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Game of Thrones: Season 6, Episode 3 (The Long Night) - Review

Game of Thrones

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

BOLD, brash, surprising, epic… and dark, very dark. The highly anticipated third episode of the sixth and final season of Game of Thrones delivered the goods but flirted dangerously close to underwhelming and/or frustrating on several occasions.

But why? Narratively, the plot choices were strong. But visually, a lot of what was going on was hard to decipher. Whether this was by design, to underline the confusion of the battle of Winterfell, is debatable. It ran the risk of backfiring if so… and as many social media comments seemed to corroborate.

Director Miguel Sapochnik has already helmed one seminal episode of the show, Battle of the Bastards, and seemed an obvious choice to take on the next big fight. But the cinematography, particularly during the first half an hour of this 84-minute epic, was so dimly lit that viewers struggled to see all of what was going on.

Confusion reigned. Frustration mounted. And emotional investment was lost.

Fortunately, Sapochnik did pull it out of the fire [figuratively and literally]. The narrative direction of the episode threw in some genuine surprises. And while the death count wasn’t as high as anticipated for series favourites, there were still a number of noble sacrifices and inventive goodbyes.

[Spoilers ahead]

The big one, of course, stemmed from the decision to kill off The Night King halfway through the final series. And to have Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) deliver the crucial blow.

Die-hard fans of the series (ie, those who have really been paying attention) may have guessed that she would become the most likely candidate, having been groomed in the House of Many Faces and predicted as much by the returning red priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten).

But the actual scene still came as a surprise, arriving at the climax of a breathless episode in which victory was, quite literally, snatched from the jaws of defeat. Arya’s own survival had seemed in doubt a few minutes earlier, as she was relentlessly chased around Winterfell by the zombie army.

But the plucky fighter pulled off one of the series’ biggest shocks by turning the tables on her pursuers and getting one over The Night King. And it’s a tribute to the manner in which Williams played it, that her survival was always in doubt. Williams invested Arya with equal parts bravery above her years and fear in line with her age. She was a compelling, exciting but often painfully vulnerable presence.

And she brought out the best in those around her, with both van Houten’s Melisandre afforded a great exchange with her and Rory McCann’s Sandor also emboldened to overcome his own fear of fire to save her after witnessing her bravery. It’s small but decisive moments such as these that make the whole Game of Thrones experience so generally fulfilling. No character is too small or minor; no deed or action without reason.

And while elements of the big battle did underwhelm, by virtue of their darkness, Sapochnik still ensured the key moments did count.

Others included Jorah (Iain Glen)’s valiant effort to save Dany (Emilia Clarke) from near-certain death: a noble last stand that eventually claimed his life. If the early scenes of chaos and confusion stifled the emotional investment, there was something genuinely touching and poignant about Dany’s farewell to her saviour and protector. Jorah will be missed.

Alfie Allen’s Theon Greyjoy also got the death we all knew was coming: but, again, it was noble and kind of emotional. Having fought through hordes of zombies to keep Bran – aka The Three Eyed Raven – alive, he eventually came face to face with The Night King and made one desperate charge. Prior to doing so, however, he was thanked by Bran and told that he was ‘a good man’ – redemption, of sorts, for his own past sins in betraying his adoptive family. Allen played it beautifully.

And for sheer deathly bravado, Beric (Richard Dormer), had arguably the most prolonged and spectacular death, as he sacrificed himself to save The Hound and Ayra. Again, Dormer made sure that every minute of his screen-time counted.

Sapochnik also deserves credit for juxtaposing moments of breath-taking beauty – such as dragons battling above the clouds – with others of jarring brutality, such as the fate of little Lyanna Mormont, crushed to death by a giant, but plucky enough to take him out of the fight, too, with her own death blow to his eye.

But while the big moments were the ones to set tongues wagging, there were small ones to cherish too. An unspoken scene between Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), when she pulled her dagger as if to kill herself, was played to perfection between them; the looks exchanged saying more than a thousand words ever could. It was a rare moment of tenderness in an otherwise blood saturated episode.

But similarly, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) presented an everyman fighter, with his views of the fight capably representing the common man as opposed to the fighter. He played this well, tapping into the fear, confusion and claustrophobia of his predicament.

So, in spite of the initial frustration caused by the darkness, The Long Night still possessed enough in its armoury to satisfy as an event in its own right. It brought some stories to a satisfying conclusion, delivered the requisite surprises now synonymous with the show, and posed many, many more questions for the remaining episodes.

It remains one of the most incredible must-watch shows of the moment.