“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” — 1 Corinthians 15:26
Game of Thrones has always dabbled in doom and gloom (yes this is a shot at how hard it was to see what was going on in the episode in its darker moments). It’s a show that gained its earlier popularity in the moments where it subverted the expectations of its viewers from Ned’s death in Baelor, to the Red Wedding in The Rains of Castamere to Oberyn getting his head turned into porridge in The Mountain and the Viper. The show gained strength in those moments because it established a different set of rules for its characters. Many will liken it to a show like The Walking Dead, believing that no major character is safe. I’ve always disagreed because it felt more like the writers had established a world in which the choices of the characters mattered, and there would be consequences for foolish ones that could be traced back seasons or even generations before the first scene of the pilot episode.
With that being said, it’s safe to say that this has become a different show in its last few seasons. While I’ve criticized the showrunners, Benioff and Weiss during certain runs of the show (especially after running out of book material to base the show on), it would be a crime to ignore what they’ve been able to accomplish on the vast foundation that was provided to them by George R.R. Martin. They’ve done their best, and what that has yielded is quite literally the biggest and most well-produced television show in history. This has been no small feat when considering the amount of characters, plots, set-pieces etc. that needed to come together to make this production a possibility and for the most part they’ve excelled at it and they deserve all the praise. While I have my criticisms about the direction of the story, after the final season’s third episode, The Long Night, I think that it’s important to remember as the final three episodes approach that the show-runners have taken the show to a point that is above criticism when we consider the scale of the story that they are telling.
The Long Night is the most exhilarating episode of television since the series, Breaking Bad’s penultimate episode, Ozymandias.With a run-time of 82 minutes, Game of Thrones’s most anticipated episode delivered pure chaos with every beat through the points of view of several of our favorite characters, fighting for their lives against pure despair in the form of the Night King and his 100,000-strong army of wights. While many will argue that the conclusion of this battle was anticlimactic (and I’m one of them), I think it’s best to focus on the main positive narrative in this episode that comes to us in the form of everyone’s new favorite heroine, Arya Stark, and where her journey has taken her so far.
The quote at the top of this post is a bible passage that has been co-opted by different stories over decades whether they realize it or not. They serve as a reminder that those who believe in Jesus are above the powers and finality of death. That they have nothing to fear because the grave can’t hold them. It’s also a reminder to keep living and to shun evil in its many forms. Because if there wasn’t anything after we die, then why even try at all?
We see this ideology realized in Sam’s speech in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers when he reassures Frodo that they need to keep fighting for the good in the world. The bible passage’s words are what Harry Potter finds engraved on the headstone of his parents’ grave reminding him that he has no choice but to keep fighting against evil. In Game of Thrones, two instances of this come to mind. The latter being in Lord Beric’s (RIP) conversation with Jon Snow back in the Season 7 episode, “Beyond The Wall” aka “Dumbest Plan Ever”, and the former occurring all the way back in Season 1 during Arya’s lessons with Syrio Forel, her dancing instructor. And of all the things that Arya has learned throughout her journey, I’d argue this is the message that stuck the most.
As The Hound yells “we’re fighting death. You can’t beat death”, Arya showed the bravery that runs through her family as all the lessons she learned in Season 1 must have run through her head. “Fear cuts deeper than swords”. “Quiet as a shadow”. “Quick as a snake.” “Calm as still water.” “The man who fears losing has already lost.” Words that made a girl Arya Stark, the one who shunned the idea of being a lady-wife to some nameless lord because she knew that wasn’t who she was meant to be. And it all lead to the moment when she saved the people in Winterfell by destroying the Night King and by proxy, his numerous forces in one quick blow.
Other chapters were closed in this episode, delivering the payoffs of Jorah Mormont’s and Theon Greyjoy’s final acts of redemption. Yet they’re overshadowed (as seen by the internet’s immediate reaction) by the arc of a young girl who was thought dead by many for years. A young teenager that went on a ridiculous journey as her childhood was ripped away from her, training for this very moment. A woman that felt fear realizing the enemy that she was facing, yet was able to steel herself to make the killing strike when remembering the mantra that’s stuck with her, the words that made her who she is today. This was Arya Stark’s episode and the rest (including Jon) were all supporting characters. It’s this line of thinking that’s allowing me to ignore the anticlimactic feel of the end of the wight threat, but it’s also a reminder that the dawn will always be there for the heroes that are willing to withstand the night.