I don’t even know where to start.
The Battle of Winterfell was 82 minutes of straight f*cking torture. Beautifully shot, anxiety-inducing torture. The episode was directed by Miguel Sapochnik, the man who brought us such nightmares as “Hardhome” and “The Battle of the Bastards”, so you know we were going to be in for a traumatizing time from the start. I am sitting here, scrolling through my TWELVE PAGES of notes and realizing they’re almost entirely incoherent keyboard smashes followed by a roll sheet of people who I could tell were still alive at any given point.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a physical reaction like this to any kind of media in my life. The second the theme music began, I was overcome with a wave of nausea so intense that I had to lie down. My heart raced, as if I was outside running a marathon, for the entirety of the episode. I had to pause halfway through to answer the door for my Postmates, and my hands visibly shook as I reached out to grab for the bag of food. Those enchiladas sat, wholly untouched, until the credits ran. I cried salty tears into my cold Mexican food as my roommate walked through the door, equal parts confused and concerned. It wasn’t even sad crying, but just the kind that little kids do when they’re overwhelmed and don’t know how to communicate it. This show reduced me to the emotional maturity of a toddler. It feels like I just survived a battle, which is more than we can say for some.
Let’s get the worst part out of the way and tally our dead. Ignoring the obvious thousands of unnamed Dothraki, Unsullied and Westerosi who fell to the army of zombies, we also lost Edd, Beric, Lyanna Mormont, Theon, Jorah, Melisandre and … the Night King? Don’t worry, we’ll dive into each one as I try and dissect the almost hour and a half of warfare we just watched unfold.
If you don’t feel like reading this novel of a recap, it can be mostly summarized in this single GIF.
I think it’s fair to say that the women of Winterfell truly put the entire team on their back. From Dany and her dragons to Melisandre and her fire to Lyanna and her final act of heroism, it was the women who saved humanity tonight. Plus, well, the obvious one.
* Extremely Tim Riggins voice * Arya Stark forever.
Typically when these battles episodes take place, I skate over most of the action and recount the main plot points, because words could no truly do scenes any justice. This isn’t really an option for this episode, which was 99% battle and 1% me screaming into a pillow. So, we’ll do our best here.
We’ll start with everyone’s positions at the beginning of the episode. We follow Sam, making his way out onto the battlefield. The Dothraki are on the front lines, being led by Jorah and, for some reason, Ghost. There’s only enough production budget to CGI him into 45 seconds of every episode, so I guess we’ll find out next week whether or not he survived the fray.
The second line is made up of our Westerosi heroes, with Brienne and Jaime leading the pack. They’re joined by Tormund, Podrick, Gendry, Beric, the Hound, Edd and finally Sam. Not one of them look confident.
In the back are the Unsullied, who will later have the very terrible job of holding back the wights as everyone else retreats. From a plot point of view, I understand why both the Dothraki and Unsullied armies were put in the literal worst positions, but it was still horribly sad to watch all these unnamed men die such horrible deaths so far away from their homes.
Jon and Dany soar onto the field on the backs of Drogon and Rhaegal and take their place on a nearby clifftop observe, while Davos, Sansa, Arya and the archers watch from the ramparts of Winterfell.
This entire set-up unfolds over the course of what felt like 15 minutes, but was likely only three. Every second of it was ominous. This doesn’t feel like any battle we’ve ever seen on Thrones—there is no air of excitement or even optimism. Every single face we come across is terrified.
A single horse rides across the battle field towards Winterfell and, lo and behold, out of the mist and darkness comes Melisandre. I take back every terrible thing I ever said about this woman, who showed up in the final hour of humanity and not only provided fire for the army to fight with, but also provided the single source of lighting in this entire dark as night episode. Honestly, feel free to throw leeches on Gendry’s d*ck any time. You’ve earned it.
The Apocalypse: * is imminent *
Melisandre: Not today, Satan.
She asks Jorah to tell the Dothraki to lift their weapons, at which point she performs a quick spell and every single one of their swords catch fire. Where was this women during the strategy sessions? Would have loved her input while Jon was pushing tiles around on a game board.
Apparently only the Dothraki are being blessed by the Lord of Light, because Melisandre walks past the rest of the waiting armies and right into Winterfell, where she is immediately met by Davos. If you’ll recall, Davos is not her biggest fan, on account of that whole “burning Shireen Baratheon alive” bit.
