Game of Thrones
“The Long Night”
April 28, 2019
IT’S THE BATTLE OF WINTERFELL WHICH MEANS: COOL WITCH FIRE TRICKS! DEAD DOTHRAKI! DEAD UNSULLIED! DEAD MORMONTS! DEAD DEAD PEOPLE! DRAGONS! ICE DRAGONS! ZOMBIE GIANTS! WHITE WALKERS! AND ONE FUCKING AMAZING ENDING YOU DID NOT SEE COMING!
We begin this completely insane episode with Sam’s shaking hands as he takes a dragonglass weapon and is shoved out into the courtyard because this fool thinks he needs to be out fighting with the big boys instead of tucked carefully in the crypts with his Gilly and his Little Sam.
And then for the next six minutes, everyone lines up for battle and no one says a damn thing. IT’S TENSE.
Arya and Sansa observe the troop formations from the walls of Winterfell; Bran is wheeled out to the Godswood as Night King bait; Brienne, Jamie, Podrick, The Hound, Edd, Gendry, and Samwell are out on the battlefield in one formation; the Unsullied, led by Grey Worm, are in another; and Jorah and Ghost lead the Dothraki calvary on the front line. Above all of it, Daenerys and Jon and the dragons watch AND TWIDDLE THEIR DAMN THUMBS.
A lone rider emerges from the woods — it’s our sexytimes witch, Melisandre, who last we saw was headed back to Volantis. Well, she’s back in Westeros (sans the army of the Fiery Hand as I had assumed), and she does this super neato trick where she holds one of the Dothraki’s blades, says some Valaryian hoodoo, and sets not only his weapon on fire but all the Dothrakis’ weapons on fire, all 40,000.
It’s very cool.
And everyone is like, “HOT DAMN! We might just win this thing!”
Having performed this badass magic trick, Melisandre heads into the castle’s walls where she’s greeted by Davos, and she’s all, “Oh, calm down, jackass, I’ll be dead by dawn.”
Outside, the Dothraki go tearing headlong into the darkness, screaming all the way, only to be immediately consumed by some unknown-ness, all those cool fire blades extinguished within seconds.
All of our heroes watching this: “OK, I guess we’re superfucked.” Jorah, a couple of horses, and a handful of Dothraki — who have to be SUPER PISSED to have left behind their perfectly nice life of raping and pillaging to get on a GODDAMN BOAT and come to this fucking freezing shitscape only to have their entire race be wiped out by ice zombies in a matter of seconds — come running back to Winterfell. BUT WHERE IS GHOST? I DEMAND TO KNOW WHERE GHOST IS, DAMMIT.
Daenerys is like, “FUCK THIS NOISE,” and climbs on Drogon’s back, defying Jon’s dum-dum “let’s just hide up here with our very best weapons and wait indefinitely for the Night King to show up” plan.
As the wights come tearing at the remaining troops, Daenerys and Jon finally use their dragons to strafe the ice zombies. I’M SURE THE DOTHRAKI WOULD HAVE APPRECIATED THE SAME HELP, ASSHOLES. However, the dragons’ usefulness is soon diminished when a magic snowstorm arrives, making it impossible for Jon, Daenerys, and the dragons to see damn near anything. Not unlike the viewers at home.
Arya instructs her sister to go down to the crypt, and at first Sansa is all, “DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO,” but then she’s all, “OK.” Arya arms her with a dragonglass dagger and instructs her sister to “stick them with the pointy end.”
Down on the ground: fighting fighting fighting fighting stabbing fighting. Sam is very nearly eaten by a wight when Edd comes to his rescue, only to be killed by a wight himself.
Soon, the Winterfell troops are screaming to fall back, and Little Lady Badass, who is in charge of the gate, opens it, while the Unsullied close ranks to protect the retreaters.
Once everyone is back inside, the big plan is Davos will signal to Jon and Daenerys to come light afire a giant trench dug around Winterfell. However, those two are still bumbling around in the snowstorm and are proving to be UTTERLY USELESS. So Melisandre goes back out the gate to save the motherfucking day, again, and sets the trench on fire with more of her Valyrian hoodoo.
