Game of Thrones season 8, episode 3 analysis: The Long Night

After two episodes of build up and tender moments, we finally got to see one of the major battles the entire series has been building toward in season 8, episode 3 of Game of Thrones. Just as the previews suggested, the dead clashed with the living in last night's episode, and the Battle for Winterfell was truly epic in a lot of ways. Still, there were plenty of twists and turns, and at the end, many of us were probably surprised to see who lived and who died.

As always, this is the part where I tell you that if you haven't seen last night's episode of Game of Thrones yet, stop reading here. In fact, you're probably going to want to stay off the internet as much as possible until you get the chance to see this episode, because it has sparked plenty of debate online.

Game of Thrones season 8, episode 3 recap

The entirely of this week's episode took place in Winterfell and focused on the fight between the living and the dead. The opening moments were mostly silent and tense, as everyone took their positions and got ready to fight, some on the frontlines, others on the walls of Winterfell, and those who couldn't fight taking refuge in the crypts.

Before the battle begins, we see a familiar character reappear: Melisandre, the Red Woman who was banished from Winterfell by Jon and Davos after it became clear that she sacrificed the young princess Shireen by burning her at the stake. She lights every Dothraki sword on fire in what was probably one of the coolest shots of the entire series and then heads into Winterfell.

When she was banished, Jon told her that if she ever returned to the North, he'd have her executed, and for a moment it looks like Davos is going to make good on that promise. She tells him that there's no need to kill her, because she'll be dead by the dawn. It's a pretty grim vision of the near future, but being macabre, cryptic, and generally spooky is sort of Melisandre's thing.

Once Davos decides to let Melisandre keep her head, the Dothraki – led by Jorah Mormont and Ghost, Jon's direwolf – charge ahead and begin the attack. We never really get a good look at the size of the wight army in this shot because it's so dark (which is a problem throughout most of the episode), but it's big enough to take out the thousands of Dothraki riders in a matter of minutes. Only a few Dothraki and Jorah return from that early clash, and the rest of the rest of Winterfell's army prepares to face the dead head on.

Pretty much from the get-go, this battle does not go well for the living. The warriors meeting the wights on the fields outside of Winterfell are hopelessly outnumbered, and though they do at one point receive some help from Daenerys and Jon on her two remaining dragons, the Night King quickly summons a blizzard that makes air support difficult. Jon and Dany eventually leave to find the Night King – remember, their victory depends on being able to kill the Night King before the dead can overwhelm Winterfell. If they can't do that, then there's no chance of winning.

As the battle goes on, Edd Tollet is killed saving Sam and the remaining fighters outside of the castle are forced to fall back. Though the armies of Winterfell are able to buy some time by lighting a long trench filled with spikes on fire, the Night King – who is flying around on the undead dragon Viserion – commands a number of wights to pile on top of the trenches, creating gaps in the blaze and bridges of corpses for the others to walk over. The wights then make it over the walls and break down the gates, leaving little in the way of defense for the living.

Fan favorite Lyanna Mormont is crushed by an undead giant, but before he can completely squeeze the life out of her, she manages to stab him in the eye with an obsidian blade in what is one of the most awesome deaths of the entire series. Arya dispatches a bunch of wights on the walls because she's probably the best fighter Winterfell has, but even she's quickly overwhelmed and has to flee. Beric and The Hound arrive to defend her, and Beric gives his life in the process. Melisandre appears and delivers more cryptic messages about Arya shutting many blue eyes forever and defying the God of Death, causing her to run off to an unknown destination.

Daenerys and Jon clash with the Night King in the skies above the Godswood, where Theon and the Ironborn are stopping an unending stream of wights from reaching Bran. The Night King is dismounted and falls to the ground, with Rhaegal and Jon crashing down not far behind him. Daenerys attempts to burn the Night King using Drogon's dragon fire, but surprise! Dragon fire has no effect on the Night King, despite how good it is at killing wights. The Night King smirks and tosses his spear at Drogon, missing but causing Dany to retreat nonetheless. He begins to head toward the Godswood with Jon right behind him.

Jon nearly makes it to the Night King, but before he can, the Night King raises the dead. This is particularly bad news for the remaining survivors, as the Night King's army has suddenly grown in size considerably. If things were bad before, they're straight up hopeless now, and Jon is surrounded by wights as the Night King continues his march to the Godswood.

Everyone who's still alive is quickly overwhelmed by the now-reanimated dead. Dany burns Jon a path into the castle and he resumes his pursuit of the Night King. Drogon is swarmed by wights and takes to the skies, leaving Dany defenseless on the ground. Jorah shows up to defend her and the two fight off as many wights as they can. Meanwhile, the dead that are buried in the crypts rise and begin killing the people who are taking shelter there, while characters like Tormund, Jaime, Brienne, and Sam are losing their battle in Winterfell's courtyard.

It's here that things start to get very desperate. Jon's attempt to make it to the Godswood is halted by Viserion, Jorah is mortally wounded defending Daenerys, and the Ironborn have all but been wiped out with only Theon left to defend Bran. The Night King appears in the Godswood with his White Walkers. Bran tells Theon that he's a good man before Theon charges the Night King with a spear, only to be brutally killed. With nothing left standing in his way, the Night King approaches a defenseless Bran and, after a chilling stare-down, reaches for his sword.

It's then we see Arya jump out of the shadows behind the Night King, dagger in hand. The Night King turns around and grabs Arya out of midair, but she drops her dagger to her other hand and drives it into the Night King's heart, killing him – and all of the other White Walkers and wights – instantly.

