The Night King (Vladimir Furdik) unleashes hell on Winterfell in Game of Thrones most epic and stunningly crafted episode yet. Miguel Sapochnik, who also directed "Hardhome" and "Battle of the Bastards" has earned another Emmy win. "The Long Night" had several key characters meet their doom valiantly. House Mormont was loyal and brave to the very end. Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) returns to fulfill her destiny, and was invaluable to the fight. Theon's (Alfie Allen) path to redemption was completed with honor. And in the biggest twist of perhaps the entire series, Arya (Maisie Williams) proves to be the greatest Stark in the history of Westeros.

The Long Night opens with Sam (John Bradley) shaking with fear. He's handed dragonglass daggers and ordered to get moving. He walks to the front of the castle as the Unsullied march by and Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) rallies her men. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) grabs a gourd of wine. He watches as Theon, Alys Karstark (Megan Parkinson), and the Ironborn take Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) to the Godswood. Davos (Liam Cunningham), Sansa (Sophie Turner), and Arya with the archers on the wall. Rhaegal and Drogon circle the castle screeching from above.

A magnificent tracking shot shows the trench, the Unsullied, a line of trebuchets, and the Dothraki on their horses in front of Winterfell. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), and Podrick (Daniel Portman) stand before the northern soldiers quietly; Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) stoically with the Unsullied. Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and Beric (Richard Dormer) are with the Free Folk. Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and the Hound (Rory McCann) push their way to join them. Sam finally gets there. Dolorous Edd (Ben Crompton) sharply remarks, "For f*cks sake, you took your time."

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There is silence and nervous anticipation as Jorah (Iain Glen), on horseback leading the Dothraki, waits with Ghost, the direwolf, at his side. Jon (Kit Harington) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) watch the battlefield with the dragons from a nearby cliff. Davos watches as the Red Priestess, Melisandre, trots out of the darkness towards Jorah and the Dothraki. She tells Jorah to have the Dothraki lift their swords. Melisandre holds one and speaks an enchantment. The Dothraki swords all erupt in flame. Sansa, Arya, Davos watch in amazement as the swords light up in a sweeping movement. As Melisandre trots towards the gate, she passes Grey Worm and says, "Valar morghulis". He responds, "Valar dohaeris". All men must die, all men must serve.

Davos orders the gate opened for the Red Woman. He walks downstairs to confront her. She calmly tells him there's no need to execute her, she will be dead before the dawn. She walks past him and looks directly at Arya with a knowing stare. The Dothraki scream at a fevered pitch as they charge towards the unseen army of the dead. Jon and Daenerys watch from their vantage point as the thundering wall of light gallops forward. The Unsullied launch flaming projectiles. They arch over the Dothraki and explode into the dead before them. The battle has begun.

Everyone watches in horror as the Dothraki flaming swords are snuffed out completely. Riderless horses, followed by a wounded Jorah, race back to the castle in defeat. Jon and Daenerys are stupefied. She ignores Jon's request to wait for the Night King and jumps on Drogon. On the field, Grey Worm puts on his helmet. A snarling sea of white walkers crashes into the Unsullied. It's chaos and carnage as every character on the front line is under a withering assault. Brienne yells, "Stand your ground." She's knocked over by the dead. Jaime comes out swinging and rescues her. A blast of flame hits the dead attacking them as Drogon strafes the battlefield with dragonfire.

Everyone on the ground and the wall look up as Jon and Daenerys bring the heat. Riding Rhaegal and Drogon, they criss cross the battlefield, laying down jets of fire. They see the Night King's lieutenants at the tree line in the rear. As they swoop down on them, a blinding wall of freezing wind, snow, and fog engulfs Winterfell. The dragonfires are extinguished. Arya commands Sansa to hide in the crypt. She gives her sister a dragonglass dagger. Sansa doesn't know how to use it. Arya replies, "Stick them with the pointy end."

In the Godswood, Bran sits by the weirwood tree with Theon and his men encircling him. The snow storm hits them. Jorah is knocked off his horse, but is quickly back on his feet, swinging Heartsbane. It's frenzied carnage as every character on the line fights. Sam is thrown to the ground, but is rescued by Edd. He watches as Edd is speared through the throat.

Sansa reaches the crypt, where the women, children, and elderly are hiding. She walks to Gilly (Hannah Murray), Varys (Conleth Hill), Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Tyrion. The look of despair in her eyes lets Tyrion know the battle's status. He guzzles wine. Above the castle, Jon and Daenerys fly blind in the storm. Jon smashes in tree tops before accidentally flying straight into Daenerys. Both dragonriders recoil from the impact.

Tormund screams for everyone to fall back. Brienne echoes the command. Lyanna orders the gates opened. The survivors run into the courtyard. Grey Worm yells to the Unsullied, "Protect the retreat! Stand your ground!" They form a phalanx, holding back the dead as the living pour into the castle. Jon lands on the wall by the Godswood. There are magnificent overhead shots as the Unsullied are pushed back by the dead.

