected because they ended the last season on a massive question mark when Viseron attacked and destroyed the wall, leaving me wondering for like eighteen months if he was still alive.
In the end, it boils down to one simple fact: The Night King’s defeat felt too easy. Okay, two facts: Too many major players in the Game of the Thrones survived that battle.
Obviously it wasn’t enough to deter me from watching the next episode, which I’ll talk about in detail soon because I have issues with that one too, though not nearly as many as I have with episode give.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Battle of Winterfell. Whether you loved it or hated it, I want to know about it, and I’d like to know why you feel the way you do so feel free to comment below!