WARNING: There are, obviously, spoilers below.
The Battle of Winterfell was crazy. Like, really crazy. If you’re anything like me, you’re still reeling from the big moments, and you might need a refresher on the details of what we saw. So, to recap:
The opening shot of the episode focuses on Sam’s shaking hands: he’s preparing for battle and he’s terrified. The others are taking their positions, too: Bran headed to the Godswood with Theon and his Ironborn, Tyrion to the crypts, and most of the others just outside the walls of Winterfell. Jon and Daenerys, on their two dragons, perch on high ground to watch the battle and see where their intervention is needed. Sansa, Arya, and Davos are on the ramparts, and all our other named characters, save those in the crypts, are on the front lines.
Out of the silent darkness, a rider appears alone: Melisandre. She asks Jorah, who stands at the front of the Dothraki horde, to tell them in their language to lift their swords (or arakhs, which are not actually swords, but apparently Melisandre doesn’t know her multicultural weapons). He does. Melisandre puts her hands on the nearest Dothraki’s arakh and chants, lighting it on fire — and with it the arakhs of all the other Dothraki. This done, she rides through into Winterfell, giving a friendly “valar morghulis” to Grey Worm, who responds with a respectful “valar dohaeris.”
Davos opens the gate for Melisandre, and when she is inside, she tells Davos there is no need to execute her, as she will be dead before dawn. He lets her pass. Meanwhile, the wights are coming, and the Dothraki riders give their famous battle cry and ride out to meet them, flaming arakhs held high. We see this from the perspective of the ramparts, and it’s a cool image, even if the flaming weapons do look a little like concert glowsticks from that distance. Can’t be helped. The Unsullied fire flaming projectiles to land amongst the wights, and the Dothraki attack, and it’s epic…until we see, from a distance, that their fires are going out one by one, being smothered by the mass of wights. Soon, almost all the Dothraki are dead. A single horse returns, followed by a few Dothraki on foot. Then the wights fall on the armies outside the gates of Winterfell. Above, Dany moves to go to their aid. Jon reminds her they’re supposed to be waiting for the Night King, but Dany points out that the dead are already there. They fly to battle. The dragonfire helps, but a cloud of ice and snow follows the wights, and it limits the flyers’ visibility. Things are looking grim as every named combatant character is shown scraping by against overwhelming forces.
Seeing the desperate situation the fighters are in, Arya sends Sansa to the crypts with a dragonglass dagger. “I don’t know how to use it,” Sansa protests, to which Arya responds: “Stick ‘em with the pointy end.” Back on the ground, the footsoldiers are fighting the dead, and Sam is down. Edd comes to his rescue, killing the wights that were attacking him, but gets stabbed in the back by another wight for his troubles. That marks the first named character death we see on screen this episode. The armies outside the gates are soon overwhelmed and a retreat is called. Grey Worm orders the Unsullied to protect the retreat, and they close ranks until everyone is through. The soldiers on the ramparts fire burning arrows at the trenches, hoping the create a wall of flame so that the wights can’t pass through, but the fire won’t take.
The Unsullied form a phalanx, and Melisandre walks through them to the trenches. She holds one of the pikes and chants words of power, but nothing happens. The dead are closing in when she finally gets the wall of flame to light. The wights go eerily still, waiting.
In the crypts, Varys is quipping and Tyrion is restless, thinking he might see something others are missing if he were above with the fighters. Sansa assures him he would be dead if he were, and that he can do nothing. “Maybe we should’ve stayed married,” Tyrion tells her (even though, as far as viewers have been informed, their marriage was never actually dissolved). “You were the best of them,” Sansa replies wryly. Then Sansa says it wouldn’t really have worked out, because the “dragon queen” would come between them. An irritated Missandei points out that they’d all be dead without the “dragon queen,” though since Sansa distinctly wouldn’t, we can only assume she is exaggerating out of anger.
