Spoiler Warning for Season 7, Episode 6 of “Game of Thrones,” as well as all episodes of previous seasons.
For the first six seasons of “Game of Thrones,” the pacing was near perfect with the story moving rather slow to allow for the characters to naturally develop and play their role in the greater game. With the end near, Season 7 seems to have been placed on fast-forward with much of the story being rushed through at a rapid pace, shortening all travel time which used to be a central aspect of the plot; for the first few episodes of the season, this was something that could be mostly looked past, but the insane fast-travel in “Beyond the Wall” really lessens the impact and makes the situations feels rather ridiculous. Aside from the problems with the timeline, the episode suffers from out-of-character interactions and choices, enhanced plot armor and the fact that logic goes out the window for the sake of spectacle; yes, I realize that this is a fantasy series, but there are certain rules that have been established throughout the series and when they are ignored, the end result feels empty, lackluster and irritating. That being said, there are several great bits of dialogue, action and character development that help to make up for these missteps. The side of the living loses many of their fighters, but one earth-shattering death will serve as a shake-up heading into the Season Finale.
In order to recap and review this episode as coherently as possible, events will be discussed by location rather than in chronological order.
Let’s just get my least favorite part of the episode out of the way. Since the start of the series, I have been a loyal supporter of House Stark and that will never change, but some of the actions of Arya and Sansa in this episode are really difficult to get behind. After years of development, both Arya and Sansa are obviously very different people from who they were at the start of the series, but are they becoming unrecognizable? After finding Sansa’s letter in Littlefinger’s room, Arya confronts her sister by slyly talking about their father and the fact that he looked past the stupid gender roles of Westeros and praised her for taking up archery; this is actually the highlight of the Winterfell storyline as any reference to Ned brings back a flood of emotions.
The touching moment is ruined as Arya lashes out at Sansa for being a coward and writing the letter, which she views as a betrayal; Arya believes that Sansa should have gone down fighting and should have never sided with the Lannisters. Sansa cites the fact that she was only a child and that she was unsure of what to do, but Arya claims that she was also a child at the time and would never have turned her back on the Starks. This entire conversation is infuriating and feels manufactured to create drama and form a split within House Stark; I have to take Sansa’s side in this argument as there was nothing that she realistically could have done to stop the Lannisters, plus I’m sure that Ned would never have wanted for her to risk her life for him.
I really don’t understand why Littlefinger is allowed to freely roam the halls of Winterfell, but Sansa still seems to value him as an adviser and takes him into her confidence to discuss the conflict with Arya. This letter could bring down House Stark and completely eliminate their alliances with the other Northern houses and Sansa knows this. Clearly, this is all part of a larger plan by Littlefinger to turn the Starks against each other…and it seems to be working for some reason even though both Arya and Sansa are fully aware that Littlefinger is shady. With that in mind, Littlefinger brings up Brienne and states that she would have to protect Sansa from anyone, even Arya; what an awful position that would be for Brienne.
The situation is complicated even further when a raven arrives from King’s Landing, inviting Sansa to meet with the Lannisters; sounds like a trap, doesn’t it? Sansa isn’t dumb and knows that she can’t just leave Winterfell to go and be taken prisoner by the enemy, but she decides that Brienne should risk her life to do this instead. Knowing that leaving Sansa unguarded is a terrible idea, Brienne tries to shut down this plan, but Sansa’s stubbornness is back in full swing and she really doesn’t want to listen to anyone; it is almost as if Sansa has reverted back to her Season 1 ways after the conversation with Arya. Later, Sansa decides to sneak into Arya’s room and snoop around, leading her to discover a bag of faces that Arya has collected. This creates a tense environment between the sisters as Arya catches Sansa and creepily begins playing the “Game of Faces.” Citing her training with the Faceless Men in Braavos, Arya explains that she can easily take Sansa’s face; again, this feels like manufactured drama and I don’t really appreciate the Stark sisters being turned against each other so easily, especially in middle of multiple wartime conflicts.
