Spoilers: The following article obviously contains huge spoilers from last night’s The Long Night. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading.
Reaction to last night’s Long Night episode of Game Of Thrones seems to be pretty mixed. There are some who absolutely loved it, some who had mixed feelings and some who had a lot of complaints. As complaints go, they seem to mostly focus on either the darkness/ lack of light during some of the fight scenes and the lack of big character deaths. The lighting thing I get. It wasn’t a huge issue for me, but if you wanna complain, have at it. The lack of big character deaths angle, however, doesn’t make any sense to me at all. Let me explain why.
Game Of Thrones is huge on using death in order to forward the plot and using death to give characters a fitting end and/ or teach a lesson that will repeatedly come up. Think of someone like Tywin Lannister. Even though he was a great character, the show wanted to throw King’s Landing into chaos and create another scramble for power. With his experience and cunning, that was never going to happen with Tywin; so, the show got rid of him in order to create new storylines. He was also killed off by one of his children, which was perfect considering Cersei directly told him (I’m paraphrasing) that for a man obsessed with the family name, he really doesn’t know his kids.
You could play that out the same way with Ned Stark. Ned was another agent of stability. Even though he clashed with The Lannisters while in King’s Landing, he still offered a balance of power. When he was removed from his post as Hand Of The King and later executed, it set off a war of open rebellion from numerous different angles. He was also made to give up his honor, his one defining trait as a character, and he further reinforced the lesson that Stark men don’t fare well when they travel South. He also taught all of us, both viewers and characters on the show, holding up your end of a bargain doesn’t mean the other side will.
So, through that lens, let’s look at the characters who both died and survived last night. In the dead column, we have Jorah Mormont, Theon Greyjoy, Lyanna Mormont, Beric Dondarrion, Edd Tollett and Lady Melisandre. In the alive column, we have Dany, Jon, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Jaime, Tyrion, The Hound, Tormund, Brienne Of Tarth, Samwell, Varys, Davos, Gendry, Grey Worm, Pod, Missandei and Gilly (plus probably a person or two I forgot). Now, I think I can provide reasonably compelling reasons for why people fall into each of the categories. Let’s go…
Why Theon Died
This is the easiest one of the group. Theon created untold destruction by choosing his birth family (The Greyjoys) over his adopted family (The Starks). People died for that decision when he took Winterfell. Him dying trying to defend Winterfell for the Starks, particularly Bran who he forced out as a child, was the only fitting way for him to go. Plus there seemed to be some symbolism with him getting stabbed in the side with a pole and thrown aside like garbage, which is what one of his men did to Maester Luwin. It makes complete sense for his story to end this way.
Why Jorah (And Lyanna Mormont) Died
Jorah’s entire arc on the show has been about serving Dany and keeping her safe. Last night was the biggest threat she has faced. He needed to be by her side, and he fought bravely. She would not have survived without him, and it was very fitting that he survived until the threat was gone. It’s almost as if he relaxed and was willing to go the minute he knew she was for sure safe. There’s also some extra poetic justice here because his father, Lord Commander Mormont, joined the Night’s Watch to try and restore honor to the Mormont name after Jorah was caught selling slaves. Jorah followed through on that legacy, as did Lady Mormont who gave up her life to save humanity. The whole house redeemed itself last night, and Lord Commander Mormont would have been so proud.
Why Beric And Edd Died
Beric was repeatedly brought back for a purpose. He fulfilled that last night by saving Arya, who later killed The Night King. On a broader level, however, both Beric and Edd’s journeys have always been interlinked with the battle North Of The Wall and/ or with the fight between Good and Evil. That fight was last night. It didn’t make sense for either to survive for whatever comes next. All that mattered to both characters was that humanity survived to see a tomorrow.
Why Lady Melisandre Died
The Red Woman’s primary direction has always been about magic and The Lord of Light. That magic has sometimes been used for political gains (RIP Renly), but following Stannis’ death, Melisandre has been obsessed with Jon and the Great War. She convinced Dany to first meet with Jon, and she overtly told Varys she would die in Westeros after she returned one more time. Her exit also removes magic from the show and allows Game Of Thrones to focus directly on the political in the final three episodes.
Why Dany, Jaime, Tyrion, Sansa And Varys Survived
All of these characters have spent the entire show deeply entrenched in the politics of Game Of Thrones (with the possible exception of Jaime who has been loosely involved but still has a fate linked to Cersei). It’s great that they were willing to help out in The Great War, but that’s only a portion of their larger plot. Killing them off when their goals and dreams have always been pointed in a different direction would have been weird. Now they’re all alive and will they’re able to be actual players in the battle for the Iron Throne.