Melisandre: There’s no need to execute me, I’ll be dead by dawn.
Davos: …. I mean we all will, that doesn’t really count.
Melisandre spies Arya watching from above, and they share the first bout of incredibly meaningful eye contact in this episode. Believe me when I say, there is a lot of it. Everyone is just out here, staring into each other’s souls, getting ready to die. The battle hasn’t even started yet and I’m already sweating.
The Dothraki ride across the field, which is actually a beautiful site to behold from Dany and Jon’s perspective. Just a mass of screaming, burning torches, flying into the night and coming to an almost immediate stop as they collide with the army of the dead. You can actually feel the last shreds of hope die as everyone watches the burning swords of the Dothraki be extinguished one by one. These people followed Daenerys across the ocean only and into the frozen and racist wasteland that is the North only to die on the icy battlefield of Winterfell to save a bunch of people who probably hated them anyways. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
A few horses and Dothraki manage to successfully retreat, Jorah once again in the lead, and sprint past the Westerosi and Unsullied in a futile attempt to escape. Dany watches from above and immediately races to Drogon, trying to get to the battlefield to help before all hell breaks loose. Jon tries to stop her, reminding her that they’re meant to be protecting Bran.
Jon: The Night King is coming.
Dany: You have never created one successful plan in your life and I doubt that you’ll be turning that record around today.
Down on the field, we get one more pan across the terrified faces of all our favorite people before the wights come flying onto the screen. They collide with the first line, and the battle has finally begun.
I get that we’re all going to make the same joke about the total lack of lighting and how you need blackout curtains to even attempt to see what was happening on screen, but I think it makes sense the way it played out. Staring into blackness, only hearing the screams of dying people and seeing flashes of horror by firelight was 10/10 the most terrifying viewing experience imaginable. It put us right in the thick of things, leaving the audience just as confused as those on the field.
What follows here is an hour of straight mayhem, cutting between the battlefield, the Godswood, the skies, and the crypts. Each time we flash to someone we know, they’re in worse shape than when we saw them last. I was convinced Grey Worm died six separate times, but somehow the guy kept coming back. Maybe he really will get that life on a beach in Naath with Missandei. JK, I refuse to believe in anything.
It only takes about 30 seconds of watching events unfold before Sansa sends Arya down to the crypts for safety and takes her place amongst the melee.
Sansa: I don’t know how to use a knife.
Arya: Stick them with the pointy end.
I’ve already seen some Sansa slander circulating, saying she played a minimal role this episode while girls younger than her were risking their lives out in the fray, so we’re going to pause really quick to let you know why that’s wrong. As previously stated, this is a pro-Sansa zone and that kind of behavior won’t be tolerated, but especially not when the take is that bad.
Arya and Lyanna Mormont are warriors. Sansa is not. They are able to meaningfully contribute to a battle, whereas Sansa’s presence would only serve to distract those who would try and save her. Running out to risk your life when it’s only going to make things more difficult for everyone else may be Jon Snow 101, but not Sansa. She’s smart enough to know that everyone is better off with her out of the way.
Throughout the entire battle we get multiple shots of Jaime and Brienne diving into screen at the last minute to save each other from the jaws of death. These two lovebirds, fighting back to back, with dragon fire blazing behind them like a beautiful sunset? Poetic cinema.
The first major character to fall is Edd, who dies seconds after saving Sam from a wight out on the battlefield. It’s the quickest death of the episode, and honestly the one we all care least about, but jarring nonetheless. All week long we’ve been talking about how people are going to start dropping like flies, but it’s different to see it actually happen.
Sansa’s arrival in the crypts is not met with the best reaction. First of all, everyone gathered there knows that her showing up means things are going poorly up top. To make matters worse, she’s looking less than composed, tears welling up in her eyes and at complete a loss for words. Her and Tyrion share some long-held suffering eye contact and it communicates what he already knew to be true: they’re f*cked. At least he planned ahead and brought some wine down there with him.
