The Battle of Winterfell should have been the battle to end all battles. Instead, it was just… meh.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the White Walker v. Winterfell face-off just fine. The aerial shots were stunning, the pacing was heart-wrenching, the scope was unbelievable, and the episode was overall very entertaining. If this were any other franchise, I’m sure I would have been blown away.
But, this is Game of Thrones.
With high-stakes conflicts like the Battle of the Blackwater and the Battle of the Bastards (and the major losses that came with them) in recent memory, the surprisingly cheery Battle of Winterfell failed to deliver much of what makes Thrones so typically phenomenal.
And with only three episodes left in the series, that letdown couldn’t come at a worse time.
The stakes were surprisingly low
From the Red Wedding to the Destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor, Game of Thrones has made its name on devastating plot developments amid ruthlessly high stakes. As a result, every major character walking away from the one battle we’ve been preparing eight years for largely unscathed wasn’t a victory, so much as a disappointment.
Sure, I’m sad about Theon, Lyanna, Beric, Jorah, Melisandre, and Edd as much as the next fan. They were all very cool B-characters whom I will remember fondly and miss in Thrones’ final three episodes. But their deaths were hardly surprising — let alone impactful enough to carry the entire episode.
The fact that not one of the perilously-positioned main cast members faced their demise in the most highly-anticipated conflict of the series feels markedly un-Thrones.
Daenerys, Jon, Drogon, and Rhaegal escaped a never-ending sequence of close calls. Sam, Gilly, and little Sam shockingly survived the White Walker horde. The Stark siblings remain strong. Even Ghost made it out alive.
Of course, I didn’t want to lose any of these characters — but I did want to feel something during that 90-minute fight to the finish.
Thrones is notorious for serving up ugly cries on a Valyrian steel platter. Unfortunately, the low-stakes of the Battle of Winterfell made me care about it (and the remainder of the series) a whole lot less.
The White Walkers turned out to be super easy to beat
Perhaps the genuinely astonishing death of the Night King could have made up for the Battle of Winterfell’s dissatisfying body count — if only his and his army’s demise hadn’t been so anticlimactic.
Yes, I was thrilled that Arya was the one to save The Seven Kingdoms. But her attack on the Night King played out more like a Mortal Kombat takedown than the ultimate bombshell in a world-renowned, eight-season series.
For all the “dragon glass this” and “Valyrian steel that,” the many hours of strategizing around the Battle of Winterfell came down to a character leaping onto screen out of nowhere, knife in hand at the exact right time.
Following the seven seasons it took to get all of these incredible fighters into one castle, the big battle didn’t end up meaning all that much. A single stab and the series’ biggest bad turned into snowglobe filling, while the rest of his army daisy-chained through a hyper-convenient self-destruct sequence.
It was a badass victory, but not exactly worthy of all the hype that led up to it.
So, uh… what now?
All that being said, the finale of Game of Thrones cannot be adequately assessed until we are at the bitter end. With three episodes to go and an intense Cersei confrontation coming into sight, Thrones still has plenty of time to offer diehard fans the epic finale they’ve been hoping for — devastating deaths and all.
Here’s hoping that when those final credits roll, fans will be satisfied and the stakes restored.