Darr: Game of Thrones does the big battle

When I was a kid, my friends and I always dreamed about an hour-and-a-half hour battle scene. Lightsaber and sword fights were our favorite part of any movie, so naturally we wanted more of them. We eventually realized how silly that would be. It’s cool to watch CGI monsters get hacked to bits so long as you actually care about the people whose lives are on the line. Without character, battle scenes don’t mean much of anything.

Game of Thrones doesn’t have that problem. The show has spent its last six seasons paring down its cast of characters to a set of bare essentials, and it’s spent its last two episodes hammering home exactly which characters are where and how those characters feel about each other. As if to answer the dreams of teenage boys worldwide, Game of Thrones has decided that’s it’s perfect time to make the hour-and-a-half battle scene to reality.

Almost all of it works. All in all, episode three of season eight is a ridiculous triumph for television. Everything from dragon fighting to large-scale pyrotechnics is woven into a magnificent tapestry of combat. Each character follows an in-battle path that provides closure to some arcs and ramps up others. In perhaps the episode’s most striking scene, a hardened character breaks down mid-battle, overwhelmed by the carnage that continues to define his life.

Oddly enough, the least effective parts of the episode lie at the extremes. Perhaps the weakest part of the episode is its ridiculously slow start. It don’t know what it is with Game of Thrones this season, but it seems like every episode begins with a glorified roll call. This one involves seeing where people are on the battle line. It’s not bad information to have preceding a battle scnee, but overlong, dramatic shots make the process about three times longer than necessary. Stop that, Game of Thrones. We don’t want to see a character’s ugly mug unless they’re doing something of value.

The episode’s other weakness comes due to extreme speed. Some scenes are so cluttered with quick shots that it’s extremely difficult to know what’s going on. In a daytime battle, this might not be such an issue, but the darkness of the night makes chaotic shots even harder to track. In a show that places so much value on character, it’s absolutely essential to know exactly who is doing exactly what at any given moment. When we lose a character in the visual fray, it feels like we lose the entire show.

Those are small complaints for a visual feast of an episode. Game of Thrones has been positioning itself for an epic ending for seasons now; three episodes into it final season, it has safely asserted that it’s headed for glory.