The last two episodes of Game of Thrones, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" from last week and "The Long Night" from last night, will be remembered for different reasons. Both episodes worked as culminations of the last eight years of watching. "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" draws its power from the ways we have come to know the characters over the years. "The Long Night" ended the part of the saga that began in the first scene of the first episode, when we met the White Walkers. Some complained about "Seven Kingdoms" because "nothing happens", which translates to "where was the action?" Meanwhile, "The Long Knight" was basically one long, epic battle. Game of Thrones has always been about both character and action (and sex) ... perhaps it's appropriate that, taken together, these two episodes cover all the ground.
Still, it seemed to me that the episodes foregrounded the way different people in the audience expect different things from the series. At best, the action fans tolerated "Seven Kingdoms" because they knew of the big battle to come. They would feel cheated, though, if the show went multiple episodes without some action of some sort. People like me enjoy action scenes, but absent interesting characters, the action would get old fast, and I found "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" to be one of the finest episodes in the show's run. Many pairings of characters came to resolution in "Seven Kingdoms", resolution that didn't rely solely on "let's kill some White Walkers". This may be the best moment ever in a series of best moments:
Without trying very hard, you can find reactions to "The Long Night", most of which are about how dark the episode was. For once, "dark" doesn't refer to the tone of the series, but to something else, which Dave Itzkoff summarized perfectly, tweeting "just an incredible episode so far" and adding this screen capture:
(An informative discussion of the cinematography comes from Matthew Dessem: "Why You Couldn’t See a Damn Thing on This Week’s Game of Thrones".)
Meanwhile, I'll tip toe around spoilers, and just say that in a crucial scene involving Arya, I was reminded of something I wrote about Avengers: Endgame:
Captain Marvel kicked some serious ass, which resulted in some screenplay chicanery ... early on, she explains that there is so much trouble in the universe that she has to cover a lot of ground. Thus, she disappears for a good part of the movie, only returning when she is needed to kick ass. If she had stuck around at the beginning, the movie might have been half as long.
I'm not saying I wish Game of Thrones had only lasted for four seasons, and like many, I find Arya to be one of the best characters on the show. Her character arc over the years has been well-done, and her big moment in "The Long Night" is appropriate. But, as with Captain Marvel and Endgame, I couldn't help wondering why I sat through 80 minutes of barely-visible action when matters could apparently have been settled in far less time.