How are we doing, friends? I’ve had a heck of a last week, what with seeing Avengers: Endgame AND the Battle of Winterfell in a span of five days.
I promise we’ll delve deep into Endgame in a full post soon, but today, let’s deal with the slightly more time-sensitive matter of Game of Thrones Ep. 8.3, “The Long Night.” Assume full spoilers below.
Let’s start with what’s preoccupying vast swathes of the internet: the lighting. Social media crowd wisdom is that it was…inadequate.
I have mixed feelings about this conclusion and spy an opportunity to discuss some larger contexts of viewing practice. Personally, I watched this episode on a 42″ HD television screen (not a laptop, not a monitor, not a tablet), with all of my house lights off, and no competing screens (no laptop, no phone) distracting me with either content or light pollution. I still found some scenes extremely difficult to fully decipher–notably the aerial dragon battles–despite my ideal screen conditions and undivided attention, but in general, the ep was sufficiently legible by my standards, and for me, the effort to discern everything happening added to the suspense and immediacy of the action.
Historically, we have thought of television as a primarily aural medium, born for multitasking (think previous eras of daytime programming for women designed to be listened to, more than watched, as its audience did the housework). The image wasn’t irrelevant, but the cues needed to follow along were sufficiently provided in the audio. Fast forward to 2019, and while many programs still prioritize audio for narrative legibility (Experiment: Try listening along with a soap or a procedural sometime, ignoring the picture entirely, and see if you don’t know within a reasonable degree of certainty what’s happening anyway), it’s become a mark of production value, especially for non-network dramas with money to burn, to feature increasing emphasis on the visuals, be it in high-end production design or innovative cinematography. At the same time, viewers of these so-called “water-cooler” shows are more likely to be actively distracted by social media while watching them, posting and reacting in real time.
Game of Thrones is in a weird sweet spot of confluence for these seemingly conflicting trends, lavishing production cash on high-impact visuals produced for an audience the cable network hopes will be blowing up social media with their #hottakes. In other words, HBO is spending a fortune to create images it would like you to keep one eye on. Which is, no matter how you slice it, super weird, right? Most of the time, with the majority of the episodes, the series provides enough aural cues to keep viewers tweeting along with a reasonable degree of viewerly competence, but outings like this week’s, featuring ambitiously little dialogue, present the ironic challenge of literally being “must-SEE tv”, even as they thwart (or are thwarted by) attempts at live reaction.
I’ve made no secret of where I come down on this in the past: I’d much rather watch than tweet. It’s interesting to contemplate how completely incompatible these goals (high visual production values, heavy social media engagement) are, at a reception moment in which they both seem to be peaking with the final season of this series.
But enough of the big picture, let’s dig into the specifics of this episode. As an episode, I loved it. It was almost unbearably suspenseful, featured some exquisite moments of acting (Peter Dinklage and Sophie Turner, in the crypt, especially stood out), and was notably ambitious in its efforts to innovate means of keeping a narrative engaging over ninety minutes of battle. I thought the threads balanced well, with intimate little character interactions, and Arya’s glorious coup de grace with the Night King stuck the landing. Exhausted at the end, I was genuinely gutted to have lost Dolorous Edd and Lyanna Mormont, and thoroughly satisfied with the overall production–as a single episode.
In terms of serial narrative ordering however, I’m a bit bewildered. We’ve been building up to this literally existential battle for the entire series thus far, and now it’s over in a single ep with three left to go? The Seven Kingdoms business remaining just seems so…petty in comparison, no? (And not just because I’m pretty much only okay with either Gilly or Ghost taking the Iron Throne at this point.) This is the rare occasion where I find an episode in such disharmony with the larger narrative requirements of its series to be a win anyway in isolation, and I’m still pondering what that even means.
From a character arc perspective, I felt the ep featured the usual highs and lows that have come to be predictable with the series.
Theon “Human Disaster” Greyjoy: At least we’ve finally finished the redemption arc no one asked for. If Theon’s journey was personally valuable to you, I’m sincerely not going to come take that away or say you can’t have it, but his arc didn’t add much for me, and came far too often at Yara and Sansa’s expenses. I’m substantially more invested in what the future holds for either of those female characters, than I was in Bran telling Theon he’s “a good man.” 1. ) No, no, no he’s not, Bran. Like, do you have all afternoon? He’s not even a good man by local standards! 2.) Dude, you should talk, Mr. “I’m the Three-Eyed Raven, I totally got Jojen and my direwolf killed, and ruined Hodor’s life retroactively before getting him killed too, while I was too high to lift a finger to fight off wights.” You should talk.
Jorah “Friend Zone” Mormont: Well, at least Bear Island can breathe a sigh of relief that he’s not coming back, even if they’ve also lost Lyanna. Even on my rewatch, I have no better explanation for Dany’s change of heart re: him, beyond “Ugh, he’s not going to go away, how do I use this, I guess?” Also, was it me, or did she totally use him as a human shield in the penultimate moment of their stand? Kind of threw him at some white walkers? (Which is fine by me!) But it was a little weird to get all sad about him a moment later after doing that. (Hopefully Sam can get his sword back.)
Lyanna “Awesome” Mormont: I would have been cool with you on the Iron Throne. You died as you lived: a total badass.
Dolorous “Regular Character” Edd: Let’s pour out a cup of mead for what a darned consistent screen presence Ben Crompton was. We shall never see his like again.
Sansa Stark and Tyrion Lannister: To my vague shame, I am suddenly shipping these two like FedEx this season. The actors are absolutely killing it, with deeply human performances.
Jon Snow: Seemed to be facing a steep learning curve in a new area of Skyrim. Despite how engaged I was with the episode, Jon’s moments with The Ice Dragon Formerly Known as Viserion threatened to plunge me into hilarity every time. The way he was hiding behind that half wall, getting flamed (well, iced), and periodically running out to establish “yup, ginormous dragon is still there” before running back seemed terribly familiar from how players are forced to approach most dragon encounters in this game (played for a cumulative ~2973127430174832748 hours in my house and likely in many others). Right before Arya dispatched the Night King, Jon runs out to face the dragon head-on, and seems to be trying shouting as a tactic, which actually works in the game, but I didn’t think was on-menu here? Between this and the very draugr-like foley for the wights, there was some weird fictional-realities-bleed going on, and I half expected things to go super-glitchy before it was all over.
My watch has ended, now yours begins. What did you love, what did you loathe? Where is this all going? Who will pay the electrical bill? Will life, uh, find a way, re: making more dragons? SPILL.