It may have required some intense squinting, but with this feature-length flurry of limbs, Game of Thrones is back to sticking them with the pointy end
Warning: this article contains spoilers for season eight, episode three of Game of Thrones.
Thwack! The time for talking is over. Here was the ultimate rebuttal to any complaints about the chat-heavy nostalgia-fest of this final seasons first two episodes, a clonking great feature-length instalment that flew by in a flurry of limbs and severed heads. Game of Thrones is back to sticking them with the pointy end.
We had been warned, of course. Advance buzz over what was then being called The Battle of Winterfell, but is now known as The Long Night, had centred on the sheer heft of the thing: the fact that it was easily the most expensive single episode of television in the history of the medium; that it featured a battle scene longer than anything seen in Lord of the Rings; that it required several months and a cast equivalent to the population of a small Balkan country to film.
But even whispers from little birds couldnt prepare us for the finished product. In its CGI-lacquered ostentatiousness, this felt like a new high water mark for TV, a dragon roar of a challenge to competitors from showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss: top that. Though you could argue that those competitors might not come from TV at all its telling that The Long Night aired on the same weekend that another giga-spectacle, Avengers: Endgame, stomped into cinemas.
Biggest ever TV episode it may have been, but whether this was the best battle Game of Thrones has staged is an altogether trickier question to answer; some may still opt for the sudden shock and awe of Hardhome or the claustrophobic horror of the Battle of the Bastards. Certainly, compared to those two, The Long Night had the inbuilt handicap of being set at, well, night. Its earliest moments were so shrouded in darkness it required some intense squinting to discern what was actually going on. Salvation came in the form of Melisandre, striding through the freezing fog to set the arakhs of the Dothraki aflame, aiding them and the audience at home in battle. Dragon fire did a similar trick later, albeit on a rather more dramatic scale, bringing into focus the pallid, pock-marked faces of the Wights as they descended on Winterfell.
Where conflagration didnt work, director Miguel Sapochnik relied on darkness itself to provide mood and tension, correctly surmising that an army of the dead are far more terrifying the less you can see of them. If the job of great war films is to provide viewers with the slightest sliver of the sensation of what it is to fight in one, this managed to do the same for an even more extreme situation a fight to the death with the marauding, unceasing force of death itself. The moment when, at a flick of the Night Kings wrist, the bodies of the fallen lurched, groaning and clicking, to their feet was chillingly well-realised.