Game of Thrones: What Is the Long Night? How the Show Compares to the Books

Warning: Spoilers for Game of Thrones through “The Long Night” follow…

Since episode intel is being held very close to the vest in this, the final season of Game of Thrones, it wasn’t until the snow and ash had settled on this week’s epic chapter that we learned Season 8, episode 3 was titled “The Long Night” – a title that, like last week’s moniker “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” holds two meanings.

Not only did this harrowing and haunting clash between the Night King’s tsunami of death and Jon and Daenerys’ combined armies take place all at night (see what they did there?), but “The Long Night” itself is also a crucial and often discussed event from Westeros’ history, described as a decades-long season of darkness and frost that the Night King yearned to see return.

In “The Long Night,” we got a taste of what the real Long Night would look like for all of Westeros if the Night King had triumphed: just a sheet of blackness engulfing the realm with swarms of undead wights scratching and clawing about on the ground.

The Night King tried to do this once before, thousands of years ago, after peace had been made between the Children of the Forest and the First Men, and it nearly wrecked the world. Let’s take a look at what happened the first time around as per the lore pieced and patched together from the few carvings and records left behind by the First Men. It’s a bit different between the show and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books, so here’s what you need to know:

The Long Night (In the Books)

During the Age of Heroes, anywhere from six to eight thousand years previous to this latest showdown with the Night King, perpetual darkness spread across the entire continent bringing freezing temperatures, famine, and death everywhere it landed. Beings known as the Others (called White Walkers on TV) emerged from the far North and marched down into the realms of men, creating a waking nightmare that lasted a generation.

Under the cloak of night and winter, the Others raised the dead into their army and almost conquered all of known existence. The effects of this calamity were felt all the way in Essos, where the river Rhoyne reportedly froze up and vanished. Even the Yi Ti of the Far East had their own mystic beliefs about what had caused the dark plague on Westeros. In fact, it took a hero from Essos, a warrior chosen by the Lord of Light named Azor Ahai, who wielded a flaming sword called Lightbringer, to defeat the Others and end the Long Night.

Thousands of years later, Red Priestess Melisandre would back Stannis Baratheon, believing him to be the reincarnation of Azor Ahai. In fact, some in Essos also believed Daenerys was a new form of Azor Ahai. Needless to say, the guy was a pretty big deal. The quest to find the next Azor Ahai, the person who’s supposed to defeat the Night King, is part of a prophecy called “The Prince Who Was Promised.”

Bran-Standing

Bran was our initial gateway into Long Night lore since, as a child, he preferred the scary stories and myths that Old Nan would share with him. It was a trait that led her to call him a “Sweet Summer Child,” referring to the fact that he, and others for thousands of years, have never known the harsh realities of a long winter.

“Thousands of years ago,” she told him, “there came a night that lasted a generation. Kings froze to death in their castles, same as the shepherds in their huts; and women smothered their babies rather than see them starve, and wept, and felt the tears freeze on their cheeks. In that darkness, the White Walkers came for the first time. They swept through cities and kingdoms, riding their dead horses, hunting with their packs of pale spiders big as hounds.”

Death Defeated

Okay, so we didn’t see “packs of pale spiders big as hounds” – which either means the giant spiders all died out or they were a false report to begin with – but the Night King did put our heroes through an exhaustive wringer using zombies, a giant, a dragon, and an unexpected blizzard. Arya landed the killing blow on the Night King, a move that had actually been set up for several seasons, and the danger that had been set up in the very first scene of the very first episode was now obliterated.

How can Cersei and the quest for the Iron Throne even feel like a formidable threat after the hell everyone went through in Winterfell? Well, for one, Dany and Jon’s armies are now a tattered squadron at best (which is what Cersei was counting on), but still, how do we move forward in these next three episodes now that Winter is no longer Coming?

In the end, flaming swords and weapons like Lightbringer didn’t help, but the Lord of Light did. Melisandre was surely mistaken in her attempts to spot Azor Ahai reborn, and it led her to do some truly evil things, but she’s been foretelling the Long Night for seasons now, and the Lord of Light still did prevail in small ways. Had Beric Dondarrion not been resurrected so many times, he wouldn’t have been able to give his final life to save Arya, setting her up for the big win. So is Arya the foretold “Prince Who Was Promised?” As Melisandre has even stated herself, “Prophesies are dangerous things.” She’s even told both Jon and Dany that they were crucial to the endgame here, but she never said either one was the “prince.” Only that said “prince” can “bring the dawn.”

Matt Fowler is a writer for IGN and a member of the Television Critics Association. Follow him on Twitter at @TheMattFowler and Facebook at Facebook.com/MattBFowler.

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