The battle is over, but the losses are great. Jorah succumbs to his wounds as Dany weeps for him, and everyone else is left standing in shock, awed by the fact that the battle is over and they survived. The final scene shows Melisandre leaving Winterfell, removing her Asshai'i necklace for the last time and turning to nothing but a pile of bones, her duty to the living now complete.

The Long Night analysis

The Battle for Winterfell went more or less the way many of us were expecting it to, though the way it ended definitely came as a surprise to many people. From the start, the living were outgunned and outmanned, and the only hope in stopping the endless onslaught of the dead was killing the Night King.

Pretty much the entire episode was building up to a final showdown between Jon and the Night King, but that never actually happened. In fact, there was no showdown with the Night King at all – the only reason our heroes won the war was because Arya managed to sneak past the White Walkers and launch a surprise attack on the Night King as he prepared to kill Bran. Even that almost failed, but Arya's quick thinking and good hand-eye coordination resulted in the Night King taking a Valyrian steel dagger to his dragonglass-infused heart.

Thinking about it after the fact, it does feel a little strange to have Arya be the one to end it all, but I have to admit that does match her character arc really well. Arya started as a noble girl who wanted to be a warrior, and though that desire nearly got her killed on a number of occasions, she slowly transformed into a deadly fighter throughout the course of the series. By the time the dead invade Winterfell, she's one of the most capable people on the side of the living, and this episode was a showcase of just how ruthless and determined she's become.

At the end of it all, I'm surprised that more characters didn't die. I thought for sure that characters like Brienne and Tormund were going to meet their ends while fighting the dead, but both seem to have made it out alive. Brienne surviving is especially surprising, since her arc was essentially completed in the previous episode: Jaime made her knight, giving her the title she's wanted all her life. Typically, a tearful, touching event like that would mark someone for death. Then again, Game of Thrones is known for subverting expectations, but that's usually done by killing off characters we expect to live instead of keeping characters alive when we expect them to die.

Grey Worm was another character I thought was a goner. Let's be honest: Grey Worm hasn't had a ton of character development throughout the series, being a hardened warrior who more or less lives for battle. His budding relationship with Missandei shows us a more human side of him, but there was never any question that he would live and die on the battlefield. At least, there used to be no question of his fate, but now I'm not so sure.

Plenty of people did die throughout the course of the episode, though. Lyanna Mormont, a character who was only supposed to have one appearance in the series but had her status bumped up to a supporting character when people fell in love with her, had one of the most epic deaths of the series. We learned what the Lord of Light's intention was in bringing Beric back from the dead all of those times, as his purpose was to protect Arya in the final battle with the dead.

Then we have Theon, who completed his redemption arc in this episode. Throughout series, Theon has transformed from an opportunistic, plotting slimeball to a brutalized captive of the Boltons, and ever since he staged that takeover of Winterfell way back in season 2, he's been slowly working his way back to redemption.

Those decisions he made all those years ago are ones that have haunted him, and the Battle of Winterfell gave him a chance to right those wrongs. When he pledged to defend Bran in the Godswood in the previous episode, most of assumed that he would die, and we were right. Before he sacrificed himself, though, Bran told him that he was a good man and thanked him for staying by his side until the very end, letting him know that all is forgiven.

Like Theon, there was never really any question that Jorah was destined to die as well. His push to get Dany to trust Tyrion in the previous episode almost seemed like preparation for a post-Jorah world, and sure enough, with his death, Tyrion is now Dany's right hand man. Jorah is a character who has been with us since the very first episode, and from the start, it's been clear that he loves Dany, so of course it's fitting that he meets his death by defending her from the onslaught of the dead.

Melisandre's death is a lot like Beric's. It's been heavily suggested that Melisandre wants to die – she said it herself at the end of season 6 when she was banished from Winterfell – but the Lord of Light is keeping her alive until she can fulfill her purpose. Helping the living win the war against the dead was apparently her purpose, and this time, when she removes her Asshai'i necklace, the Lord of Light grants her the death she's been longing for.

As a quick recap, here's a list of everyone who died in The Long Night:

• Edd Tollet

• Lyanna Mormont

• Jorah Mormont

• Theon Greyjoy

• Beric Dondarrion

• Melisandre

• All of the Dothraki

• Most of the Unsullied

• The Night King (and his horde of undead)

So, even though many named characters who were thought to be marked for death ended up surviving, things aren't looking too good for Dany and the armies of the North heading into this final confrontation with Cersei. The Battle of Winterfell claimed a lot of lives and dwindled the Northern army to a mere fraction of its original size. Meanwhile, Cersei has an army of mercenaries 20,000-strong, along with whatever forces remain in the Lannister army. Even though the living have been victorious, their army is in shambles, and that plays right into Cersei's plot.


The teaser for next week's episode shows Daenerys pressing on with the plan to move on King's Landing, so maybe she still has some tricks up her sleeve. Now that the White Walker threat has been overcome, there are a number of hard questions that need to be answered. How does Dany feel about Jon's true heritage? Will Dany accept Sansa's demands for independence in the North? Will Tyrion's allegiance shift to Winterfell after those vulnerable moments he shared with Sansa in the crypts? What the heck happened to Ghost? Will Bran do anything useful before the end of the series?

Hopefully some of those questions will get answers next week. With three episodes left, there's plenty of time to figure out who will ultimately sit on the Iron Throne, and after The Long Night, it looks like we can safely say that it won't be Night King.