Up in the sky, Jon and Dany are effectively blind. The darkness wasn’t a great start, but they’re also coming up against a gigantic cloud of fog courtesy of the Night King, which makes it difficult to see where they’re throwing fire onto the field. I didn’t realize until this moment that it’s very likely that a lot of our own people are going to get roasted on the battle field. Dany may be good but that level of precision is just unrealistic, I say in reference to a show about medieval people with dragons fighting ice zombies.
On the ground, the armies start to retreat behind the gates of Winterfell, where they have their next round of defenses. It looks like Lyanna and House Mormont are leading the charge here, while Jaime and Brienne start manning the ramparts. Remember that scene in Hardhome when all the wights just climb up the fortress wall, World War Z style? Well that’s making a cute comeback soon.
Tormund and the Hound are two of the last to retreat past the Unsullied, who are all silently and dutifully holding down the last line of defense. We don’t deserve them. The Hound is saved from a stray wight by none other than Arya, who shoots a flaming arrow over his shoulder from up on the ramparts. It’s reminiscent of the first time we ever met Arya back in season one, shooting arrows from the walls of Winterfell. You can see the pride swell in his eyes for about half a second before he remembers that he’s on an open field full of zombies, and makes his way inside.
Once everyone is in, Grey Worm makes the call to light the trenches that have been dug around the castle. He pulls a rip cord that appears to effectively separate his army from the safety of Winterfell, the trench between them. Only problem—it’s not on fire. The fog is keeping Dany from being able to see the signal to light it, and she’s stuck looping above the castle trying to what’s going on.
It’s at this point that Melisandre makes her second dramatic appearance and comes forward to light the trenches with her hands. In this moment, when the fire catches seconds before the wights break through, she is forgiven for that time she let a child burn to death. The Lord of Light decrees it. We have no choice but to stan.
Down in the crypts, morale is low. Everyone is sitting in total silence, until Tyrion starts whining about not being up top with everyone else. He’s sure that were we there, he could see something that the rest of the warriors couldn’t. Sansa assures him that’s not the case, probably because that would require actually being able to see what’s going on. She echoes my earlier sentiment, albeit bitterly, that any of them being present in the battle would only serve to distract those who were fighting.
Sansa: We’re useless.
Tyrion: Wow I love that level of self-loathing, perhaps we should have stayed married.
Sansa: You were the best of them.
Tyrion: That is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard in a lifetime of exclusively sad things.
It appears that Tyrion is actually reconsidering this whole marriage thing but Sansa nips it in the bud, saying that his allegiance to the dragon queen would prove to be a problem for them. I think it’s bold that they’re making plans for anything farther than five minutes into the future, considering the state of things at the moment. Missandei agrees, popping out of the shadows to remind them that they’d all be dead if it weren’t for that dragon queen. Get you a friend like Missandei, defending your honor even on the brink of the apocalypse.
In the Godswood, Theon can see that the trench has been lit, which means they’re seconds from being thrown into battle. He takes this last second of wight-free time to attempt to apologize to Bran for all the sh*t he’s pulled over the years. Bran, in classic three-eyed raven nature, doesn’t let him, telling Theon that everything he’s done has brought them to that moment. This is a theme throughout the episode, as it becomes clear that a lot of the suffering we’ve endured has been to ensure that every single one of these people was present at this exact time. Doesn’t make any of the last nine years any easier, but it’s nice to know we didn’t all cry in vain.
Bran: I’m going to go now.
Theon: …..I’m sorry but what?
Bran wargs into a flock of ravens and suddenly we’re back up above the gates of Winterfell. The trench appears to have worked, leaving all of the wights lined up on the other side, staring into Winterfell. Bran continues to fly until he reaches the Night King, who is now ready to join battle as well. Remember when the Internet thought he wouldn’t show up at Winterfell? The joke is on all of us.
The novelty of the burning trench lasts for all of ten seconds, at which point the wights start throwing themselves onto the flames one by one. Slowly but surely, there are enough bodies to smother the fire, and a tiny bridge has been created for them to cross through.
Everyone in the castle braces for an attack, with Jaime, Brienne, Jorah, Tormund, Gendry and Podrick leading the arches up top, and Lyanna and House Mormont holding the yard below. This is when things truly started getting grim.
The only shining beacon of hope at the moment is Arya, who is flying through wights with the special weapon she had Gendry make for her. Davos is watching from a few feet away, equal parts terrified and impressed, probably looking into adoption papers. Same.
