Game of Thrones’ Battle of Winterfell was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. My body is still shaking—if you touched my arm, you could feel it in my nerves. You can’t point to one character whose story defined “The Long Night,” or led to the Night King’s fate. That’s because there are three.

In our latest “Last Night’s Watch” video, we look into the three characters whose entire lives brought them to this battle—and how it fulfilled a destiny we didn’t even know they had.


Melisandre

Melisandre wasn’t good, and we didn’t trust her. But we can say one thing about her: She didn’t back down.

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When the red priestess arrived at Winterfell, she told Davos Seaworth there was no point in killing her, as she’d be dead by morning. She knew she had a role to play in the fight against the undead, and that it would mean the end of her life. It didn’t come as a surprise. She’d been saying so for years—like when she told Varys in season seven that both of them would die in Westeros. This was her destiny.

But, she also could talk a big game. Melisandre might have had the ability to see the future—or at least thought she did—but she was often led astray. She believed that Stannis Baratheon was the Prince Who Was Promised, and went to great lengths to fulfill the prophecy—including sacrificing his own daughter, Shireen, to the fire. But when it was shown that her faith had been misplaced, she fled, leaving Stannis to die.

I couldn’t help but remember that scene during the moment where Melisandre tried to light the trenches. She struggled to call upon the Lord of Light as an army of wights was barreling toward her, and you could feel her fear getting in the way of her beliefs. I’ll admit, even my faith was shaken. But, unlike the battle that ended Stannis’ life, Melisandre didn’t run away from this. She held her ground, dug into her faith, and brought light to the darkness—in more ways than one, as she was there at the right time to remind Arya of what she too was meant to do.

Everything Melisandre has done—all the missteps and all the failures—led her to a place where she could fulfill her true purpose. Lord of Light be praised.

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Theon

There’s a common theme in storytelling where a character who’s put everything they have into the fight gets a chance to rest. That’s what happened for Theon. In “The Long Night,” Theon finally confronted his fears to defend Bran Stark, until he was the only one left. He faced down the Night King, knowing he wouldn’t survive, while also (unknowingly) giving Arya enough time to get to the Godswood.

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Then, something happened. Right as Theon was about to charge, Bran stopped...to thank him, and tell him he was a good man. This was huge for Theon. For a long time, the Starks were the only family he ever knew. But then, he betrayed them for the sake of his birth family—something he’s spent the rest of his life trying to atone for, without ever expecting to be forgiven. Bran, who Theon may have hurt the most, did not need to give him closure. But he did, something which showed a compassion that’s almost alien to the character now, considering he’s the Three-Eyed Raven.

Theon too had fulfilled his purpose, dying while defending the people he cared for the most. Jorah did the same thing, sacrificing himself to protect Daenerys Targaryen. And now, both men could finally rest.

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Arya

Melisandre and Theon aren’t the only ones whose whole lives led up to this battle. In a behind-the-scenes look at the episode, the showrunners said they’ve known for about three years that Arya would be the one to kill the Night King. That means, technically, her journey to becoming the baddest bitch in Westeros started the moment she stepped foot on the shores of Braavos in season five, entering the House of the Undying and training to become a Faceless Man. But really, it’s been Arya’s destiny since the very beginning.

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Back when Arya was first training with Syrio Forel in season one, he taught her the lessons she needed to one day face down the literal god of death. How to be fearless and cunning, and become one with your weapon. How to move and sway through the art of “water dancing”—something we saw her do this episode, as she danced through the library to avoid detection by the wights. Her practice pursuing cats throughout the Red Keep taught her how to chase—and, more importantly, how to catch.

Most of all, she learned how to treat death with respect. It’s one thing to hate the Night King. Hate can only get you so far—and, as we saw with Jon and Dany, that doesn’t work out so well. It’s another to do what Arya did. She didn’t hate death, or fear it. She welcomed it, treated it as another part of life. But that doesn’t mean it was her time to face death. She knew that. It’s why she could comfortably look death in the face and say: “Not today.” It showed how far Arya has come since her first dancing lesson. But also, how her journey is far from over.

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There are so many words to describe “The Long Night.” I could use all of them, and it wouldn’t be enough. This piece of television felt like watching Saving Private Ryan, the World Series, and my grandfather’s funeral at the same time. It was a roller coaster. Some characters died, others lived (a few too many, if you ask me). But these three did something greater. They fulfilled their destiny—a destiny that many of us didn’t even know they had.

Frankly, at this point, I don’t even care who ends up on the Iron Throne. Cersei, that pirate dude, Daenerys. Okay, maybe not Daenerys. All I care about is the Long Night, and how it’s finally over. Thanks to a witch, a sailor, and a dancer.

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About the author

Beth Elderkin

Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

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