WARNING – THIS POST CONTAINS HUGE SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: ENDGAME & THE THIRD EPISODE OF THE EIGHTH SEASON OF GAME OF THRONES. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED, PLEASE DO NOT CONTINUE READING WITHOUT HAVING SEEN THE ONE(S) YOU CARE ABOUT.
This weekend was always meant to be an anticipated and emotional one for nerds and fans of pop culture in general. On the silver screen, an unprecedented narrative across 22 films and 11 years was coming to an end. On television, viewers (including those who have waited since 2011) were finally going to see a built-up threat shrouded in mystery and mysticism become a tangible adversary for humanity. No one could deny the hype behind both Avengers: Endgame and The Long Night.
Despite being wildly different fictional universes that require different suspensions of disbelief, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and Game of Thrones (GoT) have more common ground than one would think. The obvious one being that both are based on source material from books. While Marvel Comics was founded in 1961, A Song of Ice and Fire’s first book, A Game of Thrones, was published in 1996.
The constant retcons in comics and the nature of comic writing as opposed to fantasy novel writing allowed the MCU some freedom to bring the story into a modern and more streamlined setting. They didn’t have to follow the source material page-for-page. They simply had to do the characters right and pay homage where it is due. As long as you’re doing that and still telling a good story and sticking to your theme, it’s completely okay to put a scene where an overweight Thor yells at some gen-Z degenerate who is bullying Korg on Fortnite. It makes more sense than what happened in The Long Night, at least.
Fantasy novels are different, especially when you’re trying to finish an uncompleted book series on television. You don’t have to include every single minute detail that an author will take the time to do, but you still have to commit to the main beats of the story and the theme. That’s where the issue with The Long Night lies.
A Song of Ice and Fire is fundamentally a story about how war, petty political squabbles amongst noble houses, and monarchs who put their needs above the realm ultimately plunge said realm into an endless cycle of chaos and innocent lives being taken. The final test is a supernatural threat that gives humanity a choice between unity and death. If you recall the first few pages/episodes of the story in a specific chapter/scene from Daenerys Targaryen’s point of view:
“‘The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends,’ Ser Jorah told her. ‘It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace.’ He gave a shrug. ‘They never are.’”
– George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones (1996), Daenerys (III)
For my Parks & Recreation fans out there, also recall when
Ser Ben Lighstorm Ben Wyatt was being the lovable nerd he is, and responded to being teased about his love of GoT by saying “It’s about telling real life stories in a fantasy setting”. As funny as that moment was, he was spot on.
GRRM’s story has often been proclaimed as an allegory for our real-life socio-political environment. While ours has gotten insane as of late, which allows people to often force metaphors that were not originally intended (i.e. Trump = Joffrey), GRRM absolutely meant the threat of the White Walkers to be an allegory for climate change and has confirmed this. Surprise, environmental issues aren’t a new concern, we’re just dealing with it very poorly. Hell, President Jimmy Carter was haunted by the energy crisis much like Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was haunted by the Long Night, both trying to lay some groundwork so that future leaders can lead the fight (History and ASOIAF buffs can nitpick that, but I hope that made sense as a very general metaphor).
The point being, there is a supernatural threat that can’t be beaten by humanity being divided and by conventional means. On top of that, you better believe that the threat does not discriminate the way we do…it’s coming for all of us.
So what’s the point then? Look, when I digest fiction I look for three main things: storytelling, themes, and characters. Despite my nitpicks in Avengers: Endgame, after this weekend it became clear to me that the minds behind the MCU cared about those things and meticulously planned out everything they could. The minds behind GoT absolutely did not care.