Arya: * murdering zombies left and right, looking like a graceful queen while she does it *
But soon Arya is overcome by the masses, and seeing her almost fall is enough to break the Hound out of the existential crisis he’s been having on the sidelines. The combination of all that fire and the never-ending onslaught of wights was really taking a toll on him.
Beric: Get your sh*t together, Clegane
The Hound: We’re literally all going to die. We can’t beat death.
Arya: * back flipping through the background * WANNA BET
Speaking of tolls, y’all ready for our next death? Down in the yard, the gates of Winterfell splinter to pieces to reveal the giant zombie Wun-Wun. In all the chaos I forgot that there was a literal giant on the side of the Night King. He busts through the gates and knocks Lyanna Mormont to the side before he starts wrecking everyone in sight.
She recovers and charges him, only to be picked up and crushed to death in his giant hands. For a couple horrifying seconds it looks like Wun-Wun was going to eat Lyanna, at which point I was already crafting my home sick email to my boss for the next day. But with her last living breaths, Lyanna leans forward and stabs Wun-Wun in the eyes with her dragonglass dagger. They both go down and Lyanna dies as she hits the ground. This small child singlehandedly took down one of the biggest threats in the Night King’s army, while Jon pirouetted through the air, trying not to collide with his girlfriend. Queen of the North, indeed.
Up in the sky, Jon and Dany finally break through the cloud cover and get about a second of peace before Viserion and the Night King come barreling up through the clouds. A chase scene ensues that only leaves me wondering how high into the atmosphere these people can fly before dying? Like, there’s no way they can breathe up there? There’s not even handles on these dragons? This is no time for nit-picking scientific accuracies, and yet here I am.
Inside the library of Winterfell, a nightmare is unfolding that is giving me PTSD flashbacks to the scene in Jurassic Park where the children are hiding from the velociraptors in the kitchen. The wight have made it inside the castle, but instead of a screaming horde they’re now actually just wandering around like slow, meandering zombies. Arya is dodging them in the stacks of the library, because apparently they only operate off of sound? And not smell? Sure.
She tosses a book to distract them all and barely escapes through the doors, only to alert them all to her presence by sighing too loudly. A girl can truly not catch a break. Neither can the wrinkles in my forehead, which deepened a whole two inches just watching Arya sprint through the castle in utter horror, bleeding from the forehead and narrowly avoiding being killed four separate times.
Down in the crypts, the sounds of battle are starting to permeate through the walls. The children are dead silent. Varys looks like he’s about to sh*t himself. Tyrion is drinking. All in all, things are bad and then they hear a swarm of bodies crash against the door. It’s soldiers from the living side’s armies, who are yelling for them to open the door as they’re being attacked by wights. The screaming lasts about ten seconds before everything goes silent again. No one even moved an inch towards the door.
It’s moments like this that make me really glad that Sansa and Tyrion are down in the crypts and not someone with a mile wide honorable streak *cough* JON *cough*. The two of them are pragmatic enough to know that they can’t save everyone, and that trying to do so would probably get the rest of them killed anyway. Jon would have opened that door, and in doing so ensured the death of everyone who was put down there to hide in the first place.
The Hound and Beric have made their way inside the halls of Winterfell and come across Arya in just the nick of time, who crashes through a door and is tackled to the ground by wights. They pry them off her and start sprinting away, but not before Beric is repeatedly in the chest. The three of them make it into the great hall and manage to barricade the doors before Beric falls to the ground and dies in Arya’s arms.
Melisandre appears, apparently immune to things like walls and zombie wars, and completes her third and final act of greatness for the day: spurring Arya to action. She reminds them of the time they first met, during Gendry’s kidnapping, when Melisandre predicted that Arya would kill many people—people whose eyes are brown, green, and …. BLUE. Did Melisandre predict that Arya would kill the Night King all the way back in season three? Did Beric know that he was meant to keep her alive for that very purpose? Has this entire show been hurtling towards this moment? I’m not sure, but I’m ready to spend the next seven days obsessing over it.
As the wights come crashing against the door, Melisandre gives Arya the strength she needs to go out and finish this sh*t.
Melisandre: What do we say to the God of Death?
Arya: Not today.
