Written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Some spoilers ahead, but not all of them (Meaning I tried to make this spoiler-free but gave up half way through).
'DUUUUUHHHHH, duhhhhh, duhduh-DUUUUUHHHHH, duhhhhh, duhduh-duh duh, duhduh-duh duh, duhduh-duh duh...'
The first move made in the Battle of Winterfell was to send the Dothraki horselords ahead to meet the legion of the dead face to face. Led by Ser Jorah Mormont, their swords set ablaze by the red priestess; they charge forwards into the darkness. As they gallop towards their futile yet heroic demise they shriek and holler with the thrill of the fight, as is the Dothraki way, loyal to their Khaleesi to the very end. From the viewpoint of the battlements, our heroes watch with fear and unreadiness as the sea of lights that signify the Dothraki hoard slowly flicker out of existence like a dimming fireplace, wonderfully conveying both the power of the opposing forces and the fragility of their situation. The lives of all men rest in their hands now, it will not be long before their lights too are snubbed out by the winds of winter. It’s a beautiful scene…
…but it’s so incredibly dumb.
Why did you send your cavalry to meet them head on like that Daenerys!? They could’ve worn down the flanks or patrolled behind a barricade, picking off any wights that broke through. I know their relevance to the plot has since passed but they could have still been useful in the battle. I half expected you to start sending each military unit one after another like lemmings. ‘Well, that’s the last of the Night’s Watch dead. You’re up next Theon.’ And I’m no military tactician, but I have played a few tower defence games in my time, so I’m a little bit baffled as to why you put your only barricade behind the infantry!? Surely it would have been better in-front of them so they wouldn’t be so easily overwhelmed. Indeed, by putting it behind them, all you achieved was to hinder the retreat, causing far more deaths in the process. And don’t get me started about putting the trebuchets on the front-line.
That being said, tactical farts aside, I did quite enjoy this battle. It was very pretty, or at least I imagine it was (it was very dark), and it sounded pretty too. There was very little dialogue, especially so for a TV show like Game of Thrones, so the soundscape was mostly a chaotic percussion of grunts, growling and gutsy splooshes with a nice melancholic instrumental section creeping in for the climax. With the gap in the curtain positioned so perfectly that there was an ugly square of glare right down the centre of my Mum’s TV, I had to use these sounds to figure out who I was watching. ‘That sounds like Tormund to me. Doesn’t sound like he’s in agony though, so he’s not dead yet.’ I’m not blaming the show-makers for this of course. They had a lot of considerations to occupy their creative decisions already, so I can understand why the position of the sun relative to my Mum’s window was low on their list of priorities.
There were a few deaths of course, and though I wasn’t too saddened by them, they felt fitting. Each of the named characters that fell carried with them an impact which brought their arc (if they had one) to a satisfactory end. This neatness, however, is quite divergent from how death has been treated in previous seasons. Mostly, each named character death has been sudden and disruptive, a consequence of some person’s action or inaction that brings with it a whole new set of counter-consequences. Even Joffrey’s death wasn’t completely satisfying; though it was good to see an inarguably immoral character get his arguably just rewards, it did put characters like Sansa and Tyrion in a tricky position. The character deaths in this episode though fitting, are also very tidy, and bring no complications to the continuing plot. But then again, these arcs and plot threads need to come to an end at some point; if everything had a consequence the show would not end.
However, this is not to say there are no complications whatsoever. The next episode thankfully brought the politics back, and also the consequential deaths. I was very glad to see characters like Tyrion, Varys and Sansa weighing up the different angles of approach, with treachery coming up as potentially the most noble action. These debates and conflicts within the dialogue have intrigued me towards the events of the episodes to come, which I’m now very much looking forward to.
