Game of Thrones 8.03

Game of Thrones 8.03 Recap: “Here We Are, at the End of the World”

And off we go. You wanted more action and violence and death on Game of Thrones this season? Wish granted.

The war with the dead begins. Running nearly an hour and a half, The Long Night is a battle episode start to finish. I often have mixed feelings about these. Although the show has had some amazing battle sequences (the Battle of the Bastards in Season 6 being the previous highlight), I’ve found some of its other big action set-pieces a little monotonous, especially those that involve White Walkers. The show-runners even addressed this concern in their aftershow interview. Thankfully, in my opinion, they cracked the formula with this one.

The Battle Commences

Events ramp up slowly, with almost unbearable tension. The forces at Winterfell ready themselves for battle, but the dark of night is so deep that they can’t see what they’re up against in the distance. Jon Snow and Daenerys fly in on their dragons and take position on a cliff overlooking the area. They can see the castle lit up on the right side of the field, but nothing is visible on the left.

A lone rider on horseback steps out of the night and approaches the army. It’s Melisandre, the Red Witch. She tells Davos that he needn’t bother killing her, because she’ll be dead by dawn anyway. She steps up to a Dothraki warrior, touches his blade, and casts a spell. The weapon alights in flame, as do all those in the Dothraki force, hundreds strong. A cheer rises from the crowd. They are fearsome warriors, ready to do some damage.

Horns blare, announcing the start of battle. Jorah Mormont rides with the Dothraki. As they charge forward, their flaming weapons move like a wave of light through the darkness. Trebuchets launch flaming projectiles that arc through the night sky. The sight and the sounds would be enough to put the fear of death in almost any foe. Unfortunately, the foe they’re facing is death itself.

We can’t see exactly what happens. The Dothraki advance forward appears to hit a wall and come to an abrupt halt. The light from their flaming weapons is extinguished quickly. Ominous silence descends on the scene again. Daenerys is horrified. Has she just witnessed the extermination of the entire Dothraki race?

A few horses return to the castle, riderless. Jorah follows, looking battered. He has no words for what he has just experienced. Shortly afterward, a thunderous clamor approaches and an overwhelming army of undead wights smash into the living like a tidal wave, flowing right over them. Brienne and Jaime struggle desperately to hold their ground. It looks like a lost cause.

Abandoning their plan to wait for the appearance of the Night King, Daenerys jumps on her dragon and flies to help. Jon follows. The dragons spew fire that takes out big swaths of the undead, but it’s clearly not going to be enough to turn the tide of the battle. Making matters worse, a powerful wind storm slams into them, seemingly conjured by the Night King himself. The snow reduces their visibility to near zero.

Standing on the castle wall, Arya tells Sansa to go below to the crypts, and gives her a dragonglass dagger with instructions to stick the pointy end in anything that comes toward her. Sansa goes reluctantly. There’s nothing she can do exposed in the open. When Tyrion sees her enter the crypt, she doesn’t need to say a word to convey what has happened. He knows that the battle is going badly.

Bran Stark waits by the weirwood tree, acting as bait, with only Theon and a small squad of men as protection. Things are quiet there so far.

Eddison Tollett is killed in the fighting. The dead press in further and further. A retreat is called. The Unsullied try to hold the wights back as the rest of the army falls back to the castle. After several failed attempts, a trench is set ablaze, surrounding the castle with a protective wall of fire. Eerily, the undead stop their frenzy and stand quietly before the flames, waiting.

Second Phase

Estimating their chances of surviving the night, Varys quips to Tyrion, “At least we’re already in a crypt.”

Tyrion feels useless being sidelined. He thinks he could make a difference on the battlefield, like he did at Blackwater, by noticing something that everyone else missed. Sansa coldly tells him that he would die if he left the room: “Witty remarks won’t make a difference.”

Bran wargs to control a flock of crows that fly over the battlefield. He sees the Night King riding the undead dragon, Viserion. The Night King senses him as well.

Slowly, one at a time, wights standing at the flaming perimeter walk into the fire, creating a ladder from their bodies that others may walk over. In little time, the trench is breached and the wights begin climbing the castle walls. Brienne, Jaime, the Hound and others try to fight them off, but it isn’t long before some push their way over the walls and into the castle courtyard.

