This weekend’s Game of Thrones episode was one hour and twenty two minutes of nothing but epic battle. Don’t worry, I won’t spill any spoiler details, but I did want to share my observations, especially after I commented on Facebook that it was the best fantasy battle I’d ever witnessed and someone disagreed and said they liked the battle for Helm’s Deep better.
I liked that battle as well. In fact, I enjoyed all the battles in the Lord of the Rings movies. But all those came with inspiring speeches and bits of tension relieving humor. Fine examples of battles for high fantasy.
I consider this Game of Thrones episode to be the best example of a grimdark fantasy battle. It’s interesting how both are relatively similar – beginning tension, interesting use of strategies, utter hopelessness, and the last second save. And yet, the look and feel are very different.
In the beginning, you feel the hopelessness in both battles. But in LoTR you get a few good pep talks. GoT gives you grim silence. In LoTR you see the orc army arrive, rain drops pattering on metal armor, orcs howling to intimidate (which worked pretty well), and a bit of comedic relief with an accidentally loosed arrow. GoT used silence and darkness like a weapon to ratchet up the tension. And there was no humor.
I’ve never seen a movie do that before. Usually, they get on with the action. But GoT makes you sit there for several minutes with nothing but darkness and silence. No sign of the enemy. Time advances. Still no sign. Time drags on and nothing. Your favorite characters are also waiting in silent anticipation, clutching their weapons nervously as they peered into murky darkness. They know the enemy is coming, but they can’t see it. And they can’t hear it.
If there’s one thing I learned from waiting over three hours to get on the Space Mountain ride in Disney World as a kid, is that things are 1000 times more frightening when you can’t see. I loved roller coasters, but that ride scared the crud out of me because I couldn’t see the track.
This worked on me as I was sitting in comfort watching the episode unfold. I’ve read many battle scenes that describe waiting for the battle as the hardest thing and I never really felt that until this GoT episode when the waiting became a Thing. I wish I could capture that essence and somehow recreate it in writing.
I can’t really go into detail about the other aspects of this battle, since that would be too spoilery and some people want to binge watch after all the episodes are out. Suffice it to say that it was all dark, gritty, fearful, terrifying, and awesome. Think Helms Deep but without the comedic relief and with lots of dark and creepy. We are talking zombie invasion after all.
Even if you never watch Game of Thrones, I recommend watching this episode – season 8 episode 3 – since I believe it to be the best and longest fantasy battle ever made on film.