Last night’s episode of Game of Thrones, “The Long Night,” was extremely good. The intense claustrophobia caused by the fog of war, paired with fleeting glimpses of an infinite wall of undead bodies, made for an unforgettable episode of television.
But the most climactic moment left me a little cold.
[Ed. note: This post contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 3, “The Long Night.”]
Since the introduction of the Night King, the otherworldly snowman with the power to raise the dead, we knew his time would come. Even though George R.R. Martin was calling the broad-stroke shots, it didn’t seem likely that the Seven Kingdoms would descend into a permanent, undead winter. So the big question going into Thrones season 8 was obvious: How and when would the Night King die?
The answers: Arya Stark, with the dagger, in the Godswood.
Arya spent much of the episode scrambling away from dozens of wights, including a tense scene in the Winterfell library. While flickers of her assassin training were visible (particularly when she wielded the Gendry-crafted dual-bladed spear), she was still visibly terrified. Which, like, fair. We would be, too.
But something changed in her eyes after Beric Dondarrion, the eye-patched and frequently revived Lightning Lord, sacrificed himself to save her. After his death at the hands of a group of wights, Melisandre confirmed that he would not be waking up again. Staring at Arya, she said that he had “served his purpose.” Ayra suddenly knew what she had to do, and sprinted off into the night.
The next time we see her, she’s flying through the air toward the Night King, hoping to make the fatal blow before he cuts down her brother Bran. He grabs her by the throat, but she drops the dagger into her off-hand and rams it home. Done and dusted.
But that was her plan? Sprint right at the Night King and hope for the best? I mean, I’m glad it worked out and all, but, to put it in Great British Bake Off terms, the whole thing seemed ... a little underbaked.
It’s worth noting that the Night King was, at this point, fully surrounded by undead beings and his icy lieutenants, the White Walkers. There’s a moment when we see one of the cronies’ wispy hair blow in the wind, perhaps implying that Arya is using her assassin skills to slip by everyone and go in for the kill. This is impressive but dramatically simple, especially when we consider some of the skills that Arya has at her disposal.
Let me paint an alternate way this could have gone down, had the show’s writers leaned hard into Thrones mythology:
The whole episode plays out the same way. The Night King kills Theon and approaches Bran, ready to end his war with the Three-Eyed Raven once and for all. He unsheathes his ice sword and pulls back to deal the killing blow.
And then Bran stands up.
He stabs the Night King in the chest with the same Valyrian dagger used in his own attempted assassination back in season 1. The Night King explodes; Bran falls to his knees, and then rips off his face to reveal Arya. Now that’s a Game of Thrones assassination!
Now, to address some lore snobbery: Yes, Bran was marked by the Night King, making it unlikely that such a disguise would have worked. But there’s no reason Bran couldn’t have hid behind or in the tree just above Arya. We don’t know just precise the Night King’s tracking abilities are, but if they’re anything like my phone’s GPS, they may be a little wonky.
Lore snobbery point two: Don’t people have to be dead for Faceless Men to steal their faces? Don’t the Faceless Men literally have to cut the skin off a face, Hannibal style, to pull off this particular magic trick? Apparently not. In season 5, we actually see Jaqen H’ghar take on the appearance of Arya herself while taunting her. So it’s possible!
Whether the lore allows it or not, there’s no question that everything that Thrones has built over the last eight years made me think we’d get something more than a character simply running at the Night King and stabbing away. This series has always been about well-laid plans and subtle hints directing us to speculate what the future holds. Consider the number of clues pointing to Cersei’s plan to blow up the Sept of Baelor, or the prelude to the Red Wedding. In contrast, Arya’s assassination feels like an afterthought.
That said, I’m glad it all worked out! Just a little more craftiness next time, maybe? This is Arya we’re talking about.