Game of Thrones

The Long Night Is Over on Game of Thrones, but the Real Villain Is Still Coming

This is a show about politics, and the big bad isn't the Night King. It's Cersei Lannister.


In the third-season finale of Game of Thrones, Melisandre stared into the flames and declared, "This war of five kings means nothing. The true war lies to the north." As with many of the red priestess's prophecies, this one contained a small truth and a bigger lie.

Understand this: Game of Thrones's primary conflict was not the battle against the Night King, which came to an abrupt conclusion at the climax of the final season's third episode, "The Long Night." It's called Game of Thrones for a reason: This is a show about the ambitions of a slew of characters vying for supreme political power. Our heroes did not vanquish the true enemy last night, because the true enemy was never the Night King. It's Cersei Lannister, sitting pretty on the Iron Throne in King's Landing (a location she has never left since returning to it in the third episode of the series).

Frankly, I'm relieved. Unlike George R.R. Martin's books, where the White Walkers and the Army of Dead are an alluring and mostly unseen threat, the show never did a particularly good job of turning ice zombies into compelling adversaries. While they were occasionally used effectively—particularly in "Hardhome" and "The Door"—their lack of discernible motivation made them uninteresting in larger doses. (Bran's partial explanation that the Night King seeks to wipe out all memory was a bit too perfunctory for my tastes.)

Whatever they were trying to accomplish, the White Walkers made a serious mistake letting their commander—whose continued existence is apparently necessary to sustain the magic that keeps them intact—waltz right into harm's way. Arya killed him with a Valyrian steel dagger, fulfilling Melisandre's earlier prophecy that she would shut "blue eyes" forever. Indeed, Arya fulfilled a lot of prophecies. It would seem that everyone's favorite Stark is "the prince or princess who was promised," the Lord of Light's chosen hero Azor Ahai, etc. This is a bit of a surprise, since it had seemed that either Jon or Daenerys—or both of them—were intended to fulfill such a role. But prophecies are tricky things, as Melisandre has come to understand. We will likely never understand exactly what the Lord of Light was doing, but perhaps his various interventions—the resurrections of Jon and Beric—were really just about getting Arya where she needed to be.

Her task completed, Melisandre allowed herself to succumb to her advanced age and wither away in the snow—an enthralling and graceful end for a fascinating character. Theon and Ser Jorah received fitting send-offs as well, though most of the core cast survived—including Brienne, Podrick, Tormund, and Grey Worm, who all seemed truly doomed at various moments. All named characters hiding in the crypts appeared to survive, as did both dragons and Jon's direwolf, Ghost. All in all, it was much less death than expected.

No matter. The true war lies to the south, where Cersei is waiting. Various pundits and commentators seem mildly concerned about this development: By offing the Night King in the middle of the season and saving Cersei for later, Game of Thrones is choosing a less fantastical and more conventional endgame. But really, this is GOT playing to its strengths. The Mad Queen is a more fitting villain, and one audiences understand a bit better. We know what she wants and why she feels she deserves it. We know what she is willing to do to get it. And of course, we know she has some tricks up her sleeves. The Night King is not the only one who can raise the dead to battle the living.

NEXT: The Problem With Nudging People to Happiness

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  1. I really didn’t want Reason to immediately spoil the new episode I’m planning to watch tonight.
    The episode sounds really lame for what was supposed to be the conclusion of 7 seasons build up to the greatest threat to mankind. While I’m sure it is entertaining; the show has fallen really far from the vision GRRM and the book material has set up.

    1. And yet you read it. Why are you mad at Reason?

    2. Seems like the show bit off more than it could chew. Now they have to wrap it up before the actors and producers lose interest.
      I certainly hope Martin has something better in store for the books. I read all that shit, he’d better make it interesting.

      1. Martin is done. The books won’t be finished.
        A) he doesn’t seem like the type who knows how to finish a story. He lives in the world he’s created – the only way to finish it for him would be victory of the night king
        B) GRRM is a celebrity now. He enjoys the spotlight HBO brought him. Celebrity, not author, is now his profession
        c) How to finish in a way that satisfies fans? “Fortunately” for GRRM, he’ll never have to figure that out – the show did it for him. No need to actually write it now

    3. Well, Beto’s gonna stop the true existential threat by spending only 1.5 trillion, so that was easy too.

  2. Dude, spoiler in the title? Damn that’s cold. Winter has finally come to the Reason reader.

    1. I avoid certain things on the internet knowing their will likely be spoilers. I figured a few “safe spaces” might be the political sites.

      What a fucking cock nugget. I think not putting spoilers in actual front page titles was part of the social contract. It just aired last night it’s not like it’s weeks old now. Im madder than I’ve ever been!!!

