The alliance’s strategy is, basically: 1. Bran volunteers to serve as bait for the Night King by hanging around in the godswood, 2. the entire combined human army is invested in battling the wights on the ground, while 3. Jon and Dany keep the dragons invested in searching for the Night King so they can fry him with dragonfire.
Remember that they don’t actually know if dragonfire can get rid of White Walkers, especially the Night King. Bran doesn’t have an answer to the question. Whereas they do know fire gets rid of wights, and Valyrian steel and dragonglass get rid of WWs. They have exactly two dragons who can supply a basically unlimited stream of fire. They have…a huge number of dragonglass weapons on the ground, yes. Good. They have, I think it’s five? total VS blades on their side. One of those VS blades belongs to Jon, and he’s riding Rhaegal.
So with that in mind, it would be wisest to invest as much of their fire-power as possible on the ground. Maybe Jon could’ve tried lending Longclaw to his buddy Tormund so he’d be more effective against the WWs? Maybe they could split up the dragons, and have Jon focus on obliterating the mass of wights on the ground while Dany flies around looking for the Night King. Or they could plan to alternate! If they’re so sure the Night King is going to go straight for Bran in the godswood, maybe it would be a good idea to pack a bunch of soldiers carrying dragonglass daggers around the godswood, and put one or two VS fighters next to Bran. Wait, Jon could’ve lent Longclaw to Theon, who had already volunteered to guard Bran! Did they never consider, maybe Theon would’ve been a more effective protector with a VS blade? Maybe just a little?
Melisandre shows up, and she provides fire on the ground. First she gives fire to the Dothraki cavalry, and it makes a GREAT visual to see them charging at the Army of the Dead with their flaming araks, and it chills to the bone when their force goes dark. Seems that fire didn’t help much and most of them got slaughtered in seconds. Later, Melisandre lights up the trench when Dany can’t be alerted. The trench protects the castle for, like, a few minutes before the wights get over it. Ultimately, Melisandre’s fire-magic doesn’t accomplish much. They could’ve used a dragon there.
It’s a bad plan from the start, is what I’m saying, first. Much of the episode’s tension depends on the alliance having put too many eggs in the wrong basket, and somehow we’re not supposed to notice that they could have chosen a better strategy. For example: eventually, Dany brings Drogon up to the front lines and starts roasting wights. Lots and lots of snow zombies, up in flames. The Army of the Dead has numbers on its side, so by cutting down their numbers, they keep more of the human army alive. Why didn’t they lead with a dragon on the front lines?
Meanwhile in the godswood, Bran goes into warg mode with a crow. The bird flies up for a view of Jon and Dany on the dragons, and from there it’s all about the battle.
Now here’s my main concern for this episode: the battle against the Army of the Dead should be the great climax of the series, and it’s taking place in the first half of the season. So I spend the whole hour sitting there thinking, “yeah, okay, but this isn’t the end of it.” Surely there must be some danger still beyond the Wall after this battle, yes? The Army of the Dead wouldn’t blow their entire load on one campaign into the Seven Kingdoms, would they?
With that in mind, I see Bran warging into the bird and I’m all like, “Yeah, see! Pay attention, everyone, this shit is going somewhere!”
Anyway. This episode is strategically nonsensical from bottom to top, but emotionally? Thematically? This bitch is on point. It’s all about brave people fighting for what matters: specifically, for each other. Arya doesn’t like Beric, but he sacrifices himself to keep her alive, and she knows it. Sandor hates fire, but Arya inspires him to keep going regardless. Arya doesn’t like Melisandre, either, but she listens where it counts. Jorah fights for his Khaleesi, and when she’s on the ground, she picks up a blade and she fights for him. Lyanna Mormont keeps on rallying to her last breath and takes out a zombie giant. See Gendry, see Tormund, see Davos, fighting all night long like the whole world depends on it, because it kind of does. There’s Jaime and Brienne, constantly fighting for each other! Jaime doesn’t respond well to the sight of dragonfire, but he still keeps on fighting for his lady-knight. They’re both looking after Podrick! Sam doesn’t know what to do with himself but he still shows up. One may ask why Sam insists on being on the battlefield if he’s so useless as a fighter. More on that later.
