NOTE: This blog contains major spoilers so if you haven’t watched the latest Game of Thrones episodes or The Lord of the Rings then go watch them and come back! Get with the program!
If you’re on my level of fantasy fandom, then you probably noticed a lot of similarities between Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3 “The Long Night” and some of the epic battle scenes from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. I thought it might be fun to compare “The Long Night” with “The Battle of Helm’s Deep”. Let’s take a look!
Background – A Hopeless Situation
GoT: Winter has come in Winterfell. It’s cold AF and the Wall to the north holding back the White Walkers has been breached. Those crazy blue eyed zombies have numbers in the thousands, controlled by the evil Night King. Many powerful warriors have come together to join forces in this battle, but the numbers are not looking good.. It’s time for the final standoff between the living and the dead!
LotR: King Theoden of the Rohirrim unknowingly had his mind poisoned by Wormtongue, a secret minion of the evil Saruman. After breaking the spell, Gandalf the wizard advises King Theoden to take his people to the mountain-based stronghold “Helm’s Deep” to regroup their dwindling army, as Saruman’s orcs close in on them… and the enemy’s numbers are in the thousands. Then Gandalf takes off to find more aid, leaving the Rohirrim with what few men they have left to gear up and prepare to defend their fort.
Battle Setting – Night
GoT: It is night time. Winterfell is normally a cold area but now it’s especially frigid. Melisandre uses her fire magic to send the blades of the soldiers’ scimitars ablaze, which is the only light in the fields when the battle begins. Freezing winds blast through the air, making flying difficult for the dragons. The waiting soldiers can’t see the White Walkers racing towards them in the darkness, but they can hear them screaming through the night as they approach.
LotR: It is night time. Rain has begun to fall. Watching from atop the tall walls of Helm’s Deep, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and the remaining able-bodied Rohirrim watch as Saruman’s massive army approaches from afar, carrying torches and chanting war cries. An old man holds a bow and arrow at the ready; but his finger slips from the rain, sending the bolt flying into the orcs and starting the war!
Enemies – Smart and Capable
GoT: The White Walkers are zombies, and the Night King is their leader. These zombs can move fast and have creepy glowing blue eyes. The Night King can ‘reanimate’ any dead body, which is useful when growing an army. The White Walkers work together to overcome obstacles, such as forming a bridge made of bodies to cross over the fiery trench, or piling themselves up along the castle wall so that other zombs could scale over it and get inside. Team work makes the dream work! Or in this case, nightmare.
LotR: While the orcs themselves aren’t exactly bright, the great and evil wizard Saruman who created them sure is. (OK technically I’m talking about Uruk-Hai here and not Orcs exactly, but I’m trying to keep it simple so I’m going to stick with ‘orcs’ lol) He tells them what to do and where to go and they follow him unquestioningly. Saruman did his homework and knew that his army would need a way to scale the tall walls of Helm’s Deep… so they brought ladders. And a battering ram. Resourceful!
World Leaders – Useless
GoT: Seriously, what were Danaerys and Jon Snow doing on their dragons during most of that battle? I understand that the cold blizzard winds might have hindered their dragons’ flying abilities, but there were several shots of the two leaders on dragons hovering in the clouds in the moonlight. What the heck was going on there? Why didn’t they stay lower to the ground to blast fire on the White Walkers? They leave the real battling to the everyday folks like Sir Jorah, The Hound… and of course, Arya Stark.
LotR: King Theoden was dumb enough to get his mind poisoned in the first place, then he stays in the Keep and doesn’t do much to rally his troops against the thousands of orcs at their doorstep. He leaves the actual battle logistics to Aragorn, Legolas and the Lothlorien elves. It’s not until the end of the battle that he finally decides to try to inspire his people, after Aragorn gets him motivated.
Women – To the Caves!
GoT: Most of the women of Winterfell (with the exception of a few badasses like Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth) plus Tyrion Lannister and Varys the eunuch are sent to the crypts below ground to stay safe from the battle.
LotR: The women of Rohan were first cowering in the Keep, but when the castle was breached they were sent to the secret exit which goes through… you guessed it… the caves of the mountain!
Desperation to Inspiration
GoT: The White Walkers have scaled the walls of Winterfell and are attacking everything and everyone. The Hound, usually a ruthless fighter, has hidden himself away from the action. Beric sees him and calls him to come back to the battle. The Hound barks back, “Fuck off! We can’t beat them! … They’re fucking death! You can’t beat death.” But Beric motions to Arya Stark, who is sliding off of a roof escaping an oncoming White Walker and replies, “Tell her that.” They both run off to help her fight more baddies!
LotR: The orcs have breached the castle and are banging down the door to the Keep. King Theoden believes this is the end of the battle… and his kingdom. Dawn is breaking and none of his allies came to his aid. He turns to Aragorn and says, “So much death… What can men do against such reckless hate?” Then Aragorn snaps back, “Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them!” Then they all feel inspired as the morning light starts to shine in through the castle windows!
Epic Save The Day Moment
GoT: Maybe this wasn’t a surprise to everyone, but I certainly did not expect it when Arya jumped in to defend Bran and face the Night King alone. So of course I was even MORE surprised when she busted out the surprise stab move while being choked, killing the evil king and ‘un-animating’ all of the White Walkers back into regular ole dead bodies. Arya saves her brother, saves the day, saves the kingdom, and saves… the living!!
LotR: Gandalf shows up at dawn, late as freaking usual, with a huge army of horsemen and uses his magic to whoop some orc ass. If this wizard had been less flaky, these problems probably wouldn’t have gotten so out of hand in Middle Earth in the first place…!
Now… the Nitty Gritty
Which epic battle was best? That’s the question. It’s really an arbitrary, objective thing and I’m here to state my opinion! I would have to say that story-wise, Game of Thrones really kicks your ass every chance it gets, but also has huge uplifting moments that make you literally want to jump and cheer. Seriously, it’s MUCH cooler for the hero of the battle to be a young woman instead of an old bearded white man.
What was up with the visual quality of Game of Thrones? There were so many strange gradient issues in the dark hues of the scenes, and the only explanation I can come up with for that is video compression. I didn’t realize that video was compressed for broadcast but maybe it is, because I was watching it live on HBO on cable and saw these issues… I do know that video needs to be compressed for streaming, and that’s why we get these effects sometimes. But for this episode of Game of Thrones - which was purposely dark and full of terrors - the deep black hues were rendered as low quality gradients, were extremely distracting, and looked like crap. Meanwhile, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings has unbelievably amazing cinematography. Instead of CGI, they used real people (didn’t they employ all of New Zealand to shoot those films??) and basically choreographed a war to make it look as real as possible. The Uruk-Hai orcs all had latex and makeup effects to turn them into monsters, rather than computer effects. I think this makes a HUGE difference in the quality of a film. It also helps that I watch LotR on DVD. But even YouTube rips of LotR still look beautiful to me…
Sooo what’s the answer? I’m going to name THE BATTLE OF HELM’S DEEP THE EPIC BATTLE WINNER because you can actually SEE everything that you’re supposed to see, without needing a 4KTV or a Blu Ray player or fiddling with display settings for ten minutes! But ‘The Long Night’ was an epic battle, for sure. I can’t wait to see how the Game of Thrones ends. Hopefully not with an overly long bedroom romp like at the end of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series lol!