Game of Thrones “Beyond the Wall”

Game of Thrones S7E6 “Beyond the Wall”

We all know the formula by now. The penultimate episode of a season of Game of Thrones is the big event, the spectacle of the season. It’s been home to grand battles and tragic deaths, in pattern actually. Every even season’s penultimate episode featured a memorable battle with The Battle of the Blackwater in two, The Battle of Castle Black in four, and The Battle of the Bastards in six, and every odd season’s penultimate episode featured tragic death, with Ned in one, the Red Wedding in three, and Shireen in five. While this season is odd, we actually get a two for one package with “Beyond the Wall” as we part ways with Viserion the dragon, thanks to a grand battle. As far as spectacle goes, “Beyond the Wall” delivers and is one of the more visually impressive outings of the series, while other areas such as logistics leave a lot to be desired. Yes there were only two plot lines, but there’s plenty to talk about, both good and bad, so let’s jump right in.

Not many plot lines to pick from so we’ll start with our “b plot” in Winterfell. The Stark sisters find themselves sharing a conversation up on the ramparts of the castle. It’s pleasant enough to start but ends up taking a strong turn for the worse when Arya confronts Sansa about the letter she found in Littlefinger’s room. Arya and Sansa have always had a sibling rivalry that had a tendency to even get ugly at times, but even still this conversation ends up bothering me. Sansa asks where Arya where she got the letter and if she just said she got it in Littlefinger’s room, Sansa would have instantly sniffed this out as one of his schemes and this plot line would be over. Instead, Arya ignores the question and accuses Sansa of being a traitor to their family. Without context, you can kind of see Arya’s point, but she just ignores Sansa when she provides the truthful context that she had to write it in concern for her and the family’s safety. Arya takes off, as we wonder why this conflict even got this far and frustratingly ponder what Arya will do with this letter.

Later on, Sansa discusses Arya’s confrontation with Littlefinger, whose secret plan is going swimmingly. Sansa wonders what will happen if Arya brings the letter to the northern lords, and Littlefinger suggests that even with this letter, she may be the preferred ruler among the northerners. Sansa doesn’t play along, and is only concerned with keeping Jon’s army together while he’s gone. She does confess though that she doesn’t really know her sister anymore and Littlefinger sees this opening and tries his hand at manipulation once more. Littlefinger reminds Sansa that Brienne is sworn to protect her and her sister, but if Arya were to attack her, Brienne would be duty bound to step in. I’m pretty sure Sansa sees right through Littlefinger though, because she basically goes against his advice entirely. When the letter arrives for the upcoming wight show and tell at King’s Landing, Sansa decides to stay in Winterfell and sends Brienne and Podrick to the capital to represent her, much to Brienne’s disapproval. Brienne means well, and has a good point that Littlefinger is a dangerous man, but Sansa is most definitely playing him, and to beat the master of the game, you’ve got to make him uncomfortable. Littlefinger wants Brienne around, so sending her away was an expert move by Sansa.

While Sansa does know Littlefinger quite well, she admitted that she doesn’t really know her sister anymore and this is where her plan could fall apart if it’s going to. Sansa decides to have a look in Arya’s room and while I’m not sure what exactly she’s looking for, I can tell you that what she found was most certainly not it. Sansa stumbles upon a leather bag and decides to open it, and she’s shocked to find faces inside. Just then Arya walks in looking kind of menacing, and Sansa says that she has plenty of men loyal to her, ready to protect her. Arya slides the menacing scale up by countering that none of them are here right now. Sansa asks about the faces and Arya tells her about her time in Braavos, training to be a faceless man. Sansa then finds herself an unwilling participant in the game of faces and Arya turns the menacing scale as high as it can go, pondering out loud to Sansa what it would be like to be Lady of Winterfell, and all she would need to find out is her face. Arya approaches Sansa with her Valyrian steel dagger, and ultimately hands it to her sister before walking out of the room. Was it a power play by Arya, to show Sansa that she can easily kill her even without the knife? Was it Arya’s way of saying she trusts Sansa? I honestly don’t know what to make of this mess right now. Let’s hope for some clarity up at Winterfell in the finale.

