Game of Thrones has spent years building up the threat of the Night King and the White Walkers. And with last nights episode of “The Long Night”, all of that building came to a head, a shambling and confused undead head. And despite how impressive some of the scenes were technically, the entire affair was kind of dull and predictable.
When we watch minor characters go down by the thousand, we’re reminded of a particular problem that the show has had for years now, and it’s one that it will never solve despite how hard the showrunners have tried. Characters like Jorah, Theon, Beric, Lyanna, Melisandre or Edd all have their own arcs, but think about the impact they genuinely had. All of their actions that led them to where they are now, echoing Bran’s words to Theon, are part of a bigger sacrifice that the living must make to defeat the dead. But to the average viewer, that perception of sacrifice and sadness is hollow, and somewhat exploitative. The battles and losses so far, much like what we’ve seen of the death of the Night King, feels wasteful and much like a speed bump for Dany and friends.
David Benioff and Dan Weiss have said that they write the show for the sake of fueling fan debate and speculation. They want people to constantly talk about the show, and they’re doing it largely from a place of ego, in my opinion. They aren’t interested in telling an expansive and complex story with a handful of well-developed characters, they want to be Breaking Bad but with a lot simpler and more predictable writing. “I’m hoping we get the Breaking Bad [finale] argument where it’s like, “Is that an A or an A+?” said Weiss. “I want that to be the argument.”
These two constantly reference other material that they try to emulate with Game of Thrones, from the Sopranos and it’s surprise ending, to Akira Kurosawa’s RAN which inspired the Battle of the Bastards. It’s almost like they style themselves as excellent writers who are so good that they can get away with being lazy.
Except that the major problem with their approach is blatantly apparent when watching what they write. Go back and watch the first three episodes of this season, or pretty much anything after the first two seasons, and you’ll notice a trend. Nearly every time a major beat of action, line of dialogue or CGI moment happens, the camera will shift to a line of gawking, smirking or laughing characters. And it becomes even more horrific when you listen to commentaries and interviews Benioff and Weiss give. You can only hear these two talk about a character’s facial expressions or baseline emotional reactions so much before you realize that they just write scenes for characters to gawk, smirk and gloom over. And the writers do this to illicit a cheap emotional response from the audience. The Game of Thrones gawk should basically be the “jump scare” of TV writing at this point.
Then there’s the action scenes and why they just continually irritate me. The long monotonous pace of watching every single person aside from the important major characters eat the dirt starts to grind on your patience pretty quick. It’s hard to care about all of this death when some characters get literally a frame of a shot showing their death, like the commoner who complained to Ser Davos about not being a soldier in the previous episode, who got all of two frames showing his demise. And even when more beloved characters like the Night King or Lyanna are supposed to get cool moments, the next problem with the writing of the show reveals that Benioff and Weiss threw common sense out of the window.
Am I really supposed to believe that a giant ice zombie wants to look into the eyes of the thing they’re killing? These mindless creatures just kill. What sense did it make to have that moment. If anything, if you’re writing melancholy and hopelessness, have characters repeatedly bite it in painful ways that echo that tone. I half expected Lyanna just to get smashed by the giant and that be it. Characters that should be quickly overwhelmed are basically invincible thanks to plot armor when they should have died early in the fight. But the showrunners won’t do that because the engine of viral marketing that they’ve built by exploiting the emotional responses of the TV audience would turn on them. Especially so if they didn’t have big dumb “cool” moments for social media to fawn over.
The death of the Night King was the most nonsensical of them all though, as we’re supposed to just accept that Arya can sneak through a battlefield surrounded by thousands of ravenous dead (something she nearly died doing because they heard her blood dripping just a few minutes prior) and past an entire troop of White Walkers; all just to leap out of the shadows and have the Night King go down anti-climactically. Give me a break. Thousands of nameless characters and a handful of minor characters just don’t have the impact that a single more costly death would have had.
Speaking of nonsense, how the hell does Valyrian Steel kill the Night King when we’ve seen him be immune to dragon fire? Valyrian steel is the magic of dragons given physical form, the same thing with dragonglass. We’re supposed to buy that dragons can’t easily kill him, but a magical assassin with an ungodly amount of plot armor has no problem doing him in. I just cannot believe that I’m watching the same show that gave us the Red Wedding, death of Oberyn and many more interesting scenes.
And since pretty much all of the favorite characters are still alive, I’m left wondering how the hell the next three episodes won’t feel unrewarding to viewers. Are we really expected to accept some fairytale ending of Jon and Dany defeating the crazed duo of schemers that is Euron and Cersei, only to be happily married? Does Cersei pull a Red Wedding on her opponents?
Is everyone going to die anyway? If so, let the Night King do the work and actually get some payoff. It just feels kind of pointless, and not in an interesting melancholic way. One thing I really do hope we see is just what the hell Bran was doing while Warging during the battle. But given how irritating these first three episode were, I’m not hopeful they’ll do anything with Bran at all.
TV is a visual medium, and the immense amount of information in ASOIAF would never work in a TV series or movie franchise, there’s just too much information that relies on verbal communication and inference. So despite these limitations and predictable writing, the show has managed some amazing feats of effects and production. And I’m convinced that it’s the direction and post-production work that has saved many episodes from being spoiled by Benioff and Weiss’ obsessions with their own perceived success.
There are plenty of cool things to admire about this show, but last night’s episode echoed some of the most annoying parts of the entire series.