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'Game of Thrones' recap: Kill your darlings. (Well, some of them.)

Joe Gross
Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) survey the Battle of Winterfell in "Game of Thrones" season eight, episode three. [CONTRIBUTED BY HBO]

Oh, man.

This hard-to-see nonsense called episode three of season eight of HBO's "Game of Thrones" was 80 minutes long, so let’s get into it. Broader points at the end.

Listen to our podcast, Win or Die: Analyzing "Game of Thrones":

Winterfell is a hive of activity. The dead are HERE. We check in with everyone in an extended one-er.

Samwell gets handed a weapon. Lyanna Mormont is giving orders like the champ she is. Tyrion heads to the crypt. Bran is wheeled off to the Godswood by Theon and the Iron Born. Davos is with the archers on the parapet. Sansa and Arya are together.

There’s a massive formation of human soldiers, Dothraki in the front, then Unsullied. This seems a weird use of well-trained cavalry, not to mention a very disciplined infantry, but okay. It's incredibly hard to tell what is going on, such is the level of light in this thing.

Pod, Jaime, Brienne and Tormund all in the flank. It’s all potential energy and terrible, terrible waiting and grim and hey, there’s Ghost! The Direwolf! On the front lines! What a good boy, yes you are.

Then a lone rider rolls up. It’s… aw, crap, it’s Melisandre, the Red Woman. She looks at Jorah, who is in charge of the Dothraki.

Melisandre to Jorah: “Do you speak their language?”

Everyone, everywhere: “......why do you ask?”

The troops raise their swords, she sets them on fire. Flaming swords are dope and this is literally the most useful thing she has done in forever.

She leaves. Davos follows.

Red Woman: “No need to execute me, I’ll be dead before dawn.”

Davos: I am absolutely holding you to that.

The Dothraki charge, swords in hand, triumphant screamers from the land beyond.

And … they lose huge.

The light vanishes. Riderless horses run back and Jorah looks SHOOK.

Now, it’s (again, incredibly hard to see) all-out hand-to-hand combat. Jon and Dany are on dragons and start frying wights left and right. It looks impressive, but it is clearly not enough, which is kind of a decent allegory for these two in general.

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Also, remember when Jon was terrible at dragon-riding like ten minutes ago?

Arya knows this is gonna be a long night, hands Sansa a dragonglass dagger and orders her sister to the crypt.

Sansa: I don’t know how to use it.

Arya: (Man, this callback is tremendous, I hope it’s not my only hero moment.) “Stick them with the pointy end.”

And oh wait, maybe the dragon riders of Winterfell aren’t so good at this.

There is ice and snow and frozen water in the atmosphere; Jon and Dany can’t see a thing. (Neither can we — this episode makes "The Godfather" look like a Marvel movie.)

The dragons fly into each other (!) as the humans fall back to Winterfell. Arya saves the Hound with a well-placed arrow — is there anything she can’t do? (Spoiler: No.)

Which brings us to the first battle’s big strategic error: Nobody seems to have accounted for the weather.

Davos tries to signal Dany to light the trench with her dragon, but she can’t see him at all.

Perhaps reminded by the Lord of Light once again that she needs to pull her damn weight, the Red Woman heads out, grabs a log, prays in High Valyrian and uses her fire powers to light the trench. Dany sees it and lights the rest. The dead, being dead but not stupid, just kind of stop.

We cut to the crypt.

Varys: At least we’re already in a crypt.

Audience: That’s not foreshadowing at all, Mr. Clean.

Tyrion is antsy.

Tyrion: if we were up there, we could see something they don’t.

Audience: Like the fact that Jon Snow is terrible at planning battles and hasn’t done much in this one? Yes, we agree.

Sansa: None of us can do anything but look the truth in the face.

Tyrion: Maybe we should have stayed married.

Sansa: You were the best of them.

Tyrion: "What a terrifying thought."

Sansa: Is that supposed to be funny, my dude? The balance of being me has mostly been misery. Also, you are in love with Dany, and I am not seeing her whole appeal yet.

Missandei: Ahahahaha, oh white folks. Y’all have the luxury of arguing about her when she literally freed my people from literal slavery while you were sexing your siblings and whatever. I am so done with you people. Yeah, I said YOU PEOPLE.

» PREVIOUS EPISODE:Game of Thirst: ‘Game of Thrones’ season 8, episode 2 recap

Back to the Godswood.

Theon: I am sorry for pretty much my entire life.

Bran: We’re good, fam. It brought you here now. Where things are going to get dicey. Now I have to raven up here for a bit. Literally guard my body, please.

Suddenly everyone figures out what the dead have been waiting for. The trench fire dies down a bit, the Night King (on his undead dragon) raises his hands, and the dead just straight up lie down on the fire, make a bridge and start climbing the Winterfell walls, "The Walking Dead"/"World War Z" style. In seconds, they are over the walls.

We get a couple of hero shots: Jaime and Brienne fighting back to back, while Arya mows through the dead like a boss. Of everyone here, she thought tactically and strategically. Her weapon is perfect for her skill set and she is completely in the moment.

The Hound, paralyzed with fear: “We can’t beat death.”

Beric: Bro, are you EVEN looking at your girl right now?

And then the episode’s first (and kind of last) hold-your-dome death.

The undead giant crashes through the door. Lyanna Mormont, never one to shrink from a fight, runs straight at him. He picks her up and starts to crush her. With a war cry for the ages, she stabs him in the eye. They both go down dead.