This fourth episode also unfortunately brings its own awful tactics again. Dragons are the best sorts of scouts one can hope for, they can scan the field ahead from high above, far beyond the range of any arrow or ballista and know the lay of the land hours ahead of the rest of an army. Yet they fail to spot an ambush of an entire fleet of ships hiding behind a cliff!? It’s easily the most unintentionally laughable decisions of the series so far. Characters have made bad decisions before but this one was made with no reason behind it. That’s not to say an ambush couldn’t have been sprung well and effectively within the context of the story. The dragons could have been closing in on a small group of what they perceive to be Greyjoy supply ships moored on the beach (as per the plan decided upon earlier in the episode), only for the Greyjoy crew to then reveal the ballistae hidden amongst the sand. They could then rein fire upon the dragons, when they’re already very close, and more believably bring them down when the rest of the Northern ships are too far away to help. It would be an attack sprung in direct consequence of the dragon’s/Daenerys’s actions rather than some random pot-shot that should’ve been seen a mile off.
The state of mind Daenerys has been put in from this however sets the final two episodes to be a rollercoaster. And, aside from ‘bittersweet’ I have no idea how it all should end. I’m pretty sure that Daenerys is going to go a bit murdery like every other one of her ancestors and I’m pretty sure the climax of the story will be of her demise; but what should become of the throne or Westeros as a whole, I can’t say.
What did surprise me is that the Others will play no part in it. My money was on this story to end with them, considering they were the first things to be introduced in the very first scene/chapter of the series. But the entire Winter is Coming thread came to an end in episode 3 with the entire Army of the Dead getting ‘Phantom-Menaced’ by Arya. I will say, I did quite enjoy this climax to the battle at first; but that was before I remembered the existence rest of the series. A thread since the start of the books and show has been the prophecy of Azor Ahai, The Prince that was Promised, the concept of a legendary figure common all across Westeros and Essos (Especially among the Red Priests) who will wield a red sword named Lightbringer and hold back the darkness. Many characters have been believed to be Azor Ahai throughout the story, Daenerys, Jon, Stannis, but the show seems to indicate it was Arya all along. The only foreshadowing for this whatsoever happened earlier in this very episode. Prophesies have been misread countless times before in the world of Game of Thrones but they’ve always fitted. There are numerous prophecies regarding Azor Ahai which could be interpreted in just as many different ways, but Arya simply doesn’t fit them at all. I get the feeling they chose to do what they felt would be better for the moment than better for the story as a whole.
The same goes for Bran and the Three-Eyed-Raven. I mean, what exactly was the point of his journey in the end? Yes, he saw the truth of Jon’s parentage, but Samwell found the exact same information in Oldtown. He was set up to be so important to the ‘higher’ conflict of mankind and the White Walkers but he ended up being used as nothing more than bait. I get the feeling they’re done with the magical otherworldly side of this universe and that we’re not going to get any more world building or questions answered regarding the Children of the Forest, the Others (White Walkers) or the Three-Eyed-Raven. I’m willing to be wrong, and it’s a shame that we won’t get to learn more, but it looks to me that magic has been taken out of the picture.
Maybe Bran still has a part to play, maybe the real darkness is Daenerys, and Jon Snow is still Azor Ahai. Will the following two episodes be able to answer all the biggest questions posed by the two prior? I hope so.
The writers have an ending to reach that has been set in stone (or at least, fairly dry clay) since the conception of the series and they have limited episodes to reach it. They’re making a b-line to the end out of necessity; the contracts of the major actors are almost up. But unfortunately for us the direct path is full of road bumps and plot holes which the writers are having to make leaps of logic to over-come. I am far too proud of that last line for my own good, I need to be stopped. Will they be able to tie up the loose ends together into something whole and satisfying, or, will they concoct something messy and unearned leaving us all with an empty pit in our stomachs? At this rate, the answer is yes.
I give these episodes a 5/7 for being being fairly good in their own right, but falling short in some tactical decisions on both the parts of the characters and the show-runners
Edit: I have a new theory that the third head of the dragon, the Prince that was Promised and the true heir to the throne will be revealed to be Hot-Pie. My reasoning? 'He shall be born amongst smoke and salt' - sounds like a kitchen to me, and Lightbringer could be the pair of tongues he used to take the pies out of the oven. Also, Gendry and Arya were both lordlings in hiding with secret identities so it makes sense that Hot-Pie was as well. He's Rhaegar and Elia Martell's son, the real Aegon Targaryen. The timeline adds up. I've figured it out. He's also the Night King because why not