And it works! It keeps the wights out of pouring into Winterfell.
For a minute.
As for what is happening down in the crypts, Tyrion is whinging about wanting to help with the fighting, but Varys points out that he got his
nose cut off face sliced open the last time he helped in a big battle. Sansa notes that the most heroic thing they can do is stay down there and wait for the skeletons to come alive and go all Evil Dead on them, and Tyrion jokes that maybe they should have stayed married. Sansa sincerely tells him that he was the “best of them,” but that it wouldn’t work out because he’s loyal to Daenerys. “YEAH WELL, THE DRAGON QUEEN IS THE ONLY THING SAVING US RIGHT NOW,” Missandei offers without being invited (and while being completely wrong).
Meanwhile, out in the Godswood, Theon tries to apologize to Bran for, well, everything, but The Three-Eyed Bran is all, “Whatever happened happened, and in the end, it brought you right here right now
to die a heroic death defending the one boy you would have killed if you could have. OK I HAVE TO GO NOW BYE.” And with that, Bran does that eyeball thing and some ravens go fly into the night to lock eyes with the Night King who’s just chilling on Ice Viserion, biding his time and NOT FLYING OFF TO KING’S LANDING LIKE I TOLD YOU PEOPLE.
The Night King then directs the wights at the trench to throw their bodies onto the fire so as to extinguish it and create a human bridge to the walls of Winterfell so they can World War Z that shit.
It’s effective and the wights begin scrambling over the walls.
Fighting fighting fighting stabbing flaming arrows fighting. Jaime almost dies but Brienne saves him. Sam almost dies but Jorah saves him. Fighting fighting fighting. The Hound, FREAKED OUT by all the fire and the ice zombies and the whatnot, hides behind a wall, where Beric finds him and is like, “CUT IT OUT WITH THE WUSSINESS,” pointing out what a fucking hero Arya is being with her cool Braavosi warrior shit and killing all the wights.
Down in the courtyard, a wight giant bursts through the gates, and my Little Lady Badass, she goes charging at him with her dragonglass blade, only for this fucker to pick her up and crunch her in his giant paw. But for some reason, the zombie giant brings Little Lady Badass in for a closer look, giving her a chance to stab him IN HIS BIG STUPID GIANT EYEBALL, instantly killing him.
R.I.P. Little Lady Badass. You were my most favoritest of all.
Inside Winterfell, Arya has lost that cool weapon she had Gendry make for her, and is left wandering around a wight-filled library with a piece of dragonglass. She manages to sneak past them — but only for a second — and soon they knock her through a door.
RUNNING FROM THE WIGHTS, RUNNING FROM THE WIGHTS, RUNNING FROM THE WIGHTS, and that’s when she crosses paths with The Hound and Beric, and (I think) she accidentally stabs Beric. The Hound literally picks Arya up and runs with her while Beric holds off the wights, being stabbed multiple times in the process. The three manage to make it into the Great Hall, where Beric dies. Again. And for the last time.
R.I.P. Beric Dondarrion. You were pretty cool.
Waiting for them in the Great Hall is our Red Witch, who is all, “Heeeeey, girl. Remember the last time we met and you were all pissed at me for taking away your little boyfriend?” And Arya’s all, “You said we’d meet again and that I’d kill a whole shitload of people and you were right about both things!” Melisandre’s like, “Yep, and remember how I said you’d kill people with brown eyes and green eyes and BLUE EYES?” The gears start clicking in Arya’s head and they forcefully snap into place when Melisandre asks, “What do we say to the God of Death?”
Meanwhile up in the air, the Night King is finally flying towards Winterfell, giving Jon and Daenerys a chance to attack Viserion with Rhaegal and Drogon. Fighting fighting flying fighting, and finally, the Night King falls off Viserion, which, yay! But Rhaegal is so badly wounded that he lands, throwing Jon off of him.
The Night King now on foot is a tender morsel of a target, and Daenerys blasts him with dragonfire. So yay! It’s all over! We killed the Night King! And just like it was prophesied!
