This past week's Game of Thrones depicted one of the events fans have been looking forward to since the series' first scene. After years of slowly trudging their way south, the Night King and his legion of White Walkers descended upon Winterfall, marking his biggest obstacle towards conquering all of Westeros. Danaerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, and their forces begged to differ, holding firm in hopes of stopping the supernatural forces. Despite the high levels of anticipation for the series, or the numerous exciting sequences the episode delivered us, some fans were too distracted by the show's lack of lighting to enjoy the adventure. While some viewers may have been frustrated by these conditions, the embrace of darkness conveyed exactly what the narrative demanded.
It's difficult to understate the scale of the episode, which was essentially a 90-minute battle scene. The series is no stranger to massive conflicts, whether it be Season Two's Battle of the Blackwater or Season Six's Battle of the Bastards. What made the Battle of Winterfell so different is that, for all intents and purposes, the heroes were fighting death incarnate.
The leader of the opposition, for starters, is referred to as the "Night King." His objectives, as stated earlier this season, were merely to consume all of Westeros, with Bran and his knowledge of the land's history making him a primary target. By eradicating Bran, all memory of the Night King would be forgotten along with him, with this episode's embrace of darkness reminding audiences that, in addition to countless corpses, what was at stake was the loss of all hope, and with it, all light. In that regard, it's easy to see why the episode was called "The Long Night."
In Season Two of the series, Melisandre uttered one of the show's more memorable phrases, "The night is dark and full of terrors." More than just a creepy saying, this episode fully embraced that concept by shrouding the size of the Night King's army in darkness. One of the more effective scenes in the episode was witnessing countless Dothraki blades that were set ablaze by Melisandre slowly being extinguished by the White Walkers, leaving audiences and the characters to only imagine what horrors were unfolding just off into the distance.
The Battle of Blackwater took the series to an all-new level, depicting a massive siege on King's Landing. Prior to this episode, the series never shied away from delivering audiences intense swordfights, but it was the penultimate episode of Season Two that really showed viewers that the series was operating at a level unlike any of its fantasy predecessors. That conflict took place at night and featured a castle, which immediately conjures comparisons to the Battle of Winterfell. With King's Landing much more populated than Winterfell, it is much more feasible that there would be more ambient light, which is why so few fans took issue with that battle's lighting when it aired. Were this battle to have featured more ambient lighting, it likely would have felt as though it was repeating a battle that we had already seen years earlier.
The series has always had a looming threat of the undead marching towards humanity, though the tone of the series is often more in the world of fantasy and action than straightforward horror. The Battle of Winterfell, however, took things to an all-new level. With the embrace of the darkness, the characters and the audience were fearful not at the threat they knew they were facing, but of the threats that were unknown. One sequence with Arya, for example, saw her using her stealthy abilities to sneak around the White Walkers as opposed to confronting them, making for one of the tensest sequences in the entire series.
One of the big issues that fans had while the episode was still airing was that it was difficult to deduce what we were seeing in the throes of combat. Fans were concerned that there were significant moments unfolding that we didn't register because of the lack of light. While these concerns were understandable, looking back at the events and how they unfolded, each major milestone was clearly displayed for the viewer. We may have missed the deaths of nameless supporting characters, but all of the major narrative beats were clear and comprehensible, alleviating our concerns over missing important sequences.
From an artistic standpoint, the lower light levels allowed for even more striking imagery than usually seen in the series. Whether it be seeing our heroes backlit by the flames of dragons as they grappled with White Walkers or as Arya was chased through the shadows of Winterfell by the living undead, allowing the camera to seamlessly cut back and forth between various perspectives to evoke a frantic and disorienting sensation in the viewer, audiences were given an experience unlike anything we've seen before in the series.
The overall tone of the complaints about the series conveyed the idea that the director and showrunners were unaware of how the final product would look as opposed to the lighting being one of many painstaking details that the production took into account while filming. With the filming of this single episode reportedly taking nearly two months, it's evident that the lighting, or lack thereof, was a conscious part on behalf of the production to deliver audiences a very specific vision of this battle.
It's understandable that, with how long fans have been waiting to see this specific conflict, many viewers had a preconceived notion of how the battle would unfold. Despite those possible disappointments, "The Long Night" did exactly what it wanted to do by delivering a battle that we have never quite seen before in the series and likely won't see again in any other series anytime soon.
New episodes of Game of Thrones debut Sunday nights on HBO at 9 p.m. ET.
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