An all-time episode clears the path for Game of Throne’s final episodes.
To get a truly visceral reaction to Episode 3 of Game of Thrones, The Battle of Winterfell, my show notes should be published. Typos, extra-long expletives, and exclamation points everywhere. Fair and honest reporting.
I’ll say that for the all the expectations that The Battle of Winterfell had put on it—longest episode in the show’s run, longer battle sequence than The Battle of Helm’s Deep (JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings), living vs. the dead, director Miguel Sapochnik—it exceeded already lofty expectations. This will be the episode that Arya Stark officially became Throne’s best character.
The episode itself was a clinic on tension, agoraphobia, and claustrophobia, even if the technical aspects of the battle is discarded. Sapochnik is a master of battles. The on-the-ground Saving Private Ryan aesthetic, makes everything that much more visceral. The editing was loose, but intentional. War is sloppy. It may be a little thing but having the fog of war be the snow The Night King brings to the fight, was the right move. And the music has never been so good. Truly menacing.
Does Winterfell top Helm’s Deep? No, if only because they’re playing different sports. Helm’s Deep was essential to the Lord of the Rings film franchise that broke up a lot of monotony and even more walking. Winterfell may have been billed as a title fight but there are moments when character relationships broke through, and it’s all you could think about.
As soon as secret MVP Melissandre reappeared, you immediately thought of her and Ser Davos. When Mel and Arya had their moment and seasons-long callback/prophecy—Jon and Dany obviously—but moreover to Sansa and Tyrion who finally had the conversation that was hoped for in the first episode of the season.
Some may be surprised by the shockingly low number of character deaths in the episode. The low count felt expected, considering the last episode took moments to celebrate fan favorites. We’ll probably see the same thing in death. Sure, it makes sense for Brienne and Jaime to die in a battle. But given the epic proportions of the show and what this episode meant, any major character deaths would have felt hollow. Lady Mormont, Jorah, Beric, and Edd will be missed.
Also, dragon battles. Viserion versus Drogon and Rhaegal was everything that could be hoped for. The one specific shot with the two dragons above the clouds with a half crescent moon—that’s what Medieval fantasy books and (stoner) posters are made of.
Visually, Sapochnik gives the close quarters of “Watchers on the Wall,” the tension of “Hardhome” and the sheer carnage of “Battle of the Bastards.” If you’re looking for an instant-classic episode that will be discussed in film schools, here you have it.
Thematically, the episode is tied to a line Sansa Stark said, “The most heroic thing we can do is look truth in the face.”
Now that a seemingly all-powerful supernatural being isn’t trying to destroy the known realm. We can get a better glance at everyone’s true colors.