It’s finally time. It’s the battle of Winterfell and seemingly all of humanity is at risk. Can the characters we love hold out the undead? Is their strategy going to work? What about that ice dragon!? Everything has led up to this with the first two episodes this season building towards the ultimate fight. It doesn’t disappoint.
Game of Thrones season 8 has been very good at reminding us why we love these characters and in turn why they like each other. The first two episodes of season 8 have firmly established a stand will be taken at Winterfell. The last episode allowed characters to refresh one another on their journeys and established why they care about each other at all. The show-runners have effectively set up what will undoubtedly be the beginning of the end of many lives for characters we dearly love.
The episode opens with Sam (John Bradley) walking amongst the soldiers inside the walls of Winterfell as they prepare for the war which leads to Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) who seems equally scared. It’s an ominous opening with a scary beat to the music as if conveying the calm right before battle. As the camera pans across soldiers we see some of our favorite characters ready and waiting for what comes next. Which is why it’s particularly frighting Melisandre (Carice van Houten) shows up. Is she on their side? The episode effectively gets audiences in the same mindset as everyone facing an army of the dead.
Melisandre certainly adds a mysterious element to this battle. No longer is it man vs. monster, but a witch is now mixing things up. Much like the previous episodes, Melisandre connects with more than one character as if to give us one last goodbye for folks stop dropping like flies. Davos (Liam Cunningham) gets a moment of reflection, reminding us all of what Melisandre did to that poor little girl in a previous season. At least she gave the Dothraki riders an edge however useless that was.
As far as battles in Game of Thrones goes, this one leans heavily into the fantasy elements. Hordes of zombies practically riding a river of dead bodies flowing into the humans and dragons laying waste with streams of fire. The show-runners never let us lose sight of the characters we love who get blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments fighting zombies. The wights are depicted in a much more conventional zombie way with the usual screams and undead look.
The episode’s score is possibly the best yet when it comes to tension. There are themes reminiscent of Terminator 2, a droning sort of music that makes everything seem hopeless. Later in the episode when the wights storm the walls, the music builds to a practical screech that’s very good at increasing your anxiety. For as good as the special effects, cinematography, and acting is, the music lifts everything up to another level. That goes double for Arya (Maisie Williams), who enters the battle with a rather kickass hero theme when all feels lost.
There are a few moments in this episode where you very much wonder if there is no hope, but characters we’ve grown to love put in the extra effort and fight. It’s profoundly enjoyable to see these heroes, be it Arya, Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), Beric (Richard Dormer), and Lyanna (Bella Ramsey) do what they can to fight an impossible battle. The show-runners do a great job never losing sight of these character moments in a very complicatedly shot battle.
This episode balances the war scenes with true horror moments. That goes for scenes in the battlefield and later in Winterfell itself. So far this series has depicted the wights as horrific monsters, but hasn’t had the chance to play up the creepy horror angle too much. Utilizing Arya in a scary scene as she attempts to avoid wights inside Winterfell the show puts you on edge, removing the sound, and putting the show in a place similar to the creepiest films you’ve ever seen.
The last few minutes of this episode are a necromancer fan’s dream come true. I’ll say no more, but this type of monster is probably covered at this point. It’s done that well. Speaking of, there’s a huge reveal involving the Night King that should have fans very intrigued by what his origin means.
It’s certainly not a perfect episode, with some boneheaded moments by the heroes, poor planning, and some obvious turns in the plot to ramp things up in a non-organic way. Hell, Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) both just sit in fear when they could help others. It’s nothing if not relatable — I’m sure many of us would do the same, but it’s a somewhat forced moment for them to connect.
We are now halfway through the final season and only a few hours away from the finale. If this episode had a goal it was to make us believe there is no hope for our heroes. All is lost. Until it wasn’t. A lot of characters died, dragons included, but the war is not yet over. This was possibly one of the best war battles in the series, and maybe ever put to film, but one thing remains: the “game of thrones” has yet to be decided.