THERE WILL BE SPOILERS, ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK
I was amazed and surprised to see that I wasn't the only one that had an idea to talk about setup and payoff and Game of Thrones this week! The lovely Emma Clare did it ahead of me, and she presented a strong position about how the “Long Night” and the battle (and resolution regarding the Night King) was underwhelming and unfit for the long setup leading up to the climax.
I am not here to refute it.
I certainly see her point. I can understand how expectations can be set up in such a way that when an unexpected event steers the entire plot and narrative to a different direction, the audience rebels and rejects the development.
For me, when the audience reacts in such a way, it speaks for the high level of engagement and quality of the plot that has been unravelling (take the verb as you like) up to now. It tells me that the creators have spun a tale that has managed to make audiences have strong emotions about it, and as a result, strong expectations.
That doesn't mean the expectations have to be correct.
I haven't read the GoT books- that's on purpose. I plan to read them after the series ends. And my reasoning behind this is that I will get to enjoy both much more if I wait to read the source material (that I expect will be superior) after the adaptation is done.
So what I'm about to say relies ONLY on having watched the series through, and nothing more.
I didn't find the Long Night episode underwhelming. On the contrary, I found it viscerally exciting and an excellent payoff for everything the show has been building up. And ironically, it might be for the exact reasons that Emma (and a lot of others) validly have found it to be the exact opposite.
The battle was hard to see, chaotic and consisted of a plan that was arguably stupid and also collapsed ten minutes into the fight.
I LOVED it.
Because in real life, that's often how things go. The plan isn't suited for the enemy it's supposed to handle, mostly because none of these people have much experience facing an army of the dead. They are ill prepared, they are overwhelmed and they are afraid of them. They are panicking and they are spooked and when people are in this headspace, they make mistakes. Grave mistakes.
Besides, in the Battle of the Bastards, we got a taste of the (lack) of strategy one of the key leaders has, and Daenerys hasn't been too strategic about battle plans either (relying on her dragons too much, and also relying on her Dothraki as if they were another dragon).
For me, this total shambles of a battle was absolutely realistic regarding who we had in the leadership.
The Night King died without an epic fight with Jon Snow, taken out quickly essentially by the graduate of the Faceless Men School of Efficient Mission Impossible Killers.
And that is also great.
For millenia, the Night King has only had to face armies coming to him head on. He's been comfortable in his own superiority, and I doubt he drew his sword at all for say, the last few centuries of activity. He's simply that powerful, and like Daenerys, he relies on his army of the undead to do the dirty work for him. He's had no need for strategy or for alertness for things that go bump in the night.
Even so, when Arya attacks him, he does catch her, breaking that attack. But he's not used to assassins, and he's not used to entertaining the idea he can be injured, let alone killed. So of course he doesn't see her trick coming, and of course he's ended by her.
To me, the Long Night manages to masterfully display how both sides were undone by their own preconceptions and weaknesses. I really liked the way it was shot, I really liked to see the characters unable to efficiently deal with the Night King.
And now, for the setup and payoff.
What is Game of Thrones? Is it like Lord of the Rings, where everything hinges on destroying Sauron? Is the biggest problem in Westeros the Night King and the White Walkers and the wights? Who is the biggest enemy, the biggest vice against which every single character has to be measured?
In my opinion and in the way the show at least is set up, the biggest threat for Westeros is the Game of Thrones. This is the vice that has destroyed so many. This is what has propelled and motivated everyone so far to commit acts, and still others to react to them.
So the Night King couldn't have been the big bad, and wouldn't be killed in the very end. Either he'd be killed off at the first battle and be done with it, or he wouldn't be killed off at all, and he'd end up destroying Westeros and all of the humans. There couldn't be a third option in my eyes, because what GoT is exploring is how much the quest for power can destroy humans as groups and as individuals.
And as for Arya and her capacities- everything in her story arc culminates to this: being the ultimate assassin. And in a battle, you might expect to be killed, but you don't expect to be assassinated.
Will she be able to continue beyond this? I doubt it. Her deed is too great for her to remain Faceless.
And what about the Azor Ahai and the missed opportunity for the prophecy to be actualized? I don't think the Azor Ahai this time has come to defeat the darkness of the Night King who wasn't the Great Other's as far as I know. I think he's going to be up against the darkness of King's Landing and the Great Other.
And what now, from now on?
From now on, it's the game of thrones that we're up against, and that might end up being the one thing everyone falls to.
I'm all for watching to see what happens.
Now, is my interpretation, and what the setup (and payoff) was for me right or wrong? It's neither. It's what I've taken from this entire show and this entire premise as it develops. And how about Emma's? About the same :)
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, May 4, 2019
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