‘Game of Thrones’: The epic warriors who survive “The Long Night”
Game of Thrones S8E3 “The Long Night” – whose name is a euphemism, thank the Seven (The real Long Night 8000 years previous lasted an entire generation.) – sees battles with the undead so fierce that entire regiments perish in minutes.
You might think it unrealistic that some of our favorite characters manage to last through skirmish after skirmish against hordes of tireless wights, but consider it a bit further with us. Tons of juicy spoilers await.
Nuts & bolts
Firstly, look at the foe. Wights – even a giant or dragon wight – are what’s known as “minions” in video and role-playing games. As the forces at Winterfell are all wielding either flaming weapons, Valyrian steel, or obsidian blades, a single successful strike of arbitrary intensity on any of them causes it to fall, permanently deanimated.
If Jon or Brienne had been able to land a single paltry blow on undead dragon Viserion with one of their famed longswords, the tide of the battle may have turned even earlier.
Secondly, take into account standard fantasy tropes. By definition, the most interesting characters to follow throughout a story generally end up becoming the most powerful. (George R.R. Martin’s penchant for killing off main characters before their arcs seem complete is a genius subversion of this trope, but even he’s bound to it in general.)
As such, it makes perfect sense that the last warriors standing just before dawn “happen to be” most of the ones we all know & love.
Syrio Forel would be proud
Third and most importantly, look at the realities of battle, experience, training, and skill. The fact is that level of ability in battle varies hugely. Famed fighter and overall righteous grandpa Bhishma outlined three main types of master warriors in the venerable Indian epic the Mahabharata:
- a rathi can attack 5000 infantry simultaneously;
- an atirathi can handle 60,000 infantry (or 12 rathis); and
- a maharathi can take 720,000 infantry (or 12 atirathis / 144 rathis of course).
As you can see, even back before the Flood, fighters were ranked on a scale of almost a million to one. With these facts in mind, let’s take a detailed look at the surviving warriors of “The Long Night”.
Brother Samwell Tarly
Combat: Below average
Health: Above average
Sam is a hardy fellow despite his girth and limited physical strength. He’s also got a nearly indomitable will when push comes to shove – a huge development from the coward who showed up at Castle Black in season one. Good thing Jon helped him out for some strange reason (*cough* Ghost *cough*).
Even considering Sam’s willingness to flee when physically overwhelmed and the second chance he got after hero Dolorous Edd saved his life halfway through the battle, Sam lasting through fights with fifty-plus wights is pretty unlikely. He even saves Jaime’s ass from a swarm of wights on the walls! We’ll grant it’s not an impossibility, however. And anyways, who doesn’t love Sam?
X-factor: True love, blood of kings
Looked at with an objective eye, Baratheon Bastard Gendry doesn’t just beat the odds after venturing to the front lines at the very outset of the battle and staying in the thick of it for hours. He takes them, burns them to ashes, and scatters those odds to the winds to mingle with Melisandre’s dusty remains.
This young blacksmith has seen a little action here and there over the past few years, but really wasn’t trained much for battle. The one allowance we’ll give here is that his newly requited love with heartless assassin (and toughest broad in all Westeros to impress) Arya Stark gave him something to live for.
Auntie/Queen Daenerys “Stormborn” Targaryen
Stealth: Likely average
X-factors: Royalty, superb hair
Dany surely never planned to engage in any mano-a-mano during the Long Night, opting to stay aloft as much as practical, incinerating entire swaths of the Army of the Undead atop Drogon. But push comes to shove, and she ends up on the ground outside Winterfell’s walls with just an obsidian shortsword and one of the greatest warriors in Westeros, Jorah Mormont, to protect her. He pays with his life.
It was the first time we got to see Dany in melée, and we were all impressed with how well she acquits herself. Considering her guard Jorah’s prowess and Dany’s powerful sense of personal mission, we think it perfectly believable she survives a single stand against a wight horde with minimal wounds.
Ser Davos Seaworth, The Onion Knight
Combat: Smuggler swashbuckler
Health: Survived without four fingers
Stealth: Awesome at sea, less so on dry land
Davos keeps going on in episodes one and two about how he’s not the greatest in battle, but that’s probably just reverse bluster. Even a smuggler gets caught on the deck of a ship at the point of a rapier now and then.
Considering his flawless instincts, Davos’s survival didn’t surprise us. He also spends a good portion of the battle commanding from the battlements and elsewhere: tasks considerably less dangerous than the front lines. Via his superb leadership, Davos is one of the most important members of Winterfell’s defense. He also sees off that naughty Lady Melisandre with a mere furrowed brow. Talk about self-control!