The MCU also chose to go this route of storytelling due to what they did with Thanos. Tony Stark developed a severe anxiety disorder and PTSD after the Battle of New York. The main reason? He saw what was coming. He went into the wormhole to stop a nuke from hitting NY, he defeated the Chitauri and realized immediately that this wasn’t the end. Due to his fears of “we’re too late” and “what are we supposed to do about that?”, he created Ultron which ended up being an issue for the Avengers in and of itself. We see our heroes make mistakes all throughout the saga (there are so many characters, so let’s just focus on the two pivotal ones): Steve Rogers and Tony Stark broke apart the Avengers and they were spread too thin when Thanos himself arrived. The Russo brothers themselves have confirmed that the main reason the Avengers lost in Infinity War was because they were divided after Civil War. We saw a petty political squabble break apart our chances. We saw Tony jumping the gun without properly explaining himself. We saw Steve not thinking big enough to foresee the threat. Most importantly? We saw the Avengers lose.
In Endgame, they got a second chance (friendly reminder that in real life, we don’t get quantum realm shenanigans to go back in time and fix our mistakes). Not only did our heroes use this second chance, but they all overcame what was bigger than themselves. Tony Stark, a man who was criticized as only fighting for himself, truly thought about all of humanity and sacrificed his life to save billions. Steve Rogers, a man who was criticized as a self-righteous prick who forces fights because he can’t live without war, let go of his “soldier” persona and embraced simply being a good man. They let go of their personal baggage, stopped fighting each other, and succeeded against a world-ending threat in Thanos.
So why the long face when talking about The Long Night? To reiterate, A Song of Ice and Fire is fundamentally a story about how war, petty political squabbles amongst noble houses, and monarchs who put their needs above the realm ultimately plunge said realm into an endless cycle of chaos and innocent lives being taken. The final test is a supernatural threat that gives humanity a choice between unity and death…
…Except that supernatural threat now feels like a minor inconvenience, the people who put their needs above the realm are now in the right, and we’re back to war and petty political squabbles that are going to take more innocent lives. It’s an objectively terrible way to end the story.
With the Night King defeated in one episode, now we are left with Cersei Lannister and Euron Greyjoy being the biggest threats to the realm. Cersei’s incredibly selfish and stupid plan of denying the long night, waiting until the rest of the world dealt with it, and then plunging the realm into war again seems all but certain. Where is the breaking of the wheel? Where is the great supernatural threat of the White Walkers? What was the point of Jon Snow and Bran Stark’s arcs? What was the point of the Children of the Forest? So Old Nan really WAS just full of it, huh?
It’s almost insulting from a narrative standpoint. In the world the show-runners have created, the Long Night will go down in history as another “fairy tale the Northerners made up”, grumpkins and snarks as it was once said by Tyrion Lannister. This feels like the only people who won were the ones denying the threat. It serves as validation for people that put their inane drama over a united and cooperative human race. Not only is that not what GRRM presumably intended, but that also isn’t a world that I—and many people who are much better human beings than I—want to live in.
I’m no film student, and I’m no writer, but I don’t like to complain without providing solutions. A part of me genuinely thinks that this season would have been better if this episode was an incredibly tough battle where the living came out on top by being better tacticians (i.e. flanking with the Dothraki, Jon Snow using Ghost to scope the landscape just like Robb Stark used to do with Grey Wind, actually making use of a famously tough castle to breach, etc). You can still have fan-service moments like Arya Stark solo killing a Walker, Jon Snow running at a horde of wights with Ghost beside him and Rhaegal above him, Theon Greyjoy going out in a blaze of glory, and Lyanna Mormont defeating a giant. The end would be Bran Stark, who has warged into his ravens, realizing that the Night King totally skipped over Winterfell and went straight for King’s Landing. The ones who denied the threat are now suffering it, and the army of the living has to make one last stand despite their numbers being heavily depleted. That finale is where you would have your prophecies pay off, aka Valonqar and Azor Ahai, because this is still a fantasy story and the books deserve that homage.
One can only hope that the books handle everything a lot better (or, you know, ever even finish). As for the show’s message? Suffer more, common folk. The lords and ladies will continue to play the game of thrones and get us all killed, even after being threatened by an eternal winter.
I suppose Jon Snow isn’t the only one who knows nothing.