I will always be a die hard Game of Thrones fan, but even the elastic bounds of my belief are being strained by the repeated arrivals of fortuitous saviors just in the nick of time. “Beyond the Wall” employed the deus ex machina device a little too liberally to be credible, even within the rubric of fantasy. That said, this traumatizing episode was still epic.
We begin with a shot of the war room at Dragonstone, the camera panning north along the stone map. From there we immediately go Beyond the Wall, where Jon Snow’s ragtag band of Wight hunters are trudging through the snow. I’m not really sure what the initial shot is supposed to accomplish–is it establishing that the next scene takes place Beyond the Wall? Is it juxtaposing the roaring fire in the fireplace against the icy bleakness of the Far North? Viewers don’t need any help ascertaining that Jon Snow & Co. are Beyond the Wall; nor do we need Gendry’s hammer to clobber us on the head with the ice and fire theme. So that first shot is pointless, and maybe even a little insulting.
As Jon & Co.’s journey takes them deeper into the North, they engage in the type of casual conversations that have been missing in Season 7–sacrificed, surely, for the accelerated pace necessitated by the truncated season. When I say casual, I don’t mean mundane cocktail party chitchat–although Jon, Tormund and Gendry do talk about the weather. I mean the opening up that occurs among characters to fill the time on their many journeys and elucidates their motivations and points of view. Welcome back, exposition!
Tormund asks Jon about the Dragon Queen and Jon grumbles that she wants him to bend the knee. Tormund recalls Mance Rayder’s refusal to bend the knee, and the dire consequences that decision had for his people. Has Tormund Giantsbane become the moral arbiter of Westeros?
Gendry dresses down Beric and Thoros for selling him to the Red Woman until The Hound tells him to stop winjing (sp?). According to The Hound, winjing occurs when someone’s lips are moving and they are complaining. Faced with The Hound’s succinct expression of contempt, Gendry stops his winjing and takes a swig from Thoros’ proffered flask, and the Gendry/Brotherhood conflict appears to be resolved. The Hound should be a diplomat.
Jon tells Jorah that the first time he went Beyond the Wall he was with Jorah’s father. Jorah asks if Jon was with his father at the end, and Jon explains that he was a captive of the Wildlings at the time, but the Watch eventually avenged Jeor’s murder. Jon offers Longclaw to Jorah, saying that it belongs in the Mormont family, but Jorah declines to take it since he brought shame on his House and broke his father’s heart. Jeor gave Longclaw to Jon, and it should stay with him. Now that Jorah has seen Jon Snow’s earnest and noble character, will he cease to consider him a rival for Dany’s affection and get on the shipping train? Another potential conflict avoided.
Sansa listens as Arya recounts a story about their father. Arya tells of the time when Ned applauded her for hitting a bull’s eye with one of her brother’s bows and arrows. She knew it was against the rules for girls to shoot arrows, but because Ned was smiling at her in that moment, she realized that she wasn’t wrong–the rules were. And then she goes off the rails, noting that now Ned is dead, killed by the Lannisters with Sansa’s help. This is where Season 7’s pacing makes the show suffer. What exactly has happened at Winterfell to make Arya so thoroughly convinced that Sansa cannot be trusted? It can’t just be the scene where the Northern Lords were questioning their selection of Jon as King in the North and Sansa failed to make a definitive stand for Jon. If that alone made Arya go from embracing her sister in the crypts to viewing her as a venal opportunist, then Arya has somehow become unhinged. But how? Are all her experiences finally catching up with her and manifesting themselves in this aggression towards Sansa? Did her discovery of the scroll confirm her darkest suspicions of Sansa’s motives?
