33 Questions for Episode 3, The Battle of Winterfell
Welcome to Thrones season: new pieces through the eighth and final season on April 14. Spoilers through the end of Season 7 and episodes of Season 8 aired by the time of publishing. You can see all Thrones coverage, including that from Season 7, here.
Quick note before we get started: I really, REALLY enjoyed Episode 3. It was masterfully paced, beautifully scored, sprinkled with enough meaningful deaths (but not so many that it felt like a gimmick), filled with oh-shit-did-that-just-happen moments (RIP Lyanna), and brimming with misdirects (I guess the Night King is actually here after all). It was just the big finish that left me confused and irritated – and it's not just because it wasn't the ending *I* wanted. The conclusion to the Battle of Winterfell and to the Night King's overall saga was narratively inconsistent and lacking in believability. And hey, if you enjoyed the episode, more power to you. But in the ensuing adrenaline rush, I started to formulate quite a few questions…
1) What is the point of Bran? No seriously – I'm an admitted Bran hater, but surely he must be useful in some kind of way. Warging is a talent that very few (and no one else in the show cast) have, but it didn't seem like he could be bothered to use it for any practical purpose. Could he have compelled ravens to strategically drop poop bombs onto wights? Was he just out here watching Episode 4?
2) Why did the Night King care so much about Bran? From what we understand about the Night King, he wants to take over everything and kill everyone, so he can bring about an endless night. So they'd get to Bran eventually, but why the rush? Perhaps he was afraid that Bran would be able to search through all of time for a way to defeat him, but it turned out, beating him didn't require some intricate trick. On that note…
3) IT WAS THAT EASY? WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
4) WHERE DID SHE COME FROM?
5) Did Bran warg into some ravens, have them carry Arya, and drop her from the sky onto the Night King? I don't have any problem with the fact that it was Arya that got to have the finishing blow (I specifically like that it wasn't Jon). It's actually a nice payoff, considering that Arya's whole 'faceless men' training seemed somewhat pointless since she hadn't put it to use since murdering the Freys over a season ago. I liked the full-circle bit of using the Valyrian steel dagger originally intended to kill Bran, although if it were really full circle it would have been Bran that somehow wielded it. I thought the episode nicely foreshadowed the event, spending a lot of time with Arya, showing her many skills (stealth among them) and all the people willing to die for her for some reason. It just felt unearned. You can't have the primary antagonist of the entire series be dispatched with a seemingly simple sneak attack. Can you?
6) So the Night King could withstand falling from a dragon and being set ablaze by Drogon, but not a little stabby stabby to the gut?
7) Isn't Valyrian steel effectively dragon fire molded into a solid form? Or at the very least, physical material that's forged with dragon fire (even though the exact methodology for creating it has been lost, that much is known)? So shouldn't it be functionally equivalent to burning something with dragon fire? Why does one work when the other doesn't?
8) Did Arya somehow un-make the Night King? He was created – as we saw on-screen – in front of a Weirdwood Tree, having been stabbed through the heart with dragonglass (probably with some spells included). But if he was un-made, wouldn't he have turned back into a human?
9) Speaking of which, is the Night King just as dumb as the human characters? Surely he realizes that he could have just stood back and let his army do all the work without putting himself in danger. Winterfell was just minutes away from falling, from the looks of it. If he had just waited, he could have strolled in unencumbered.
10) Why did the Night King need to ride his dragon? Doesn't he have some kind of mental connection with every wight? Couldn't he have controlled zombie-Viserion from afar? And even if he couldn't, some basic instruction ("kill the other dragons") would have been sufficient. Even Dany doesn't really control Drogon, she just tells him "dracarys" about 10% of the time, usually when it's a cool moment. And of course, the one place where the dragon could actually be useful (with him in the godswood), he was sent off to… kill more random humans?
11) Was the Night King / White Walker backstory *completely* unnecessary, in retrospect? Turns out, it didn't really matter what the Night King wanted or why he wanted it, just that he was a bad guy and needed to be beat.
12) What was the point of the White Walkers? The wights did pretty much all of the lifting for the duration of the battle, and the Walkers just stared expressionless. Could they have at least fired ice spears at the dragons? It feels like the only purpose they served was to demonstrate that Valyrian steel was their only weakness. And why weren't the Walkers more of a focus in the humans' battle plans? The wights clearly outnumbered the humans, so surely Walkers should have been more of a target?
13) Did Jon really not realize that keeping people in the crypts wasn't a great idea? He was the one who saw the Night King raise the dead at Hardhome. Surely he knows that crypts have, you know, dead people in them?
