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The Iron Throne.
“Beyond the Wall” was an earth-shattering, but somewhat shaky episode that, at times, was weirdly reminiscent of a video game. This episode boasts some of the most spectacular scenes in the series, as well as some of the cringiest dialogue. It’s a contradictory combination; ice and fire, indeed.
We begin with our seven heroes trudging through the snow, making exposition-heavy small talk. There’s too many “remember when?” conversations in this episode, and in this season as a whole, as a matter of fact. But so much has happened, and I suppose the showrunners are ensuring everyone is caught to speed before the action ensues. Still, I seem to remember the earlier seasons just rolling with it, paying admirably little heed to whether or not the audience knew what on earth was going on.
The Hound and Tormund make a winning combination; they’re like two old drunks who bump into each other at a bus stop, communicating purely through threats and expletives. I especially enjoyed The Hound’s horrified realization that Tormund wants nothing more than to seduce big Brienne, the woman who battered him to within an inch of his life. I’ve grown fond of Tormund, having initially found his one-note tough guy act irritating, but his obsession with Brienne is just adorable.
Jon is seemingly feeling down, but is inspired by the words of Beric to keep fighting death, the invincible enemy. Or in Jon and Beric’s case, not that invincible. Poor old Jon seemed like he needed a pick me up, and Beric is the only other man who knows what it’s like to die, come back, and continue to fight against a seemingly impossible cause.
We learn that the key to Thoros of Myr’s bravery lies at the bottom of a bottle, and that’s all we’re ever going to know about the man, really. The character was basically a glorified 1-Up mushroom, and his ensuing death only serves as a reminder that Beric’s next brush with death will be his last.
But before we talk about the battle, let’s talk about how annoying and illogical Jon Snow is.
First off, this entire plan was pretty stupid. It wasn’t his plan, admittedly, but Jon chose to lead the expedition. This is a lot of effort to kidnap a zombie, but whatever. Sure, send some guys down to steal one if it’s that important. But why send the King in the North? Isn’t he too valuable to send on a suicide mission? And shouldn’t he send a raven to Sansa once in awhile?
Jon speaks with Jorah during the long walk through the snow, and the two bond over their shared connection to Jeor Mormont, Jorah’s father. Jeor, deceased captain of the Night’s Watch, inspired much of Jon’s devotion to protecting the realm, but serves as nothing but a painful memory for disgraced Jorah. Jon also happens to be in possession of Jorah’s family sword, Longclaw, given to him by Jeor, who even changed the handle of the precious family heirloom from a Mormont bear to a Stark wolf. This is a bit of a punch in the gut for Jorah, no? Probably the sort of thing you should keep to yourself, but Jon brings it up immediately.
Jon knows full well that this blade is an invaluable weapon in his war against the White Walkers, but it doesn’t matter, it’s “rightfully” Jorah’s. So he hands it over, without hesitation. Luckily, Jorah’s a pretty reasonable guy (apart from that whole slave-trading thing), so he simply hands it back. If he’d been a different man he might have harbored bitter resentment toward Jon, or at the very least, keep the priceless sword.
Jon Snow appears to be almost indifferent to his own survival, unless he’s on the battlefield, in which case he’s seemingly indestructible. Daenerys shares this recklessness, as we’ll come to see.
The first sign of trouble comes in the form of the most unexpected polar bear since Lost. The prelude to the bear’s attack is wonderful; the landscape is suddenly obscured by snow and fog, highlighting the ridiculously perilous situation they’ve walked into. Winter beyond the Wall looks horrendous; this jagged, icy landscape appears completely inhospitable to life.
As for the bear, it’s fun to see non-human wights, and the formidable beast serves as a prelude for things to come. I was kind of hoping they’d take the creature South, but they set him alight, making The Hound succumb to his old phobia, which leads to the inevitable mortal injury of Thoros.
The seven then encounter a small band of wights led by a solitary White Walker. Luckily, Jon’s Valyrian sword is super effective against ice-type foes, and the Walker shatters. The boss is defeated after a one-hit kill, and the rest of the wights disintegrate, officially pushing Thrones away from Lord of the Rings, and into Skyrim territory.