Except when Drogon is done darcarysing, this blue bitch is STILL ALIVE. OR WHATEVER.
The Night King hurls his ice javelin at Daenerys but misses and she and Drogon are like, “Well, fuck this noise, we are out of here.”
Jon, however, begins chasing the Night King down on foot and very nearly catches up to him when the Night King is all, “Siiiiiiigh, really, bitch? Did you forget who I am? And my little trick?” And with that, the Night King begins raising the dead. All of the dead. Everywhere. Including in the crypts.
Fighting fighting fighting so tired fighting.
And this blue asshole just starts nonchalantly walking towards the Godswood.
Daenerys tries to help Jon, but Drogon is soon covered in wights …
… and in his effort to shake them loose, Daenerys is thrown off as well. But it’s OK because Jorah finds her! But then it’s not OK because Jorah is stabbed multiple times by all the very bad ice zombies.
But it’s going to be FINE because our big hero, Jon, he goes chasing after the Night King and he is definitely going to stab him to death with Longclaw and everything is going to be great because Prince Who Was Promised and destiny and Great Male Hero and all that.
Except … Viserion is just fucking blasting the courtyard of Winterfell with that icefire bullshit of his and Jon just can’t get past him and into the Godswood.
And with Viserion making trouble outside, the Night King and all his long-haired boys, the White Walkers, they come striding into the Godswood like they own the damn place.
Bran returns to tell Theon — who has single-handedly killed hundreds of wights after all his Iron Born buddies were killed — that he is a Good Man. And Theon, hearing the one thing he needed, goes head-long at the Night King with his staff, only for the Night King to grab said staff, break it in half and kill poor Theon with it.
R.I.P. Complicated TheonReek.
And now, with nothing standing between the Night King and Bran, the Night King is all:
As the Night King begins to draw his sword to take down Bran, that’s when — SEVEN GODS PRESERVE US — Arya comes FLYING OUT OF ASS NOWHERE BEHIND THE NIGHT KING WITH THE CATSPAW DAGGER DRAWN.
However. The Night King being some supernatural bullshit, senses this in time and catches her by the throat with his left hand, and grabs her left hand which is holding the dagger with his right.
BUT A-HA, HE UNDERESTIMATED OUR GIRL, WHO DROPS THE CATSPAW INTO HER RIGHT HAND …
… AND STABS THIS MOTHERFUCKER IN HIS UNPROTECTED BLUE BELLY WITH HER VALYRIAN STEEL, SHATTERING HIM INTO ICE AND ALL HIS POSE INTO ICE AND ALL HIS WIGHT BULLSHIT IN. TO. ICE.
R.I.P. Night Ki–
ARYA IS THE DAYKING! FIGHTER OF THE NIGHTKING! CHAMPION OF THE SUN! SHE’S A MASTER OF KARATE AND FRIENDSHIP FOR EVERYONE!
Literally — and I mean literally — me:
It was a moment.
So, all the wights die, and, with Daenerys finally safe, Jorah succumbs to his wounds. Drogon, who is still alive, returns to Daenerys and gives her what is I suppose a dragon hug.
And as dawn breaks, as Davos watches, Melisandre walks out of Winterfell, takes off that magic necklace of hers, turns all old again, and collapses, scattering into dust.
R.I.P. Melisandre. You were the true V.I.P. of this episode, girl. I mean, aside from Arya. And Little Lady Badass.
ALRIGHT. So, obviously, I loved this episode — WHAT AN EPISODE — but I’m going to start with a few complaints. Not about the darkness, though we’ll get to that. But instead about the military strategy at play here … such as it is. Look, I don’t know much — or anything — about military strategy, war movies and war history are not my thangs. But even I can recognize that this plan was more about creating plot tension and being visually cool than it was about actually staging a successful defensive, much less offensive stand.
The Dothraki charge, for instance. That was SO FUCKING COOL! But it made ZERO SENSE! I just have a hard time believing that they would send that entire calvary, magic flame blades or no, tearing into complete blackness, with no sense of where the front line even is, much less what they are actually up against. Yes, the Screamers came tearing down on the Lannisters in the loot train raid, but it was in the middle of the day and they had some dragon backup. Which brings me to the point that irritated me the most: YOU HAVE MOTHERFUCKING DRAGONS. USE THEM.
