throning it in with andy daly

Game of Thrones’ Battle of Winterfell Nearly Broke Andy Daly

Photo-Illustration: Maya Robinson/Vulture and Photo by HBO

The final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones has arrived along with an avalanche of recaps, reviews, and other coverage on the internet, so Vulture’s comedy section decided we’d join in too. We are proud to announce that comedian and former professional reviewer Andy Daly has agreed to cover all six episodes of Game of Thrones’ season eight for us for a column titled “Throning It In With Andy Daly.” Check back here every Monday to see Daly’s thoughts on the latest GOT episode.

Hello, dear readers! Well, well, well. It is my great pleasure to begin this recap with a big fat TOLDJA! Before this new season of Game of Thrones even started, I confidently predicted that the first episode of the season would begin with a massive battle between the ice zombies and the humans. (They’re humans, right? By the way, what planet does this show take place on? Who cares, right? Who cares.) And I predicted that the battle would be over within about five minutes and that the ice zombies would win and rule whatever planet this show takes place on for the rest of time. It is true that I got a few minor details wrong. I was off by two episodes, the battle was a little bit longer than five minutes, and the ice zombies lost. Or did they?! Yes they did. But I was 100 percent right that there was going to be an epic battle between ice zombies and the humanlike aliens whose exploits we have followed since the beginning of this show. And man, oh man, was there a battle! I mean. Man. Can we be honest? This episode was an ORDEAL! It was a 90-minute vision of HELL! Oh Lord of Light, I did not do well tonight. I did not handle this episode well. I spent most of it, honest to God, cold all over, trembling and sick to my stomach. No, seriously.

And, yes, I certainly did think back to my wiseass complain-y comments about last week’s episode about how nothing happened and it was all a bunch of pointless fireside chitchat, and I felt suddenly that this episode was my penance, that I was paying for my half-assed, ill- considered television criticism. And I knelt before the carnage and only wished for it to please, please stop!! Please let nothing happen for just a moment!

Okay, with all that off my chest, let’s get to the recapping — though I tell you, I hate to relive what I went through tonight. I hate, hate, hate to do it.

It all starts with Sam, the pardoned book thief, panting and making his way to the front. Everyone is busy. Lots of running, which makes the people walking look like real dicks, and there were a few. Tyrion grabs himself a skinful of wine (yuck) and Branbait gets wheeled into position. We check in with all our favorite characters, including the two good dragons who were notably absent from last week’s episode. What do dragons do on the night before a big battle? What meaningful conversations did they have? Who did they have sex with? Guess we’ll never know.

It’s all suspense at this point. Jon Snow and his sister Daenerys take up a position overlooking the battleground. Then the Red Woman shows up to help out. Let’s hope this is more of a “bring Jon Snow back to life” type of helping or even a “send a smog monster to kill a guy” type of helping and less of a “burn a little girl at the stake for no reason” type of helping. The Red Woman has a mixed record is what I’m saying. She casts a spell that sets all the Dothraki guys’ swords on fire, which they sure got a kick out of. I’ll say this, she knows her audience. Then she assures Ser Davos that she will be dead before the dawn. In an episode so full of uncertainty, I will say I found this piece of seemingly solid news pretty soothing.

I get the feeling nobody exactly gave the Dothraki the command to attack. Looks like they just went. Maybe their swords were getting too hot? Anyway, they whoop and holler off into the darkness, at which point it really starts to look like the whole point of the Red Woman lighting those swords on fire was so the poor Dothraki could provide an easy-to-understand visual demonstration of how fucked everybody is. And it worked. Anybody who was still psyched about fighting an army of dead people was probably having second thoughts when all those swords went out like fireflies in a jar when you forget to poke holes in the lid. And then Jorah rides back like, “Yeah, that wasn’t cool. I’m gonna hang back here with you guys if that’s okay.” And that’s pretty much it for the Dothraki horde. Always sad to see a horde come to an end.