And now we move on to the main event. Jon and the Fellowship of the King are marching beyond the wall looking for wights, but that doesn’t mean they can’t talk along the way. By now you know that the “travel scenes” have for the most part been cut from season seven of Thrones and the same will likely hold true for season eight. I do have to admit though that travel scenes offered some of the best moments of the series, like Jaime and Brienne’s adventures. There’s something to be said for letting people just talk as they go where they’re going and we get to see some of that for the first time this season, and it’s wonderful. Gendry’s got beef with the Brotherhood and when he tries to defend himself, Sandor knocks down his argument in pure Sandor fashion, extra points for Sandor considering he wasn’t even there for the alleged innocent. Jon shares a moment with Jorah and they talk about Ned Stark and while they may have completely different experiences with him, they agree he was a great and honorable man. The topic turns to Jorah’s father and Jon decides that Jorah should at least have his father’s sword, Longclaw. Jorah finally accepts his past mistakes and tells Jon that he forsook his right to Longclaw by selling slaves and dishonoring his house, and tells Jon to keep it and pass it down through his family as it’s his now. Jon and Beric share a heart to heart (if their hearts are even pumping I’m not quite sure) and they talk about their rare bond, coming back from the dead. Jon faces a bit of an existential crisis, wondering what this god wants and why he should serve it if no one knows the answer to that. Beric tells Jon that death is the enemy, he should fight for life, and to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Jon reflects on his Night’s Watch vows and how they stood for the same thing and when Beric says that’s reason enough to fight, Jon agrees. All great conversations but the winner by a large margin is the conversation between Sandor and Tormund. The two trade jabs about sex and Tormund starts talking about the love of his life (who he thinks feels the same way even though it couldn’t be further from the truth) and Sandor quickly deduces that he’s talking about Brienne of Tarth. Sandor nearly died from a fight with Brienne and wonders how an idiot like Tormund has lived this long. Tormund says he’s good at killing. Can’t argue with that. He’s also good at having hilarious conversations with Sandor, let’s get some more of that.

As excellent as the dialogue heavy part of the episode was, at some point you need to get to where you’re actually going, and the group gets some big clarity in that regard when Sandor spots a mountain shaped like an arrowhead, just like in his vision. With that in mind, Sandor leads the way as the group walks to the mountain. Along the way they get stuck in a snowstorm with near whiteout conditions. They are able to spot what seems to be a bear in the distance though. With the whiteout getting worse, the creature is able to get close enough to attack, all without the fellowship knowing. One of the no names goes down and the group is terrified to see they’ve got an undead polar bear on their hands. The weapons come out, including Beric and Thoros with their awesome fire swords and the fight begins. The bear is a tremendous challenge though, and the thing is able to fight while on fire. The now flaming bear begins to maul Thoros and the Hound can only watch, as his fear of fire comes back at the worst possible time. Jorah is the one to end the threat but Thoros took some nasty injuries from the mauling. Jorah says they’ve got to get Thoros back to Eastwatch, but Thoros is a stubborn fella, and a drunk, so he stays on and only asks for his flask. The fellowship continues forward.

Luckily for the fellowship (and kind of inexplicable on the other side of things), a lone white walker is walking about with a small group of wights, nowhere near the main army. Jon and friends set a trap, lure the walker in, and get to work. There seemed to be generally mixed results, some people taking care of business easily while poor Jorah was getting strangled. Jon puts an end to the fight and reveals to himself and the viewers an absolutely critical piece of information. If you kill a white walker, all of the wights that were reanimated by that white walker die on the spot. Jon’s white walker kill drops all but one wight to the ground (rather conveniently) who apparently didn’t owe his undead status to that white walker. The group ties him up and they’ve got themselves a wight! Mission accomplished, right?

We’re on season seven here, you know better than to assume things are going to be that easy. You see, this rogue white walker wasn’t wandering off along because he’s some rebellious badass. This was most likely a trap set by the Night King, and the entire undead army being a few hundred yards away from an unsuspecting Jon and friends is pretty damning evidence in support of it. When Jon catches on to just how much danger they’re about to be in, he sends Gendry off to Eastwatch so he can send word to Daenerys to come and rescue them. After leaving his hammer behind for speed purposes, Gendry runs full speed for at least a few hours and collapses in exhaustion a few hundred feet from the wall. Davos and some wildlings come out to take him in and Gendry in his exhausted state just barely relays Jon’s message to Davos. First a world class rower, and now a world class runner, way to go Gendry.

Back Beyond the Wall, things are not looking too hot for the fellowship. Just about the time Gendry started his run to Eastwatch, the undead started their run towards the fellowship. The group has no choice but to run forward, which leads them to a frozen lake. They’re able to make it to a small island in the middle of the lake which is kind of good news but is also bad news because they become stranded when the ice breaks. The undead surround the bitterly cold but not frozen lake, leaving the fellowship to die of either cold, starvation, or a direct attack if the lake freezes before either of the first two can take place. Sounds fun right?