Look, I get it Jon’s general plan: the Night King is not going to go after Bran if he sees two dragons flying around in his path. Therefore, hide the dragons, wait for him to expose himself, attack. The problem with this plan is, of course, the fact that the Night King knows perfectly well that there are two dragons somewhere. Daenerys attacked him with her three dragons up in the North, which is how he stole Viserion in the first place. I don’t know what kind of supernatural being, exactly, the Night King is supposed to be, but I suspect he can count to two. And so why not use at least one of the dragons to provide firepower for the Dothraki as they charge into battle?
The problem is that the answer to that very logical question is that the Dothraki charge is serving a narrative and symbolic purpose. The extinguishment of the Dothraki so early in the episode, this wall of light that briefly served as a beacon of hope for both the other characters and for the audience, for it to be snuffed out in the darkness serves both to establish for the viewer that SHIT IS GOING TO GET REAL AND FAST, and as a metaphor for this tsunami of death bearing down on the living. Having a dragon fly overhead setting the wights on fire and giving both us and the characters a look at what they are up against, that removes some of the mystery and terror both of the actual combatants but also the idea of death itself.
Still, it’s a dumb tactical mistake.
Another dumb tactical mistake was to have the troops standing in front of all the defenses set up around the castle. Why not dig more trenches further away from Winterfell? Why not try to create choke points into which they could steer the wights? I understand fortifying Winterfell, but maybe a little more could have been done further away from Winterfell instead of just waiting for the ice zombies to come knocking on the front door? It might not have prevented the final outcome, but it might have slowed them down a bit.
Also, I couldn’t have been the only one to have wondered why they didn’t have some sort of plan to SET SHIT ON FIRE IMMEDIATELY so that the Hardhome scenario …
… wouldn’t happen again. Which of course it did because all those dead bodies were the ultimate Chekov’s gun.
As for the darkness of the episode that everyone else complained about — I have to admit, it didn’t bother me so much? The scenes were shot digitally with only natural light because they could. The cinematographer claims that it’s your TV’s fault, or maybe HBO’s for compressing the episode for streaming; others point out that it’s more difficult to see a digitally filmed night scene on an HD TV than a traditional cathode ray tube set, and that filmmakers have yet to adjust.
My more generous side would argue that the darkness of the scene was intentional to make the viewer feel the same chaos, confusion, panic, the sheer darkness that our characters are immersed in. The cynical side of me believes, however, that the darkness was intentional to save on costs. Thousands and thousands of CGI zombies are expensive to make — at least if you’re going to animate them in any real detail. Making everything just a little too dark helps keep that budget down, because even Game of Thrones doesn’t have unlimited cash money.
And for those who wonder what you were missing, some folks have been busy brightening some screenshots for you.
One last thing I sorta briefly wanted to bitch about: the crypts — and this is a two-parter. One, I was disappointed that Sansa didn’t have her big War Queen moment in the crypts. If you’ll remember, during the Battle of the Blackwater, Cersei, Sansa and the other women of the court are held in Maegor’s Holdfast where they wait out the battle. There, Cersei gets drunk and tries to teach Sansa some Real Life Lessons about war and rape and making people fear you as a Queen, while Sansa tries to comfort the other women with prayers and songs. And so color me surprised that we didn’t have at least a brief moment where Sansa distinguished herself from Cersei and gave some sort of rousing speech to the assembled so as to inspire faith and bravery — an anti-Cersei moment, if you would. Perhaps such a scene would have been too obvious, but I think it would have been a way to further establish Sansa as her own kind of leader.
Two, I’m irritated that 1. the Stark dead did bust out of their tombs after I explained that they shouldn’t be able to because they should have just been piles of disconnected bones …
but 2. if you’re going to have the Stark dead bust out of their tombs (which I get it, they had to do it, how could they not do it, it’s a great visual) it should have been more … bigger … more exciting. Instead, it was just a couple of shots of Sansa and Tyrion cowering while some Army of Darkness motherfuckers shambled around. There was tons of potential there but instead, it came off feeling like a bit of an afterthought.
