“Game of Thrones” puts the show’s longest-running plot to bed

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

With just three episodes left in “Game of Thrones'” final season, it was inevitable that the show would finally start wrapping up its most central, overarching plot lines. But on Sunday, when season eight episode three, “The Long Night,” aired, many viewers were surprised when the series’ longest-running story ending with a single thrust of a dagger.

The story of the White Walkers and their gradual conquest of “Game of Thrones'” fictional land of Westeros began in the very first scene of the first episode of the original season of “Game of Thrones,” which aired April 17, 2011, on HBO. In that extremely cold open, a ranging party of men from the Night’s Watch encountered the forces of icy evil that eventually became this fantasy world’s greatest threat.

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Back then, no one could have predicted what a cultural juggernaut “Game of Thrones” would become — or how the seemingly all-important conflict between the living and the dead would be wrapped up.

Sunday’s episode drew in a record-breaking 17.8 million viewers, cementing “Game of Thrones” as the most-watched scripted show of all time. And in “The Long Night,” at the end of the longest single battle scene ever committed to film, Arya Stark dropped her Valyrian steel dagger — first used to attack her brother Bran back in season one — from her pinned left hand to her free right one, and stabbed the Night King in a gap in his frozen armor. The awesome, heroic act ended the show’s oldest threat in a highly unexpected way.

Ayra Stark — "Game of Thrones"
Ayra Stark in “Game of Thrones” season eight episode three.

HBO/Helen Sloan

Many fans were thrilled at this subversive twist, as it had seemed more likely that an overtly heroic character like Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, or even Jaime Lannister would land the killing blow. Others lamented the fact that we never learned more about the White Walkers’ motivations — on a show with great, complex villains like Cersei and Tywin Lannister, Roose and Ramsay Bolton, and the Wildling king Mance Rayder, the Night King felt two-dimensional and clichéd in comparison.

“Game of Thrones” fans are already divided along the lines of those who only watch the HBO show, and those who read George R.R. Martin’s still unfinished book series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” on which the show is based. To add to the divisiveness of this episode, the Night King is a character created only on the show — he doesn’t exist in the original books, or at least, has yet to be introduced. That’s led many to speculate that, however the war with the White Walkers may end in a future book in the series, it will probably look very different from the way things played out on the screen this week.

There are those who theorize that the Night King might not be finished. Bran might have some special connection with the villain that somehow brings him back, or the Stark seer might turn into a new Night King himself. “Game of Thrones” introduced a fantasy version of time travel in past seasons, after all, which means basically anything is possible.

But it seems more likely that the show’s remaining episodes will turn instead to focus on the human drama. Cersei Lannister still sits the Iron Throne, Jon Snow has revealed his true identity — Aegon Targaryen — to his aunt Daenerys, and the dragon queen still covets power above all else. That will likely prove to be plenty for the final three episodes to explore.

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