      …OK I am only medium mad, but seriously, what a bitch

      1. Yahoo News was worse, saying who died in their headlines (on the main News page) before it even aired on the West Coast.

    2. Dude, spoiler in the title? Damn that’s cold. Winter has finally come to the Reason reader.

      They’re only spoilers if you’ve seen a single episode of this idiocy. It’s beginning to be like The Walking Dead, after 7 seasons why isn’t everyone living happily ever after or dead?

      1. Yes, that’s what spoilers are.

  3. For a story that made its bones on killing off major protagonists, the existential battle had a lot of plot armor on the named characters. It seemed like they were copping out from being criticized for ending fan favorites.

    1. I’ve found the series to be rather predictable, in it’s own unique way, but last night was predictably predictable.

      You just knew who was going to do the deed, and the deaths were no great surprise. Kill off too many main characters and the plot lines become even more constricted.

      1. Well, they only have 3 episodes left. It’s probably about time to constrict things a bit.

    2. Yeah, I was sort of expecting a lot more main characters to die.

      If the whole first charge at the army of the dead had just disappeared completely and never been heard of again, that would have been a lot more dramatic and effective.

      1. Agree, when all the fires went out, there was that pause where people wondered what happened. No one coming back, including Jorah would have been a scarier outcome plus Dany would have either been frozen with grief or reckless with anger. Something for her to experience better than just flying around badly on the dragon.

  4. Robby Soave | 4.29.2019 2:47 AM

    2:47 a.m. and no spoiler alert, Robbie just couldn’t wait to deliver a big “fuck you” to the commentariat that gives him so much shit. Fortunately for me, I don’t follow Game of Thrones, so I don’t care, but those who do probably are going to be doubling down on the shit-slinging so I guess that’s a win for Robbie?

    1. If his spoiler is mostly read by people who aren’t engaged in the series is it still a win?

      Spoilers seems like such a millennial way to exact vengeance.

      1. Considering the tradition of whining about spoilers was started by Boomerlib Roger Ebert when The Crying Game came out, I find the 25-plus year trend of trying to keep everything a big secret to be childish and tiresome, especially in an internet-connected world. It’s really fucking obnoxious when it’s something that’s been out for years, if not decades–people had all that time to become familiar with the material, and it’s not the responsibility of the established fan base to act as if knowing these details is like eating the apple in the Garden of Eden.

        Hell, I WANT to know if something is shit before I waste my valuable time or money on it. Life’s too short to spend it pretending that not spoiling the pop culture shit sandwiches we consume will turn it into intellectual fine dining.

    2. It is my belief that Robby’s master plan was to give congenital whiners something to do, and he has succeeded beyond his wildest fantasies. But what’s next? Go to work for the Post or Times? Are there any heads remaining in the chatotariat that haven’t yet exploded?

  5. They Captain Marvel’d it.

    1. Gack, Captain Marvel sucks.

  6. Spoiler Alert…….

    It was bad fing ass from the very start. Arya’s story finally makes sense. She was hardly “no one”. The Dothraki, RIP, maybe shouldn’t crossed that narrow sea and overestimated your abilities? When Ser Jorah came back from the charge of the Dothraki my spine was tinkling. I thought that giant was going to eat Lady M. Theon was made of iron. Jon knocked that mfer off his dragon so when you question the NK’s strategy you got to consider the part Jon played in it. Best battle I’ve ever seen.

    1. Tingling, jesus. I swear I saw ice spiders. The army of the death was terrifying.

  7. pri·ma·ry
    [ˈprīˌmerē, ˈprīm(ə)rē]
    of chief importance; principal.
    “the government’s primary aim is to see significant reductions in unemployment”
    main · chief · key · prime · central · principal · foremost · first · [more]
    earliest in time or order.
    “the primary stage of their political education”
    original · earliest · initial · beginning · first · essential · fundamental · basic
    not derived from, caused by, or based on anything else; original.
    “his expert handling of the primary and secondary literature is clear on every page”

    Um, yeah, an existential battle for survival is indeed primary. Had they lost then concerns over Cersei would have been secondary to say the least.

    Otherwise the article was an excellent exercise in the author talking about what the author wanted to talk about.

    1. It’s like elections. Every election is the most pivotal one ever. After all, by the time it rolls around, we already know that we somehow muddled through the previous four years. The future is uncertain and could be full of DOOOOOM!

      I agree though. If you had to choose between either making Cersei or the night king go away, it’s pretty clear that humanity would be better off in the latter scenario.

