The Long Night Battle for Winterfell: When Game of Thrones Lost the Plot
I feel so bad, so dirty, even contemplating writing a bad word about the wonder of George R.R.’s creation. And knowing that George’s creation has been sullied by the murky Hollywood Shadow Gods of television production is somewhat relieving. I feel some solace in not taking aim directly at the world’s greatest living writer, and know wholeheartedly that if the impatient readers and gluttonous executives had been blessed with the good and decent sense to get off George’s back and stop demanding he write the ending asap, showcasing a complete lack of understanding about the time and work that goes into writing epic fiction, and all been gracious enough to just let the story bleed from George’s knowing hands and to its conclusion in its own good time then…this could all have been avoided. But that’s not what happened, it’s not something the televisual fantasy world we live in is able to allow, and it’s not how this game was played. So, here come the trolls. I’m so sorry.
First and foremost, and clearly nothing to do with George, but you couldn’t bloody see anything from about the 5th minute to the 40th, nothing. As Frank Drebin would say, “Like a blind man in an orgy, I was going to have to feel my way around.” The viewer had no idea what was happening, who was who, up from down, dragon from ghost, wight from unsullied. Now, you can say that’s all part of the plan, man, it created so much tension but sorry, this is billed as the greatest television event in the history of Earth. Sorry, but television is a visual storytelling medium and if you can’t see what’s going on, and want to write it off, telling me how the sound and the score was so amazing, yeah good on ya, it was, but nup, not good enough for the visual storytelling game we’re immersed in here. George would not be impressed.
Second, the endless crucial story points of convenience. Now, I’ve stolen this directly from William Goldman, screenwriter extraordinaire, I like to think of a story as a writer taking a ball of string, which could have a million different stories along it, and tying up two points of that string as the specific story’s beginning and end. And, most crucially, the string itself, old and wily, has all sorts of fragments straying off the main branch as you go, but they're all coherent and integral to the string itself, to the greatness of the story, and being tied off beautifully at the conclusion, coming together as if by magic for a thunderous finale, the grand emotion, the point you believe in the beautiful wreck of humanity itself and that the fabric of great storytelling is woven tight in your DNA, older than time.
This is George R.R. Martin’s specialty, his bread and butter, what makes him a writer known the world over. Every fragment of his story, the most complex and intricate and amazing story imaginable, it all comes together, it all makes sense in the end, every piece of the puzzle, every strand of string, no matter how bizarre or mysterious, will ultimately carry such tremendous weight and significance that you simply can’t comprehend how gargantuan is the brain in George’s noggin to have sculpted this all so perfectly.
Ok, so what tied together in any way whatsoever in The Long Night Battle? What rose above the basic conception of wanting to have epic, scary shit going on, but for those same cinematic moments to still actually make coherent sense to the rules of the world that’s been so beautifully created? Most of what took place were nothing more than story points of convenience designed to win cheap cinematic points but carried no storytelling weight when all is said and done. Here goes:
1/ Melisandre just waltzes in from the exact same direction as the Army of the Dead, somehow very conveniently sidestepping the biggest threat to humanity in history. Hmm, ok. Oh, you’re here to light up all these Dothraki arakhs. Cool. Looks epic! I’m loving this. Rightoh lads, the most brutal, savage and fearless warriors ever. Off you go! And we can see them too, fire blazing everywhere. My retinas thank you! And then they all get killed in a heartbeat, as if they were lemmings racing off a cliff. Not a single member of the Army of the Dead seems to have been affected by the Dothraki’s firey arakhs and screaming woobawoobawooba’s. Cheers Melisandre, great you made it down from where ever you came from for that. Oh, it was to have the firey visual for cinematic effect…got it.
And, I wouldn’t have a problem with any of this, but when the Army of the Dead then march on Winterfell, such fearless warriors as Sam Tarly seem more than able to hold them back and knock a few heads in. Even a little girl, gutsy to the core though she is, is able to get flung with the force of a giant and get up again, no biggie, and shove a dragonglass dagger through that same dead giant’s eye. Yeah, little girls everywhere (who I hope don’t actually watch this show) can go to sleep happy, believing they are that same little girl. Cool. But it’s not how Game of Thrones works. That’s a Disney fairy tale. This is not what we signed up for so long ago when little kids were gleefully pushed out of tower windows by sister-fucking Prince Charmings, where swash-buckling bisexuals with perma-tans and gorgeous beards had one brief moment of hubris after successfully having the Mountain at death’s door in a trial by combat only to have his head crushed like a grape. That’s what we signed up for, sickos we all are, and what we’re being offered now is just meh…
2/ What point, if any, is there in Dany, Jon Snow and the Night King actually riding a dragon? Do the dragons not know what to do unless there’s someone on them? Does it seem a little hard to believe that any human could just hold on for the ride when these flying behemoths are swooping and dive-bombing, G-Forces surely greater than even Richard Branson could withstand? Yes, I know, dragons don’t exist, get over it mate! And yes, that is a very fair point! But nah, it just got ridiculous, took me completely out of the story. Oh, you want to have epic moments where Dany and Jon and the Night King are heroically flying round on these big boys, fighting and carrying on, got it. And again, couldn’t really see anything either, as usual for the episode.
