The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones had only six episodes to both finish the war of the living against the dead and the fight for the Iron Throne. One of the more divisive episodes is "The Long Night," which featured the Battle of Winterfell. The episode bucked expectations that Jon Snow would stab the Night King with Longclaw or Dany would roast him with a dragon, and instead had Arya stage a sneak attack and use a handy knife trick to stab the Night King with Littlefinger's dagger. Yet there was a moment missing.
The shot of Arya leaping out of the dark with knife in hand made for a huge shock, as it followed the death of Theon and the whole situation felt pretty hopeless. A big part of why it was so shocking is that "The Long Night" left out the moment of Arya making her way into the godswood to make her desperate attempt to take out the Night King. She seemingly leapt out of nowhere, as if launched out of a cannon.
The Night King wouldn't have been defeated if not for the key moment, so why was it left out? Director Miguel Sapochnik, who also helmed "Hardhome" and "Battle of the Bastards" before "The Long Night," explained why that big moment was missing:
I questioned everything and we worked long and hard to find the right balance of credibility versus wish fulfillment. Then we shot it and reshot it and found that what was really important was rhythm. At one point there was an elaborate plan to have her fight her way into the Weirwood forest, but as we progressed we realized she'd already done that earlier in the episode, so it felt like a repeat. In the end we felt it didn't matter how she got there — what mattered was setting up that moment when the Night King catches her mid-leap and we think she's done for, then she pulls her knife switch and takes him out. I loved Maisie's performance post the takedown as well, sharing a moment with her brother, Bran. That weary smile. 'Not today.'
Miguel Sapochnik's comments to THR about Arya's missing fight to get into the godswood provide a simple explanation: the rhythm just wouldn't have been right if the episode had shown her in action. Upon first watch, I think most fans probably appreciated the total shock of seeing Arya emerge from the darkness, and some fans even shared videos of themselves going nuts. In the grand scheme of things, Sapochnik believes that how Arya got into the clearing doesn't matter. What matters is that she did it.
Of course, on second watch or after fans got some time to think about the episode, they might have started to poke holes in what happened and wonder just how Arya managed to reach the Night King without any of the wights or White Walkers noticing her, as well as how she launched herself seemingly horizontally at the Night King. While it was super dark, and Arya did have her Faceless Man training, it does require some suspension of disbelief.
As somebody who absolutely loved the twist and episode, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for it, especially considering I'd spent seven seasons watching dragons and ice zombies and all kinds of impossibilities. For me, the misery of the cast resulted in an epic episode.
Not everybody was so willing to wave aside the improbability, though. Still, I don't think it will go down as the most divisive episode of the eighth season! Dany's sudden decision to roast King's Landing in the penultimate episode and then most of what happened in the finale guarantee that. "The Long Night" did kill in the ratings.