***Spoiler Warning: This post discusses Game of Thrones events through Season 7, Episode 6, and A Song of Ice and Fire book events and theories. Spoilers***
Historically, Game of Thrones‘ penultimate episodes (“The Rains of Castamere, Baelor, Battle of the Bastards”) have been some of its best, and “Beyond the Wall” does strikechords. Under Alan Taylor’s (“Valar Morghulis, The North Remembers, Baelor” [to which there’s a callback]) surefire hand, a breathtaking horde of White Walkers twice descend on a group of undeterred heroes, their ground hard won and nearly lost before an unimaginable price is paid.
A Bastard is finally, triumphantly returned only to once again, be quickly banished (“You’re the fastest”); from rowing to running, would that somewhere Gendry’s two-wheeled triathlon finale exists. As his mates’ march on their mission comes to a shocking standstill — “Do bears have blue eyes?” — Baratheon’s boy runs his ass off, his relay completed by a fast feathered friend.
Of the hour’s quiet but paramount scenes, a standout Maisie Williams delivers two great performances. Having fully digested Littlfinger’s bitter bait, the younger Stark sister confronts her elder with a sly reading of the stolen note in Sansa’s own hand; panic sets in and sends the Lady of Winterfell right back under Baelish’s wicked wing. Sansa bids a worried Brienne adieu — the Stark stand-in for Cersei’s invitation — potentially leaving the sisters vulnerable, but Arya’s sharp condemnation of her sister (thankfully) stops just short of terrifying, and the Catspaw dagger changes hands once more.
While Tyrion does his darnedest to steer his queen, broaden her philosophical scope, his missteps have shaken Daenerys’ trust (“You’re thinking about my death quite a bit”); beyond the wall, her other distraction soon makes for full revolt. The Bastard’s Boys Snow’s Soldiers quickly find their quarry, whose horrifying screech summons his brethren, leaving the fierce five (plus a few handy red shirts) safely stranded … that is, until a dog takes out his frustration and boredom on a walker’s jaw. A rock paves the way for the undead army, setting in motion what should be a terrible and crushing defeat, but by the grace of (wibbly wobbly) Games timey-wimey and a fiery Mother’s frustrated ovaries, Daenerys and her dragons arrive just at the moment of peak crisis. Still, wars are not won without suffering and having been served merely a Myr-some appetizer, we knew the main course would have to be hearty. Taking perfect aim at his high-flying, flame-throwing target, the Night King pitches Dany’s heart into darkness; Viserion goes down, only to be manually resurfaced and resurrected, the creature’s catastrophic redirection horrifyingly immanent.
What a mixed bag of thrill and disappointment! Set against gorgeous, powerful, terrifying and funny moments with Jon and Co., which contained more than a few glorious, heart-stopping sequences (the bear attack and near-loss of Tormund during the wight fight; Jon taking down the first group with Longclaw), were frustrating scenes between Sansa and Arya, crazy-convenient and too-timely (How fast do ravens fly? Dragons? Is there a TARDIS in the house?) rescues, with mysteriously minimal life loss, and a few inexplicable decisions.
The loss of George R. R. Martin’s grounded writing is huge and obvious this season, as we drift into nonsensical timelines and uncharacteristic behavior. If indeed (I still struggle with) Arya managed to survive the House of Black and White, the Waifinator’s (should have been fatal) attack, and she truly learned as much as we know she has, there is no way she’d have fallen for Littlfinger’s manipulation, right into his ploying hands. Nor would Sansa, who pinballs between scenes of complete comprehension and confidence — “Do you know how happy Cersei would be if she saw us fighting … I do not need to be watched over or minded or cared for. I am not a child. I am the Lady of Winterfell and I am home.” — and being easily frightened and affected by her sister and Baelish. Both sisters should, would know better. Both sisters would realize they’re surrounded by enemies, and the importance of remaining family members, and both sisters would have grown past their petty, childhood quarreling.
Our one solace came in that moment when Arya snapped out of her psycho-killer trance, casually flipped that Catspaw dagger (nicely done!) handle-forward and passed it to Sansa’s hand. Many of us have been expecting Arya would use to to kill Littlefinger, but perhaps Sansa will take the matter of his dispatching in hand.
Jon and Jorah’s somber conversation, and Jorah’s reassurance that Longclaw should remain in Jon’s hands was beautiful and heart-wrenching. And oh, did Jon ever make perfect use of that Valyrian steel, first taking down the small group of wights in one fell swoop and later, defending as best he could against the horde.
Speaking of Longclaw, when Jon came up out of the water, the wolf head’s eye opened. I was so incredulous about this, I checked my own video and created this gif. Whoa.
