It was a long night indeed, and waking up enough to give some additional thoughts on the episode as well as something of a summary of what I said on the livestream. I am also going to give a more awake score at the end than what my sleepy brain came up with last night. In fact, I have gone back and adjusted my scores for the first two episodes as well.
As everyone expected, the episode was a grand technical achievement. It was also very dark and by that I do not mean in terms of character deaths, because the body count for named characters was rather low all considered. Apart from it being hard to make out what happened due to murkiness and fogginess, I also found much of the fighting incomprehensible because of the choice to have wights on speed. But beyond that, the episode is impressive visually and the dragons are outstanding. My favourite moment is Dany and Jon on Drogon and Rhaegal above the clouds. The only thing that constantly bugs me about the dragons is how their riders stay on…
The pacing of the episode as a whole is not bad, though the danger in the crypts was completely unnecessary (and I don’t just say that because I really hadn’t thought they would go there—it just didn’t play well), and they did create some nice mood and some nice tension at some points.
However, when you dig beneath the visuals we get to some of the things I didn’t fully explore on the livestream. For example, while the visual of the Dothraki charging the undead with their swords on fire is fantastic, especially as the fires start going out one by one, what sort of sense that that make? You’re being besieged and you send your cavalry out to goad the enemy to attack? That is just one of many curious decisions made because they wanted a certain visual or they wanted to setup certain scenarios.
The big, glaring issue with the episode, however, is the resolution. Again, some effective visuals and scoring, for example some nice use of slow-motion and faded-out sound. They definitely spent a lot of time looking at battles in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and not just Helm’s Deep. However, while Jackson’s adaptation has its issues (especially in the final movie), he did not have Frodo leap in through a window in Barad-dûr to stab Sauron in the eye—which certainly made for a nice big target!
In creating the Night King, the writers of Game of Thrones gave the story the Dark Lord it was not supposed to have. A single person/entity that you would have to defeat to stop everyone from doing. Even with all the setup, even with everyone poised to die unless the Night King dies, his actual death is a huge anti-climax. It is simply too easy to have Arya leap in from…somewhere…and kill him with a single blow. A true example of deus ex machina if I ever saw one. Compare this with Frodo failing to destroy the ring and being “saved” by Gollum’s attack, which is what ultimately leads the ring being destroyed. Or, another example I brought up on the livestream, the defeat of Glory in season five of Buffy. It took great effort and her death still didn’t stop the apocalypse, that took a further sacrifice.
This brings me to Bran. The writers seem to have misplaced his purpose altogether in simplifying the story. The Night King needs to kill him because he’s the memory of the world or something such, but Bran himself is no threat at all to the Night King. He basically seems to spend the whole episode watching things though the ravens, but that’s about it. Why doesn’t the Night King just kill everyone else and leave Bran for last? What does the memory of the world even matter if no one else is left alive? Actually, to say the simplified the story is too generous, they dropped any pretense of a story to get the “cool” ending they had decided on.
In the livestream, I gave the episode a 7.5, with a couple of extra points purely for dragon visuals. On further consideration, it should be a 6, and that is still with some extra points for dragon visuals.