The Battle of Winterfell Did Exactly What Game of Thrones Does Best: Defy Expectations and Mess with the Audience (SPOILERS)

If Ned Starks’ death before the end of season one of Game of Thrones didn’t do it, the Red Wedding in season 3 cemented the fact that no character was safe on this show and anything could happen. The way the hit HBO show messes with the audience and defies expectations is why it’s the best show on TV right now and quite possibly one of the best of all time.

Now that The Long Night (the title of season eight, episode three) is over and the dust, or rather the shards, of former White Walkers has settled, it’s clear, at least to me, that The Battle of Winterfell delivered exactly what Game of Thrones promises. It’s just not in the way fans may have become accustomed to.

The Screen is Dark and Full of…I Don’t Know

Watching the episode live, our group wondered if there was something wrong with the streaming service we were watching it on as it was difficult to see a lot of what was happening at the beginning. Turns our Crave (I’m Canadian) wasn’t overloaded, parts of it were dark, in the literal sense, for everyone.

While this lead to complaints and even an explanation from the episode’s cinematographer (something about HBO’s compression rate), I think that the showrunners should just own this as an artistic choice. Because it’s a brilliant one.

It’s war. At night. In Winter. You’re not entirely sure what The Army of the Dead is throwing at our heroes. Well, neither are they.

When the flaming Dothraki swords go out, you don’t see what is happening to them, but you know it’s bad. You’re getting the same view of the battle that Jon (sorry, not going to call him Aegon until he asks another character to do so), Dany, Sansa and the Unsullied are. When the dragons crash into each other because of poor visibility, you don’t know right away that it’s just Jon and Danerys, and neither do they.

And I’d like to add that it looked beautiful. Everything doesn’t need to be brightly lit for it to be a cinematic treat.

Just as he did in The Battle of the Bastards, director Miguel Sapochnik made the audience feel as though they were in the midst of things for real. Low visibility and confusion for the audience is the new “I can’t believe you killed” x character.

All My Faves Didn’t Die

Speaking of character deaths, there were some major ones in this episode: Jorah, Theon, Melisandre, Lyanna Mormont, Beric Dondarrion, Edd and, oh yeah, The Night King and the entire Army of the Dead (plus we don’t know about Rahaegal the dragon and Ghost). Most of the fan focus, though, has been on those who did not meet their end.

With this discussion terms like “plot armor” pop up in order to infer that GOT has lost its edge and joined the ranks of ordinary storytelling. It’s actually the opposite.

Brienne of Tarth got knighted last episode, something she has always wanted. Grey Worm and Missandei made plans to travel when all of this was over, the Westeros equivalent of three days away from retirement from the police force and I bought a boat.

These characters didn’t enter the battle with plot armor, they did so with giant narrative bulls-eyes painted on their backs. Their survival here is as much an unexpected event as Ned’s death was way back when.

Of Course it Was Arya

So Arya Stark killed the Night King and with one stab ended the Army of the Dead. An unexpected twist ending. Well, not killing the Night King to win, that was the main part of the plan laid out in the last episode: use Bran to lure him to the Godswood and then somehow take him out.

No, the surprise is that it was Arya who assassinated him. Yes, the only trained assassin in Winterfell at the time carrying out the assassination was the big surprise.

Even if you ignore those who called Arya a Mary Sue (it’s easy to, they ignored the season and a half we saw her training to do just what she did in The Long Night), there are still plenty of people who were surprised by (and also elated at) the choice.

Sure, this is something the show has been setting up since season three. Sure, the guy who knows everything gave her the weapon she ended up using last season. Sure, she snuck up on Jon in the same location two episodes prior.

It’s just that Arya had her own storylines. The Night King was part of Jon’s storyline and later Dany’s. He wasn’t even on Arya’s list. Arya killing the Night King is about as unexpected as Jon killing Cersi.

With this move, GOT defied expectations by having the most logical thing happen. Now no plotline is safe from being intersected by another.

Cersi as the Final Boss

So wait, the Night King and the Army of the Dead are no more? The finale is Jon, Dany and company versus Cersi for the throne? That can’t be right.

Or so I thought for a bit after the episode ended. Pretty sure I wasn’t alone in this, considering how they have been building the supernatural zombie aspect of the show since the very first episode and the Night King specifically since Hardhome.

But they’ve also been building up the intrigue, the scheming and Cersi Lannister from the very first episode. And with good reason: her double-cross which seemed selfish and ignorant of the big picture turned out to be really good strategy.

The Army of the Dead are all truly dead and Dany’s forces are seriously diminished. And even if someone (hi Arya) assassinates Cersi, the Lannister forces and the Golden Company won’t instantly shatter like glass.

Making the battle for all life in the world the second to last act is a truly unique choice. The kind of expectations-defying choice that Game of Thrones has made throughout its run and continues to do in its final season.

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