Arya leaps into action like the badass she’s grown into, dipping and dodging and killing wights left and right, but there are just too many of them, and even she is soon overwhelmed. The Hound is frozen in exhaustion and defeat. He doesn’t see much point in continuing to fight, until he sees Arya in danger.

An undead giant smashes through the castle gate, tromping anyone in front of it. The beast picks up Lyanna Mormont, crushing the girl in his hand. As it raises her toward its mouth to bite her head off, Lyanna jabs a dragonglass dagger into the fucker’s eye. The giant collapses to the ground, taking her with it as it falls. Lyanna can’t survive, but she has a very good death.

Daenerys and Jon fly above the storm clouds into the clear night sky, where they’re attacked by the Night King riding Viserion. They chase him back down to the battlefield.

Arya sneaks into the castle library, where she plays cat-and-mouse with a handful of wights. She nearly escapes unseen, but is spotted and set upon by large group. The Hound and Beric Dondarrion come to her aid. Beric is badly injured.

The three of them lock themselves into a room. Beric dies, presumably for the last time. Standing in the room is Melisandre, seemingly waiting for them. Arya recognizes her, and Melisandre knows exactly who she is. The witch asks, “What do we say to the God of Death?” Arya responds, “Not today.”

Third Phase

A herd of undead converge on the weirwood tree. Theon and his men try to fight them off, but it’s a hopeless battle.

The Night King flies Viserion straight for Winterfell and blasts the castle with blue fire. Jon and his dragon, Rhaegal, engage with him. It doesn’t go well until Drogon swoops down and Daenerys knocks the Night King right off his dragon.

Jon and Rhaegal crash to the ground. Daenerys is still in the air. She spots the Night King and orders Drogon to unleash a full blast of flame directly onto the monster. Can fire kill the Night King? Apparently not. He stands in the midst of the flames, smirking at her.

With no other weapon but dragon fire at her disposal, Daenerys retreats. Jon follows the Night King as he marches toward Winterfell. The Night King turns and faces him directly. John charges at him with his Valyrian steel sword, but has a lot of ground to cover. The Night King is unimpressed. He lifts his arms to cast a spell that raises all the dead on the battlefield to join his army. Jon stops short of reaching the Night King. He’s surrounded and sure looks screwed.

The dead inside the castle walls rise too, including Lyanna Mormont. Down in the crypts, even the long-dead burst out of their graves. Panic sets in. Tyrion and Sansa hide as best they can.

The Night King leaves his soldiers to finish off Jon Snow, but Daenerys returns to rescue him. Jon runs for the castle. When Drogon lands, the undead swarm on top of him, clawing their way up his back. The dragon flails, throwing Daenerys to the ground. It takes off without her, dozens of wights still clinging to the beast. Jorah Mormont runs to to his queen’s side. She picks up a sword from the battlefield.

Final Phase

Theon runs out of arrows to fire at the dead. The rest of his men are picked off, leaving only him to defend Bran, who remains warged and unresponsive.

The Night King and a group of his White Walker lieutenants arrive in the woods. Theon is exhausted, and even if he weren’t, he’d stand no chance against them. Bran unwargs, tells Theon that he’s a good man, and thanks him. Knowing its futility, Theon charges at the Night King with a spear. The Night King exerts hardly any effort at all killing him. He can’t save Bran, but Theon dies well.

Jon is cornered by Viserion inside the castle courtyard. Jorah is badly wounded defending Daenerys from wights and can barely remain standing.

The Night King approaches Bran and reaches for his sword. Suddenly, Arya Stark leaps at him from behind with a Valyrian steel dagger in her hand! The Night King spins around and grabs her by the throat. Arya drops the dagger, dangling in the air. Oh crap, this is bad. This is really bad…

Wait, Arya dropped the dagger into her other hand. She thrusts it into the Night King’s belly!


Yes, it really happened. The Night King turns to ice and shatters into a million pieces! His White Walker lieutenants explode as well, and the undead wights all over the battlefield fall in waves. As it stands ready to kill Jon Snow, the dragon Viserion slumps to the ground and returns to death.