Theon, seeing the trench is lit, knows it’s crunch time. He turns to Bran and tries to apologize for his prior behavior (you know, that whole “violently overtaking Winterfell and faking Bran’s death” bit) but Bran tells him it’s all right, because everything Theon did brought him “home” to Winterfell. Then Bran says, “I’m going to go now,” and wargs into a raven, which flies off to find the Night King. Said Night King is, predictably, off somewhere alone riding his wight dragon, and when Bran sees him, he reaches a hand out. Apparently, at this gesture, the wights begin to throw themselves on the flames, eventually smothering them so that their fellows can pass through. Then the wights begin to climb the walls of Winterfell, and bring the battle to the ramparts. It’s fierce, with several of our favorite characters being forced to save each other from near death (and may we point out, Brienne and Jaime save each other a lot). As wights begin to jump down the other side of the walls, we see the Hound having a full-on panic attack, which appears to be brought on by a mixture of his debilitating fear of fire and a robust case of PTSD. Beric calls him, but he cannot muster enough hope to fight…
Until Arya comes rolling over a nearby rooftop, pursued by wights. Seeing her fight, the Hound is able to leave his panic attack behind soon enough. Meanwhile, young Lady Lyanna Mormont, leading her troops, encounters a wight giant. He knocks her aside, but she stands back up and charges him. The giant grabs her, crushing her ribs with his hand, but dying or not, Lady Lyanna is still a registered badass. She lifts her sword and stabs him in the eye, causing the giant to turn to dust as she falls with him, dead.
Arya has retreated to Winterfell’s library, which has begun to be overrun by wights. She spends a tense few moments moving about the room silently to avoid their notice, and is eventually able to distract them and run for a door into a corridor. This proves to be an unlucky choice, however, as wights burst through not only the library door, but another door in the corridor as well. Arya runs.
Back in the crypts, the noncombatants hear noise, then shouting: soldiers begging them to open the door. Then they hear the sounds of wights killing those soldiers.
In the castle, the Hound is exploring with Beric Dondarrion, presumably looking for Arya. They find her: a door falls in front of them, and on it is Arya, wrestling with a wight. They extract her, but a wight stabs Beric in the leg, and this slows him down enough that the other wights are able to injure him further. They find a safe room, but by the time they do, Beric is already dying. This sad situation is made worse by the presence of Melisandre in the room. She tells Arya that Beric has served his purpose for the Lord of Light, which we guess is supposed to be comforting somehow. Arya observes that she has met Melisandre before, and they discuss a prophecy Melisandre made that Arya would one day become a killer. They hear the sounds of fighting far away, and Melisandre asks Arya, “What do we say to the god of death?” Arya, apparently not bothering to wonder where Melisandre heard the exchange she used to have with her swordsmanship tutor in King’s Landing, responds, “Not today.”
Outside the castle, the Night King flies in, his ice dragon hitting the walls with some of its unexplained but undoubtedly destructive ice-fire. Jon, riding Rhaegal, fights him, and the two dragons injure each other. The Night King is unseated and falls to the ground, and Jon falls off Rhaegal’s back as the dragon, now severely injured, fumbles his landing.
Daenerys, riding Drogon, sees the Night King on foot and utters her favorite order, “dracarys.” Drogon blasts him with some dragon fire, and the Night King is…fine. He’s fine, obviously. He throws an ice projectile at Drogon, who avoids it and flies off.
Jon charges the Night King, but the Night King uses this moment to make his move: he raises his hands, just like he did at Hardhome, and this causes all the dead from the battle to rise as well. That means, to our dismay, Edd and Lady Lyanna among the rest. The Night King leaves Jon to the wights, satisfied with a job well done.
The dead in the crypts reanimate just as the battle dead do. They attack the noncombatants hiding there. Jon is surrounded, but Dany lands near him, burning the wights that were attacking him and telling him to go to Bran. Wights begin climbing Drogon, covering him, and he has to fly up to shake them off — unseating Dany in the process. She is left among the wights, but before she can sustain any injury, Jorah finds her. While back in the godswood Theon runs out of oil for burning arrows, inside the walls Dany is forced to take up the dragonglass blade of a dead soldier to help Jorah fight off the wights.
In the crypts, Sansa and Tyrion are hiding behind a tomb together, and Sansa takes out the dragonglass dagger Arya gave her. They share a despairing look and clasp hands — and Tyrion kisses Sansa’s hand. We here at Contemptor don’t play favorites with Game of Thrones ships, but if we did, this would be our favorite.
In the godswood, Theon is the only fighter left alive, destroying wight after wight with just his dragonglass spear. Unbeknownst to him, the Night King is approaching to confront Bran. Then the wights stop moving and step aside. “Theon,” says Bran, “you’re a good man. Thank you.” And then the Night King approaches. Theon charges him, and the Night King kills Theon immediately. Then he continues to approach Bran.
Meanwhile, Jon is singlehandedly fighting the ice dragon, while Jorah and Dany are overwhelmed. Jorah is stabbed by a wight, then another. He falls to his knees, but stands back up, continuing to defend Dany.
