Here’s your warning: spoilers for the ending of Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 3, “The Long Night,” are contained within.
Eight seasons later and they did it. Arya did it. In one fell swoop, Arya defeated both The Night King and his entire army. The biggest battle in TV history came to a definitive conclusion in one 82 minute time span, and the looming threat over the entire series since day one has now come to an end. But how exactly did Arya pull off that surprising twist and kill off one of the show’s most threatening characters?
With years of training, a little encouragement from Melisandre, and some Valyrian steel, of course. Not a Valyrian steel sword though, but the dagger that Bran casually handed to her in season seven; the dagger that the cutthroat was sent to kill him with during season one.
For seasons now we’ve known that Valyrian steel could take down a White Walker, but unlike all of the dragonglass mined at Dragonstone last season, Valyrian steel isn’t plentiful in Westeros these days. Only five people going into this battle had a Valyrian steel weapon, Arya being one of them. With all of Bran’s foresight, he seemed to have some sense that giving Arya this dagger would have a purposeful effect in the wars to come.
And it did.
Arya may have had Gendry forge her special weapon, which took down plenty of wights at the beginning of the episode, but it was this dagger that ultimately took down the Night King and all of his minions. This is another payoff for information learned in season seven. You kill a White Walker, you kill all of his wight-children too. So, as Beric noted in the “Beyond the Wall” episode, it really comes down to defeating one figure: the Night King himself who spawned the entire army of the dead. Once he is defeated, his army is as well, and the long night–a harsh and seemingly endless winter–ends.
Throughout the episode, it seemed unclear who would be the one to accomplish this goal. As usual, Jon and Daenerys seemed like obvious choices. Dany did try to burn the Night King with dragon fire when she got the opportunity but to no avail. And Jon, despite his most valiant effort, missed the chance too, even though he truly seemed like the most probable choice. After all, while the army of the dead posed a threat to the entire Westerosi world, taking on the Night King seemed to be a personal goal of his for the longest time.
So, for it to be Arya who ultimately takes down the Night King was a very satisfying surprise, even though now it seems clear that it had to be her. She is the most skilled assassin on the show. Years of training led her to this moment and her devotion to Winterfell, even after being away from home for so long, is the strongest it has ever been. To see her combine all of the skills we’ve watched her hone throughout seasons of the show to save her home was immensely rewarding.
Jon, Dany, and Bran have their own destinies but this ending was Arya’s.
She was able to ambush the Night King after he was lured toward Bran in the Godswood. In one swift and stealthy move, she uses her Valyrian steel dagger to pierce him right where the Children of the Forest pierced him with dragonglass during his creation. It is the ultimate blow which shatters him. It is significant because as Benioff and Weiss noted in the “Inside the Episode,” it is what undoes his creation.
In turn, the rest of the dead perish. Just like that, the battle is over, but not without some notable casualties.
Throughout the episode, we lost Edd and Beric and Lyanna Mormont. Near the end, we watch as Theon bravely sacrifices himself and Jorah dies protecting Daenerys, two of the most touching scenes of the entire episode. And to close it all, we watch as Melisandre removes her necklace and turns into her old self only to wither away and die in the snow as the light shines again on Winterfell.
It’s a fate she’s long known she’s had coming, and it had to happen now because put simply, her job was done.
We first saw Melisandre’s true appearance at the beginning of season six when she was revealed to be much older than she appears. The magic of her red necklace concealed this truth. At the time it was a shocking revelation that was only now revealed to Davos in this episode as he watches her die. But beyond the twist it provided at the time, it also confirmed the magic behind her character. It also signified how crucial her role ended up being in The Great War.
The last time we saw Melisandre before this episode was season seven, right before she sailed off to Volantis from Dragonstone, following her eerie conversation with Varys. She tells him that she has brought ice and fire together, meaning Jon and Daenerys and that she was done whispering in the ears of kings. She also promises to return to Westeros one last time to die.
Now we know why she needed to return. Her role in the battle at Winterfell against the army of the dead was a prominent one. Not only did she light up the Dothraki’s swords and stall the wights with a fire barrier, but she sent Arya on her way to kill The Night King and end the war.
So what does her death mean for the show going forward?
Reflecting back on Melisandre’s role in the series, she’s played a major part. She’s participated in some of the show’s most tragic moments, like the burning of Shireen, but she also brought Jon back from the dead. With Melisandre now gone, her magic from the Lord of Light is too. With Beric and Thoros dead as well, the one religion in Westeros that has seemed to actively help our heroes is now fading away with the figures who spearheaded it. In a way, Melisandre’s death signifies a more definitive sense of mortality to our remaining characters. Jon told her before the Battle of the Bastards that he didn’t want to be brought back if he died, but now, he really can’t.
That being said, while Melisandre herself may be gone, some of her last deeds remain. After all, she did bring ice and fire together, something that we’ll see the full effect of now that the Northern threat has been resolved. With the Night King and his army now completely defeated, and three episodes still remaining in the series, the show must get back to its defining conflict and perhaps break some wheels along the way.