The Battle For Winterfell
After what’s felt like an eternity, Game Of Thrones returns with the long-awaited Battle For Winterfell. We begin with one very slick tracking shot, as we follow Samwell and Tyrion before seeing Bran. With a profound lack of dialogue during this segment and pulsating drums, the tension really is at tipping point.
A good amount of time passes before one solitary rider steps forward. Melisandre is back. She asks Ser Jorah to tell the Dothraki to raise their swords. As the metal is raised, she recites a spell igniting everyone’s swords on fire. At this point the battle begins after Melisandre stares down Arya. Catapults ignite the sky with fireballs while the Dothraki charge forward, led by Ser Jorah. We get our first glimpse of the dead here too before cutting back to Winterfell where we see the sword lights flicker out and the remaining Dothraki running back to form the ranks as the dead pour forward.
As all our characters fight, the two dragons spew fire over the battlefield. Only, a snowstorm picks up as a white walker jumps and throws Ser Jorah off his horse. After saving Samwell, Dolores Edd meets a swift demise as he’s stabbed through the heart from behind. With the dead out-manning our heroes, the survivors outside Winterfell pour forward whilst the Unsullied stand their ground and guard the retreat attempt.
Arya saves The Hound via a flamed arrow while Grey Worm prepares for the worst outside. Taking her sweet time, Melisandre steps forward and lights the trenches as a beacon for the two dragons to ignite the battlefield. Just in time too as one of the dead jumps forward only to be engulfed by flames.
While Tyrion laments the situation the guys in the crypt find themselves in, the rest of the soldiers above ground welcome a slight respite from the fighting. Theon tries apologizing to Bran but he brushes off his statement and instead wargs into a raven which flies into the path of The Night King.
Meanwhile the flamed defence around Winterfell comes undone when the dead form a bridge to suffocate the flames before climbing up the walls of Winterfell. As everyone converges at the walls, they all struggle to fight off the dead. They pour forward, destroying the barricades on the walls and causing chaos. Clegane cowers from the fire whilst Arya holds her own and fights off the dead. Lyanna Mormont, on the verge of death, charges forward and confronts a dead giant head on. After being crushed to the point of death, she stabs the giant in the eye.
Arya finds herself trapped and after fighting off a few of the dead, runs for her life from the library. Thankfully Dondarrion and The Hound save her but realizing the numbers are too great, Dondarrion sacrifices himself to allow them to get away. Melisandre and Arya then finally meet face to face. After sharing cold pleasantries, Arya ignores the fact Melisandre is on her kill list – there’s bigger fish to fry here.
In the weirwood, Theon prepares for the inevitable, defending Bran with his life. As the Night King descends to Winterfell, Jon intervenes and attacks the dragon. He falls, as does the dragon, leaving Dany riding alone. Staring down the Night King, who now finds himself at ground level, she spews fire over the Night King as he stands by watching. Unfortunately, the fire has no effect whatsoever as he grins menacingly and Jon Snow steps forward with his sword.
As Jon rushes forward, the Night King raises all the dead outside the gates. All that hard work undone in an instant. As the dead heroes return to life, down in the crypts the dead arrive too. Jon is saved by deus-ex-machina again, a recurring theme this episode, by Dany’s dragon breathing fire on the battlefield. Unfortunately, Dany gets too close to the ground and her dragon is stabbed repeatedly. Finding herself alone on the battlefield, she’s saved by Ser Jorah who grabs her and takes her into Winterfell.
Hiding behind one of the gravestones, Tyrion and Sansa find themselves alone while the dead slaughter everyone. We then get one final musical montage as our heroes continue to fight for their lives. Theon kills every dead soldier standing in his path before Bran tells him he’s a good man. Teary eyed and staring at the Night King and his henchman, he rushes forward and meets his long-foreshadowed demise.
Ser Jorah is stabbed multiple times but remains standing for now while the Night King continues to walk toward Bran. With all hope lost, Arya jumps forward out of nowhere and saves her brother, stabbing the Night King and consequently causing all the other soldiers to destroy into shards of ice. Ser Jorah then collapses from exhaustion and dies an honorable man. The episode then ends with morning arriving and Melisandre stepping outside and dying in the snow.
For anyone who’s followed the show over the years, this episode is likely to divide opinion between those faithful book lovers expecting a realistically depicted fight, and those who jumped on board when the show reached mainstream appeal. There’s a lot of deus-ex-machina used here, with numerous main characters saved at the last second by other heroes. While there are some character deaths, for a battle of this magnitude it doesn’t feel like anywhere near enough.
The lighting and score in the episode are something that’s going to be a talking point for many people. Personally, I loved the night setting and the orange flames igniting tiny patches of the battlefield do mirror what it would be like to fight in these conditions. However, it also further exacerbates the problem with having our heroes fighting one on one with the dead while minor, insignificant soldiers are swarmed by hundreds. It’s something that solidifies this show into mainstream territory, highlighting the poor writing that’s hounded this show for so long.
Thankfully there’s no dialogue through much of the episode, which certainly helps and the long stretches of silence really do well to drive home both the musical score and the overall tension so prevalent in the episode. While this is a far cry from Helm’s Deep which remains the best battle depicted on screen, the battle itself is certainly exciting and tense. It’s just a shame that so many of our heroes wear plot armour now, alleviating much of the tension around their fates.
Quite where the show goes now is anyone’s guess but for now, there’s enough here to say this episode is certainly one of the best in recent years but whether this beats Hardhorne, Blackwater or Battle Of The Bastards is left up for debate.
Provisional Season Rating