Alright. Enough bitching. FOR NOW.
One quick book note as it relates to this episode:
As I noted in my chat with Andrew this week (see below), there was a very small possible nod to a detail in the third book, A Storm of Swords. So you remember the witch friend of Jenny’s I told you about in the previous entry? The one who predicted that the Prince Who Was Promised would come from Aerys and Rhaella’s line? It’s strongly suggested that she shows up in the books as a character known as the Ghost of High Heart, an ancient woman who lives in the Riverlands and who has prophetic visions. In the novels, Arya and the Brotherhood Without Banners meet with her, and she shares with them some vaguely-worded visions of Renly’s death, Balon Greyjoy’s death and the death and resurrection of Catelyn Stark.
She also relates some more vaguely-worded visions about the Red Wedding and the Purple Wedding:
I dreamt a wolf howling in the rain, but no one heard his grief. I dreamt such a clangor I thought my head might burst, drums and horns and pipes and screams, but the saddest sound was the little bells. I dreamt of a maid at a feast with purple serpents in her hair, venom dripping from their fangs. And later I dreamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow.
The maid is Sansa Stark; the feast, Joffrey’s wedding; and the purple serpents in her hair with venom dripping from their fangs, that’s The Strangler, the poison that was used to kill Joffrey which in the books was hidden by the Queen of Thorns in a hairnet worn by Sansa.
But it’s that last sentence that I find interesting: “And later I dreamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow.” There had long been speculation that this meant that in the books, Sansa would kill a giant in whatever battle happens at Winterfell once the White Walkers move south, but it’s clear that the show saved this moment of glory for everyone’s favorite, Lyanna Mormont. (Although it does make me fear for Sansa’s fate in the books, seeing how it didn’t exactly end well for Little Lady Badass.)
Another note about this Ghost of High Heart character, on the show, Melisandre sort of kind of serves as a stand-in for her. Right after she tells the Brotherhood Without Banners about her visions, the Ghost of High Heart notices Arya for the first time:
“She turned her head sharply and smiled through the gloom, right at Arya. “You cannot hide from me, child. Come closer, now.”
Cold fingers walked down Arya’s neck. Fear cuts deeper than swords, she reminded herself. She stood and approached the fire warily, light on the balls of her feet, poised to flee.
The dwarf woman studied her with dim red eyes. “I see you,” she whispered. “I see you, wolf child. Blood child. I thought it was the lord who smelled of death …” She began to sob, her little body shaking. “You are cruel to come to my hill, cruel. I gorged on grief at Summerhall, I need none of yours. Begone from here, dark heart. Begone!”
It’s not exactly Melisandre’s speech to Arya, but it’s similar enough that I think it’s clear that Melisandre’s interaction with Arya was inspired by this scene.
Which brings me to that ARYA! moment.
Arya being the one who kills the Night King is one of the greatest magic tricks I’ve ever seen pulled on a show. Like any great trick, the writers used misdirection to distract us from the very thing that was happening right in front of our eyes.
OK, SO, FOLLOW ME HERE. The Prince That Was Promised, Azor Ahai, and The Last Hero — we have all these legends of a great hero who sometime in the past pushed back the darkness, and many prophecies that this hero will return to save the day once everything goes to shit again.
There’s Azor Ahai (who apparently has other names including Hyrkoon the Hero, Yin Tar, Neferion, and Eldric Shadowchaser), the hero who forged his flaming sword Lightbringer by plunging it into the breast of his wife, Nissa Nissa. Based on ancient prophecies that the Red Priests of R’hllor believe, Azor Ahai will rise again after a long summer gives way to a cold, evil darkness.
There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him. – Melisandre in A Clash of Kings
Melisandre tends to use the name Azor Ahai interchangeably with The Prince That Was Promised. According to the maesters, The Prince That Was Promised would be “Born amidst salt and smoke, beneath a bleeding star.” As to what this prince would do … it’s not really talked about, except in conjunction with him being the reincarnation of Azor Ahai.