You know who are the real heroes of the night? The Unsullied. When everyone else are overwhelmed with the snow zombies, the Unsullied protect their retreat back into the castle. (You know shit’s gone pear-shaped when Brienne is telling her troops to fall back.) I suppose there’s room for debate on how useful the dragons are to the fight for the living, but the Unsullied are fucking amazing and just for bringing them to the field, Dany has officially shown up.
Sansa reluctantly spends the night in the crypts with the non-combatants, but not before Arya hands her a dragonglass dagger. She has a very sweet bonding moment with Tyrion. One might think the Starks and Lannisters can be friends after all! Tyrion talks about how his mind could be put to use in the battle, if only he were out there to see what was happening. They’re both frustrated at being unable to fight, and that frustration is understandable and it is relatable. Then comes the part where the WWs reanimate the corpses in the crypts! That’s one more area where the alliance should’ve thought about what they were doing. But while Great-Grandma Stark is coming back to fuck everyone’s shit up, Sansa and Tyrion are ready to rise to the occasion.
Except…the battle’s over because Arya got the jump on the Night King. Theon charged at the NK to protect Bran, and he lost his life for it. Which may have bought a few more seconds for Arya to show up and make the entire Army of the Dead go away. Jorah died from his injuries after protecting Dany, and she is very sad to see him go. When the Night King goes away, all his White Walkers go away, and all the wights they reanimated also go away, so now the battle is done and those who’ve survived can stop fighting. Melisandre, having seen the battle fought and won, is free to die, and she does so.
Jon’s contribution to the battle was, ultimately…not all that much? Dany…again, she certainly showed up! She made the effort. Where she really deserves credit is for bringing the Unsullied to the field. Drogon and Rhaegal were tragically underutilized.
Ultimately the whole endeavor was a matter of getting Arya to the place where she could poke the Night King with her dagger. Jorah used Heartsbane to protect Dany until the battle was done. Jon used Longclaw to cut down wights until the battle was done. Brienne and Jaime used Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail to…cut down wights until the battle was done. The only combatant whose VS blade distinguished itself from all the other cheap-ass pointy ends was Arya. Sansa and Tyrion…did not get a chance to use their dragonglass. Tyrion did not get a chance to use his intellect to make a difference.
All this would not be a problem if the entire fight for the living were not over and done with in Episode 3. I’m sitting there thinking: yeah, but there’s still more to come, surely. There must be some more White Walkers still beyond the Wall, and they’re gonna show up later in the season, and THAT will be the real fight for the living. In that scenario, Arya’s contribution was to buy the alliance enough time to fight another day, and that much is valuable.
IF THERE’S STILL MORE TO COME after Ep3, then:
- There’s still a chance for Jon to show us why the Lord of Light brought him back.
- There’s still a chance for the other Valyrian steel blades to set themselves apart.
- There’s still a chance for Sansa to use her dragonglass dagger.
- There’s still a chance for Tyrion to use his intellect to make a crucial difference in the fight.
- There’s still a chance for Bran to contribute anything at all, really, aside from serve as bait.
- SPEAKING OF WHICH, there’s some significance to Bran’s warging into the ravens during the battle.
- There’s still a chance for the dragons to make a vital contribution to the fight for the living.
- Finally, if the White Walker threat shows up again in the latter half of the season, that keeps with the show’s general theme that the survival of humanity is more important than who wears the crown.
THEREFORE, much of the frustration with the second half of the season is the realization that the Army of the Dead blew its entire load on that one invasion of the kingdoms, and the Long Night was, actually, JUST that one night.
But if they MUST leave that many threads at dead ends, and the entire second half of the season MUST be devoted to the question of how to rule the kingdoms going forward, then, surely, the way they answer that question must be especially masterful and rewarding, yes?
Sit here while I pour us each a glass of wine. We’ll need it.