Warning: This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones’ “The Long Night”.
This week’s Game of Thrones episode finally brought to a boil the ultimate threat we’ve been facing since season 1: the dreaded Others. The much-awaited and much-hyped battle finally arrived at Winterfell’s doorsteps and its hero wasn’t exactly the one everyone expected. Several viewers theorized Jon Snow to deliver the final blow to the Night King, as the supposedly prophesized Azor Ahai. Others made their bets on Daenerys, the foretold prince(ss) who was promised.
Most were shocked when the Night King’s demise was delivered at the hands of a slip of a girl, namely Arya Stark. And it turns out the cast themselves were similarly surprised once they found out.
Maisie Williams learned to love the enormous task she was given but admits that she was initially worried. She stressed over the possibility that fans would be disappointed or think she wasn’t ‘worthy’. She shared to Entertainment Weekly:
It was so unbelievably exciting. But I immediately thought that everybody would hate it; that Arya doesn’t deserve it. The hardest thing is in any series is when you build up a villain that’s so impossible to defeat and then you defeat them. It has to be intelligently done because otherwise people are like, ‘Well, [the villain] couldn’t have been that bad when some 100-pound girl comes in and stabs him.’ You gotta make it cool. And then I told my boyfriend and he was like, ‘Mmm, should be Jon though really, shouldn’t it?
Just like in the show, though, Williams realized that this was the right way to end things once they filmed the scene with Carice van Houten’s Melisandre. As the Red Woman brings back a moment from season 3, where she prophesizes “brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes… eyes you’ll shut forever”, Williams realized that the show was always leading down this path. This was what pushed her to embrace her on-screen destiny:
When we did the whole bit with Melisandre, I realized the whole scene with [the Red Woman] brings it back to everything I’ve been working for over these past 6 seasons — 4 if you think about it since [Arya] got to the House of Black and White. It all comes down to this one very moment. It’s also unexpected and that’s what this show does. So then I was like, ‘F—k you Jon, I get it.’
Showrunner David Benioff actually states in a featurette that he had been building up to this moment for the past 3 seasons already. Most fans may have been looking forward to Jon facing off with the Night King but Benioff had very specific plans with how it was going to end. He shares that ending it with Jon “didn’t feel right”.
Kit Harington, meanwhile, did come to appreciate the course of events in the end. But that doesn’t mean he was initially happy with it. In the same featurette, he expresses: “I was pissed. I was pissed that it wasn’t me killing the Night King. I’d have bet you thousands that year, it’s going to be me.” Then he admits that he saw the wisdom of the choice, eventually:
But I like it. It gives Arya’s training a purpose to have an end goal. It’s much better how she does it the way she does it. I think it will frustrate some in the audience that Jon’s hunting the Night King and you’re expecting this epic fight and it never happens — that’s kind of Thrones. But it’s the right thing for the characters. There’s also something about it not being the person you expect. The young lady sticks it to the man.
Miguel Sapochnik, the episode’s director, confesses that they tried to strongly redirect the audience’s suspicion towards Jon as the ultimate savior. In true Game of Thrones fashion, they pulled out all the stops just to make Jon’s trajectory in the episode make him out to be the deus ex machina they badly needed — then turn that on its head. Sapochnik says:
I thought, ‘Hmm, if I see Arya running then I know she’s going to do something. So it’s about almost losing her from the story and then have her come in as a surprise and pinning all our hopes on Jon being the guy going to do it — because Jon’s always the guy. So we follow Jon in a continuous shot I want the audience to think: ‘Jon’s gonna do it, Jon’s gonna do it…’ and then he fails. He fails at the very last minute. So I’m hoping that’s a nice switch that no one sees coming.
To be fair, with the lighting of that episode I’m not sure any of us saw anything coming…
What did you think of the plot twist?