But one wight remains “alive,” and the scene where they bind and gag the confused creature is actually kind of hilarious. You get the feeling that a kidnapping was the very last thing the wight expected, and it doesn’t quite know what to do about it.
The deathly storm that signals the approach of the Night King arrives, and Gendry is sent back to the Wall so Daenerys has a reason to arrive just in time. I’m really not sure why the remaining six don’t follow him. Instead, they trap themselves in the middle of a frozen lake, surrounded by the army of the dead, watched over by the Night King. It’s at this moment that Thoros quietly passes away.
Rather thoughtlessly, Beric doesn’t even try that prayer thing that Thoros did so often for him. But the demise of Thoros raises the narrative stakes; it’s clear that nobody in this team is going to be reanimated, unless it’s with glowing blue eyes.
This weird stalemate lasts a long time. I think they may have been standing there for at least two days, just staring at each other. So let’s move on to Arya and Sansa.
I liked Littlefinger’s devious setup for the two Stark sisters, but it comes to fruition through the worst dialogue Arya has ever uttered. For a moment I wondered if Maisie Williams had always been a bad actress and I’d just never noticed, but no, her lines are just really clunky. She gives a few monologues about being a tomboy in a medieval patriarchy, and how annoying and shallow Sansa is, and how she was totally in love with Joffrey. Sansa angrily defends herself, but she really doesn’t want anyone to see Arya’s incriminating note, despite it’s obvious insincerity. Arya’s words scare Sansa enough to confide in Littlefinger, and he whispers that perhaps Brienne could “help,” seeing as she’s sworn to protect both Stark sisters.
So Sansa quickly sends Brienna to King’s Landing to represent her, revealing her intention to harm or imprison Arya without Brienne’s interference. I think. Or maybe that was Arya in disguise. Or maybe Littlefinger was Arya in disguise. I’m kind of confused, to be perfectly honest. Something significant happened here, offscreen, and it’s not clear what exactly. Does Arya need to kill someone to take their face?
After Sansa finds Arya’s weird stash of faces (which look weirdly like rubber Halloween masks), Arya treats Sansa to another monologue, about stealing faces, and how easy it would be to impersonate her, before handing her the Valyrian dagger. Clearly, she intends Sansa no harm.
I’m not sure, but I think Littlefinger may have been Arya in disguise, and she was testing Sansa’s loyalty. But does that mean Littlefinger is dead now? I don’t know, but the collective knowledge of a million fanboys will soon provide us with an answer, no doubt.
Meanwhile, Tyrion and Daenerys are beginning to get frustrated with one another. Tyrion, reasonably, wants to know what the plan is if Daenerys dies, since she shares Jon’s love of throwing herself into mortal peril. But Daenerys is growing suspicious of Tyrion’s family ties, and doesn’t want to name a successor, lest she is assassinated.
There’s also a growing ideological disagreement between the two, with Tyrion’s once-ruthless strategizing a thing of the past. For the old, drunken Tyrion was playing for team Lannister, and had no problem throwing wildfire on thousands of innocent men. But new, sober Tyrion is inspired by Daenerys’s messiah complex, perhaps more so than Daenerys herself. Despite the difficulty of trying to play nice while making war, Tyrion believes that the only way to really break the wheel of tyranny is for Daenerys to remain honorable, to a fault. Oh, and he’d really like it if she would stop risking her life. But Daenerys isn’t listening anymore, and she jumps on Drogon to save Jon Snow, flying off to face a danger she doesn’t understand.
Back in the North, The Hound gets bored and starts hurtling rocks at the motionless undead. It’s a bit like something Pippin Took would do, and of course, it inspires trouble. One jawless wight (Sir Daniel Fortesque?) observes that the ice is strong enough to hold a rock, and recommences the attack. Interestingly, this implies that the wights are slightly intelligent, and have some sense of self-preservation as well as danger.
What starts as a scattering of undead soldiers turns into a full-blown assault, as the five men are besieged on all sides by sword-swinging corpses. They seem pretty easy to kill though, and this scene, while visually splendid, had a strange familiarity for those who’ve played any fantasy-themed hack and slash game.