Arya shoots a flaming arrow to protect the Hound. Grey Worm gives the order to retreat. The Unsullied fall back into the castle. Grey Worm yells, "Light the trench!" Davos raises the flaming signal, but Daenerys cannot see him through the icy fog. The remaining Unsullied left are overrun. Grey Worm collapses the bridge to the gate. Arya and the other archers shoot flaming arrows to light the trench, but the wind is too strong.

Melisandre approaches a blood covered Grey Worm. The Unsullied form a rectangular wall to protect her. She touches an oil covered barricade in the trench. She chants with conviction, but its not working. The dead are crashing all around her. The spell kicks in and the trench explodes into flame. Daenerys, flying above, watches as a wall of fire circles Winterfell. The dead halt their advance. There is a momentary respite as the survivors get to the gates. The Hound is stricken with fear from the fire and burning flesh.

In the crypt, Tyrion becomes restless. If he were outside, maybe he would see something and be able to help. He brings up the Battle of the Blackwater. Varys scoffs, you got your face sliced in half. Sansa speaks honestly, you would die, there's nothing you can do. They are down there for a reason. It's the most heroic thing they can do. Tyrion comments they should have stayed married. Sansa replies that he was the "best of them." They share a quiet moment, before she says it wouldn't work between them. The Dragon Queen has divided their loyalties. Missandei acidly retorts that they would all be dead without Daenerys.

In the Godswood, Theon apologizes to Bran for his actions. Bran tells him that his actions have brought him where he belongs, home. Bran begins to warg. He controls a flock of ravens as they fly over Winterfell. Daenerys continues to strafe the dead. The ravens fly high into the air. The Night King sits atop Viserion. He raises his arm. The dead move towards certain point at the flaming trench. Their bodies pile up, providing breaches for the other dead to march over. Davos screams for everyone to man the walls.

The dead get over the trench and start to climb the castle walls. Jon sees the Night King hovering. He launches Rhaegal to attack. Jaimie orders the archers to go higher. Everyone that was on the front now stands on the wall to repel the dead, who are surging by the thousands. The carnage restarts as the dead teem over the walls. Brienne saves Jamie as they fight back to back. Jorah helps Sam, but the dead are now crashing into the courtyard and entering the castle.

Arya goes into ass-kicking mode with the split spear weapon that Gendry made. She's plowing through the dead like a boss. Beric screams for the Hound to snap out of it, but he's still paralyzed by the fire. A wight giant smashes through the gate, then swats away Lyanna. Arya is knocked over and gets up bloodied. The giant is wreaking havoc in the courtyard. Beric screams for the Hound to help, but he's all but given up, "We can't beat death." Beric points to Arya fighting, "Tell her that!" The Hound snaps back into action and races to help Arya.

A bloody and battered Lyanna screams at the giant, who then picks her up and starts to crush her. With her dying breath, she stabs the giant in the eye with a dragonglass dagger. Their bodies fall to the ground, and then are trampled by the unrelenting white walkers. Daenerys and Jon fly above the fog, looking for the Night King. He comes hurtling at them from below. Viserion blasts Drogon.

Arya is by herself in the castle. She picks up a spear tip and walks quietly through the library filled with the dead. She hides under a table, but her blood hitting the floor alerts them. She throws a book to draw them away, then spears one to escape. They burst through the doors and chase her through the corridors. In the crypt, Sansa listens to screams outside as men are begging to be let in. There is deathly silence as the screams stop.

The Hound and Beric search for Arya. A door comes crashing down with the dead on top of her. Beric throws his sword to free her. The Hound picks up Arya and runs. Beric stays behind them to provide cover. He's stabbed in the back repeatedly. They make it to the banquet room. The Hound barricades the door, as Beric dies in front of Arya. Melisandre is waiting for them. "The lord brought him back for a purpose. Now that purpose has been served." Arya recognizes her. She remembers what Melisandre had told her, way back in season three:

"I see a darkness in you. And in that darkness, eyes staring back at me. Brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes. Eyes sealed shut forever. We will meet again.

Melisandre continues, "What do we say to the god of death." A realization dawns on Arya as she replies what Syrio Forel had taught her in training, "Not today!" She runs away to the astonishment of the Hound.

In the Godswood, the dead make it to Bran. Theon tells his men, "Make every shot count." Above, the Night King swoops down with Viserion and blasts a hole through the castle wall. Jon attacks with Rhaegal. The dragons swirl, clawing, and scratching. Rhaegal takes vicious claws to the chest before Daenerys and Drogon join in. Drogon bites Viserion's neck, the Night King is thrown off. An injured Rhaegal crashes into the snowy ground. Jon is sent tumbling.

Daenerys hovers with Drogon above the Night King, who's standing by the castle. "Dracarys," she blasts him with a torrent of dragonfire. Then recoils in amazement as he's left unfazed. The Night King smirks and throws an ice spear. Dragon dodges it and flies away. Jon unsheathes his sword and trudges toward the Night King.