Arya reads the scroll to Sansa and Sansa tries to explain the position she was in at the time. Arya refuses to give her sister one iota of the benefit of the doubt, and when Sansa asks to whom she’s shown the scroll, Arya accuses her of being scared of losing favor with the Northern Lords. She probably has a point, but why is Arya so completely antagonistic towards and distrustful of Sansa? Something is missing here. There is a legitimate basis for conflict between Arya and Sansa, but that conflict is more subtle than it is being portrayed. Arya’s behavior is making me more sympathetic to Sansa, and since Sansa’s motives are murky, it is an uncomfortable place to be.
Sansa correctly points out that nothing would make Cersei happier than to know that Arya and Sansa are at each other’s throats, but Arya will not give her sister a break. She accuses Sansa of doing Cersei’s bidding and walks away, causing Sansa to turn to–who else?–Littlefinger. It just keeps getting worse.
Thank God for a little comic relief courtesy of Tormund and The Hound, two of the most delightful characters in the Thrones-verse. When The Hound snarls that he hates gingers, Tormund retorts that gingers are beautiful–they’ve been kissed by fire, just like The Hound, and points to his scar. Tormund asks The Hound if he fell into a fire as a child and The Hound tells him he was pushed. Tormund deduces that is the root of The Hound’s choleric personality, and further analyzes that he’s not really mean because he has sad eyes. When did Tormund become so sage and sensitive? Do they have art therapy classes at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea?
Tormund describes the beauty he has waiting for him at Winterfell and The Hound recognizes he is referring to Brienne. He growls, “You’re with Brienne of fucking Tarth?” Tormund lights up and asks The Hound if he knows her. Tormund clarifies that they’re not together yet, but he sees the way she looks at him. The Hounds responds that she probably looks at him like she wants to carve him up and eat his liver. Tormund is excited. “You do know her!” He wants to procreate with Brienne–he is convinced their children will be “great big monsters” that will take over the world. The Hound asks him how a man like him has survived this long. Tormund assumes it’s because he’s good at killing.
Beric observes that Jon does not resemble Ned Stark and assumes that he favors his mother. Foreshadowing, people. They speculate about the Lord of Light’s purpose in bringing them back from the dead, but come to no conclusions. They settle on the notion that perhaps it’s because they are soldiers and able to defend people who cannot defend themselves. Death is the enemy, and they must fight for life even though the enemy always wins in the end. Valar Morghulis, after all.
The Hound recognizes the arrowhead-shaped mountain he saw in the fire and they realize they are getting close to encountering the Army of the Dead.
At Dragonstone, Dany tells Tyrion she’s glad he isn’t a hero. Heroes do stupid things and they die. Drogo, Jorah, Daario…and Jon Snow. All heroes, all either dead or in perpetual danger. Dany LOVES Jon Snow. Her need to manufacture a way to bring him up in conversation is a dead giveaway. She and Missandei need to sit down with a bottle of wine so they can gush unabashedly about Jon Snow and Grey Worm to each other.
Tyrion points out that all four of the heroes Dany mentioned fell in love with her, and Dany scoffs that isn’t the case with Jon Snow. Please, girl, you brought him up in hopes of hearing that very thing. The talk turns to Cersei. Dany is concerned that while Cersei is probably laying a trap for them, they have not discussed any reciprocal plans. Jaime has assured Tyrion that he will keep the Lannister forces in check when the Dany contingent comes to King’s Landing, and Tryion has promised Jaime that he’ll dissuade Dany from doing anything impulsive. Uh oh. Dany demands to know when she’s been impulsive and Tyrion refers to the Tarly barbecue. That wasn’t impulsive, she says, it was necessary. Dany accuses Tyrion of arguing on behalf of his family and he admits it–she needs to understand things from their perspective so she can anticipate their moves and defeat them. He believes she can break the wheel, but what then? Her vision for a different kind of world can’t be achieved in one lifetime, so who will be her successor? Tyrion needs to recalibrate his sense of timing. Of course Dany takes offense, proving Tyrion’s point that she loses her temper when she’s provoked. She will not discuss succession until she sits on the Iron Throne.