    2. Depends on whether you are talking about the fictional world, or the fictional story in our world. It’s of primary primary importance in the world of the story. That doesn’t mean it’s the primary plotline of the story.

  8. I think someone at HBO had their head screwed on backwards with this episode.

    Too damn dark to tell what was happening to who for probably 80% of the episode.

    1. That was entirely frustrating. But it was probably so they could have random characters enter every scene and not question where they came from.

      How many times can you do the trope in a single episode where someone’s about to die and, bam, a wild savior has appeared to chop off a head? The answer is “a lot”, apparently.

    2. That was my biggest complaint about it. Apparently the CGI budget to bring back Ghost for this episode ate up anything remaining for decent lighting.

      1. My guess is they shot it brighter, but darkened it down until it didn’t look so much like Joe vs. the Army of Darkness

    3. They want you to buy a really expensive TV and turn off all the lights.

      1. Good one. I am TV shopping right now and know exactly what you refer to. 🙂

  9. I love watching Game of Throne. Very nice special effect has applied in this drama series.

  10. Someone at work told me that the Winter/Night King in Game of Thrones is supposed to symbolize climate change (supposedly confirmed by GRRM)… if so, they seemed to handle it okay. The real villain is the government anyway (Cersei) which is standing in the way of the one true government (Daenerys/Jon).


    I’m not convinced Cersei is the last villain. While the obvious solution of John Snow and Denaryus getting married is sitting there in everyone’s faces, the tension between them over John’s newfound status as the legitimate last male heir to the throne hasn’t played out yet. If I were an anarchist writing this script, Aragorn wouldn’t end up on the throne because that’s the way things should be. Rather, thrones would continuously ruin everything–including Denaryus and Aragorn.

    1. There is a possibility of one final Dance of the Dragons.

    2. Are you misspelling character names on purpose? Aragorn is from Lord of the Rings, not GOT.

      1. Aegon, Aragorn, at this point what difference does it make?

  12. Predictions are much less impressive when they’re made after the fact. You have no standing to say “that was so obvious” if you didn’t go on record calling it *before* the event.

    I laid out several predictions before this season started. By now, they’ve been mostly proven wrong : I had Jon killing Dany (with her consent) to create lightbringer, and then sacrificing himself to take out the night king. I had Samwell surviving to write a history of the whole affair, titling it “A song of ice and fire”. Jaime would kill Cersei, of course. Gendry would end up on the iron throne despite not even wanting the job, with battle heroics overcoming his bastardy (after Arya took out any remaining contenders ahead of him). He would go on to be a great king in a time of peace and prosperity.

    Perhaps GRRM will write a radically different ending to the book series, if he ever gets around to finishing it. I kind of hope so, I liked my version better. It certainly satisfies Martin’s stated intent for a bittersweet ending. As much as I like Dany, I’ll be sorely disappointed if she ends up on the throne.

    Oh yeah, the spoiler thing? Bad form. Tsk, tsk.

    1. Had you asked me Saturday I certainly would have said that choosing to hide in a crypt, from a guy who raises an army of the dead, was probably not a smart move.

      Did anyone not see that coming?

      1. My fearless predictions?

        Tyrion dies saving Jamie.

        Arya wears the face of Bron in order to kill Cersei.

        Dany and Jon fight, but Dany realizes the error of her ways when Jon is not harmed by dragon fire.

      2. Hey, they told us like 11 times that the crypts are safe, so it was pretty darn obvious what was going to happen there.

        I was wondering if they’d have an encounter with headless Ned. That would have been fun.

        1. Jon getting to say hi to his mother…

    2. I’m going to predict that Fat Boy won’t come anywhere close to finishing the books before he finally keels over from a heart attack. If he does manage to do it, it will be 1) disappointing as shit in the end, and 2) a good 1/5 the book content will be filled with his stupid food porn passages.

      1. Even Douglas Adams crapped out in the end.

    3. Stannis is going to ride in to mop up the survivors after the North plus Dany DoGood take out Cersei.

  13. “The Long Night Is Over on Game of Thrones, but the Real Villain Is Still Coming”

    Morgoth? Thanos? The Department of Motor Vehicles?

  14. Melisandre’s warning about the real threat might have been right. She did a lot to help the effort, after all.

    Now of course the armies who were doing the Right Thing are obliterated with Cersei and her mercenaries sitting pretty with that Urine Greyjoy guy.

    1. I wouldn’t say that she did “a lot”–flaming the Dothraki weapons turned out to be utterly useless (and as a lengthy aside/spergout, while i realize that this is all For Dramatic Effect, why the hell the defenders would send light cavalry against an undead horde of unknown number is beyond me. The Dothraki are still effective archers and hand-to-hand combatants because of their martial tradition, and would have been far more useful as skirmishers inside the wall. The only thing saving a lot of these characters is plot armor, because their battlefield tactics are carried out like a 10-year-old planned them.). The trench lighting was impressive and at least gave the remaining defenders time to fall back into Winterfell, although that was overcome in short order in the most hilariously easy manner.

