Something truly remarkable happened in Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 3: the massed armies of the undead besieged Winterfell, destroyed the most diverse, brave and fearsome fighting force ever assembled in the history of the Seven Kingdoms, swarmed over the castle walls, wiped out the garrison, then were joined by even more undead risen from the bodies of all the goodies they’d recently killed and began slaughtering whoever was left…Yet, when the mist and smoke cleared, you’ll never guess what: every single major character was still alive.
What are the chances, eh? Just to be sure I made some rough calculations of the various groups’ survival outcomes. Dothraki horde: 0 per cent; Unsullied: 0.01 per cent (assuming Grey Worm is still with us; it was hard to tell for reasons I’ll shortly explain); Armies of the North 0.02 per cent; likeable, long-running but expendable characters 50 per cent; womenfolk and kids trapped in crypt: 75 per cent. Starks, Lanisters, Targaryens: 100 per cent. A miracle, I tell you, a miracle!
I asked the Fawn what her verdict was. “Improbable”, she said. But I think she meant it affectionately. There are times – perhaps this was one of them – when you have to throw verisimilitude out of the window and chuck every piece of ludicrousness you’ve got left into the mix in order to bludgeon your audience into shattered, confused submission: dragons that can perfectly direct their fire so that it can kill everything around Jon Snow but not Jon Snow; that lone direwolf who doesn’t seem to do much except appear in brief cameo; Melisandre (eh? Where did she come from??); doomed, pointless cavalry charges; dragons-eye-view aerial shots; impossibly lengthy sword-fighting scenes up and down towers and along collapsing ramparts; unlikely moments of affection between Tyrion and Sansa; Lady Mormont v an undead giant; Theon Grayjoy revealing hitherto undisclosed martial brilliance; Arya channeling Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass; the endless scenes where key characters are totally, inescapably going to be overwhelmed by White Walkers but somehow – that means you Sam Tarly – come through unscathed.
You could mostly forgive this absurdly over-the-top episode its blockbuster excess, though, because it HAD to be this way. The Armageddon style confrontation between humans and the White Walkers was, after all, something we’d been yearning for right from episode one where we first glimpsed their evil in the woods and were promised that “winter is coming.” Anything less than stupidly outrageous would have been a total anticlimax.
This being said, there were some elements I couldn’t quite accept, the main one being the clear-as-fog visuals. At first I thought it was just me: either my failing eyesight or because I’d forgotten to download it in HD. Maybe, as others have suggested since, it’s something to do with compression issues and streaming. But a lot of the time it felt like watching the pirated Betamax version from Bangkok rather than the real thing.
It reminded me, rather, of that similarly annoying battle in the woods which opens Gladiator, where the editing is so rapid and jerky you can’t see what the hell is going on. Sure I appreciate the principle: often, as in another Ridley Scott picture Alien, what you don’t see plays more vividly on the imagination than what you do see. But I still think this is a cheat. If this was supposed to be the greatest battle on TV ever – and it should have been – then I would have preferred to see every rivet on the Unsullied’s helmets, every splinter of bone as the White Walkers scythed their way towards Winterfell, every scale on every dragon’s skin. The technology is there: so why couldn’t we enjoy all its fruits?
And about those crap tactics. Starting with that futile Dothraki charge… As someone said on Twitter: “Who opens a defensive battle by sending their cavalry into a frontal attack in the dark against a massive horde of enemy infantry? Amateur night.” The Unsullied weren’t much better. How come such a disciplined and hitherto insuperable force of spearmen suddenly forgot the importance of closing ranks until it was too late? The dragons were utterly wasted: one of the goodie ones should have taken on a ground strafing role while the other should have flown as top cover to protect his buddy from the Night King’s ice-breathing one. The defences in the castle were woefully inadequate – almost as though in this cod-Medieval world, no one knows anything about siege warfare. Why, when someone shouted “man the ramparts” weren’t the ramparts already manned, FFS?
The other problem you may have noticed – I certainly did – was the ongoing march of tedious wokeness. Yes, it’s true that menfolk acquitted themselves perfectly reasonably – several, including, dear old loyal Ser Jorah perishing as he always would have wished defending his beloved Khaleesi, dying nobly for their cause. But it’s the women who save the day: Daenerys with her dragons; the Red Woman with her witchcraft; Arya playing what has been described as the Mary Sue role – a Mary Sue being an improbably flawless heroine, such as we’re all getting rather too used to in Hollywood and on TV these days. If you’re a man on Game of Thrones and you really want to make a difference you either have to be disabled (like Bran), a dwarf (like Tyrion) or transgender (like Theon sort of was after having his willy chopped off).
With the Night King gone – killed, ridiculously easily in the end, by Arya Stark – the series has now somewhat lost its purpose. Yeah, sure Cersei is bad, but she’s not a patch on a supernatural figure so evil that he wants to obliterate all memory of human existence and give the entire world over to perpetual darkness, is she? If I’d been writing Thrones, I would have saved this climax for the final episode. Whatever happens next is going to be bathetic. Oh, and also, with every goodie army now wiped out, how are Jon Snow, Daenerys and the rest ever going to muster sufficient forces for that second great battle we’ve been promised this season? Sorry to put a dampener on things, but I suspect it’s all going to be downhill from here.