Combat: Supernatural direwolf instinct
Health: The North remembers
Stealth: Wild hunter
X-factor: Skinchanging pal of Azor Ahai
Not surprisingly, we didn’t get a chance to drink to Ghost ripping the throats out of ice zombies. He’s barely appeared in the show in seasons 5 thru 8. In the books, he’s constantly by Jon’s side, especially in any battle, ripping the throats out of his victims more often than not. He even encounters a wight with Jon way back in season one!
We didn’t see Ghost die, so he’ll surely come loping back through Winterfell’s main gate soon enough. Direwolves have fought wights and White Walkers for millennia, so that’s as it should be. Besides, it’s great exercise for the family pet.
Lady Arya Stark
Combat: Highly trained assassin
Stealth: Catlike prowess
X-factors: Vengeful, compassionless
Arya has spent seven seasons training for this moment. We’re not surprised she turns out to be the linchpin that clinches the whole deal for humankind at the Battle of Winterfell. Her stealth is put to the test in the Winterfell Library scene, and she passes with flying colors. First Sword of Braavos Syrio Forel would be proud.
Nevertheless, the young she-wolf really needs the help of two fellas she could have murdered at various points, but didn’t: The Hound (see below), and Ser Beric Dondarrion, who dies for a seventh and final time to save her. (Rest in peace, homie.) She’s surely happy with her decision to take these warriors off her epic sh** list.
Sandor “The Hound” Clegane
Combat: Legendary killer
Health: Nearly indestructible
X-factors: Pyrophobia, vengeful
There’s no denying The Hound is one of the best fighters in Westeros. He’s big and extremely experienced. Over the seasons, he’s also nearly been killed a few times and bounced back. Despite his alcoholism, The Hound remained one of our picks to survive the battle. If only for fanservice, we’re betting on him beating what used to be his brother Ser Robert the Strong to a bloody, purple pulp soon, too.
Holding him back is a debilitating fear of fire that almost cost him his life, if legendary hero Ser Beric Dondarrion hadn’t snapped him out of it; and surely his desire to wreak vengeance on his hated brother Gregor Clegane plays into his resilience on the Night.
General Grey Worm
Combat: Master-trained spearfighter
Health: Strong like lion
Stealth: Probably good
X-factor: True love
Grey Worm, like all the Unsullied, was trained from boyhood to be an ultimate warrior. In addition, he had the charisma to be voted by his peers to be the generalisimo of his legion. He’s likely one of the most skilled warriors in Planetos and has survived a lot of battles serving under Queen Daenerys.
In addition, he’s in a relationship with the Mother of Dragons’s beautiful herald, Missandei – bit of a shoo-in to survive the Long Night with just a few scratches. Come on, there have to be some happy endings.
Jon Snow or Aegon Targaryen VI
Combat: Veteran Nightswatchman & O.G. wight killer
Health: Hybrid vigor ice & fire
Stealth: Too naive to sneak
X-factors: True love, blood of kings
Jon spends half the battle on dragonback, but crash-lands and has to hack his way through quite a few former allies trying to get through to the Godswood in the interior of Winterfell. Undead Viserion ends up waylaying him long enough to prevent him from succeeding in that mission.
Regardless, Jon absolutely deserves his survival. A guy with his guts, determination, experience, and drive – not to mention a hot auntie (Ew? Ew.) waiting for him at the conclusion of the battle – was gonna make it in the end for sure.
Ser Jaime Lannister
Combat: Former expert swordsman
Health: Glowing gold
Stealth: Kept his “family affair” a secret for decades
Despite having lost his sword hand a few seasons back, Jaime holds his own on the front lines of the Battle of Winterfell. A lot of that might have to do with that “firstly” above: these were not sophisticated foes. Jaime’s long experience in warfare is likely enough to carry him through the nearly endless encounters with mindless ice zombies.
However, his x-factor is one of the weaker on our list today. He’s already experienced a relatively complete redemption arc and would have fulfilled his life’s aim quite well had he sacrificed himself at the Battle of Winterfell. Luckily for him, he’ll be able to take it even further now. We’re now taking bets at 4 to 1 that Jamie causes the death of Queen Cersei.
Update: You could argue leading his sis down into the tunnels of the Red Keep led to their deaths. Mnyeh.
Ser Brienne of Tarth
Combat: Magnificent warrior
X-factor: Unbreakable honor
Brienne is surely one of the greatest female fighters ever to have lived on Planetos, and is the equal if not superior to the other greatest warriors of Westeros; she definitively bested The Hound a few seasons back. Her performance in the Battle of Winterfell is everything we hoped it could be: simply badass.
Brienne’s integral sense of honor lifts her masterful swordplay to the point where we consider her to be the focal point of the main battle, the general that leads the troops to victory in the end. All hail newly dubbed Ser Brienne, Lady of the Sapphire Isle! Bets on a new gig with the new King- or Queensguard?
Update: Duh, she became Lord Commander under King Bran the Broken.