Jon & Co. press forward through a snow storm. A giant bear appears through the gloom–a bear with icy blue eyes. It attacks the group and they fight it off, but not before it mauls Thoros. The Hound is incapable of rescuing Thoros from the burning bear, and it does some damage before succumbing to the flames. Will there ever be a situation in which The Hound is forced to overcome his fear of fire?
Sansa is consulting with Littlefinger, which is never a good thing. She is worried about the Northern Lords’ reaction should Arya show them the scroll, given their ever-shifting loyalties. Littlefinger suggests Brienne might be of some help. She is sworn to protect both Stark girls, and if one of them was in danger–even from the other–she would be forced to intervene. Sansa agrees. What is Littlefinger’s game here? Brienne knows a creeper when she sees one and doesn’t trust Littlefinger. He benefits from the rift between Sansa and Arya so cannot be advocating for Brienne to step in and mediate between the sisters. WHY does Sansa confide in him? Is she trying to out-Littlefinger Littlefinger? What is she up to? Scenes like this make Arya’s antipathy towards Sansa more understandable, but as far as we know, she isn’t privy to them, so…?
Jon Snow and Tormund spy a small group of Wights plodding through a valley with a White Walker in the lead. Jon & Co. ambush them and when Jon kills the Walker, the Wights crumble to the ground. So now we know that when a Walker is killed, the Wights he created are destroyed. Except one of the Wights survives and is captured. Weak. Why would this Wight survive when all the other Wights collapsed after their Walker was killed? Because they need one to bring to King’s Landing. Again, weak.
Jon hears a rumbling in the distance and realizes shit is about to go south. He tells Gendry to run back to Eastwatch and send a raven to Daenerys. He leads his party onto a frozen lake. The ice cracks under their feet but they cannot retreat to shore–thousands of Wights are streaming towards them and they run for the temporary safety offered by a rock island. They all brandish their weapons in preparation for a futile attempt at fighting off the scores of Wights bearing down on them, when–deus ex machina number one–the ice gives way and Wights begin mindlessly plunging into the lake. Eventually they realize what’s happening and stop advancing. Jon & Co. are stranded on the rock while the Wights are kept at bay by the open water. And now we know that Wights can’t swim. It’s a standoff for now.
Gendry collapses from exhaustion just outside the gates of Eastwatch, but–deus ex machina number two–somehow he has been spotted approaching the castle in the dark, and he manages to tell Davos to send a raven.
Jon & Co. have survived the bitter cold night, except for Thoros. He survived the ice bear attack only to succumb to the elements. It’s not a surprise. His strength was too compromised from the years of drink to withstand this grueling mission. RIP, Thoros.
Sansa receives a raven carrying an invitation to King’s Landing. She refuses to go, but sends Brienne in her stead. I understand why Littlefinger wants to get rid of Brienne, but what does Sansa have to gain by sending her away? This does not bode well for the Stark sisters. Brienne is concerned that Sansa and Arya won’t be adequately protected in her absence, but Sansa haughtily cuts her off. It’s a long journey to King’s Landing–even longer now that #winter is here–and Brienne had better get started. Ever the faithful servant, Brienne complies.
Daenerys, sporting a very becoming and appropriate winter white ensemble, mounts Drogon. She and all three dragons set off to rescue Jon Snow over Tyrion’s objections.
The Hound is bored. He starts throwing rocks at the Wights, and when one of them lands on the ice right in front of them, the Wights realize the lake is frozen again. Standoff over. They resume their advance on Jon & Co., singly at first, then in a massive rush. There is no way Jon & Co. can fend them off. They’re doomed. Except they’re not, because–deus ex machina number three–Daenerys and the dragons arrive to incinerate the Wights.
Drogon lands on the rock to allow Jon & Co. to climb onto his back and fly away. Everyone scrambles aboard, managing to wrestle the captured Wight along with them. Everyone, that is, except for Jon Snow, who inexplicably lingers to kill a few more Wights. Big mistake, because this gives the Night King–who has been watching from a cliff–the opportunity to launch his ice spear at Viserion. It lands, and Viserion, in the most horrific scene since the Red Wedding, plummets to his death as a stunned Dany watches him sink into the icy waters. It’s awful. I hate this show.