And then here come the zombies and the battle is on. The good dragons swoop in and seem to be a pretty effective weapon against dead people, but look, it is not going well. There are just a lot of these dead people and this battle is starting to feel like no joke. It was at this point in the episode that I remembered something important about my Game of Thrones watching habits that I had somehow forgotten up to now. I don’t watch this show when it gets scary or too intense. I never have. I get the fuck out when all seems lost. I go to another room and do something I enjoy and then ask my wife the next day what happened. I am not good at scary stuff! Oh man, did I want to turn this show off! But I couldn’t! I had promised to recap this episode for Vulture. I had taken on a solemn duty, just like all the Unsullied dudes who were standing there waiting to get stabbed to death by a pile of corpses. They couldn’t look away and neither could I. We were equally stupid to have agreed to this!

Then the bad guys create a blizzard that confuses the good dragons and the whole thing gets kind of trippy and dizzy, with the Targaryen siblings lost in a hallucinogenic winterland. Sansa heads down to the crypt and Arya gets ready to put some arrows through some rotting skulls. We check in with Bran and Reek. I’m still not feeling great about Reek as the last line of defense for all of humanity’s memories or whatever the hell is at stake if Bran dies. Seems big, whatever it is. Then it’s back to the melee and the first major death of the episode. Oh no! It’s the guy whose name I never bothered to learn who made fun of Sam in last week’s episode for not being much of a warrior. Good-bye … guy. He seemed nice. A black watch guy? Whatever. Then it’s back to Foggy Winterland for a midair dragon collision, which feels like something the CGI team came in on a Saturday to do without anyone asking them to and they were so excited about how it looked that the showrunners felt they had to use it. I could be wrong.

At that point, the battle is so dire for our heroes that they fall back and ask for the gate to be opened. Even the ballsy little girl is like, “That’ll do! I’m ready to come in for some hot cocoa!” Then it’s just really, really chaotic for a while. All I knew for certain was that people were getting killed in huge numbers and that victory for our heroes seemed, at best, extremely far off. Arya saves the Hound’s life with a good arrow shot, and he takes time in the middle of all that battle chaos to look up at her and appreciate her efforts. Nice guy.

Then it’s time to light the trench, but the dragons are still grooving to sitar music in a cloud of hookah smoke somewhere waaaaaaay above the action, man. The Red Woman steps up and all of a sudden, setting something on fire, which was pretty easy a few minutes ago, is incredibly hard and can only be accomplished at the last possible nanosecond. C’mon, Game of Thrones! My heart! Just so you know, when she was kneeling there trying to get that trench lit was the first time in this episode that I found myself saying out loud, “It’s only a TV show; it’s only a TV show.” I said it a bunch of times but, to be honest, couldn’t quite convince myself.

Now that the trench is lit, the dead dudes just stand there patiently waiting for the flames to go out like they patiently waited for that water to ice over in that other episode. Dead people are incredibly patient. They have no real plans for after the battle.

Then we cut down to the crypt where Tyrion says he wishes he were up there fighting, and everyone talks him out of it. Then Sansa has, for me, the quote of the night: “Witty remarks won’t make a difference.” When that line landed, I had no doubt in my mind that this was the writers of Game of Thrones slapping me down for my wiseass recaps. Those writers are slugging it out in the blood-soaked battlefields of this show, trying to make sense of George R.R. Martin’s insane books and redeem a whole bunch of irredeemable characters and end the whole thing in some way that this show’s demented superfans can handle! You have some little jokes you’d like to make? Uh-huh. Get down into the crypt with a skinful of wine, smart-ass.

I’ll telling you, I went through a lot watching this episode.

Sansa and Tyrion reminisce about their marriage a little, then Sansa and Missandei mix it up a little about Daenerys, and it’s all a pleasant reminder of last week when nobody had anything better to do than shoot the breeze, except this week, thousands of people are being slaughtered while they’re chatting down there.