Despite the ineptitude of the undead army, I really was convinced that Tormund was going to die a grim death, dragged into the freezing water by rotten corpses. To be denied a reunion between Tormund and Brienne would be nothing short of devastating.
But the five men are all extraordinarily skilled fighters, and they keep the dead at bay, somehow. But they can’t hold them off forever. Eventually, they are hopelessly surrounded. But Daenerys, traveling at the speed of sound, makes a majestic entrance, decimating the hoards of undead with dragon flame.
It’s one of Daenerys’s finest scenes, and the burning wights, melting ice, and utter devastation makes the threat beyond the Wall look like easy meat. But the Night King coolly takes one of those frosted spears, and hurls it at Viserion; it pierces him, and sparks an inner explosion as the beast combusts, like a shot-down warplane, and plunges into the lake.
I think the audience’s reaction can be summed up by the shocked faces of everyone on screen. It was an equally devastating, and awesome moment. The Night King acts like it ain’t no thing, and grabs another spear, ready to take down Drogon. Jon Snow sacrifices himself, as usual, telling Daenerys to leave with the surviving four while he holds off the attacking wights, and is pulled into the freezing water as the others escape.
Interestingly, I think that Qyburn’s giant crossbow was only there to plant the idea in our minds that the dragons could be successfully injured with a projectile. A kind of test run for the ice spear, if you will.
Anyway, Jon Snow pulls himself out of the freezing water, somehow, enjoying some kind of supernatural immunity to frostbite. He faces the undead army again, only to be saved by Uncle Benjen. It’s a quick and confused reunion; perhaps Jon thinks he’s hallucinating, but before he can really process what the hell just happened, he’s thrown onto Benjen’s horse to flee, and fight another day.
And so Jon and Daenerys are reunited, having both learned a valuable lesson, to stop mindlessly throwing yourself into danger and just hope that things work out. Or maybe not. But the two share an intimate hand-holding, and Jon finally “bends the knee” to his sexy auntie.
But it’s not over yet. The undead pull the deceased Viserion out of the water, and the Night King, with restrained glee, turns him. There’s going to be an undead, ice-breathing dragon? How awesome is that? Damn, Night King, you just became a real threat.
Whew. All in all, “Beyond the Wall” was a highly entertaining spectacle, even if much of it was rather far-fetched. I’m just hoping this bloody wight was actually worth the effort.
While this episode boasted many of the strengths of season seven, it exposed the weaknesses too, mainly expository dialogue, and poor decision-making. I got the feeling that this whole trip was just an excuse to make a zombie dragon. Which is cool and all, but it didn’t feel like Jon really had a reason to be there other than to impress Dany. The mission didn’t feel justified, which is disappointing for a series that’s normally so solid on character motivation and consequence. I’d be interested to see if George R.R. Martin plans to continue down a similar path, but I guess we have to wait, like, thirty years to find out.
What are they going to do with the kidnapped wight? Will Cersei just look and it, and nod? She already agreed to a sneaky “truce,” and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t care about the supernatural threat anyway. Perhaps it’ll end up as Qyburn’s new toy; I’m sure he’d be delighted to play with it.
The Lord of Light commanded the Brotherhood and The Hound to engage in this elaborate suicide attempt. Why? Nothing was gained, and an invaluable weapon was lost forever. I’m beginning to think The Hound’s hostility toward the Lord of Light is entirely justified.
Whatever happened to Theon Greyjoy? Is he just sitting around Dragonstone, waiting for an audience with Daenerys, while she chugs wine and accuses Tyrion of being a Lannister?
I imagine the undead dragon is the key to finally taking down the Wall. Perhaps that’s why the Night King took so bloody long to march South; he was just waiting for Jon Snow to come back and provide him with a dragon.
The finale is next week, already. Despite this show remaining a weekly treat, I feel like I’ve just binge-watched three seasons on Netflix, it’s shot by so fast. As much as I enjoy the new pace, I feel like they could’ve easily made this a ten-episode season without any filler. Or maybe I’m just bitter because it’s ending so soon.
If you enjoyed my review, check out my write-ups of the last five episodes – Eastwatch, The Spoils of War, The Queen’s Justice, Stormborn, and Dragonstone.