After witnessing this sickening spectacle, Jon runs toward Drogon but is knocked into the lake by some Wights. Dany, heartsick at the loss of Viserion and now Jon Snow, cannot wait any longer and takes off. The Night King takes aim at Drogon and misses, thank God. This might even be worse than the Red Wedding. People are expendable, dragons are not.
With a signature gulp of air, Jon Snow emerges from the lake and struggles to the shore. He is injured and very weak, but girds for battle as a horde of Wights descends upon him. There is no way Jon Snow can get out of this one, except–deus ex machina number four–Uncle Benjen comes charging in, spinning his fiery mace and destroying all the Wights in his path. He pushes Jon Snow onto his horse. Jon begs Benjen to come with him but there is no time. Benjen swats the horse and it takes off for Eastwatch, while Benjen faces the dead. He is quickly surrounded, and it looks like Uncle Benjen is a goner.
The Hound loads the captured Wight into a boat headed for King’s Landing as Drogon and Rhaegal screech mournfully overhead. Dany is at the top of The Wall, searching for a sign of Jon Snow. Jorah gently tells her they need to go, but she doesn’t want to give up her vigil just yet. After another moment of staring at the barren expanse beneath her, she turns, resigned–but wait! A horn sounds and she looks back to see a lone figure on a horse approaching the gates. A barely conscious Jon Snow is taken to Dany’s ship and tucked into bed.
Sansa is snooping through Arya’s chambers looking for the scroll. Instead she finds Arya’s faces. Of course Arya catches her, and creepily taunts Sansa about her game of faces. When Sansa refuses to play, Arya describes the power the faces give her. She can live inside another person’s skin, feel what it’s like to be someone else. She grabs her dagger and approaches Sansa, wondering aloud what it would be like to be the Lady of Winterfell. All she needs to find out is Sansa’s face. Sansa is terrified but stands her ground. Instead of carving up Sansa’s face, however, Arya flips the dagger around so the blade is no longer pointing at Sansa, and hands Sansa the dagger. What was the point of that scene? To crush any hope of peace among the Starks? It worked.
Jon awakens to see Dany sitting by his side. “I’m sorry,” he breathes, “I’m so sorry.” You should be, Jon Snow. Dumbest. mission. ever. He takes her hand and tells her he wishes they’d never gone, but she shakes her head. She’s glad they went because now she’s seen what he’s seen. She tells him the dragons are the only children she’ll ever have and asks him if he understands. Is she asking him if he understands how profound the loss of Viserion is to her? Or is she asking him if understands that she will be unable to give him children?
Dany vows that she and Jon will destroy the Night King together. “Thank you, Dany,” says Jon. She is taken aback by the nickname–no one since her brother Viserys has called her that, so it doesn’t have a good connotation for her. Jon suggests “my queen,” and for a moment Daenerys looks as if she thinks he is pledging his love to her. Then he says he can’t bend the knee in his current condition and she is even more moved. What about the men who have pledged their allegiance to Jon Snow? He assures her they’ll come to see her for what she is, as he has. She tears up and takes his hand, wondering if she deserves it. He tells her she does as he earnestly gazes into her eyes. Dany looks down at their entwined hands and gathers herself, telling him to get some rest as she pulls away. The Targaryencest is going to be HOT! Bring it on!
The Wights are using massive chains to drag Viserion out of the water. The Night King lays a hand on him and his eyes open–then turn blue. And there it is. Even though we all knew it was coming, it doesn’t make it any less horrible.
This was a tough one. Hopefully there will be a juicy Jaime/Brienne scene in Episode 7 to soothe the despair of Viserion’s death and conversion. I wish you could RIP, Viserion. *sniff*