Then there is the Last Hero, the hero of the First Men who at the Battle for the Dawn, with the assistance of the Children of the Forest, sent the “Others” into a retreat during The Long Night. He also formed the Night’s Watch.
And so, we have been going around assuming that these three figures are one in the same: that the Last Hero’s name was Azor Ahai and that he is going to return as The Prince That Was Promised. Never mind the fact that there is nothing to confirm that these characters are one and the same, nevertheless we have spent all our time arguing over who the Azor Ahai/The Prince That Was Promised/The Last Hero is: Jon or Daenerys or maybe Jaime Lannister (there is an interesting argument that the words for “gold” and “lord” and “hand” and “light” are very similar in Valyrian and there might have been some mistranslation along the way, so that “Azor Ahai” might actually translate into “Goldenhand.”), or even Stannis.
It was never Stannis.
Meanwhile, right in front of us, Arya has been living through her own hero’s journey, preparing for this very moment. I wrote a lot about Arya’s journey in this piece but a brief refresher, because it’s worth remembering and also I never miss an opportunity to BLAH BLAH BLAH about the Hero’s Journey:
As frequent readers of this blog know, the Hero’s Journey, a.k.a. Monomyth, is a pattern in storytelling in which a hero goes on … you guessed it, a journey … where he experiences a variety of adventures before returning home a changed man, who saves his people using something that he gained from his travels. It’s a story that is repeated in cultures all around the world throughout history because it speaks to something psychologically universal to all of us: the experience of maturing from a child to an adult.
The Hero’s Journey is broken down into three major pieces: Departure — Initiation — Return. The hero must leave the world of the known, meet mentors, be tested and tried, experience enlightenment, acquire the “boon” — the thing that will save his people, and then return home and save the day using their newfound powers.
As for Arya’s journey:
The Call to Adventure “The hero begins in a situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.”: Arya leaves the world of the known, of her childhood (Winterfell) for the unknown (King’s Landing)
Meeting the Mentor (this actually happens at least twice) “Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his guide and magical helper appears or becomes known. More often than not, this supernatural mentor will present the hero with one or more talismans or artifacts that will aid him later in his quest. Meeting the person that can help them in their journey.”: In King’s Landing, Arya trains with Syrio Forel, a Braavosi “water dancer” who teaches Arya the art of combat. Later, Arya will meet and train with J’aqen H’gahr, who teaches her to be an assassin. It could also be argued that The Hound also serves as a sort of mentor during their adventures together.
Crossing the First Threshold “This is the point where the hero actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are unknown.”: After Ned Stark is executed, Arya is forced to leave King’s Landing, a civilized city, and head into the wilderness
Belly of the Whale “The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis. When first entering the stage the hero may encounter a minor danger or set back.”: After running around Westeros with Yoren and Gendry and The Hound for a while, Arya goes to Braavos to train with the Faceless Men. Most people back in Westeros, including her family, assume she has died.
The Road of Trials “The road of trials is a series of tests that the hero must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the hero fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes. Eventually, the hero will overcome these trials and move on to the next step.”: Arya trains to be “No One” with the Faceless Men, specifically J’aqen H’ghar and The Waif. Breaking the Many-Faced God’s rules, Arya kills a man who was on her list. She is punished with blindness and being shunned from the House of Black and White. Eventually, she proves herself and is brought back to the fold of the Faceless Men.
Now! Here’s where it becomes more interesting. In the Hero’s Journey: traditionally this is the moment where the hero achieves Atonement with the Father, basically, it’s a moment where the hero recognizes himself in his father and his father within himself. However, some believe that female characters have a slightly different journey, a Heroine’s Journey, and one of the biggest differences comes at this moment. The heroine searches for the missing father — but finds the mother. And this one actually fits our purposes quite neatly.
Search for the Father/Discovery of the Mother: Arya’s journey up to this point has put her under the mentorship of several different men — Syrio, Yoren, The Hound, J’aqen. As part of her Faceless Men training, she is assigned to assassinate an actress, but she grows fond of the woman and is unable to carry out her charge. The Waif attacks Arya, and The Actress helps nurse Arya back to health … only to be murdered by the Waif.