      Mel aside, the heroes in this battle were Gendry and the blacksmiths that worked around the clock for days to make dragonglass weapons, which at least gave the defenders a fighting chance until the final kill shot, and Lyanna Stark, Theon Greyjoy, and Jorah Mormont, who went out like badasses.

      1. The Dothraki would have been most useful sent out into open space, especially given that they had airborne recon/strike support. They either would have drawn off a portion of the attackers or been able to strike the rear or flanks with repeated charge/withdraw.

        But no, you are right, they were sacrificed entirely for dramatic effect – to show that the dead are really, really tough and that annihilation is a real possibility. But also to allow Dany to show her emotional attachment to them by breaking with the plan, and then to allow Jon to show follow along.

        Same goes for the epic stupidity of hiding in a crypt full of dead people. But how else to create the opportunity for those emotional moments between Tyrion and Sansa?

        Which points out what this show is really about – the personalities and interpersonal relationships. All the rest – the fantasy elements, the warfare, the …politics… are all just window dressing for a bunch of character arcs.

        This is HBO. GoT is no different than Sopranos, or Rome, or Deadwood, or Westworld – they are all just a single grand screen where a hundred and one smaller stages can play out.

      2. They had to get rid of the annoying Dothraki somehow. Mel’s help might have given the few extra minutes needed to get Arya where she needed to be.

      3. I commented on WhatsApp to my poker friends, before the episode was even over, that Jon snow is tactically retarded.
        I got a lot of hate for “spoiling” – but how the hell is that a spoiler? A) tactics never actually affects any outcomes on the show, and B) Jon is tactically retarded, as was evident before this episode.
        I had to say something to someone. Leading off with a light cavalry charge straight at the yet unseen enemy is fn retarded! It was basically ritual sacrifice, which is really dumb when fighting the zombie maker. Would’ve been MUCH smarter, if one wanted to lead off with human sacrifice, to simply light all the Dothraki and their horses on fire.
        Why even go on the offensive?
        Fortify the shit out of the land around winterfell, create a funnel/bottleneck, and sit behind fortifications to receive zombie attack. If anything, keep the Dothraki in reserve and let them loose to flank the dead army as its engaged in the main battle.

        1. You know one thing that occurred to me later on? If the Unsullied are just going to be meatwalls, why not embed their shields and armor with dragonglass shards and edging to provide them with a secondary weapon and defense once the wights clawed through the spears?

          1. Good point.
            Really, a lot left on the table in that fight for the survival of humanity.
            Didn’t have to be that tough.

        2. Really, this is a problem I have with basically every show ever.

          I’m not an idiot, and understand both strategy and tactics better than your average guy. Not to mention just common sense! It’s not always military/combat related either, just plot lines that make zero sense.

          I think for a lot of dumb people this kind of stuff doesn’t even pop into their heads, because they’re morons who have no clue how to handle any situations either. Mouth breathers just can’t spot the stupidity.

          The endless mistakes characters make in basically every show/movie ever all come down to a single cause IMO: The writers themselves are morons who don’t know anything about strategy, tactics, combat, life skills, logical thinking, etc. Therefore they write things that any 18 year old who has been through basic training would know not to do, but show Navy Seals doing it or whatever. They show experienced adults making decisions 12 year olds would know not to. Shit like that. Because they’re so detached from reality and any sense of competency in basically anything that they actually WOULD do these things.

          This ruins almost all shows for me, because I can’t suspend my disbelief a lot of the time. Think Walking Dead: How would people as incompetent as most of the people on that show actually survive past the first week of a zombie apocalypse? Answer: They wouldn’t have, they would have died.

          These writers REALLY need to hire more script editors and “reality” consultants or something. Sometimes they write dumb things for plot reasons, but a lot of the time one could change one or two small things about the way a situation goes down and achieve the plot end WHILE making it not retarded. They’re apparently too incompetent to do this, even on most huge budget productions.

          Sometimes I think I should just move to LA and start charging people a million a picture to be an “edit out the stupid” script editor. So many scripts are OKAY, and then ruin an entire movie or show with a couple unforgivably retarded parts.

          Oh well. Such is the burden of being a high IQ person who actually knows shit about stuff.