Every single person watching:
Things are really escalating on the battle front. The wights have full swarmed the Godswood, and Theon is shocking everyone by holding it down while the rest of the Iron Borne die left and right. Brann sits, entirely unperturbed, still watching bird TV as people are getting massacred all around him.
In the sky, the Night King runs Viserion full force into Winterfell, unleashing his blue fire all across the side of the castle just as Jon and Rhaegal crash into him. They start battling it out up above the battlefield, and eventually both Jon and the Night King fall to the ground.
Dany pulls up above them on Drogon, makes direct eye contact with the Night King, and then unleashes a Dracarys on him. It was far too triumphant a moment for any of us to believe that it would work, which was proved seconds later when the fire dissipates and the Night King is left their SMIRKING AT HER.
Fire cannot kill a dragon, which begs the question…. Is the Night King a Targaryen? It’s possible and I’m exhausted at the very thought of it. This man has gotten far too human and far too confident this episode. He’s just swagging his way across the battlefield towards Winterfell all by himself, laughing at people. The audacity.
Jon tries to catch up to him, under the very mistaken impression that he’s about to singlehandedly take down the Night King. Sorry, that role has already been assigned, my dude. Instead, the Night King turns around, lets Jon get about ten feet closer, and then slowly starts to lift his arms, raising the thousands of dead people surrounding them as he does it. Literally the entire battlefield stands up as Jon limps his way towards the Night King. Inside, we’re treated to an especially horrendous moment as Lyanna Mormont opens up her now electric blue eyes. Talk about adding insult to injury.
The Night King leaves Jon to deal with the newly resurrected sea of wights and takes a couple jaunty steps towards the Godswood. Honestly, he’s having way too much fun. Dany flies down to save Jon’s ass for the 100th time this episode, distracting the dead as Jon runs off to try and beat the Night King to Bran.
Dany makes the mistake of staying on the ground for too long, and suddenly Drogon is overcome by wights. He knocks her off and then attempts to fly away with hundreds of them on his back, leaving Daenerys alone and unprotected on a battle field for potentially the first time ever. But fear not, because before things can get truly dire, Jorah appears out of absolute thin air to defend her.
As Jon passes through the yards of Winterfell and watches each of his friends fight losing battles, it starts to become clear that things are not going to end well here. The ceiling is collapsing, the wights are a ceaseless stream of death, and Sam is on the ground being straight up mangled. Jon passes by all of it, and the fact that he doesn’t try to save anyone is probably the greatest indicator that they’re on the losing side of this battle.
Inside, the wights begin to break through the walls of the crypt. It’s unclear whether they’d found a way in, or if these are the centuries old dead Starks coming back to life. Either way, it’s not a good change of events.
Tyrion and Sansa have taken cover behind a tomb, and I am truly glad that they are sharing what is quite possibly their last moments on Earth together. Further proving her worth, Sansa refuses to go down without a fight and pulls out the dagger that Arya gave her. Tyrion does the same, before grabbing her hand and kissing it. This is the most platonic love scene I’ve ever witnessed, and the effect is not at all lessened by the fact that you can hear young children screaming and dying in the background.
Watching what looks like the end of times, losing any semblance of hope by the second as the noise begins to dim and haunting music plays over the single most depressing sequence of fight scenes I have ever seen, I can’t even believe there was a time on this show when we were worried about anything but the White Walkers. Like, the days of Joffrey are straight-up laughable right now. All former grudges are dropped as each of our heroes stares straight into the depths of hell that are charging throughout Winterfell. We are all on one team, and it’s called “Team Too Traumatized to Go to Work Tomorrow.”
Finally the supercut of death and despair stops as the Night King arrives in the Godswood, flanked by his generals and a couple hundred wights. All of the Iron Borne are dead, leaving just Theon between Bran and the White Walker army. It is very obvious what direction this is about to go in, and only becomes more so when Bran calls to Theon and tells him that he’s a good man.
With that single sentence, the only thing that he has ever wanted to hear, Theon has effectively completed his redemption arc. He thanks Bran and turns to the Night King, charging at him and then being almost immediately speared through the torso. Theon Greyjoy dies protecting Bran Stark, but more importantly, he dies a good man. Sorry for saying that you didn’t deserve Sansa last week. I stand by it, but at least feel guilty about it now.
