Let me get a couple of things out of the way.
First, there were many problems with this episode. Logical disconnects, clichés, etc. I'm not going to list them all, because ultimately I believe that the episode was a very strong one despite the issues. It was not perfect by a long stretch, but it did what it needed to do – drama, poignant moments, conveying the chaos and fear and delivering on intensity.
Major shoutout to the composer. The music was beautiful and odd and jangly and pounding and ominous and all the things it needed to be in the moment. It added a lot to the atmosphere and my enjoyment of the show.
Now to the scorecard, which I largely lay out in the same fashion it was delivered, without much attempt to organize it:
Final preparations are underway at Winterfell, as errands are busily pursued. Lady Mormont is directing her troops. Theon and his men are taking Bran to the Godswood. People (and dragons) are getting their game faces on. Catapults and trebuchets are lined up. The Unsullied are in perfect order. The khalasar is ready. Jorah and Jaime and Brienne and Tormund and Beric and Sandor and Gendry and Edd and (finally) Sam are in place. And let's not forget Ghost...even though the writers seemed to.
Jon and Daeny watch the prospective battlefield from on high, surveying the troops. Davos, atop the walls, sees a lone rider approaching. It is Melisandre, the Red Witch, arriving suddenly and unexpectedly. She instructs Jorah to speak to the Dothraki, asking them to lift their weapons. She then grasps the leader's arakh (the crescent sword-like weapon) and chants a spell, causing the arakhs to burst into flame. It is a sight to instill hope in the defenders, although one wonders about the compatibility of flaming arakhs and long, oily hair.
Melisandre, passing Grey Worm and the Unsullied on her way to the castle gate, utters the words 'Valar Morghulis' (all men must die), to which Grey Worm replies with the customary response – 'Valar Dohaeris' (all men must serve). Davos goes to meet Melisandre in the keep. The last time they saw each other, Melisandre was banished upon pain of death for her role in burning Shireen (Stannis' daughter and someone Davos cared for deeply) at the stake. Melisandre forestalls and acknowledges Davos' anger by stating that she'll be dead by the dawn, so there is no need to punish her.
The Dothraki begin their ululating war cries and begin to trot, then gallop toward the unseen foe. Jorah rides among them, brandishing Heartsbane, the ancestral Valyrian steel sword of the Tarly clan. Ghost races alongside. Catapults and trebuchets cast flaming projectiles ahead of the riders. The lead rider has to crane his head upward to take in the undead giant that awaits him. In one of the more effective scenes of the battle, the only part of the conflict those back at Winterfell can see is the flaming arakhs...and what they see is the grand array of flames being snuffed out quickly and thoroughly. Many fewer horsemen return than went out, although Jorah is among them.
Alarmed, Daeny turns to mount Drogon. Jon catches her arm, advising her to wait until the Night King shows himself. She dismisses this advice, as her followers need her assistance.
The defenders on foot stand in anticipation, hearing the shrieks of the dead and the thunder of their footsteps approaching. The disciplined Unsullied form tight ranks, but the undead wave is overpowering. Next it is the flanks' turn. Brienne is swiftly overwhelmed, but Jaime is there to cut her free. It's a chaotic melee that knocks the defenders back...but then the dragons arrive. Drogon first, and then Rhaegal, lay swaths of flame across the ranks of the Night King's army. Sansa and Arya, as much as they have seen in their young lives, are amazed by the sight in front of them – mighty dragons swooping in to rain destruction upon their enemies.
As the dragons complete their circuit, Jon and Daeny see the White Walkers at the edge of the battlefield, just in front of the dense forest. Thinking they see an opportunity to take out some leadership, they angle in for an attack. A massive wall of winter intercepts them, blinding them and making it very difficult to make headway.
Seeing the oncoming wave of darkness approaching, Arya turns to her sister and instructs her to retreat to the crypts, handing her a dragonglass dagger. Sansa confesses that she doesn't know how to use the weapon. "Stick them with the pointy end" Arya instructs her.
On the field, the fog of war is both literal and figurative, and wights come from all sides to attack. Jaime and Brienne dispatch many. Clegane lays waste with his dragonglass axe. Jorah is knocked from his horse but whirls Heartsbane in successful defense. Sam struggles with a wight trying to put a dagger through his eye, and he is saved by Edd, who is subsequently killed as Sam watches. That's enough for Sam, who promptly flees the field. RIP Dolorous Edd. And now his watch is ended.
In the crypt, Sansa is received by Varys, and Missandei, and Gilly, and Tyrion, as well as all the women and children and elderly. Tyrion sees the look on her face and promptly takes a swig of fortifying wine.
In the air, Jon and Daeny crash into each other, so dense is the windblown snow.
On the ground, the order to fall back is given. The gates are opened and soldiers retreat behind the walls of Winterfell. The Unsullied guard their retreat, which is complicated by the barriers that have been built for the defense. Nevertheless, the Unsullied are synchronized in their movement, all moving a step back in time, while keeping their defense pointed forward.