And then back to the Hero’s Journey:
Apotheosis “This is the point of realization in which a greater understanding is achieved. Armed with this new knowledge and perception, the hero is resolved and ready for the more difficult part of the adventure.”: Using the skills she developed while blind, Arya lures the Waif into a darkened space where she kills her with Needle. Arya brings The Waif’s face back to The House of Black and White and declares that she is not “No One,” she is Arya Stark and she is going home.
The Ultimate Boon “The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the hero went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the hero for this step, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.”: Now, arguably if the boon is an object, it would be the Catspaw Dagger that Littlefinger gives to Bran who gives it to Arya which she uses to defeat the Night King and save the day. In practice, though, the boon is the set of skills Arya gained along her journey — from the stealthiness to her weapons training, it was all leading up to this moment.*
Refusal of the Return “Having found bliss and enlightenment in the other world, the hero may not want to return to the ordinary world to bestow the boon onto his fellow man.”: Upon returning to Westeros, Arya first goes and takes care of some motherfucking Freys, and is then planning not on going home to Winterfell, but instead to King’s Landing to take care of some motherfucking Cersei. She changes her mind when she learns that Jon has taken Winterfell back from the Boltons.
The Crossing of the Return Threshold “The trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into a human life, and then maybe figure out how to share the wisdom with the rest of the world.” The return to Winterfell is not an easy transition for Arya who, thanks to Littlefinger’s machinations, struggles to trust her sister. However, once she and Sansa and Bran recalibrate, they realize they are being manipulated, and Arya, using her badass assassin skillz, executes Littlefinger with the Catspaw.
The Master of Two Worlds “This step is usually represented by a transcendental hero like Jesus or Gautama Buddha. For a human hero, it may mean achieving a balance between the material and spiritual. The person has become comfortable and competent in both the inner and outer worlds.” Arya is both a Stark and a skilled assassin, setting aside her own personal vendetta against Cersei (for the moment), Arya uses her talents as No One to defend her home and family.
I outline all of this for a couple of reasons: one to make the point to any jackasses out there who might still somehow think that somehow Arya didn’t earn this moment, that her entire arc hasn’t been leading up to this act of heroism that they’re idiots who haven’t been paying attention. Get out of here with that Jon should have been the one to kill the Night King bullshit.
But more importantly, two: to show you how the writers were drafting Arya’s hero’s journey right in front of our faces the entire time. Other characters have their own journeys: Jon and Daenerys most obviously, but also Bran, Theon and Sansa, and arguably Jaime Lannister. But Arya’s journey is darker and less covered in glory than Jon or Daenerys’ and because it doesn’t conform to the preconditions of the prophecies as we understand them — she wasn’t born amidst smoke and salt and under a red comet, she doesn’t have any claim or interest in the Iron Throne, she’s not sacrificing her girlfriend to make weapons — we overlooked her as our great hero, even though she was forging herself into that very thing.
THAT SAID, I’m not suggesting we just dismiss the prophecies and legends just because Arya doesn’t fit the confines of The Prince That Was Promised as they were laid out. Instead, what I found fairly remarkable about this climax, this hero switcheroo, if you will, is how all the pieces had to come together just so to bring Arya to this moment.
Everyone had a role to play in Arya defeating the White Walkers. There are the big, obvious pieces of the puzzle: Jon had to go to join the Night’s Watch so that he could understand the threat before them and bring people together; Daenerys had to hatch her dragons and assemble her armies to be able to support the North in their fight; Melisandre had to resurrect Jon, bring Jon and Daenerys together, and reconnect with Arya to point her in the Night King’s direction; and Arya had to go on her grim journey to become this skilled assassin, something that would have never happened had she stayed home with her mother at Winterfell, or had Ned Stark remained alive.
