Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3 Review: Cathartic final stretch caps off this all-action episode
The largest battle in Game of Thrones comes to a shattering end as new heroes are born and old ones die
Into its last stretch, viewers did expect some surprises from Game of Thrones, but I can bet my bottom dollar that the resolutions of episode 3 are quite unexpected. This makes it all the more difficult to write a review spoiler-free. But as always, I’ll try.
The best part of episode 3 is that you know what you have signed up for. Over seven seasons, and especially the last two episodes, the stage has been getting set for the most important battle of the series. The Night King and his army of the dead have crossed the wall and are upon the Seven Kingdom's northern foothold, Winterfell. The best of the best in Westeros prepare for the war, and make their seemingly last stand.
In my previous review, I had wished for this battle to be along the lines of the Battle for Helms Deep in Lord of the Rings. Partly because it’s one of my most favourite siege battles in cinematic history, but also because Winterfell has a wall-castle-keep structure similar to that of Helms Deep. We see the Dothraki, the Unsullied, Knights, the Night's Watch and wildlings, all awaiting the undead. That’s when we get our first surprise: The decisive arrival of a character who had promised to return 'to die in a strange land'. Not only is this a boost to the Dothraki vanguard but also to Arya Stark as we get echoes of two old scenes: One with Syrio Forrel and another with Melisandre.
Game of Thrones has excelled at such callbacks all season. Remember the Battle of Blackwater? Cersei, the high Queen, was in the Red Keep alongside all the women and children. At a pivotal moment, she sends word to get Joffrey to her. A mother's instinct and the Lannisters' unwritten motto of doing everything for their family. In this season, Sansa is asked by Arya to go down to the crypt. She refuses initially and asks what kind of example she would be setting. A queen's mark and the Starks' unwritten motto of doing everything for the welfare of the Northerners.
There is another beautiful parallel in this episode in the form of Beric Dondarrion. A famed knight who had grown weary of the politics of Westeros, Beric has been resurrected multiple times by Thoros of Myr, a follower of the Lord of Light. After the latter’s demise, Beric has been fighting with the knowledge that this time, death would be certain. What happens to him is a callback to a famous, gutwrenching death of a fan-favourite character, two seasons ago.
What this episode lacks in finesse, it more than makes up for in style. The trenches dug in the last episode as well as the ominous references to the crypts of Winterfell both come into play. Lyanna Mormont, the firebrand child queen, gets two terrific scenes. As these various smaller moments built up to a crescendo, in the background so too does the music of Ramin Djawadi, which takes centre stage, just like it did in the opening sequence of the season six finale, that was set alight by the tremendous Light of the Seven track. This episode, The Long Night, is most rewarding with headphones plugged in, on account of all the smaller details that Ramin has put into his work. His final orchestration lasting nearly 13 minutes is mesmerising, and as deaths keep piling on, just as the final blow is about to land, the story, in true Game of Thrones style, takes a terrific twist.
Clocking in at 78 mins, this episode was reportedly shot for 55 nights in the cold reaches. The jury is out on the handling of a few characters, and despite all its pluses, the writing in this episode and the ending does reek of plot armour. The Night King not being affected by dragon fire, Arya doing what she does… It’s safe to say that Game of Thrones has once again opened itself to some wild theories.