After several heavy losses and a few wins, Dany is at a bit of a crossroads and the plan that Jon is currently working on still proves to be less important to her than defeating Cersei and securing Westeros. She and Tyrion discuss the possible meeting with Cersei and the fact that there will likely be a trap set to capture or kill Dany. Tyrion is well aware of the fact that Cersei is plotting something behind the scenes and uses this to bring up the possibility of Dany dying; a leader needs an heir and with the fact that Dany cannot have children, Tyrion wonders how her successor will be chosen. For some reason, this completely offends Dany and she doesn’t even want to discuss it until she is sitting on the throne. This is yet another case of Dany acting irrationally and somewhat like her father; Tyrion’s point is worthy of a discussion as her dying on the battlefield is a definite possibility and they need to have a plan for what comes after. When a raven arrives from Eastwatch, Dany takes off with her dragons to rescue her allies, even as Tyrion pleads for her to do nothing; she can’t sit still and I don’t really blame her, but the fact that she was just shown criticizing the stupid heroic moves people have made in the past makes this decision to leave feel inconsistent.
North of the Wall
Operation Capture a Wight is in full effect this episode as Jon leads his team through the harsh terrain of the North. To put it bluntly, this is probably the worst plan in the history of “Game of Thrones” and I’m not sure if anyone actually thought it through. Before shit hits the fan, there are some fantastic conversations between characters who have never really interacted before. For starters, Jon and Jorah speak about Longclaw, the sword that Jeor gave to Jon back in Season 1; Jon tries to return it to Jorah as Jeoh was originally supposed to give it to him, but Jorah refuses because of the dishonor that he brought to his family. There is a clear respect between the two men and it is rewarding to have them finally interact with each other. There is another interaction between Gendry and the Brotherhood Without Banners, who show no regret for having sold Gendry to Melisandre; The Hound pretty much tells Gendry to stop complaining and I completely agree with him as the past is now in the past and the only thing that matters is capturing the wight. Finally, there is a great conversation between The Hound and Tormund as they hilariously discuss Brienne of Tarth.
The calm quickly ends when the threat of the wights becomes more real. Out of nowhere, a Wight bear attacks the team and mauls several of the redshirt Wildlings. The Brotherhood use their epic flaming swords to kill the bear, but not before it bites Thoros of Myr; unless I missed something, Thoros wasn’t fatally injured even though the bear was mauling him for quite a while. As the team ventures further north, they come across a group of wights being led by a White Walker; after setting a fire to distract them, Jon kills the White Walker, which causes the wights to die. There is one lone survivor and they manage to capture it, but it lets out a horrifying scream that seems to draw the rest of the Army. Realizing that they are about to face thousands of dead, Jon orders Gendry back to the Wall to send a distress raven to Dany. Yep…it is completely ridiculous. Why not just hide until they pass or run like hell back to the Wall as a group? Instead, they all rush to the center of a frozen lake where they become trapped as the Army of the Dead surrounds them. The plan to capture a wight unsurprisingly takes several terrible turns, leaving the group stranded in this horrible predicament with no hope of rescue…but because of the rushed timeline, help does come. Gendry somehow makes it back to Eastwatch in the knick of time, surviving Wight bears and the harsh cold before collapsing right in front of the the Wall’s gate.
While trapped in the center of the ice lake, Thoros freezes to death/dies from his wounds (it isn’t completely clear), leaving Beric and the others to burn his body to prevent his reanimation. This is a worrying development in the story as Thoros is Beric’s red priestess and therefore was the one to resurrect him several times in the past, but now that he is dead, will Beric be able to be brought back again if he dies? It is difficult to tell how much time passes, but the freezing temperatures are clearly affecting the group and they begin to wonder if Dany will come to their rescue; The Hound decides to start throwing rocks at the wights, something that is hilarious at first, but seems to anger them. This anger causes the wights to descend on the group and a massive battle breaks out as the living fight off the dead. Several nameless red-shirts are killed, but thanks to the power of plot armor, not one of the main characters meet their end…even though none of them realistically should have survived. There is a brief moment where Tormund is nearly ripped apart by wights, but he is miraculously saved; my heart stopped and I was seriously worried that we would never get to see Tormund and Brienne together again. Out of nowhere, a blast of fire lights up the barren wintry landscape; Dany and her dragons have arrived to conveniently save the day!