The battle is over. Not just the battle. Arya Stark has ended the entire war against the dead with one killing blow.

The Dawn

Having protected his queen until the battle was won, Jorah collapses and dies.

Among those still standing are: Jon, Daenerys, Brienne, Jaime, Sansa, Tyrion, The Hound, Davos, Varys, Podrick, Sam, and Gilly. Drogon has also survived, but we’re left unsure about Rhaegal. (He’s in the preview for the next episode, though.)

Melisandre pushes her way past everyone else and leaves the castle. Walking out onto the battlefield, she removes the necklace that had kept her young. She told Jorah that she wouldn’t live to dawn, and sure enough, her withering body falls to the ground as the sun rises.

Episode Verdict

This is a “Holy Shit” episode. The scope and scale of it are amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it on television, and few feature films can match it. Honestly, I’m still reeling as I write this. If I had the time and didn’t need to do pesky things like sleep and work and take care of my children, I’d rewatch it back-to-back-to-back-to-back until the next episode airs.

It’s a long and very chaotic episode. I haven’t captured every detail of it in my recap. One of its strongest aspects is that, despite so much horror and tumult, the episode is beautifully structured with ebbs and flows in the action. We can follow individual characters without getting lost as to what’s happening, to whom, and where. That’s a damned difficult achievement to pull off in something like this.

I’m shocked that the Night King is gone and the war against the dead was brought to a close so that the remaining episodes of the season can focus on the battle for the Iron Throne. I did not see that coming at all.

I will admit that the death toll seems a little light considering the situation most of the characters found themselves in. We lost Jorah Mormont, Theon Greyjoy, Lyanna Mormont, Beric Dondarrion, Eddison Tollett, and Melisandre. Although some of those are fairly significant, it seems kind of implausible that Brienne, or Jaime, or Sam, or others trapped right in the thick of the action fighting off thousands of zombies by hand would come through unscathed. While I’m not too bothered by this (the story is fantasy, after all), I’ve heard some griping about it from other fans. I have a friend who insists that this is the show’s worst episode, the series has completely lost its way, and there’s no point in even bothering to watch the last few episodes. That opinion is almost unfathomable to me.

It seems that a lot of viewers also had major problems watching the episode due to the poor quality of HBO’s broadcast. The episode has extremely dark photography and lots of frantic action, which is a recipe for banding and macroblocking on highly-compressed cable or satellite feeds. Personally, I watched on the HBO GO app and didn’t experience too many issues in that regard. It may not have been perfect, but it was watchable enough. I’m sure the eventual Blu-ray and Ultra HD disc releases will have better video quality.


  1. While watching it I saw some banding on HBO Now, but not any macroblocking. I do think this episode goes to show you how many people out there do not calibrate or at the very least, adjust their TV,s settings. I was able to see what was going on without having to make any adjustments.

    The scene between Melisandre and Arya inside the castle heavily foreshadowed Arya killing the Night King. I would’ve liked more backstory on the Night King and his motivations because all we basically got from the show was “really bad” (quoting Gendry). However, killing the Night King now frees the show up for the final showdown with the true multi-dimensional villain of the show, Cersei.

  2. cardpetree

    What is Bran’s purpose? Why is he so important and why did the Night King want to kill him? I thought it would have been cool if the Night King walked up to Bran and we found out that Bran was actually the head guy in charge of all the un-dead including the Night King.

    • Josh Zyber

      As the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran holds all the memories of Westeros. The Night King wanted to eradicate any trace of humanity, including its history, as if it never existed.

      • Shannon Nutt

        Which is pretty stupid, as if no one else is capable of passing along history? What about all those books in The Citadel? I’m with cardpetree…the character hasn’t amounted to a whole lot.

    • Charles M

      His purpose was to learn about the history and past events and help people by using his new powers to fight the WW. He did exactly that.

      • Shannon Nutt

        How did he do that again? 😉 Wasn’t is Sam that learned that dragonglass could kill the WWs? Not Bran.

