Arya Stark, savior of the living
Obviously, the only place to start is at the end. The Night King — and therefore his entire army — is defeated, thanks to the heroic actions of Arya Stark. This was a somewhat shocking and sudden end to what seemed like the dominant story line of the entire show, but if next week’s previews are any indication, we really are done with the dead and shifting back to the dead-on-the-inside (Cersei) and the battle for the Iron Throne.
The first sign that Arya might end up being the savior was when Melisandre returned to Winterfell and, after using her magic to set all of the Dothrakis’ arakhs aflame (lots of good that did them), locked eyes with Arya as she rode into the castle. Melisandre had long believed in the prophecy of the Prince That Was Promised, and while her accuracy has been questionable at times (Stannis — lol), she seemed more sure of herself on this occasion.
Their paths cross well into the battle as they find each other in a temporarily fortified room, after Arya makes some narrow escapes, aided greatly by the Hound and Beric Dondarrion. It’s been many years since they saw each other, way back in Season 3 when Melisandre took Gendry for her leech experiments, and she told Arya that they would meet again. “You said I’d shut many eyes forever,” Arya tells her, noting that she was correct. Melisandre’s reply: “Brown eyes, green eyes and blue eyes.” (Was “blue eyes” simply a reference to the blue eyes of the dead or a suggestion for Arya to face-swap?) As the wights fight their way into the room, Melisandre asks Arya: “What do we say to the god of death?” “Not today,” Arya responds, a direct callback to the words of her original sword-fighting instructor back in Season 1 in King’s Landing, Syrio Forel.
How exactly did Arya get in position to deliver the death blow to the Night King as he approached Bran in the Godswood? Did she just mosey on past those White Walkers with the long, stringy hair that really seemed to serve no purpose at all? Was she wearing the face of a White Walker, which would almost make those two seasons in Braavos worth it? (Almost.) And most important, what did she enjoy more — having sex for the first time or killing the Night King and saving all of humanity?
The weapon Arya used to kill the Night King was the Valyrian steel dagger that she also used to kill Lord Baelish, the same dagger that was used in an assassination attempt on Bran back in Season 1, which Baelish said was the work of Tyrion Lannister, which was a lie that helped escalate the animosity between the Lannisters and the Starks that gave rise to everything we’ve been watching over the past eight years.
Plenty of characters met their end during the Battle of Winterfell, but a lot fewer than maybe most of us expected. Rather than go through a blow by blow of the battle, let’s just look at those who have left us.
He is one of the few who was around from the very beginning and whose actions were consistently righteous, so it was a little tough to see him go. But at least he went out doing what he loves most — saving Khaleesi from getting killed and being embraced by her in a totally platonic way. He has saved her on multiple occasions before (remember that wine merchant who tried to poison her in Season 1? Remember the Sons of the Harpy?) and was called into action again after Daenerys was separated from Drogon and plopped into the middle of the battlefield. Dany had to take up arms herself, and the two of them were able to fend off their share of the dead until Jorah finally succumbed to stab wounds by the wights.
It was quite a journey for Theon over the years. He suffered unspeakable humiliation at the hands of Ramsay Bolton but was able to get some redemption by returning to his old home and defending Winterfell in a respectful manner. He’s also the answer to a trivia question that they’ll be talking about in the pubs and brothels of the Seven Kingdoms for the rest of time — who was the Night King’s final victim?
That would be Theon, who, after doing an admirable job protecting Bran in the Godswood, faced down his fate when the army of the dead approached and he had no more flaming arrows to fire. “You’re a good man,” Bran tells a teary-eyed Theon moments before Theon makes his ultimately fruitless charge at the Night King. RIP Theon — at least you went out as Theon and not Reek.
The young, fiery head of House Mormont stayed true to herself to the end. She refused her cousin Jorah’s advice to wait out the battle in the crypts and was shouting commands as the army of the dead made its advances. She met her demise when a wight giant made its way into the castle grounds and scooped her up and crushed her to death. She was able to stab him in his eye with her dragonglass spear and kill him as her final action. (She was also briefly resurrected by the Night King.)
One of the last remaining originals from Jon Snow’s Night’s Watch class didn’t survive the big battle.