Unfortunately, what happens next was completely spoiled for me, because I used some willpower and did not watch the pre-released episode that HBO somehow let out days before; some lame fake fans feel the need to share these spoilers all over the Internet, making them impossible to avoid. Sadly, leaks and spoilers are becoming more common and I have to say that they really limited my enjoyment of this episode. That being said, seeing the three dragons lighting up hundreds of wights is spectacular and epic. While Viserion and Rhaegal continue blasting fire, Dany and Drogon land on the ground and rescue Team Jon; however, at the last minute, Jon decides to keep fighting wights instead of boarding Drogon (keeping in line with Dany’s stupid heroes speech). From a lookout area, the Night King equips himself with an ice spear, which he throws directly at Viserion, causing him to crash into the ice as blood spews everywhere. The other two dragons cry out and Dany looks on in absolute shock; somber music plays as Viserion slides down into the frozen lake, completely lifeless.
Drogon takes off, leaving Jon behind as the Army marches forward; thankfully, he is saved by Uncle Benjen (Joseph Mawle)…who puts Jon on a horse and sends him to the Wall before he is overwhelmed by the wights. What was the point of having Benjen come back just to die seconds later? Back at the lake, the wights use chains (no clue where they got them from) to raise a now dead Viserion out of the water before The Night King reanimates him; a chilling blue eye signifies the saddening fact that one of Dany’s children has been lost to the dead and she will now be forced to fight him. The fact that Viserion is now an ice dragon raises the question of whether or not he will still breathe fire. I am also wondering if he will be used to bring the Wall down, something that fans have predicted will happen for years now. If that is the case, the odds of the living defeating the dead just became even more long than they originally were.
Following their tense ordeal, Dany and the others return to the Wall and are faced with the hard truth that Jon and Viserion may not return. The two remaining dragons fly around, crying out for their fallen brother as Dany watches the horizon. The sound of a single horn alerts everyone to the fact that Jon has returned, but he is in rough shape and he is taken to a ship that is anchored right next to the Wall. Davos and the others tend to him, but Dany is present when he awakens; he offers his condolences and regret for the death of Viserion, but she makes it clear that she doesn’t blame him. The botched plan allowed her to see the Army of the Dead for herself and she is more than ready to fight them now. With that, she promises to fight alongside Jon and he finally bends the knee and calls her “my queen.” This is a massive development, although it seems to me that they are more equals in this situation and I don’t think that Dany will be caught in a power struggle with Jon. There is some definite romantic tension between the two and I am finding myself liking their potential relationship more with each episode. It isn’t clearly stated, but it seems as though the ship is headed to King’s Landing, where Jon and Dany will present the wight and try to strike up a treaty with Cersei. We all know things won’t go that well, but with everything they just went though, Jon and Co. have to be able to convince Cersei that the Army is the real threat.
“Beyond the Wall” is far from a terrible episode, but the numerous inconsistencies, plot conveniences and instances of fast-travel lessen the impact of the episode and prevent it from being the best of the season. Even the battle sequence is far less thrilling than that of previous episodes such as “Hardhome,” “Battle of the Bastards” and more recently, “The Spoils of War.” Unfortunately for the story, spectacle and a fast pace are being prioritized over the natural story progression that is present throughout the first six seasons. It seems to me that several seasons are being crammed into the thirteen episodes to wrap the story up as fast as possible; this episode easily could have been split into two and would have been far more impressive. That being said, there are notable story developments that make this episode worthwhile, especially the death and reanimation of Viserion, plus the alliance formed between Dany and Jon. Emilia Clarke really shines in this episode, as do the entire cast portraying Jon’s team. I feel as though, more main characters should have been lost in this episode as the only really human losses were Thoros and Wildling extras whose only purpose was to die. With just one episode remaining this season, the stakes are higher than ever. Will Cersei agree to work with Jon and Dany? Will the Wall come crashing down in a hail of fire…or ice?
Be sure to tune into the Season Finale of “Game of Thrones” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.