      • cardpetree

        Bran basically did nothing to help fight the WW. He was used as bait but I still don’t really understand why he was important enough to even be used for bait. Josh says he holds all the memories of Westeros but why would that even matter if the WWs just killed everyone and made them undead?

        • Josh Zyber

          The Night King wants to wipe out humanity, but 100% total genocide is unlikely and an unrealistic goal in any war. Some stragglers will always survive. It was important to the Night King to erase mankind’s history to prevent an uprising in the future.

        • Timcharger

          It should be noted that only Bran has access to an ACCURATE view of history. Bran can know the real truth, and use that information to better the future.

          Factoring in the wheelchair, that’s why Bran and Professor X need to be in the top of the attack plans whenever baddies fight the Starks or the X-Men. Night King and Magneto need to account for the guy in the wheelchair.

          But of course it’s the shorty with the sharp blades, Arya/Wolverine who makes that finishing kill.

          Nerd of the day, win?

  3. Deaditelord

    My guess is that the dark photography issues were less about macroblocking and banding and more about improper TV setup/calibration. Outside of home theater users, a lot of people don’t understand how to calibrate their television sets and run them in torch/dynamic/vivid mode with brightness, backlight, contrast, and sharpness at or nearly maxed.

    • Shannon Nutt

      My TV is calibrated just fine, with excellent (if not perfect) black levels. The episode is pretty murky looking. I think it has less to do with people’s TVs than it does to do with the intended look. I have a theory that the FX didn’t come out as good as they hoped, so they digitally added snow, fire, etc., to make things even less “clear.”

      • Josh Zyber

        The poorly compressed cable, satellite, and streaming signals don’t help matters. I’m certain that the episode will look a lot better when it comes to disc.

        • Deaditelord

          That’s an interesting theory about using the darkness to hide iffy FX and would make some sense. I also didn’t mean for my response to sound like I was completely dismissing the notion that the poor quality of compressed video from cable, satellite and streaming wasn’t a contributing factor. I just thought the complaints being made by some people (not on here) about the battle of Winterfell being impossible to make out were a bit of an exaggeration which makes me wonder if improper HDTV settings were exacerbating the issue.

          • Shannon Nutt

            An improperly calibrated TV certainly would make matters worse, but the idea that the episode wasn’t deliberately darkened and obscured is ridiculous to me.

          • Josh Zyber

            It was very dark, yes, but always seemed artistically purposeful to me. I really think that the complaints about the dark picture are mainly due to the badly-compressed and artifacty broadcast signal. It will look great on Blu-ray and UHD.

  4. Timcharger

    Final Phase
    Josh: “Jon is cornered by Drogon inside the castle courtyard.”

    Jon is cornered by Viserion. Blue flames, holes in his wings, now with broken maw, that’s Viserion. Drogon is on Jon’s side. Josh, 2nd time in 3 episodes that you’ve mistaken dragons. All dragons look the same to you? You don’t see scale-color?

    Also I would recap, how Jon saw his friends’ struggles but ignored them with the sole purpose to get to the Godswood where Bran & the Night King were. Jon throughout the battle kept his focus on the main mission.

    Also noteworthy was after being trapped repeatedly by the blue flames from Viserion, Jon in hopeless desperation, just stood up before the undead dragon and screamed back. It seemed like Jon gave up. I think we were about to learn if Jon was like some Targaryens who could be unburnt by fire.

  5. Timcharger

    Snoked and Don’t Care

    We got Snoked. Last Jedi’s Supreme Leader Snoked. WTF was Snoke all about? WTF was the Night King all about?

    He’s dead. Enough said.

    With the Last Jedi, we were left with emo Kylo Ren and silly General Hux. With GoT, we are left with scheming Cersei, and arrogant Euron. So I don’t care that we got Snoked on the Night King. (Plus there’s Northern internal conflict with Sansa’s subplot. Jon’s lineage power struggle, too)

    Last Jedi gave us a recluse Luke who wouldn’t join the fight. GoT gave us heroic Jon who wouldn’t stop pursuing the Night King. So that’s a huge improvement.

    Oh yeah, Arya was trained. Suffered many seasons of failure. Had to learn. Had to earn her place. Rey, not so much.