3/ The Night King has marked Bran and knows exactly where he is, yeah? Why not forget about going through the entire castle of Winterfell and just scoot round the side, hop the fence at the nearest point to the Weirwood tree and say good night, Branny Boy? Don’t even hop the fence, just fly in on your dragon, burn the Three-Eyed-Raven to kingdom come and rid the world of its memories? Or Bran, knowing that the Night King is coming for him (because he told everyone an episode ago in an extraordinarily basic piece of exposition that the writers must surely be ashamed of themselves for making this whole story arc so incredibly simplistic) Bran could still have set himself up in the heart of the Winterfell fortress, thus allowing the pretence for the whole epic battle in the first place, and then relied on courageous cockless-wonder to wheel him quick sticks to the tree if they were so adamant of poetically killing off the Night King beside the Weirwood tree.
4/ The Winterfell crypt is full of the most vulnerable women, children, midgets and eunuchs who aren’t unsullied. Ok. And then the Night King does his arm raising trick (that is so gangster) and sets the dead of the crypt running rampant on what should be a buffet of easy pickings. Maybe I missed something, but pretty sure no one died? It just led to Sansa and Tyrion hiding behind a rock and seeming to talk of wedding plans? Kill them!! Kill them now you worthless Dead Army (the show writers that is). What is going on?
I could go on with all these bizarre story points of convenience in the episode that are so far removed from the wonder of George R.R.’s writing in which everything has an integral place and plays an important part to the eventual climax of the story. I hope it’s clear that this episode has been crafted by the usual desperado’s who want to see certain events on screen but have absolutely no idea of how to craft the entire story to ensure those same cinematic events they yearn for are actually plausible and essential to the story as a whole. None of that occurs in the Long Night Battle. And it’s a great shame. And, if anything, it makes you respect the previous episodes all the more.
And finally, third big gripe, and the hardest to swallow, let’s talk about the Night King…His death seems such a massive lost storytelling opportunity at this early stage. We have three full episodes to go and the primary cause of ongoing tension from the very outset of the series is just gone. Woooshka. Cya later. Come again. Oh no, that’s right, you can’t. I have no doubt that, given sufficient time to think this all through, George would have concocted some master plan of killing off this Dead Army mega threat in the final episode, along with everything else. But now, with this monumental source of fear and foreboding gone, I struggle to understand how the final three episodes can be little more than political manoeuvring. I don’t know. Something’s not quite right.
And much more disappointing than that, we can now never know what was the point of all the circular markings? What did the Night King really want, if not to rid the world of memories (which seems about the flakiest, most cerebral goal of any villain in the history of villains. He wants Alzheimer’s for the Earth?) No, no, no, the main game, The Night King, the mythical, mystical, villain to beat all villains is just killed off so effortlessly, so quickly, having just stood up to the dragon fire and smirked, but then this same bloke who’s been causing havoc for thousands of years is done and dusted with the same dagger that couldn’t kill a crippled boy asleep in his bed but somehow Arya snuck past every major in the Night King’s Dead Army, sprang like a gazelle and did the old drop the soap, stab him in the guts routine and it’s all over, bye bye birdy???
This just doesn’t feel right. And writing is the hardest thing you can ever try to do, and to create compelling stories from start to finish that live up the hype and capture the imagination of the entire world, holy holy holy, mind boggling stuff. And George has been able to do this so incredibly well for so long that our expectations are through the roof, and that’s never going to end well. But sheesh, something in me feels that this episode will come to be known as the decisive, divisive point where Game of Thrones lost the plot, where cheap cinematic points trumped true storytelling brilliance...And that’s altogether just very sad.
PS - Bran borged up and off flew the ravens but what happened next? You can’t be borging away beneath the magic tree and endangering everyone around you who’s protecting you and not do something to save the day. I feel like there was something edited out of this whole borging in the final cut, surely. It was just pointless. And that’s the point, George RR does not do pointless, does not write anything into his stories that doesn’t have some profound, deeper meaning. So, what is going on? Maybe it’ll all make sense in three episodes time. Fingers crossed. And can’t wait to see what is actually in the books, when it’s only George R.R.’s stamp of approval atop the print.
*Liam Carroll is the author of Slippery, a story about capitalism on steroids in the hedonistic cesspit wonderland of oil trading in Southeast Asia. It makes the world of Gordon Gecko look positively gentlemanly. His second novel, Sweet Dreams of Fanta, is a nostalgic romp in time back to the Sydney of 1988, seen through the eyes of a freckly, moon-faced, seven year old chubber, Fanta addict and devoted Balmain Tigers lover. And his third book, Hooroo Love, will be released soon, the story of a terminally ill 80year old man in rural Australia who sets off on his mobility scooter to journey 200kms to he and his wife's special place by the sea and fulfil her dying wish while he can.