As Jon approaches, the Night King raises the dead. Everyone who has died, including Edd and Lyanna, rise like zombies. The new dead circle Jon. The characters still fighting are astounded as the new white walkers attack. The Night King's lieutenants enter the castle gates. In the crypt, Gilly screams as the buried dead awake as well. She grabs baby Sam and runs.

In the Godswood, Theon and his men run out of arrows as the dead encircle. Daenerys rains fire to clear a path for Jon. When she lands, the dead swarm Drogon. They stab him savagely as Daenerys is pulled off. Drogon lifts off into the air covered in the dead. Jorah rushes to defend Daenerys. Jon runs into the castle. His men are being swarmed all around him. He sees Sam, Tormund, Grey Worm, Brienne, and Jamie, all fighting for their lives. But cannot stop to help, he must reach Bran.

His men killed, Theon grabs a spear and defends Bran solo. Outside the castle, Jorah does the same for Daenerys. The dead have overrun Winterfell. In the crypt, Sansa and Tyrion hide together behind a tomb. They hold hands. He kisses hers tenderly at the end. They pull out their dragonglass daggers to go out fighting.

Viserion lands on the wall and pins down Jon with his blue ice flame. Jaime, Podrick, and Brienne are trapped against the caste wall. Somber music plays as it looks like the last moments. Grey Worm continues to fight like a beast. Jorah is stabbed in the side as Daenerys swings a sword. Sansa and Tyrion find Varys hiding with several children.Jon cannot get past Viserion. Jorah is stabbed in the arm. Theon fights as the Night King enters the Godswood. Sam cries in the bloody chaos.

The dead halt their advance on Theon. They part as the Night King and his lieutenants reach the weirwood tree. Bran stops warging. Theon stares into eyes of the Night King. Bran says, "Theon, you are a good man. Thank You." Theon steels his resolve. He takes the spear and charges screaming. The Night King breaks it in half, then impales Theon through the abdomen. Theon dies at his feet. In the courtyard, Viserion has Jon in his sights. Outside the castle, Jorah takes a sword in the chest. But still stands to defend Daenerys.

The Night King calmly stands in front of Bran. Bran looks into his cold blue eyes, then slightly past him. A violin accompaniment hits a soaring crescendo. Viserion is about to kill Jon with its jagged teeth. The Night King reaches back for his sword. Arya comes leaping behind him. The Night King pivots and snatches her out of the air by the neck. Arya drops Littlefinger's Valyrian steel dagger into her right hand, then stabs the Night King in the same place where he was created. He turns to ice and shatters before her.

The lieutenants disintegrate into ice particles. A screeching Viserion collapses in front of Jon. The dead army falls to the ground, corpses once more. The survivors on the wall, in the courtyard, and the crypt are stupefied. Under the weirwood tree, Arya smiles at Bran. Jorah dies in Daenerys' arms. Drogon, injured but alive, lands beside his weeping mother. Melisandre walks out of the castle through piles of bodies. Davos follows behind her. She drops her cloak, then the enchanted necklace that kept her young. She staggers forward briefly as an old woman, then dies in the snow.

"The Long Night" raised the bar for television excellence. The production design, cinematography, and visual effects never eclipsed the breathtaking magnitude of the episode. Storylines that were developed from the beginning came to fruition in a brilliantly atmospheric way. Miguel Sapochnik's crafting of the script didn't let battle scenes detract from the personal tensions. Game of Thrones is possibly the best series ever to be so huge in scope, but dramatically intricate with character exposition.

Maisie Williams kicked our asses into the ground. Arya Stark's journey from tomboy sister to Night King killer is so freaking epic. NO ONE saw this ending coming. Kudos to George R.R. Martin, D.B. Weiss, and David Benioff having her character, not Jon Snow, or Daenerys Targaryen, be the hero. When you look back, it makes perfect sense for Arya to defeat the Night King. Her training, intelligence, and pure fortitude have been richly explored. Dare I say that no matter who sits on the Iron Throne, she is the greatest Stark.

The dead are defeated. Edd, Lyanna, Beric, Theon, Jorah, Melisandre, and the Night King were lost. Now, the battle for the living commences. Cersei was absolutely correct to sit out this fight. The Dothraki are all dead. The Unsullied have been decimated, along with the soldiers of the north. Daenerys, even with her two dragons, and remaining forces will have a hard time fighting the Lannister army, the Golden Company, and Euron Greyjoy's Iron Fleet. I have a feeling we're going to see Daario Naharis and the Second Sons of Meereen back in the game. The battle for the Iron Throne begins in earnest. Will a Targaryen, Lannister, Stark, or perhaps a Baratheon rule? It's entirely possible that a new alliance will be victorious. Game of Thrones reaches the halfway mark of the final season with the stakes higher than ever.

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Julian Roman