14) How many skeletons still existed in the crypts during the Battle of Winterfell? The environment surrounding a body heavily impacts the amount of time it takes for a skeleton to get dry and brittle enough such that they break at the slightest touch. And assuming it was only Stark bodies that were kept in the crypts (and not remnants of people from other families), there can't have been that many total. In the books, Bran sees the names of about two dozen people while hiding in the crypts with Rickon and Osha during Theon's sack. From recent generations, there would be only Ned, Rickon, and Lyanna – the rest not having had bones to bring back (Lord Rickard and Ned's brother Brandon were burned alive by the Mad King, Catelyn was thrown in the Trident, and Robb's body was presumably unrecovered from the Freys).
15) Are we really done with the Walker storyline? The very first scene of the series featured the White Walkers. Many of the season intros and outros have likewise featured the Walkers. And thematically, the entire show centered around the insignificance of wanting a simple throne while there's a far more pressing threat to be dealt with, but now we're going to go back to the insignificant stuff after taking a single episode detour to deal with the big threat. Maybe even if we don't get any Walkers in present day, we'll learn more about their past that ties all of this together?
16) So, what message was the Night King trying to send? Remember all the spirals? Was he just really into feng shui?
17) Is this all some kind of elaborate misdirect? The Night King can't still be alive can he? Does he have face swapping powers too?
18) Wait, okay, I'm not past this yet – so the Night King knew that he had to create a specific set of circumstances (i.e. not spear-killing Jon and company while they camped on a small frozen island in the middle of a lake) to lure a dragon that he could murder and convert so that he would finally have a tool to destroy the Wall, but he didn't know that Arya had a Valyrian steel weapon? What?!
19) Why was it significant that Melisandre was super old? They saved that for one of their end-of-episode scenes, which are usually important events, but she could have done all of this while still being young.
20) How exactly does her magic work? Spells seem like the either-work-or-don't-work kind of thing, not the say-them-a-dozen-times-and-maybe-they'll-light-a-bigass-fire kind of thing.
21) A wall of fire seemed like an incredibly easy obstacle to surpass – didn't they have anything else they could have done? Jon knows that the wights can't cross water, so why not build a moat? Or just sprinkle small shards of dragonglass on the ground to create a minefield?
22) Oh, and why can't wights cross water again? Just because the plot needs them to have this weirdly specific weakness?
23) Was Dany wrong about Ser Davos being perfectly capable of giving the waving-fire signal by himself? It seemed like he could have used Tyrion to double the firepower. Also, the fact that the entire plan relied on a hand signal from about a half-mile away should be a fire-able offense.
24) Does this mean that all prophecies are kinda whack? Arya killing the Night King instead of Jon does water down the whole prince-who-was-promised deal. Can we say goodbye to the valonqar and Cleganebowl while we're at it?
25) So the real, unironic plan was to have Bran as bait, and only Theon around to protect him?
26) Could Theon have just chilled for like, 30 seconds? Not that he knew Arya was coming (clearly no one did), but playing defense in the hope of any help at all probably would have been the smart move.
27) When did Dany learn how to use a sword?
28) Why did the Dothraki stupidly charge into the distance? It's the middle of the night, you can't see shit, and you're fighting enemies who won't die. Also not to make this a race thing, but was it somewhat suspect that the two minority groups – the Dothraki and Unsullied – were on the very front lines?
29) Why did they pick Winterfell as the location to make this stand? Never mind that this is not the Winterfell of the books, where there are two exterior walls, but that "500 men can hold the castle against 10,000" has been disproven *multiple* times. Why not choose the Eyrie, which is actually the most impregnable castle because of the bottleneck at the gate. Plus, there's a chance that the Night King completely misses them (because the Eyrie is out of the way), and ends up going to King's Landing to take care of Cersei for everyone. Or, you could send Bran (with Theon to push his wheelchair) to King's Landing as a decoy.
30) Is everyone and everything just a lot easier to kill than we thought? Previous seasons established the grown dragons as borderline unstoppable, but all it'll take is a ginormous crossbow that Qyburn has been working on. Does that mean that Arya will meet her end in a similarly anticlimactic way?
31) I know this is about the previous episode, but was there really no other way Davos could be useful besides ladling out soup?
32) Sorry, last bit about the Night King – does the dude not have any armor on?! Are the markings all over his body just the way his skin is, kind of like Thanos' grill? Has he been shirtless this whole time?
33) And finally: does (my favorite character and underrated gameplayer) Varys still have a role to play? The show had several opportunities to kill him off – including in the crypts among the several other unnamed characters who died – but (seemingly deliberately) hasn't done so just yet. And Tyrion made a point to tell Ser Jorah and Varys that one of them would be wearing "this" (the Hand of the Queen pin) soon, and Jorah is gone now. Varys has been instrumental to too many things in this show to not have some further purpose.