Atop the wall, Arya and other archers lay down cover fire in the form of fire arrows. Arya picks off a wight tracking the Hound, and he takes note of her help.
Inside the walls, Lyanna Mormont directs the gate defense.
Grey Worm directs Davos to signal for the dragons to light the trench laid around the perimeter to give them some breathing room. Unfortunately, Daeny and her dragon can't see his signal due to the storm. Not sure why Jon doesn't light it, since he and Rhaegal have a perfectly good view of what's going on. Fire arrows are extinguished by the weather before they can light the trench. Soldiers with torches are intercepted. Melisandre steps forward once again and, under protection from a squad of Unsullied proves she can set things on fire. The trench of fire circumnavigates the wall, and the wights are unable to continue their assault...for the moment. Everyone who can breathe gets a breather.
Back in the crypt, Tyrion is pacing. For all that he's not a trained warrior, he's proven his courage, and he chafes at not being able to do anything. He thinks he might see something that others have missed. Sansa informs him that all he'd be able to do is die. Facing the truth is the most heroic thing they can do, since they are not capable of actually contributing on the field. Tyrion, perhaps seeing the very different woman in front of him compared to the girl he knew, suggests that they should have stayed married. Sansa says it wouldn't have worked, since his loyalty to "the dragon queen" would be a problem. "Yes" pipes in Missandei, "without the dragon queen there would be no problem at all, since we'd all be dead".
In the Godswood, Bran and Theon also see the wall approaching and the trench lit. During the respite, Theon wants to apologize to Bran for the horrible things he's done to the Starks, but Bran cuts him off, saying that everything he's done has brought him to where he is – "home". Bran then indicates that he's going to go, by which he means he's going to cast his consciousness out to a flock of crows to get some intel.
The Night King is up there, astride an undead Viserion. With a gesture, he has the wights in several places simply pile their bodies into the trench, to provide a bridge for other wights to cross without being burned. Davos, among the first to see the implications, starts yelling for people to man the walls. Wave 2 is here.
Jon sees the Night King in the air, and takes off in pursuit.
The dead pile up against the wall, climbing over each other to get to the crenellations. Most are defended successfully, but a few defenders are pushed back, and then more and more dead are fighting atop the wall instead of from below.
Now they are in the courtyard. The dragonglass embedded in caltrops is helping the defenders, but the numbers are just too overwhelming. Lady Mormont is standing in front of the gates when an undead giant breaks through. He knocks her and many others out of the way. Lyanna limps back to the attack, brandishing her dragonglass weapon and screaming in defiance. She is picked up and crushed by the giant, but as he brings her toward his mouth, she stabs him through the eye as she dies. The littlest warrior takes out one of the largest enemies.
Back atop the wall, Clegane is paralyzed by his fear of fire and by his belief that they can't win. Beric points out to him that Arya is still fighting (and man is she fighting, whirling the weapon Gendry built for her). She is fighting in retreat though, like everyone fighting a losing battle against the numbers. This snaps Clegane out of his funk, and he and Beric move to assist Arya.
Jon and Daeny fly above the wall of fog and snow, trying to figure out their next move. They are attacked from below, as Viserion breathes blue fire in an attempt to take out Drogon and Daenerys. Unable to reach her, the undead dragon dips back down into the covering fog. Jon and Daeny pursue.
Arya creeps through Winterfell, trying to avoid the undead wandering through the keep. For all the chaos outside, and the maniacal assault, the wights are a bit directionless when there aren't living foes in their "sight". Throwing the cliched distraction across the room, she quickly makes her exit as the wights all run the other direction. Just when she thinks she's safe, though, reinforcements arrive and bust through a different door. The chase ensues.
In the crypt, in one of the more subtly chilling sequences, those locked in can hear the sounds of battle outside, as soldiers beg for the crypt door to be opened. Nobody moves as they hear the soldiers being taken down by the dead.
Beric and Sandor search for Arya. All is quiet (too quiet?) until the door they are approaching is blasted open by a wight atop Arya. She's about to be killed, but Beric throws his flaming sword and saves her. Beric is stabbed many times as they race for safety. There's a point at which he Hodors it, but ultimately they move into a room and block the door. Beric dies with no grand speech. His purpose for being resurrected so many times has apparently been served, according to a lurking Melisandre, so he can go to his rest.
Arya recognizes Melisandre from when she was with the Brotherhood Without Banners. She recalls that Melisandre said they'd meet again. "You said I'd shut many eyes forever", says Arya. "You were right about that too."
"Brown eyes, green eyes....and blue eyes" Mel says meaningfully. Arya is picking up what she's putting down, and nods in agreement.