Meanwhile, Arya is creeping around Winterfell in some sort of library. It goes full horror movie as some wights enter, and she skulks around, dodging the dead. She looks exhausted. She throws a book to distract the wights. It barely works. We see her running like hell through a corridor.

Quick cut to the crypt, where Sansa looks pained hearing soldiers outside the door begging to be let in. The screams fade — Sansa knows they are losing and they are losing HUGE.

Cut to the Hound and Beric, who helpfully has a flaming sword that allows viewers to ACTUALLY SEE WHAT IS GOING ON.

Arya crashes through a door, screaming and covered in wights. Beric throws his sword and gets them off her. Arya wants to fight Beric's attackers.

Arya: We should stay and h—


Beric is killed by Wights, looking ... kind of crucified for a moment, which is really how a monotheist in a realm of pagans might want to go. They end up in a chamber with the Red Woman.

Melisandre: The Lord of Light brought him back for a purpose. And now he's done.

Arya: Didn’t you once tell me I would become an almost unstoppable killing machine?

Melisandre: ...yes.

Also Melisandre: "What do we say to the god of Death?"

Arya: (Okay fine.) "NOT TODAY."

And then something occurs to Arya. And she leaves.

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While Theon and the Iron Born are starting to fight wights, Jon (who, let’s be real, has been largely useless this whole time) pursues the Night King ... who promptly falls off his dragon. As Al Swearengen is fond of saying in "Deadwood," tactics or true position?

Tactics, it turns out. Dany, looking extremely pleased with herself, tries to light the Night King up with dragonfire, which ... doesn’t work at all.

Dany: “Dracarys!”


Night King: ... losersayswhat?

The Night King starts walking over bodies and then, oh yeah, REANIMATES THEM ALL, resupplying his army while he raises his arms like Shruggie. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone that he could do this.

And here comes another inexcusable strategic lapse: Dany LANDS HER DRAGON, which allows wights to climb on it as she gets tossed off.

Dany with dragons: Respect my authoritay!

Dany without dragons: Yo, Jorah, u up?

Jorah saves her and hey, there are Brienne and Grey Worm. Good job not dying!

Cut to the crypt, which fulfills its destiny as Chekov’s gun, as the dead start leaving their places of rest. Everyone is screaming, while Sansa and Tyrion, the two smartest folks either one knows, have an oddly tender moment as they ... hide from everything?

Cut to the exterior of Winterfell.

A DJ somewhere: Okay, the zombie ice dragon IS IN THE BUILDING, Y’ALL. THE ICE DRAGON IS IN THE BUILDING.

The Night King enters the Godswood.

Bran: “Theon, you’re a good man. Thank you.”

Theon: You know, when YOU say it, it’s ... oh. Oh, I see.

Theon charges the Night King, who bodies him.

The Night king walks to Bran. They stare at each other.

AND OUT OF FREAKIN' NOWHERE, ARYA STARK FLIES INTO THE FRAME. She might as well be wearing a giant red S and holding Thor’s hammer at the same time.

The Night King grabs her. All of fandom holds its breath. She stabs him with her Valyrian steel dagger. The Night King explodes. The wights explode. The zombie dragon crashes.

Just like that, it’s over.

Jorah, badly wounded from defending dragonless Dany from swarming wights, dies. She is bereft.

The Red Woman wanders out of Winterfell. She removes her Magic Choker Thing That Keeps Her Young. Davos follows her.

She ages and dies.


So where does that leave us?

RIP Lyanna Mormont, Beric Dondarrion, Theon Greyjoy, the Night King, Jorah Mormont (which is the end of that house, I think), Melisandre and ... Edd, I guess?

Honestly, I thought there would be stacks of bodies.

Which there was. Indeed, the Night King reminded everyone that the problem with fighting the dead is that if you lose even a little, the Night King just gets more troops.

But no, most of the main characters ended up alive and ... ehhh, not well, exactly. But alive is fine for this one.

Just give Arya the Iron Throne now.

House Mormont went down swinging with two decently fan-service-ish deaths.

It was also a good reminder that most fan theories about this thing VASTLY OVER-THOUGHT ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING ABOUT IT, since the episode resolved with (a completely spectacular and well-earned) last-minute save right out of the most crowd-pleasing Republic serials.

This was in spite of (and I cannot emphasize this enough) some battle tactics so lousy that *I* noticed them.

Remember, kiddos, no matter how much incest and palace intrigue and War of Roses influence there might be in “Game of Thrones,” this genre is called heroic fantasy for a reason.

This is still a piece of filmed fiction, not real life. The fog of war in a fantasy show should not be incomprehensible. Yes, it adds to the sense of who is fighting whom, but it also feels like a really bad aesthetic choice.

This is the worst case for Iron Throne-based leadership Jon and Dany have made thus far. Their strategies were lousy; they didn’t account for either environmental conditions or the fact that when their own troops died, they could become troops for the other side. Even the dragons weren’t the key factor they were promised to be. They won out of sheer Arya-based luck.

This was the best case for a Gendry-Arya based move on the Throne. Both are decent people, one is a brilliant fighter.

Arya gets whatever she wants, forever. Yes, the end was completely ridiculous, but it was also canny. Nobody has trained harder for a nasty, brutish and short life in Westeros than Arya. She’s done the homework and remained, oddly, a decent person, if also a ruthless killing machine.

Arya killing the Night King is also a Gordian knot-chop when it comes to the whole idea of destiny and such. We expected a complicated, mythos-based resolution between the Night King and Bran. Instead, a badass showed up and dispatched him. *Beep* fate. *Beep* destiny.

Arya makes her own destiny. The rest of y’all can catch up.