As the Night King slowly marches towards Bran, always one to heighten the drama, he looks more human than I’ve ever seen him. Except for that one time when he used to actually be human. I don’t know if that’s just because he’s never had this much consistent screen time, or because I’m suffering from an entire mental break. Both seem plausible.
In an episode chockfull of longing, meaningful eye contact, Bran and the Night King truly take the cake. This thousand-year-old zombie takes his sweet-ass time slowly reaching for Bran, and just as he’s about to reach him, just as Viserion is about to straight up torch Jon out in the yard, Arya comes flying out of the fog to stab the Night King.
In the single most important scene in TV history, the Night King catches Arya’s mid-air, and she drops her dagger from her raised left hand to her lowered right, stabbing him in the chest.
Arya Stark saved humanity. Beric Dondarrion and the Hound were both resurrected to keep her alive long enough to kill the Night King. Syrio Forel, Jaqen H’gar, Melisandre, the Faceless Men—all of them lead her to this moment.
She murdered the Night King, with the dagger that was meant to kill Bran, in the exact spot where she asked Jon how he possibly could have survived being stabbed in the heart only days earlier. There were a hundred clues that led to this moment and we didn’t pick up on a single one because no one dared believe that this battle could actually be won.
Arya Stark is truly THAT BITCH.
love letter to arya pic.twitter.com/3sftUXog7f
— 𝐈𝐃𝐄𝐍𝐓𝐈𝐓𝐘 ⌖ (@kiminostaythere) April 29, 2019
All cross Winterfell, the wights begin to fall. Viserion crumbles to dust before he can blast Jon with blue fire. We flash across the faces of the living, and it’s almost impossible to believe that most of our favorites are still standing.
Sansa. Tyrion. Varys. Gilly. Sam. Little Sam. Missandei. Jaime. Brienne. Podrick. Tormund. Grey Worm. Gendry. The Hound. They’re all still alive. How are they all still alive. I haven’t breathed in an 80 minutes but it’s okay because THEY’RE ALL STILL ALIVE.
Except, well, Jorah. Out on the battlefield, he keeps the brand strong to his literal dying breath, going down defending Dany in a blaze of glory.
Jorah, laying on the ground with upwards of 45 stab wounds: I think I’m hurt.
He dies exactly the way he always wanted to, in Dany’s arms, her weeping over his body. This is truly best case scenario, okay? A dragon, I think Drogon but truly cannot stop crying enough to differentiate at this point, lands next to her and swaddles her with his body while she sobs into Jorah’s corpse. Just like that, the proud House of Mormont is gone.
As everyone looks around in disbelief, also shocked that they somehow survived, Melisandre makes her way out to the grounds. Davos follows her, still wary of this woman even though she showed up and save everyone’s asses.
Melisandre marches out onto the now still battlefield alone, removing her pendant as she goes. Without it, the magic that keeps her alive slowly starts to drain away, and Davos watches as her retreating figure slowly decomposes into dust. She falls just as the sun peaks over the horizon, making true on her promise to be dead by dawn. Much like Beric, she had completed her mission. Then the credits roll into silence, as if we hadn’t all spent that last hour and a half in a state of near cardiac arrest.
Was ten pages of that recap too long for you? Well TL;DR: Arya Motherf*cking Stark killed the Night King. The White Walkers are gone. And somehow, there are still three more episodes left.
I understand that the battle for the Iron Throne is the focal point of this entire show, but the fact that we’re concerned about literally anything happening after this is laughable. Like, I watched the trailer for next week and rolled my eyes. Oh, we’re still worried about Cersei? Arya just murdered a thousand-year-old zombie king, but yeah, the drunk woman who f*cks her brother is definitely still a viable threat.
On the other hand, this victory is going to leave everyone feeling a little too confident for my liking. Fresh off a victory like that, it would be easy to start taking things for granted and making stupid mistakes. What I’m saying is, we’re not out of the woods yet.
Most Valuable Betch: Melisandre
I know you probably think Arya should be carrying this title for the rest of her life, and you’re not wrong, but none of what she accomplished would have been possible if Melisandre hadn’t showed up and lit a literal and figurative fire under her ass. Our Red Witch Queen, always ready to do the hard jobs that others won’t. A little Machiavellian for my tastes, but you can’t argue with the results.
Images: Giphy (6)