    The zombie plotline was the weakest part of GoT, now we can focus the last 3 episodes on the really good stuff.

    • Timcharger

      It is rumored that we were Snoked because the prequel series that HBO is developing is the Long Night, about the previous Winter invasion. So that new series would explore more about the White Walker mythology. And GoT purposely held back in explaining more about the Night King.

      • Josh Zyber

        The series is called Game of Thrones. It’s not Game of White Walkers. The battle for the Iron Throne was always going to be the final conflict. I honestly don’t know how anyone could expect otherwise. It’s right there in the title.

        • Timcharger

          Some fans are upset that the Night King got killed without much of a backstory explanation. Technically, only Book 1 was called Game of Thrones. The TV series didn’t just go with the story that is only in Book 1.

          While the show is called Game of Thrones, it had long detours with Braavos ninja training. The escapades to gain experience in the executive suite at Meereen was tedious and had little to do with the throne-game back in Westeros. So the show has a wide ranging plot, and could have explained more about the Night King.

          But I’m glad we are moving on beyond the ice zombies. Battle of the Bastards was always more interesting to me than the battle with the undead. The Night King is like a (un)natural disaster; how do you hate a force of nature? But Ramsay Bolton, yeah, easy to hate. Emotionally much more invested in BotB.

    • Charles M

      We learnt almost everything we needed to know about the Night King and his goals. He was an out of control a Terminator who was made to wipe out humanity. We didn’t learn practically anything about Snoke. NK is just death, as the characters constantly pointed out, nothing more. People should ask more what the NK represents, that’s a better question.

      • Timcharger

        “We learnt almost everything we needed to know about the Night King and his goals.”

        I agree. I learnt almost everything I cared to know. The ice zombie plotline was the least interesting to me.

        But other’s would fairly disagree. Why did the NK wait 5? thousand years until the civilization got dragons again to start his Winter campaign? Can only ice dragons can break the Wall, so NK baited Jon to travel north, after he befriended Dany, to believe that they needed Cersei to ally with, to capture proof of a wight, so NK had only 1 wight travel with a group of other wights that were created by a different WW??? What’s with the free babies becoming White Walkers? Did the NK have a negotiated conversation (NK can talk?) with Craster for the male babies? Why no female White Walkers? NK not woke?

        The show goes to great lengths to demonstrate that the NK isn’t just a blind force of nature, but with intent, ability to strategize, has emotionally wicked smile… so it’s fair to ask these unanswered questions.

  6. Timcharger

    Episode Verdict

    Josh: “it seems kind of implausible that Brienne, or Jaime, or Sam, or others trapped right in the thick of the action fighting off thousands of zombies by hand would come through unscathed. While I’m not too bothered by this (the story is fantasy, after all), I’ve heard some griping about it from other fans.”

    While Brienne, Jaime, & company are armored with deadly weapon prowess, the key characters in the Crypts all came out unscathed. Certainly Sansa and Tyrion have more plot machinations; but Varys, Gilly, or Gilly’s son should have been a sacrificial lamb to the “realism” of that dire situation. Would be heartbreaking. But one key character in Crypts should have been among the fallen.

    Back to the potential deaths outside the Crypts, maybe one or two more would have sufficed. Podrick signing his swan song from the last episode could have been good enough. I want Sam to make it through, but he should have been barricaded in a room like the Hound & Melisandre. Lying on a ground in the open courtyard, uh no, Sam should have been skewered.

    I liked that Grey Worm made it though. It was very meta. GoT reversed-psyched us out.

    • Timcharger

      But one death does keep the GoT anti-trope reputation alive. Killing the Night King in this episode was surprising.

      The Night King’s death in episodes 5 or 6, that would not be surprising. Many didn’t think that Night King would even be at the Winterfell battle. Fly his ice dragon to burn all human history and records at the Citadel? Attack King’s Landing with Viserion first to form another undead army to march north to attack Winterfell on 2 fronts? These were all theories to why the Night King would survive episode 3. Every other TV series would have had the Night King last to the end, and of course be in a mano-a-mano sword fight with Jon Snow.