Then Bran and Reek have a nice moment, which Bran abruptly and tactlessly ends by simply blurting out “I’m going to go now” and then rolling his eyes back into his head. I’m tempted to try that the next time I’m trapped talking to someone I don’t like at a party, but maybe the only reason he gets away with it is because he’s constantly telling people, with no explanation, that he’s the “Three-Eyed Raven.” I’m not willing to be thought of as quite that eccentric. Anyway, a bunch of crows take off from a tree and fly into the blizzard and give us, at long last, our first glimpse of the zombie ice dragon and the Night King. This Night King is really leading from behind.

Then the trench is breached and things just get so incredibly bad. An all-out castle-wall brawl. Totally hopeless. Everybody is 100 percent for sure going to die. The Hound has had it. The one bright spot is that Ninja Arya springs into action, and sure, that’s great, but too little too late. It’s over. Then a dead giant shows up. He looks like he’d like to have a word with Giantsbane about his wife’s boobs but uh-oh, before he can do that, he needs to get through a little girl. Not just any little girl. The ballsy little girl who’s always calling out “Point of order!” at the Winterfell town council meetings. She picks a fight with the giant, of course! And midway through getting crushed to death, she sends that motherfucker back to hell. And there goes the best character in the history of this show. I wasn’t sad to see her die because she went out like a real hero. Too bad everyone in this world is for sure going to die tonight, I thought to myself, because otherwise they would build a wonderful statue of that little girl standing there with her mouth open giving somebody a hell of a talking-to.

Then what happened? A big aerial dragon fight? I don’t know. Then Arya sneaks around the Winterfell library in a mercifully quiet stretch of this episode. Yeah, Winterfell has a library. I didn’t know that either. At some point, she kills a dead lady and I thought she was going to do that thing where she wears her victim’s face. She could have wandered around the castle as a dead person for a while just enjoying some peace. But I guess she didn’t think of it.

Back down to the crypt, where things look bleak. Then we get to turn a bunch of dark corners with Eye-Patch Guy and the Hound. They save Arya from a dead pile and then Eye-Patch Guy pulls a total Hodor and sacrifices himself to slow down the zombies so Arya can make it into a room to see the Red Woman. I have to say, I picked the right characters to never learn their names. So long … other guy.

Red Woman and Arya talk about meeting before. I don’t remember that but I’ll take their word for it. Why would they lie? The Red Woman reminds Arya that we say “Not today” to the God of Death and then Arya takes off, presumably in search of a God of Death to say that to. Then it’s back down to Bran by the sleeping tree, which, by the way, sleeps through this entire thing. If this battle didn’t wake up that tree, I don’t know what will. Probably nothing. I’m no arborist, but let’s face it, that tree might be dead. Reek is doing a fine job of defending Bran against dead people, pulling his own Hodor as a matter of fact. That would have been a good title for this episode: “So Many Hodors!” Then I think there was another aerial dragon fight, or a continuation of the one from before? I don’t know. I found the dragon stuff hard to pay attention to in this episode. I wonder if that’s because we didn’t get to see what they did the night before the battle, y’know? I wasn’t invested in their journey! Or maybe it’s because these dragon actors just weren’t bringing it. I don’t know.

Then I’m pretty sure Jon’s dragon dies and the Night King falls or jumps off of his dragon. Then Daenerys’s dragon blows a bunch of fire on the Night King, who seems to enjoy it, and then Jon is all set for a mano a mano sword fight with the Night King but the Night King is too much of a pussy for that, so he brings all the newly dead people to life. If things weren’t hopeless in the Battle for Winterfell before — and they have been hopeless for a long time now — they’re certainly hopeless now. From time to time in the battle sequences, we get shots of the characters we know and care about in various states of pain and struggle. By now, it really seems like they are the only people left fighting the dead and it starts to seem a little silly. Now, my chants of “This is only a TV show; this is only a TV show” are starting to persuade me because it’s looking an awful lot like a TV show when the stars can’t die. At this point I started chanting, “They contractually locked these actors in for all episodes produced and they’re not about to pay anybody for three whole episodes they’re not in!” and I started to calm down a little.