But then there are the smaller pieces, specifically and notably in this episode, Beric Dondarrion and The Hound. Beric, in particular, is a minor character through the series, but the Lord of Light brings him back from the dead some sixteen times. Beric doesn’t know why he’s been brought back, just that it has to serve some purpose. Part of his purpose is to connect with The Hound, and convince him to join the Lord of Light’s fight …
… Because the two of them together, they keep Arya alive long enough to defeat the Night King. Without all of these pieces coming together — and sometimes through great intervention on the part of the Lord of Light via the resurrection of both Jon and Beric — Arya would not have been able to fulfill her destiny.
This is a loooooong way to go to say that Melisandre wasn’t wrong about The Prince That Was Promised prophecy or her important role as a facilitator of said prophecy — there would be a hero who would emerge to defeat this force of darkness and Melisandre would be on hand to make sure that hero did their job. But like all prophecy, she (and we the audience) misread it. There was never going to be this one person, this Azor Ahai/The Prince That Was Promised/Last Hero to single-handedly save the day, because I don’t believe those three figures from legend and prophecy were necessarily the same person to begin with. Instead, those three — and potentially countless others — were once vessels of the Lord of Light in its fight against the Great Other, just as Daenerys, Jon, Arya, Theon, Melisandre, Beric and The Hound were in this moment. As Bran tells Theon: “Everything you did brought you where you are now. Where you belong.”
UGH. I feel like I have so much more to say, but I’ve already BLAAAAAHED at you for WAY too long, so a lightning round:
When Bran had to “go now,” he was basically communicating with the Night King and luring him to his location so that Arya could kill him. Up to that point, the Night King had just been hanging in the ice storm, waiting everyone out; but once The Three-Eyed Bran connected with him, that’s when he decided to make his final and fatal move.
Now, this better not be the end of The Three-Eyed Bran and his powers — I better see him doing some time travel shit before this is all said and done or I am going to go Teresa Giudice on a table up in here.
As for what comes next now that the Night King, our one big supernatural and existential threat is gone? Obviously, the next couple of episodes are going to be about taking Cersei down, but in the end, I think the final — and most important — question will be, “So who now?”
George R.R. Martin has always been interested in this issue of what makes a good ruler. Just think about how much time he spent in the first season drawing Robert to be a shit leader — in fact, it’s Robert’s lack of leadership skills that creates a vacuum that creates the chaos that drives the events in the series. In the video chat below, I quote a Rolling Stone interview he gave where he takes issue with Tolkien just assuming that just because someone is a good person, that they’ll make a good leader, without taking into account how they would rule and whether they had any sort of actual policies or plans — that the idea that morality and leadership are one and the same is a bunch of hogwash.
To put it in current political parlance, it’s the whole Pete Buttigieg/Beto O’Rourke/Joe Biden vs. Elizabeth Warren thing. Sure, people like Buttigieg and O’Rourke and Biden, but Warren over here is laying out specific and detailed plans about what she wants to get done and how she’s going to do it on everything from universal healthcare to rebuilding the middle class while these guys are saying that they don’t have time to outline their healthcare plan but Nazis are bad! and showing off their Norwegian. Jon and Daenerys are awesome and can win over the people! Dragons are awesome, after all! But it’s Sansa who has some solid policies on grain distribution and making sure the little people don’t go hungry. And what I’m saying here is SANSA 2020.
*Finally, I have been neutral to negative on the theory that Arya is going to take Jaime’s face so as to kill Cersei. It makes nice narrative sense, but I just always felt Jaime had to be the actual person to kill his twin as their fates are intertwined. They were born together, they should die together.
That said. Now that Arya’s combat training with Syrio and J’aqen H’ghar have come to fruition in Arya’s killing of the Night King, there is one final skill — the taking of faces — that has yet to be fully realized. Yes, the Frey slaughter was AMAZING, but it seems that way too much emphasis was placed on the whole changing of faces for it not to play a significant part in the final act of our story.
ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT, I’m going to stop now, minutes before the next episode airs. But if you want more, check out my buddy Andrew Dansby and I talking about the episode with moderator Wei-Huan Chen below:
We’ll be doing this again on Monday, so be sure to find us at 11:45 a.m. on the Houston Chronicle Facebook page. Until then, my little lemon cakes!
Game of Thrones airs on HBO on Sundays at 8 p.m./9 p.m., CST/EST