This whole waiting out death thing isn’t really amusing Sandor, who finds himself bored as their wait turns into at least a day long. Out of sheer boredom, Sandor starts chucking rocks at the wights on the other side of the lake. The first one is a direct hit, taking off a wight’s jaw. Not thoroughly amused yet, Sandor throws another rock, but this one has tragic consequences. Sandor butchers the throw and the rock lands much too short and reveals that the lake has frozen over. Sandor doesn’t have too much time to feel sorry for himself though because the wights instantly charge at the island now that the lake has frozen over. Jon and the rest of the fellowship prepare their weapons for a clash against the dead. While this was far from my favorite episode, this battle sequence is among my favorite scenes of the entire series. Dialogue takes a backseat as Jon and the fellowship fight for their lives against the undead. No matter how much of a good fight they put up, the Night King’s army just has so many numbers. The numbers game begins to work against Tormund who quickly finds himself overwhelmed and getting mauled by five or six wights. As he goes down screaming for help, you really do get the feeling this is the end of the line for Tormund Giantsbane. Sandor is able to redeem himself though and comes to the aid of Tormund, saving his life just in the nick of time. There’s no time to celebrate though because these wights just keep on coming.

I’d dare say the fellowship was about to meet their demise, but this horrendous mission gets its escape route just in the nick of time when Daenerys and her three dragons arrive when the fellowship was on their last stand. Rhaegal and Viserion take to the skies and roast the undead by the hundreds with dragonfire while Dany and Drogon descend onto the island to rescue the fellowship. Time is slim though, and Jon shows off his selflessness once again when he decides to fight off more wights to buy time for the rest of the fellowship to safely board Drogon. The Night King isn’t just standing by while all of this is happening though, he’s about to make one of the most game changing moves in the entire series. One of his walkers hands him a magical ice spear and the Night King shows off his olympic level javelin skills when he hits a flying Viserion in the neck dead on, instantly taking the life out of him as he crashes into the ice, breaking it and sinking into the water. Rhaegal and Drogon yell in fury for their lost brother while the humans in the scene look on in shock and despair that the Night King so easily took down a dragon.

After a scene like that, options become rather limited for all involved. Jon isn’t going to take kindly at all to that Viserion kill and he decides to go all in and charge at the Night King, willing to risk his life to end things once and for all. While heroic, this was never going to happen so early and Jon only goes a few feet forward before being tackled by wights into the icy cold waters. Daenerys was willing to wait for Jon, but Jon urges her to leave immediately and after the Night King’s display, you can’t really argue with him. The Night King reaches for another spear and Daenerys urges Drogon to fly away, as to avoid all of their deaths. The throw from the Night King is a good one, but not good enough as it skids by Drogon. Daenerys, the fellowship minus Jon and the now deceased Thoros, and the captured wight are flown back to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea by Drogon.

Jon’s apparently got some expert level breath holding because all the wights have left the immediate area by the time Jon resurfaces for air. Jon doesn’t manage to go undetected though and a pack of wights are hot on his trail very quickly. Exhausted and now suffering from hypothermia, things are looking pretty bad for the King in the North. Jon gets his second savior of the day though when his Uncle Benjen comes racing in on his horse, killing wights with his fiery ball and chain. Jon’s barely got enough time to say anything to Benjen before Benjen sends him off on his horse back to Eastwatch. Back at Eastwatch, Daenerys watches from the patrol tower atop the wall, desperately searching for Jon. Just when they’re about to leave, the horn sounds once and a horse comes into view. This is in fact Jon on Benjen’s horse and Jon is immediately taken onto a bed on Dany’s ship, likely heading for King’s Landing. When Jon awakes from his rest, he finds a sad Daenerys, who is obviously still mourning the loss of Viserion. Jon immediately apologizes for his role in Viserion’s death, and expresses his regret for even going north in the first place. Dany rejects his regret though, saying she needed to see the threat to know that it’s real and it’s going to require everyone to work together to defeat it. Dany promises Jon that she will fight with Jon against the Night King and this amazes Jon so much that Dany finally gets what she wanted. Dany’s recent selflessness has awed Jon and he now agrees to bend the knee to Daenerys. If Cersei decides to join them (I know it’s not likely), team living looks like it’s got a pretty decent shot at winning. Yes they’re now down a dragon, but Dany confirming she’ll put her forces to fighting the Night King is a huge step in the right direction.

Other Thoughts

This was such a negative episode that I wanted to end the main review on the positive note that Jon and Dany are now formally teaming up, but no I did not forget the last scene, how could I? White Walker Viserion? Man that’s a tough pill to swallow.

