The third of the six final episodes of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” on Sunday night featured an epic battle that moved the series and cultural phenomenon closer to its inevitable end.
Fans had high expectations going into the episode, “The Long Night.” Who would live? (And who would not?) Would the Night King, absent from the season’s first two episodes, finally appear? Would the citizens of Winterfell actually be safe in the crypts with all those corpses waiting to reanimate?
As soon as the nearly 90-minute battle sequence began to unfold, viewers turned by the thousands to the communal water cooler we call social media, where they shared memes, thoughts, spoilers, praise and grievances in thousands of posts on Twitter, Reddit, Instagram and YouTube. And as dawn arrived on the first workday of the week, many were searching Google for answers.
Fans soaked up the epic confrontation, years in the making.
The New York Times recap called the episode “a masterpiece of tension and release, goose bumps and heartbreak, grandiosity and intimacy.”
By noon on Monday, at least seven of the top 100 podcast episodes on iTunes were devoted to discussing the show, with many of the hosts making the same, enthusiastic points seen elsewhere online.
“I can sum it up in three words,” said Ser Matt, a host of “Bend the Knee: A Song of Ice and Fire Podcast”: “Worth the wait.”
But not everyone was so taken. Alan Sepinwall, of Rolling Stone, wrote in a review that he found much of the episode “narratively unsatisfying” and argued that “too many characters were protected by plot armor.”
Battle: Good. Lighting? Not so good.
“The night is dark and full of terrors,” the Red Priestess, Melisandre, once said. And the night was most definitely dark.
The show has often faced lighthearted complaints about its lighting. There is no electricity in Westeros, after all. The epic Battle of Winterfell took place in the dark of night, on an open field and in darkened castle hallways, which made discerning what was happening, and who it was happening to, difficult at times.
Writing for Slate, Matthew Dessem defended the decision to film a low-light battle, while explaining the poor viewing experience as a structural failing.
”It’s a perfect storm: Every recent advance in television technology seems to have been designed specifically to make “The Long Night” difficult to make out,” he wrote.
James Poniewozik, the chief television critic for The Times, argued that while confusion on screen can serve a purpose, it was an odd choice for last night’s episode. “The squint-to-see-them images were chaotic even when we were clearly meant to take in information: Who just died? Which dragon bit which?” he wrote.
Sunday’s episode was far from the only one that featured such dark scenes. In 2017, Robert McLachlan, a cinematographer who worked on the show, told Insider that he felt the it had been getting darker over the years, driven by the crew’s desire for a “naturalistic” feel.
“We want to make these sets and locations feel as if they’re absolutely not lit by us, but only by mother nature or some candles or what have you, so that it feels more naturalistic albeit enhanced in some cases,” he said.
Viewers love Arya Stark.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Maisie Williams, the actress who plays Arya Stark, said she was unconvinced when she first read about the scene in which she killed the Night King. But as the episode came together she had a change of heart.
“It all comes down to this one very moment,” she said. “It’s also unexpected and that’s what this show does. … I get it.”
Fans of the show seemed to agree, generally pleased that she was the one who saved her brother, Winterfell and perhaps all of Westeros.
But the episode did leave a lot of questions unanswered.
To start, viewers wanted clarity on how, exactly, Arya was able to make her way from the castle to come out of nowhere to defeat the Night King, a bit of misdirection in the story that led to a satisfying surprise for viewers.
Some wondered why the Night King was so obsessed with killing Bran in the first place, an idea that was had only been explained in the previous episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”
“He wants to erase this world, and I am its memory,” Bran said, in explaining the plan to use himself as bait.
And then there were questions about why certain characters died the way they did.
Also hanging out there:
Why wasn’t the Night King burned by dragon fire?
What, exactly, was the plan supposed to be with the dragons?
Come to think of it, what sort of battle strategy involves sending your cavalry in first, instead of using your aerial support?
Did no one — Tyrion? Sam? — think for a second that a crypt full of corpses would be a dangerous place to shelter when the White Walkers come calling?
The redemption of Theon, onetime conqueror of Winterfell
“Hands down one of the best character performances in any show I’ve watched over the years,” one user wrote in what was one of the most popular recent posts on the “Game of Thrones” subreddit on Monday.
(Almost) everyone lived, surprisingly.
Fans of the show are trained to see their favorite characters die (R.I.P. Ned Stark). Notably, the battle saw the deaths of Ser Jorah and Lyanna Mormont (and therefore what remained of House Mormont).
But some fans complained and joked about the lack of other big deaths, arguing that the show had set expectations too high before Sunday’s episode.
With three episodes down and three to go, a number of major (and minor) characters are still alive, despite an episode that showed many of them fighting for their lives: Brienne of Tarth, Jamie Lannister, Tyrion Lannister, Tormund Giantsbane, Gendry, Podrick, and all the remaining Stark children.
But others defended the choice.