Why Jon Survived
To me, this is the most interesting one of all. Unlike the above characters, Jon has spent most of his time battling the Night King and doing all manner of things North of the Wall. I thought his fate would be tied to the Great War. Clearly, the show doesn’t want to lose him and his claim to the Iron Throne. So, they’re keeping him to add tension to Dany’s quest for the Iron Throne. I don’t hate that. There are lots of other interesting places this could go, but of all the complaints about people not dying, this is one of the ones that has definite merit. Obviously the showrunners felt Jon’s parentage was his defining trait as opposed to his time at the Night’s Watch.
Why The Hound Survived
The Hound had three purposes left. The first was to once and for all prove to Arya that he is a good person willing to fight for other people. The second was to get over his fear of fire. The third is to kill his brother. The first two were accomplished this week. He ran back into battle to save Arya despite everything being on fire, and he saved her, along with Beric, in a really important moment. There was no way, after giving us a confrontation behind The Hound and The Mountain in Season 7, they were going to kill him off before that happened. The Hound’s hatred of his brother has been his central theme since Season 1.
Why Tormund, Brienne, Gendry, Pod And Davos Survived
These are the five characters I’m genuinely surprised survived. Tormund especially, having lived North of the Wall, seemed like a character who would give up his life fighting The Night King. I too expected Brienne to go after she got her beautiful moment being Knighted during the last episode. For right now, I think it’s totally fair to question why any of these characters survived. Maybe Gendry will survive to prove to Arya that not everyone you love goes away? Maybe Davos will survive because we’ll need something to be smuggled in the next three episodes? Maybe the show just considers these four people to be the most genuine and decent characters on the show, and the writers want to deliver some happy endings. I don’t know.
Why Sam, Gilly, Grey Worm And Missandei Survived
All four of these characters are just looking to survive and build a home somewhere. Sam and Gilly have bounced around throughout the entire show, just looking for somewhere they fit. You could say the same thing about Grey Worm and Missandei. More importantly, however, they are the absolute ride or die support systems for Jon and Dany, and if Jon and Dany’s climax battle wasn’t last night and is instead for the Iron Throne then their support systems need to be with them.
Why Arya Survived
There are more people on her list. I’m not entirely sure if she’ll get to strike the final blow against Cersei. She’s definitely not going to finish her list, as she’s obviously not going to kill The Hound, but I’d give her like a twenty-five percent chance of killing Cersei and the green eyes Melisandre alluded to during this episode. As Hot Pie said, she’s also a survivor. In many ways, she’s the ultimate survivor. No one has been to more places or spent more time wandering and surviving than Arya. She deserves to make it out of this, even if she isn’t that invested in who sits on the Iron Throne.
Why Bran Survived
Because this was, more than any other character, his fight. The world isn’t big enough for Bran and the Night King (unless those theories that they were in cahoots proved to be correct). One of them always had to go. Since the living won, that invariably meant Bran would remain and the Night King would perish. This is pretty straight ahead. Plus, Bran has repeatedly said he’s the keeper of memories (kind of like The Giver I think); so, it doesn’t make sense for that to be wiped out.
We have three more episodes and a lot of story left to be told. It's not just going to be a happy ending for everyone left. Honestly, I was hoping this episode would have had a few more dramatic deaths too, but the more I think about it, the more I’m glad characters didn’t die in ways that didn’t make sense or served the immediate more than the overall trajectory. Game Of Thrones has never been a show that has pulled its punches. I’m confident there is a lot of death left, and while I love these characters, many of them do need to go. Whatever Westeros is after this war with Cersei isn’t a place for many of these characters, but Game Of Thrones has always shown a unique ability to kill off people in fitting and important ways. So, I’m excited and ready to see all the ways that are chosen for a good number of those who survived the Battle of Winterfell.
P.S. The following paragraph has spoilers for both Game Of Thrones and Avengers 4. To all the people on Twitter who have hero worshiped Avengers: Endgame and then bitched about Game Of Thrones not following through and killing off characters, fuck right off. That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Avengers 4 had 10 years of build-up and killed off two characters. Unlike the MCU, Game Of Thrones has killed off a ton of important characters over the years, and there are a lot more who are going to die in the final three episodes. Jorah and Theon were both in the pilot. They mattered, but it makes no sense to kill off Jaime or Tyrion or Dany or Sansa when their main conflict has always been with Cersei. It's called Game Of Thrones, not Survive The White Walkers.