Where’d the wights get those massive chains from? Home Depot? This was actually a gripe a lot of people had with the episode but in all seriousness, they probably got the chains from Hardhome.

Rest in Peace Thoros of Myr. The drunken Red Priest. Great character goes out in an awful way, but on a mission for the sake of mankind. Pretty good and meaningful for an alcoholic isn’t it?

The conversations between the fellowship before the mission turned to shit were gold, but my favorite line of the episode probably happens once the fellowship splits. Beric confidently says that he and Sandor will meet again and Sandor coldly and dryly remarks “Fucking hope not”. Beric’s staying at Eastwatch so considering Sandor would have to come back here to see Beric again, I don’t blame him for his lack of desire to see Beric again.

Speaking of Sandor, he’s part of Dany’s entourage that’s heading to King’s Landing, where he has a certain undead brother. Is the season finale going to show us the long awaited and much hyped Cleganebowl? It’s looking pretty likely.

Let’s get all the time complaints out in one fell swoop. Gendry probably couldn’t run back to Eastwatch in a few hours (which it looks like he did) considering how taxing it is to run full speed that long and the fact that Gendry himself said he’s never even seen snow before, he would have realistically been bound to trip and fall over and over again on his way back to Eastwatch (which he didn’t until the very end out of exhaustion). The passage of time that Jon and the fellowship are stuck on the island seems to be a day, maybe two, but that presents a huge problem. There’s no way that a raven could fly the thousand miles or so from Eastwatch to Dragonstone in a day, most likely three days. Figure Dany responds immediately and Drogon can fly the same distance in half the time a raven does, that’s four and a half to five days. That could work if any one of the fellowship just mentioned the passage of time in dialogue, but nobody does. I haven’t really gotten on the writers case this season about the passage of time (a lot of people have done so), but I can’t defend it in this episode. The passage of time was handled extremely poorly, one could very much argue to the point where disbelief cannot be suspended.

I think there’s pretty compelling evidence that the Night King has greensight. Whether he waited out Jon for two days or five days, why even wait that long in the first place? He could have easily killed the fellowship at any point. My guess is he has greensight and knew if he waited long enough, Dany would show up with her dragons. The Night King had three of those spears ready so he knew how many dragons there were, he was most definitely waiting them out. I know that a Night King vs Jon Snow physical battle is pretty likely next season, but don’t count out a battle of the mental kind between the Night King and Bran. The similarities between those two are starting to add up.

Speaking of Bran, where the hell are you? Your absence this episode was perhaps the most frustrating part of the Winterfell plot, which is saying a lot because the whole Arya-Sansa-Littlefinger thing is pretty damn bad. Surely Bran has seen that Littlefinger has screwed over his family in the past, hell he probably knows that Littlefinger is currently messing with Arya and Sansa. If Bran just told his sisters this, surely that would end Littlefinger, and this awful plot line. I’m going to be disappointed if Bran spills the beans next episode, confirming they just drew out the Winterfell plot line this year so they could save the dramatics for the finale. It’s fine to have stories end in a season finale, but it has to make chronological sense to do so. Bran could have and should have put an end to this Littlefinger plot a long time ago, I guess we’ll have to settle for the finale though.

Sorry, one more time complaint. Kind of odd Sansa received an invitation to King’s Landing already when the fellowship didn’t even have a wight at the time. And doesn’t Jon as King in the North represent the North’s interests at formal meetings? Why would Sansa need to go?

So Dany and Jon are definitely going to hook up soon, I’m kind of surprised they didn’t just do it there on the boat. And Jon is definitely going to get Dany pregnant. In the episode, there were two mentions of Daenerys being infertile and one mention of Jon’s future children. Add to that the fact that Dany lost one “child” and only death can pay for life (As Mirri Maz Duur told Dany in season one), I think she can have one child, and it’s most definitely looking like it’s going to be a baby by Jon.

Looking like reunions out the wazoo for the season finale. This meeting at the Dragonpit is going to see a Cersei-Tyrion reunion, a Tyrion-Bronn-Pod reunion, a Brienne-Jaime reunion and a Sandor-Gregor reunion. All vastly different dynamics in the relationships but all are compelling. I hope the extended run time of the finale (81 minutes) means we get to see some of these reunions get the screen time they deserve.

“Beyond the Wall” provides the tragedy and spectacle that penultimate episodes of Thrones are known for, but sacrifices logistics on a level we haven’t seen before. 

Grade B-

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