Written by Charley Harp
George R.R Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire is one of the most popular pieces of fantasy literature in recent memory, and the HBO adaptation Game of Thrones has only worked to rocket the source material into the public eye. Now, the show is on its highly anticipated last season, with the newest episode “The Long Night” having aired on April 28th. This episode centered around The Battle of Winterfell, an high-stakes fight with a seemingly unbeatable enemy: the Night King and his army of the undead.
The episode does an amazing job of building up tension through documenting the preparations for the war. The episode opens with a long, continuous shot that follows a main character named Samwell Tarly as he moves to the front lines. The sound of his nervous breathing is amplified over the sound of the commotion around him, which creates an odd sense of the large,open castle courtyard being suffocatingly small. The long shot immerses the viewer in the environment from the very start, which serves to align the audience with the characters right out of the gate, making the following scene even more horrifying.
The scene that follows the opening stuck with me more than any other in the whole episode’s almost 90-minute runtime and cemented it as a favorite for me.
Everyone is ready for battle. The camera pans across all these people we’ve come to love and feel for. The defending army is a melting pot of people from many different places, all preparing to fight and die for this cause. At the front is the skilled group of horseback warriors called the Dothraki, whose weapons have all been lit with fire. They break into their signature war cries and are given the signal to charge off into the darkness, towards the enemy.
Watching the Dothraki race off into the darkness feels triumphant, at first. You’ve become attached to these people, you’ve been with them for multiple seasons, you’ve learned their culture and how they operate as well as their reputation as formidable warriors. You genuinely want to see them come out on top, not because it’s good versus evil, but because you really do care. There’s a cut to the perspective of the rest of the army, standing in formation behind them, and you see the hundreds of little flames of their swords in the blackness, and they start blinking out, one by one. You are eventually met with nothing but the dark off in the distance and silence.
It’s a perfect way to set up the insane odds of this situation; one of the most skilled group of warriors was mowed down with ease, and makes up for where the episode falls short elsewhere. Everyone who worked on this episode was firing on all cylinders during the filming, which is to be expected, considering this single episode cost $15,000,000, making it the single most expensive sequence in television and film.
What the rest of the season has in store is a mystery but hopefully, it won’t disappoint.