The Night King reaches Bran. The two share a look of recognition, perhaps even communication. The Night King moves — and Arya falls on him, Valyrian steel dagger in hand. He catches her by the throat, and she drops her dagger — but she catches it before it falls, and stabs the Night King with it. He shatters into a pile of snow and ice, and the other White Walkers with him. All the wights fall. The battle is over.
At the castle, Jorah falls dead, and Drogon comforts a heartbroken Dany. As dawn approaches, Melisandre abandons her cloak and walks out amongst the carnage. She removes her necklace, the source of the glamour that keeps her looking young, and then begins to remove her dress. She rapidly ages, then turns to dust. The dress, which was half off, collapses.
What Does It Mean?
The Night King is dead! Long live the…Queen? King? We don’t know. The big bad that most fans expected would haunt our characters till the final episode is out of the picture now. Winterfell is damaged but can be salvaged. The Stark and Targaryen armies are deeply depleted, but most of the commanders still live. Looks like the final three episodes of the series will actually focus on the battle for the throne, which, despite the show’s title, comes across as a real plot twist.
Arya yeeting onto the Night King and stabbing him, saving Bran with the very same dagger that was used in an attempt to kill him in season one. No contest; this is one of the best moments in the show as a whole.
The Night King. Once a man of the North, he was long ago captured by the Children of the Forest and turned into a magical weapon against humankind. That’s a pretty all-consuming gig, so we can assume he’s basically just been doing that in the intervening millennia. He is survived by no one, because the survival of all his comrades depended on his existence.
Beric Dondarrion. This lord and knight gained his fame fighting with a burning sword, and after leaving courtly politics behind he formed a vigilante group called the Brotherhood Without Banners. At his side was Thoros of Myr (d.), a Red Priest of R’hllor, who resurrected Beric every time he was killed in battle. With Thoros dead at the hands of White Walkers last season, Beric could not be resurrected after dying of injuries sustained defending Arya from wights. He is survived by his comrades in the Brotherhood Without Banners, most notably Gendry and the Hound.
Lord Commander Eddison Tollett. Nicknamed “Dolorous Edd” by his brothers in the Night’s Watch, he befriended Jon in season one, and has been a loyal and principled brother to him ever since. On leaving the Night’s Watch, Jon’s last act as Lord Commander was to pass on the mantle to Edd, an unlikely candidate who has worn it well. He was honorable to the last, and died protecting his friend Sam in battle. He may be more familiar to book fans than show-only fans, but he will still be missed.
Lady Lyanna Mormont. The fierce child ruler of Bear Island has only been appearing for the last two seasons, but in that time she has won all our hearts with her outspoken and firm leadership and her principled view of the world. She died doing what she loved: one-upping the men around her with her courage and fighting skill. Oh, and she stabbed an undead giant in the eye while she was at it. This is one for the ballads.
Jorah Mormont. The son of Jeor Mormont (d.), former Lord of Bear Island and Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jorah was banished from Westeros when he was caught trading slaves as a young man. Once overseas, he joined the Targaryen cause, going with Dany as a translator when she was married off to Khal Drogo. He briefly betrayed Dany to King Robert in season one, but by the time the plot he was involved in came to fruition, he had fallen deeply in love with her and moved to save her. Being more than twice Dany’s age, he thereby made things weird, but his unwavering loyalty to Dany has still made him a fan favorite, as well as one of Dany’s best friends and closest advisors. He is survived by many friends and no family members.
Theon Greyjoy. Theon, son of Balon Greyjoy (d.), former Lord of the Iron Islands, was taken to Winterfell as a young boy and acted as a hostage for Balon’s good behavior following Robert’s Rebellion. He grew up as a foster-brother to the Stark children, but always felt a sense of alienation. As a young man, he returned to the Iron Islands to ask for his father’s aid on behalf of Robb Stark, and Balon’s disgust with him caused Theon to turn against his foster family, riding to Winterfell with his Ironborn and taking it over violently. He killed two local boys to fake Bran’s and Rickon’s deaths so they could escape, but he really did kill the maester and master-at-arms who helped raise him. Following this Pyrrhic victory, he was captured by Ramsay Bolton, who tortured him, castrated him, and brainwashed him. He eventually escaped with Sansa and rejoined his sister, Yara, who fights for Daenerys. He returned to Winterfell to fight for his Stark siblings, and died protecting Bran. He is survived by his sister Yara, his evil uncle Euron, and his Stark foster-siblings.
Melisandre. Dramatic to the last, the Red Priestess couldn’t even die without fulfilling one of her own prophecies. Still, she leaves many questions unanswered: will her predictions implying Jon will end up on the Iron Throne end up coming true? Powerful as she was, she had a spotty track record with predicting the future.