Maybe the preeminent “what’s his deal, exactly?” character in the show. He was in the Brotherhood Without Banners, which was one of those early-middle season story lines that never really seemed to fit in with whatever else was going on. We know that he was killed a whole bunch of times and brought back to life by Thoros of Myr each time. With Thoros gone, Beric knew his days were numbered, and he seemed at peace with that. His flaming sword shined some welcome light on things, and he was crucial to helping Arya survive this battle. “The Lord of the Light brought him back for a purpose,” Melisandre said as he fell to his death. “Now that purpose has been served.”
Speaking of the Red Woman, she knew that her final hours were upon her as she rode back into Winterfell. Her journey to serve the Lord of Light and save the living included some poor decisions (sacrificing Shireen remains one of the biggest downers in the show’s run), but bringing Jon Snow back from the dead and identifying Arya as the savior left her mission fulfilled. With the White Walkers vanquished, and wanting finally to call it a day after living for a few centuries, she wasted no time in taking off her ruby necklace and collapsing to her death right outside the Winterfell castle.
A whole lot of Dothraki and Unsullied
Seeing the entire Dothraki horde get wiped out in under a minute could not have inspired too much confidence for the defenders of Winterfell. These nameless battlefield losses will surely play a bigger factor in the final few episodes, as the Dany/Jon forces have been decimated as they face an upcoming battle with Cersei and her newly recruited army.
Back among the living
They may be bloodied and battered, but, from what we can tell, the following all survived the battle of Winterfell: Jaime Lannister; Brienne; the Hound; Gendry; Tormund; Davos; Podrick; Samwell; Grey Worm. It’s somewhat shocking, but it does set up some sibling showdowns in these final few weeks. Jaime and Cersei will surely come face to face one last time, while the long-anticipated Sandor vs. Gregor “Clegane Bowl” should be one of the combat highlights of the season. (And, we hope, fought in daylight.)
In the nonhuman category, it’s hard to tell whether we’re down another dragon. Once Jon got knocked off Rhaegal, the scaly creature was attacked from dozens of wights who were able to take him down. Is that enough to kill a dragon? We didn’t see him officially dead, so we’ll count him as alive for now. And the same goes for Jon’s direwolf, Ghost. It looked bad for him out on the battlefield, but we’ll assume he’s okay.
Where do Jon and Dany go from here?
These two spent much of the battle adrift on their dragons, unable to see what was going on below them until the Night King and Ice Viserion attacked. They didn’t let the recent revelation about Jon’s parentage affect them on the battlefield, but it will certainly be an issue going forward.
Another issue is whether either of these two deserve any credit for the victory in this battle. Just like at the Battle of the Bastards, Jon did a good job racking up a body count and getting bloody and dirty, but he ultimately was again saved by one of the Stark sisters. Daenerys thought she might have saved the day when Drogon torched the Night King, but it turns out that dragonfire couldn’t take him out. (Neither could falling Hans Gruber-style thousands of feet down to the ground; it looked as if he was almost enjoying the ride when that happened.)
Could this power couple face a potential threat in another couple that seemed to find each other during this battle — Sansa and Tyrion? They were married once, after all, and they shared a tender moment as they faced expected death in the crypts. With Sansa hesitant to bend the knee to Daenerys, could Tyrion change his loyalties?
What about all those theories?
There were some excellent theories floating around out there before this episode, but none of them really came to fruition.
The Night King wasn’t visible in the closing scene of episode 2, which meant that he was probably on his way to King’s Landing to attack there (more populous, a bigger army of the dead to cull from). After all, Bran’s vision included seeing a dragon flying over King’s Landing, and maybe it’s the ice dragon. But nope, the Night King was in Winterfell along with the rest of his lieutenants.
The Crypts of Winterfell … well, it’s true that they turned out to be unsafe, as everyone sort of assumed, because of all the times people said that would be the safest place to be. But it actually was safer down there. Yes, eventually the wights were able to get down there and create some carnage, but it was certainly no worse than above ground. And the sub-theory about the dead Starks being resurrected by the Night King to fight on the side of the dead? Nope. [Morning edit: So maybe those were the dead Starks busting out of the crypts after all? If there’s no reanimated Catelyn or Robb, I say it doesn’t count.]
And then the theories about Dany letting Jon die, Melisandre maybe bringing Jon back to life once again? None of them were true. All things considered, this was a pretty straightforward episode without any left-field twists and turns. Arya completed her hero’s journey, the good guys won and almost all of the fan favorites made it out alive.
At least that’s what I think happened. It was hard to really see anything.
Previous Season 8 recaps