Major spoilers ahead for Episode 3 of Game of Thrones Season 8.
Game of Thrones finally delivered the long-awaited battle between the living and the Night King's army of the dead, and fans everywhere went into the episode preparing to lose several of the good guys before the fight was done. The episode did see a whole lot of death, and it was an event of unprecedented scale for the small screen. There is at least one way that the Battle of Winterfell fell short of expectations: not a lot of important characters died, and that's not actually a good thing.
Now, before I continue, I want to make the point that I loved this episode. Sure, it was maybe a little bit too dark at times, and yes, I may have needed to rewatch the dance of dragons a couple of times to figure out what happened to Rhaegal, but I can already tell that it'll be one of my favorite episodes to rewatch. There are simply some aspects of the episode that demanded more of the named characters to be killed off.
Read on for some reasons why Game of Thrones should have killed more characters at the Battle of Winterfell!
The Episode Made Survivals Unrealistic
Game of Thrones has always required a lot of suspension of disbelief, and millions of viewers are perfectly willing to suspend away in order to enjoy the ride. As long as the twists make sense within the context of the show, they work.
For example, of course Dany could survive Drogo’s pyre in Season 1 to hatch some dragons, because she’d shown heat resistance. Of course red priestess Melisandre could bring Jon back to life. Of course Arya could switch faces, voices, and bodies to kill half of House Frey. These impossible things all make sense... within Game of Thrones context.
Within the bounds of Game of Thrones canon, the Battle of Winterfell should have ended in the deaths of several big characters, simply based on what the show established those characters could realistically do. The circumstances the episode put them in should have killed them.
Now, after watching the episode for the first time, was I glad that most of my favorite secondary characters survived? Of course. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Brienne or Gendry or Tormund. In fact, on my first watch, I dreaded every shot of Gendry in particular because I was sure the episode would only focus on him in order to kill him off.
Despite the joy that comes from not seeing heroes dying spectacular yet devastating deaths, the Battle of Winterfell put a bunch of characters in situations that should have killed them. Let's look at some of the most glaring examples of characters that should have perished due to their circumstances in the battle.
Objectively speaking, the blacksmith from warm and sunny King's Landing shouldn't have been part of one of the first lines of defense in the snowy field against the ice zombies, if he was going to live. Tormund and the Hound? Sure. Gendry? No.
Sam is a similar case. He’s done his share of fighting and was even the first character to kill a White Walker, but he should not have been on the front line, as his first scenes in the episode established and later scenes reaffirmed. Good old dead Dolorous Edd Tollett would probably agree. And yet Sam lived.
And what about Ser Jorah? His valiant ride out into the darkness as leader of the Dothraki vanguard seemed like a suicide mission, and most of the Dothraki with their flaming arakhs were killed or at least unhorsed. While Ser Jorah wasn’t untouched, he returned from the attack still on his horse and carrying Heartsbane. He did die later, but the point stands that he probably should have died in the charge.
Jaime was an average swordsman at best after losing his right hand, and he was swamped by wights more than once in the Battle of Winterfell. Based on his one-handed talents, he probably should have perished when he tried to fight in the field. Brienne, by his side and loyal to her unlikely friend, might have died in his defense. Or he might have died in hers.
Rhaegal got shredded in the fight against Viserion, but the trailer for the next episode reveals he lived and seems to be flying just fine despite a hole in his wing. The reanimated corpses in the crypts had a knack for only targeting the nameless characters, with even tertiary characters like Gilly and Young Sam surviving.
Some of these survivals would have been improbable but acceptable; they are heroes, after all, and heroes are supposed to be hard to kill. All of these survivals feel inorganic when so many nameless characters were dying in the exact same circumstances as the named characters. Seriously, how is Sam reasonably alive?
Who Made Sense As Survivors
There were some spectacularly improbable survivors that might at first glance seem unrealistic even within the fantastical Game of Thrones universe. Still, upon further consideration, some of the unlikely survivals made sense, and the oh-so-convenient plot twists that just-so-happened to happen had explanations.
Ser Davos survived despite not being a fighter (and a shortage of fingertips) because he stayed out of the melee. Arya survived (and killed the Night King) because her of her unique training, the timely arrival of The Hound and Beric, and quite possibly some assistance from the Lord of Light. Similarly, the Lord of Light has seemingly protected Jon in the past, such as when he somehow didn’t drown beyond The Wall last season.
Bran would have died if not for Theon, the ironborn, and the Night King taking too long to savor what seemed to be certain victory. Honestly, if the Night King had just gotten down to business in the godswood faster, he would have succeeded in killing his sworn enemy before Arya could take him out.
Context matters on a show as nuanced and complicated as Game of Thrones, and cases like Ser Davos and Arya prove that improbable survivals could make sense in the Battle of Winterfell.
I'm of course glad that I didn't have to watch 90% of the good guys die, but the survivals en masse would have felt less contrived if more named characters had died beyond the heroes everybody pretty much knew were toast. (R.I.P. Theon.)
The Stakes Would Be Higher
This argument is an oldie but a goodie. If some key characters -- not necessarily the players who will likely be instrumental in facing off against Cersei (and characters like Jon and Daenerys who totally weren’t dying in Episode 3 of 6) -- had died in the Battle of Winterfell, the stakes would feel much higher going into the inevitable next battle.
The Battle of Winterfell was also supposed to be the epic battle pitting the living against the dead as a payoff of the very first scene of the series. Somehow, it feels less epic with the knowledge that most of those who died in the fight are unnamed characters.
That’s not to say that the Dothraki screamers charging into the darkness with their flaming weapons only to be extinguished by an unseen enemy didn’t set a terrifying tone, and the military precision of the Unsullied in the face of the frozen hell was definitely impactful. Emotionally speaking, though, the death of one Podrick Payne or Grey Worm would pack a greater punch than handfuls of random soldiers, riders, and Northerners.
My heart says yes to as few Game of Thrones heroes as possible dying no matter what, but my head says no with how the Battle of Winterfell went down. That said, I do also have a less objective reason for wishing more of the significant characters had died in the Battle of Winterfell.
Now I Have To Keep Worrying About Them
Would I have been devastated if the Battle of Winterfell had delivered some shocking deaths along with the ones we all knew were probably coming, like Theon and Ser Jorah? 100%.
There just aren’t enough episodes left to prepare me to watch another Stark die, and I’m dreading the day when I’ll probably have to watch Jaime die after his (mostly) consistent redemptive arc. I even got attached to some second- and third-tier characters, and that’s never wise in Game of Thrones.
If some of these characters had died in the Battle of Winterfell, my enjoyment of the episode could well be tainted, and I might not have been inclined to ever rewatch. But… well, it would have been nice not to have to worry about so many characters moving forward.
If I’d had to say goodbye to Brienne or Grey Worm or Gendry in Episode 3, at least I wouldn’t have to wonder about their fates any more. Now there’s a whole other battle to be fought with most of the heroes still alive, and we probably won’t get to see the climax until Episode 5 or 6.
The suspense will be killer. As much as I enjoyed good old Dolorous Edd Tollett, seeing him die won’t prepare me for seeing some of the others die after their fulfill their purposes. Find out if Game of Thrones actually delivers a bloodbath that takes out more major characters than the Battle of Winterfell with new episodes, airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.