This past weekend, Avengers: Endgame shattered every box-office record across the globe, proving that the world could be united by one major, unavoidable blockbuster event. This cultural dominance lasted roughly five hours. Or however long it took from the time box-office receipts were released Sunday afternoon until the third episode of Game of Thrones’ final season cut to black later that evening.
Titled “The Long Night,” the 82-minute episode – the longest in GoT history – was a ridiculously intense, enormously brutal, delightfully captivating and kinda-sorta-sorry-but-it’s-true frustrating creation. In other words, it is near-guaranteed that the episode will be all that most anyone will be talking about for a very, very, very long time. (Like, at least, 24 hours. Hey, the cultural-news cycle moves fast these days.)
By employing around 750 extras, shooting for more than 50 days, and gobbling up a budget that would be the envy of many nations’ GDPs, “The Long Night” took almost every measure to exceed the bloody spectacle and visceral thrills of the series’ previous all-timer battles. To put a big, fat, viscera-drenched stamp on the legacy of Peak TV. To say, in effect, that GoT was here, dammit, and it was hard as hell.
To underline how important the supersized episode was to the series’ legacy: show-runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss handled scripting duties instead of reaching into their writers’ room, while director-cum-battlefield-general Miguel Sapochnik was selected to go behind the camera, just as he’d been for GoT’s previous slugfests, “Battle of the Bastards” and “Hardhome.”
Mostly, the episode was a thing of perverse beauty. Every major character was carefully positioned to get a moment to either play the champion or die trying (although not nearly enough were culled, if we’re being honest). Many of the dramatic beats felt right, and carefully positioned within the momentum of the onscreen action. There were surprises that were earned, emotional moments that were sincere, and a final twist of the valyrian steel knife that was as fist-pumping and blood-rushing as any this show has ever produced. Oh, and there were giant fireballs, hundreds of flaming swords, bodies raining from the sky, a literal David-versus-Goliath moment that felt just on the right side of the tricky cool/c’mon divide and a two-on-one dragon melee that will fuel the fantasies of any person-with-a-pulse’s inner (and yeah, outer) child.
We can likely all agree that “The Long Night” will stand the test of time as one of the most crazily ambitious productions in this, or any, television era. Right? Okay? So please stop the death threats you’ve already half-composed and the “bro, do you even Thrones?” tweets you’re just about to hit “send” on. Good, thanks for that. So as I was saying: Sunday night’s episode was a powerhouse of a thing, a vicious and delirious ride. But it was not without its many moments of, “Um, what?”
As in, um, what did everybody see during those first 35 minutes or so? Because I saw a lot of choppily edited darkness, where I could only sort of tell who was killing whom. I understand that setting a battle at night offers an instantly more foreboding atmosphere, an easily palpable sense of dread. Plus, this was a fight that pitted the armies of man against a dude literally called the Night King. A late-morning head-to-head was never in the cards. But still, it would have been nice for Sapochnik to shed a little light on the chaos.
As soon as the episode was over, I couldn’t immediately tell whether it was a good or bad sign that I felt the overwhelming need to rewatch. Partly, I felt that so much was going on inside every shot that I couldn’t aesthetically appreciate what Sapochnik had fully accomplished. But another, more doubtful part of me felt that I couldn’t appreciate the episode because, well, there was just too much going on inside every damn shot.
On the narrative side, there were equally upsetting missteps. If there was a good reason why, say, Winterfell decided to send the Dothraki, the fiercest fighters in its battalion, out first, I’m all ears. Ditto the delayed deployment of Dany’s dragons, the decision to guard Bran with Theon of all archers and the near-total sidelining of Davos. I admit that these are geeky warfare-strategy concerns, and perhaps this is Weiss and Benioff telling the audience that the world of men deserves to be frozen over to hell and back because of everyone’s dumb choices. But the questionable plot pivots here reflect a larger GoT concern, too: the consistent reliance on convenient timing to solve inconvenient problems. Call it the Deus Ex Melisandre or whatever. Either way, the show can never escape its tendency to dump a can of turpentine over itself after it’s painted itself into a corner.
Make no mistake: I will be thinking about the episode for many evenings to come. I’ll mourn Beric and Jorah and maybe even Theon (but probably not). And when Jon was running through Winterfell in an extended single shot, zombie-rich madness threatening to envelope his entire world, the production felt like the best sort of audio-visual assault. The episode even, for a brief moment, almost made direwolves look not remotely silly at all. (Hey, I said “almost.”) But now that “The Long Night” is finally over, the cold, harsh light of day isn’t exactly kind, either.