"What do we say to the God of Death?" asks Melisandre. "Not today," replies Arya, just as she used to respond to the same question posed by her dancing master, Syrio Forel, back in King's Landing. Was Melisandre actually Syrio Forel? Or did she merely see these things in the flames of her prognosticative fire? Arya marches away purposefully.
The Night King flies Viserion to an attack of the Castle, and although it does a fair amount of damage to Winterfell, it betrays his position. Jon and Rhaegal attack, and the dragons dance in battle. Viserion seems to have a bit of the upper hand, since it doesn't feel the wounds like Rhaegal does. Too bad nobody thought to have some fighting spurs made of dragonglass. However, Drogon comes in for the assist, and the Night King is thrown from the back of his mount. Rhaegal makes an awkward landing and Jon is thrown clear. We're not sure if Rhaegal is completely down for the count, but at any rate Jon is on his own. Daeny, meanwhile, continues to pursue the Night King. In the courtyard, Jorah hears the cries of Drogon and intuits that Daeny needs his help. He rushes out of the castle.
Daeny sees the Night King standing on his feet despite the long fall, and she utters the word you knew she would: Dracarys. The Night King is bathed in dragon flame. He has some amazing insulation, though, because once the flames die down, he is unscathed, and smirking. He picks up an ice spear, and Daeny has to retreat. Drogon is hit by the throw, it seems, but not fatally. Jon is there to chase the Night King on foot, but when he gets near, the Night King simply raises his arms and brings all the newly dead to his side. Jon can't get there in time to prevent it, as Unsullied, Dothraki, Edd and Lady Mormont become part of his army. They seem like the slowly wandering types, though, not the full speed baddies, so Jon is able to fend them off, but the Night King as his cadre of White Walkers are unimpeded as they march toward Winterfell. Jon is saved by Daeny and Drogon returning to the fray. Drogon lights the dead on fire, and as the dragon lands, Jon shouts to Daeny "Bran", to which she replies "Go". Because they're on the ground, though, the undead can swarm Drogon from behind, and they jump and stab in numbers. In his struggle to get airborne to cast off the wights, Daeny is thrown from Drogon's back. The sight of Drogon covered in wights is outstanding CGI. Daeny looks doomed, but Jorah is there to defend her. They race for cover.
Jon, in the castle seeking Bran, is plagued by potential distractions. There are Gendry and Tormund fighting a battle against bad odds. There is Sam being dragged down. Grey Worm, Brienne and Jaime, and other islands appear and disappear in the chaos, but he can't stop to help.
In the crypts, there are other implications of the raising of the dead. The Stark ancestors begin to break out of their mausoleums to attack those in hiding below the city.
Back in the Godswood, Theon and his soldiers defend Bran. They shoot flaming arrows at the wights, but as valiantly as they defend, they get picked off one by one until finally there is only Theon, all his arrows expended, only a spear left.
Jorah and Daeny are surrounded as well, only his Valyrian steel keeping them from being finished.
In the crypt, the women and children aren't faring too well. Tyrion and Sansa hide together behind a mausoleum and share some tender looks before taking a deep breath and trying to find their way out.
Jorah takes some direct hits while Daeny does what she can to assist. Jon evades the flames of Viserion. Jamie and Podrick and Brienne use their waning strength to continue to fight. The Night King marches toward the Godswood. Sam sniffles in fear, still alive somehow.
Bran returns from his fugue state, and calls to Theon. He tells him that he's a good man, and thanks him for his defense. Theon charges the Night King with his spear. The Night King catches the spear, breaks it in half, and impales Theon with the broken end. Dying, Theon is unable to prevent the Night King from walking up to Bran. Jon, outside the Godswood, can't get there because of Viserion, who now stalks him where he hides from the flames. As the Night King reaches for his sword to finish Bran, the Three-Eyed Crow and his enemy throughout the ages, Arya leaps to the attack. As the Night King turns, he grabs her dagger wielding left arm with his right hand, and her throat with his left hand. Arya drops the dagger to her right hand and guts the Night King with the very dagger that was meant to end Bran's life, and thereby saves Bran, and all of Westeros. Thanks, Littlefinger!
All of the White Walkers and wights were turned by the Night King or by those he created, and therefore a chain reaction ensues, in which the White Walkers, Viserion, and all the undead crumple...uh...lifelessly, I guess. Like their strings were cut. The battle is won. Life triumphs over death.
It's too late for Jorah Mormont, though. He dies from his wounds as Daeny sobs uncontrollably. Drogon wraps his wings around her and Jorah.
Melisandre wanders out of the castle, discarding her necklace that makes her appear young, and crumples in death as Davos watches. Her purpose, too, has been served.
Scenes From Next Week:
- Cersei and Euron look satisfied at the size of their army.
- Clean up on aisle four at Winterfell
- Daeny seems to be leading the survivors
- Sansa doesn't seem too pleased
- Daeny says she'll rip her out root and stem, presumably speaking about Cersei
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