Then all the dead Starks start busting out of their crypts and I’m pretty sure I saw Sam’s wife get killed, which is a serious bummer. I guess they had her on a per-episode guest rate. Too inside? Back to Reek, who is kicking ass against all those dead dudes. Bran is still choosing to experience all of this as a bunch of crows. Jon’s fighting dead Unsullied guys while his sister provides air support from atop her dragon. Then she lands for too long and the dead start swarming all over her dragon, and she ends up getting tossed into the middle of the suck only to be saved, yet again, by Jorah. Jon heads off for Bran but it’s literally raining zombies and hard to make progress. Things are so shitty in the crypt that Sansa and Tyrion decide to stop hiding and actually defend the children they’re supposed to be protecting. The ice dragon is demolishing Winterfell, Reek runs out of arrows, and the Night King is strutting toward Bran with all his boys. Jorah takes some blows and goes down. Then Reek — okay, Theon — charges at the Night King in a display of doomed heroism and is killed with sickening ease.

It was at that moment that my family returned home. My wife had thoughtfully taken our daughters (6 and 11) out to dinner so I could be left alone to fully immerse myself in the miserable hellscape of this episode, but she didn’t realize how long it was going to take to decide the fate of Winterfell. I barely got the TV paused and turned off before my darling daughters walked in the door. They almost watched Ser Jorah of Mormont get stabbed hard in the belly, and he’s their favorite character! I then had to take a break from Game of Thrones to serve dessert, mostly fail to help my older daughter with her math homework, throw the ball for the dog, and beg the girls to brush their teeth. It was lovely and I was so glad not to be in Winterfell anymore. But then they went to bed …

Back to chaos and bloodshed!!

Jon is pinned down by the ice dragon and, to be honest, not having a great battle generally. The Night King and Bran come face-to-face and just stare at each other for a long, long time. Is it fair to say neither of these guys has particularly great social skills? Jon, in a dumb display of frustration, dares a dragon to roast him alive, the Night King starts reaching for his sword, and then! Super stealthy Arya launches a flying attack at him not-today style! But he senses her in the nick of time and grabs her by the neck! And midway through getting crushed to death, she sends that a-hole back to hell. My own ballsy little girls were fast asleep while this happened, but onscreen two of their kind were getting shit done.

All the dead people uh, die, including the ice dragon, who was, strategically speaking, underutilized. I say this as an expert on when and how to use an ice dragon in a siege. In the final moments of this episode, Jorah dies, leaving us to wonder if he, too, was on a per-episode guest rate and, if so, did they match his quote from earlier seasons when he was a regular? Now I’m getting emotional. Maybe not as emotional as Daenerys, who really loved Jorah. But honestly, it never would have worked for them. Her father never would have allowed her to marry so low a figure as a newspaper mogul. And by the way, if you’re ticked off that I seem to remember Downton Abbey better than the show I’ve been hired to recap, that is completely fair.

The episode concludes with the Red Woman self-fulfilling her own prophecy from earlier in the episode by taking off her necklace and withering into the snow as the sun rises. Ser Davos watches her go and, though they didn’t show it, I’m pretty sure he went out and picked up that necklace and henceforth his character will be played by some hunky young matinee idol. You can take that prediction straight to the Game of Thrones prediction bank with all my others.

Okay, now go watch Veep. I’m on it! Oh, speaking of which, I almost forgot. The guest character they should have hired me for in this episode was Library Zombie Who Looks Under the Table for Arya. I would have ad-libbed a little something in the close-up. “No Starks, but hey, 25 cents!” or, “Look at all the gum under this table. These people are disgusting!” Might have just been for the gag reel, but still would have been worth it.

Okay, friends, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to leave you with this very appropriate Game of Thrones–themed Conan sketch, which I think will make for a nice palate cleanser after this insane and bloody and highly traumatic episode of what is, really and for true, only a TV show. Enjoy.

Game of Thrones’ Battle of Winterfell Nearly Broke Andy Daly