    • Charles M

      I didn’t find it implausible. People forget all the extras. This was a small group surrounded by hundreds or thousands. The only one I found implausible was a Beric Dondarion. One moment he’s swarmed by wights and then a moment later his right behind Arya and Sandor. That didn’t make sense to me.

      • Timcharger

        Yes, that scene was weird. Beric holding the Christ pose at the end of the hallway to block the wights from chasing Arya and the Hound. Then he’s stumbling into the room when Arya & Hound are closing that room’s door.

        But I was willing to overlook it, because Beric died there. If he were to survive, that would make me throw stuff at the screen.

        Also strange in that scene should have been the Hound saying “You red witch b*tch! Standing in the corner all this time?! You didn’t help us in, now f*cking help us barricade this door!”

  7. Timcharger

    The Dawn
    Josh: “Having protected his queen until the battle was won, Jorah collapses and dies. He doesn’t even get a final word to her. He doesn’t need one.”

    Josh, turn on the subtitles. Jorah’s dying final words are: “I’m hurt.”

    • Timcharger

      So Josh, you like your Jorah-need-no-final-words line so much, you’ll go with your version?

      No big deal; I edit scenes in my head to improve on what I like, too.

        • Timcharger

          I wouldn’t have caught it, if I didn’t watch with subtitles on. So I would have gone with your interpretation. I’ve just come to learn how to not be distracted by subtitles. Plus, wifey hates it when I have to rewind a few seconds to catch a muttered line.

          But the subtitle: “Dothraki ululating” was still distracting, despite my best efforts.

  8. Timcharger

    Visual Effects Inequality?

    Is someone on Team Dragon visual effects sleeping with the budget director? Did someone on Team Direwolf scorn the sexual advances of an executive producer?

    The budget for dragons is clearly not in want. But no spare change left for direwolves? Where’s the love for Ghost?

    Ghost was spotted in the preview to Episode 4, so he made it through the Long Night. Don’t ghost us again, showrunners!

  9. Timcharger

    Lyanna Mormont Tribute

    If Arya didn’t do her thing, Lyanna would have been right behind her. Turned into a wight? Hell no! Even with the blue eyes, Lyanna would have marched up to the Night King and defiantly proclaim:

    “I know no Night King, except the King in the North, whose name is Stark!”

    And proceed to stab the Night King in the eye, too.


    Dammit, no Lyanna Mormont spin-off series.

  10. Joseph Levitt

    The best term to describe episode three is “unwatchable”; due in large part to the decision by the director to shoot everything in the dark and edit with extreme freneticism. Awful. I watched the episode twice. Even the second time I could barely discern what is happening on screen at times.

    Vis-a-vis the writing, there was far too much reliance on the theatrical “Deus ex Machina”. OK, it’s fantasy, but one of the things that made GOT so great, was the “nobody is safe” feeling. Once again, Hollywood at its finest. (that’s sarcasm)

    My only hope is that GRRM, in the final two books, will continue his brilliant storyline and we, the fans of “A Song of Ice and Fire”, will have the completed story we have so patiently longed for.

    • Timcharger

      “Hollywood always has the big baddie last till the very end of the show, and always have a big battle vis-a-vis, sine qua non, lambda lambda lamdba, carne asada burrito, against the handsome hero,” said the Night King (sarcastically).

      • Timcharger

        You can always add some prizes to make it more enticing. There has been a dearth of contests on HDD lately.

      • Timcharger

        Much of GoT discussion has shifted to more immediate online sites. But I’m a creature of habit. Plus I do think you put some thought into your write-ups and title-ings. Even if it’s just to spite my guesses.

    • Timcharger

      Was there even a memorable line? “Dracarys” was used at a key moment. But uttered so often in the show. But this time used by Missandei was more noteworthy.

  11. Timcharger

    “We still have us to contend with.”

    Not a great line from Tyrion, but captures the transition from ice zombies to throne gaming.

  12. Timcharger

    Josh: “Here We Are, at the End of the World”

    Line works. Captures the apocalyptic battle. But the very next lines by Melisandre are much more memorable. With callback to season 1, and becomes the rallying call for Arya. The supermodel’s sister must be decent, but Josh, choose the supermodel.

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