Game of Star Trek … NOT that we want our favorites to die, and believe me, my heart (I screamed) jumped at Tormund’s close call, at Jorah nearly falling off the dragon, at Jon going under the water (what’s up with near-drownings, two in a row?), BUT the handy-dandy red shirt deaths this hour were ridiculous, verging on silly. Granted, the first time watching (multiple viewings are mandatory), it was hard to discern who was going down — every other bearded loss was potentially important. In the end, Thoros of Myr was a very cool dude, but not much of a loss. B & W don’t have Martin’s cojones.
Speaking of Thoros — and the amazing Beric Dondarrion — the Brotherhood duo’s flaming swords were nothing short of awesome; and Richard Dormer’s (reminds me of Robert Shaw’s Quint) gorgeous deep voice and battle stance, moving. The way the pair fought off that bear (Jorah, too) and took on the White Walkers was beautiful.
Conversely, The Hound made some goofy moves (Oh, Hound!), threw the rock that nearly ended them all, and he had those hilarious exchanges with Tormund, but those quiet moments when he was frozen in fear of the fire (as the bear attacked Thoros), I really felt for him. He just couldn’t move. Jorah took note, too.
Jorah, oh our sweet, sweet Ser Mormont, I deeply fear for your life! Jorah’s death has been telegraphed so many times now, I don’t see how he can make it past next week’s finale. Still, my heart keeps hope …
Benjen. What the hell, Benjen? As soon as we saw the flaming flail, we knew who’d save Jon, but why not himself? When Jon takes the time to ask Uncle to come with him, Benjen takes the time to say there’s no time, but there was plenty of time for Benjen to hop right on with Jon and ride away. Instead he stays to fight a losing battle?
Ditto Jon, who could easily have gotten onto Dany’s dragon with everyone else, instead of staying to try to fight a losing battle and nearly being drowned. I suppose if he hadn’t almost drowned, he wouldn’t have had to have his wet clothes removed, so Dany could see his naked chest and scars, lustily looked at her nephew and held his hand. SHIP OF FOOLS, people! Ship of fools.
Come on, guys, let’s get real. Haven’t we had enough incest on this show already? Dany has already declared that she should be alone. And, as Tyrion noted, she doesn’t need to get down with every attractive dude she sees.
Jeepers, creepers, where’d you get those … chains? HUGE links make-up the dragon-pulling chains the White Walkers use to bring up Viserion — is there a factory of Elvewalkers nearby? So, that’s where Santa Euron got his ships!
Following that conversational foreshadowing (“Did you trip into the fire?” “I didn’t trip, I was pushed.”) The Hound is on his way (to kill his brother?) to King’s Landing; next week, CLEGANEBOWL?!!!!
I was not expecting to see everyone — including Cersei — together in the season finale promo (we’ll get to that in another post). Holy shit.
Great Lines: (Aside from this entire exchange, of course.)
Tormund, on staying warm: “Walking’s good, fighting’s better, fucking’s best.”
Gendry: I’ve never seen snow before.
Tormund: “Beautiful, eh? I can breathe again. Down south smells like pig shit.
Jon: “You’ve never been down south.”
Tormund: “I’ve been to Winterfell.”
Jon: “That’s the North.
There’s not a woman within a 100 miles.”
Tormund: “We have to make do with what we’ve got.”
Tormund: Mance Rayder was a great man. A proud man, the king beyond the wall will never bend the knee … How many people died for his pride?”
The Hound to Gendry: “Your lips are moving and you’re complaining; that’s whinging. This one’s been killed six times, you don’t hear him bitching about it.”
Jorah to Jon: “Your father wanted to execute me, you know. I heard. He was in the right of course. Didn’t make me hate him any less.”
Jon: “Glad he didn’t catch you.”
Jorah: “Me, too.”
Arya, cutting Sansa (and us) like a knife: “I remember you standing on that platform with Cersei and Joffrey when they dragged father to the block. I remember the pretty dress you were wearing, I remember the way you did your hair.”
Sansa to Arya: “You never would have survived what I survived.”
Arya to Sansa: “What would little Lyanna Mormont say?”
Tyrion to Dany: “Can’t win the throne if you’re dead. Can’t break the wheel if you’re dead.”
“Sometimes nothing is the hardest thing to do … If you die, we’re all lost. Everyone, everything.”
Jon to Dany: “I’d bend the knee, but …”
Jon to Beric: “What are you fighting for?”
Beric: “Life. Death is the enemy, the first enemy and the last.”
Jon: “But we all die.”
Beric: “The enemy always wins, and we still need to fight him. That’s all I know …
We can defend those who can’t defend themselves.”