  15. […] cool as a cucumber down in King’s Landing. Some are theorizing that maybe the Long Night isn’t over just yet and that the Night King wasn’t the true enemy. There’s a chance that dawn hasn’t […]

  16. […] cool as a cucumber down in King’s Landing. Some are theorizing that maybe the Long Night isn’t over just yet and that the Night King wasn’t the true enemy. There’s a chance that dawn hasn’t […]

  17. […] cool as a cucumber down in King’s Landing. Some are theorizing that maybe the Long Night isn’t over just yet and that the Night King wasn’t the true enemy. There’s a chance that dawn hasn’t […]

  18. Oh, we all know it’s Trump. GoT is nothing but one huge metaphor for the insanity of borders and the cruelty of their enforcement.

    More importantly, Vegas gave me 1000-1 odds for an ass-raping scene in the finale. I put down a quiet $100.

  19. A fitter ending would have been if the God of Tits and Wine had appeared to save the day.

  20. Danerys is the true villain — a messiah-like figure who believes she is right and it is her right to rule, for the people of course. Those are always the worst rulers.

    Power-mad realpolitik types like Cersei tend to do less harm in the long run.

  21. […] “The Long Night Is Over on Game of Thrones, but the Real Villain Is Still Coming,” by Robby Soave […]

  22. Robby …. how can you be wrong all the time? The entire series is called A Song Of Ice And Fire. Book 1 is called A Game Of Thrones. Remember how the series began with the Night Watch patrol encountering the slaughtered wildlings? The main plot of Martin’s series was the coming of winter and the Long Night (meaning death) symbolized by the Night King, White Walkers and the Army of the Dead which are separated from the living by a wall … a thin line. The game of thrones is just that Robby, a game to distract people from their ultimate destiny. The showrunners fucked the story in episode 8 / 3. Sorry you’re too dense to understand that simple fact.

    1. The show became a different story with different purpose from the books around season 3 sometime, I think.

    2. That’s the books.

      Who reads them? They’re stupid.

      The great HBO series is Game of Thrones. That’s what’s important.

      Know how you can tell? Someone bothered to actually finish the HBO series.

  23. So…now that Icehead is dead, the climate change is dead with him? Winter isn’t coming, ever? Perpetual summer in Westeros? Or will Icehead be blamed now for reverse-climate change, or what Cersei calls Double-Secret Weather?

    1. Is winter over now?

    2. I hope it isn’t really supposed to be an allegory for global warming. I hate allegory in fantasy. Just tell a story and make a world.

      1. Martin cribbed a thousand different tropes and concepts from just about everywhere. The First Men are the Angles and Saxons, the Andals the Normans, the Rhoynar the Moors, etc.

        The triumph over the Night King is as much an allegory of Christianity (victory over death) as it is about AGW.

        Personally I doubt Martin included any of it out of any motive other than selling more books.

  24. Glad someone was able to interpret all that scuttling about. What do you do when you need a battle scene to outdoo all previous, and a plot for a plotless mess? Film it in the dark.

    1. “We can do this for $35 million in the light, or $13 million in the dark. What’s it gonna be?”


  25. I gotta say… I really think they blew it by not making the defeat of the Night King more of a thing… Even if he wanted to bait and switch to Cersei being the REAL problem, it still could have been drawn out longer, been more dramatic, maybe an extra epic battle or two, some side adventurey craziness or something. There was just too much build up for that to be it.

    Also, Arya is cool and all… And I realize this is woke 2019… But having her, and in that way, being who does him in… It’s very much just bowing to this feminist nonsense idea that chicks can actually be warriors. Which is utter bullshit historically. When any country in the world can put together a group of 100 of the best chicks in their whole country than can defeat 100 random dudes who just got out of basic training, then I’ll buy into all that BS. But it ain’t gonna happen. Men and women are just built too differently. It’s fine and well to have a tough chick here and there, but EVERY damn movie/show having a chick as the toughest/smartest/baddest person in it is getting old.

    Whatever, hopefully the rest of the show will be filled with some good killin’ scenes, and I do look forward to seeing Cersei die!

  26. I wonder what Cersei thinks about the Night King’s attack on Winterfell:
    -Hordes of loyal undead troops destroy the Dothraki, overwhelm the unsullied, and completely over-run Winterfell.
    -None of the Army of the Dead ever questioned orders or needed to be paid or fed.
    -Dragonfire failed to kill the Night King.
    -The Night King could have ruled for thousands of years into the future had he not been taken down by a freak surprise attack.
    Sounds like a lifestyle Cersei would enjoy…
    What if Qyburn has some dragonglass and re-discovered the spell used by the Children of the Forest to create the Night King?
    Perhaps he will transform Cersei into the Night Queen, who will then command a million undead residents of King’s Landing…

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