Game of Thrones – Beyond the Wall
"A lot of bark and little bite..."
Some major plot moments happened in "Beyond the Wall," but not the ones we all expected. The predicted bloodbath at the hands of the White Walkers resulted in one notable, surprising death (and one that I suspect many saw coming - RIP Thoros of Myr), but it wasn't nearly as spectacular as some of the battles the show has trotted out in the coveted penultimate episode spot. We were also given a confrontation we needed, but didn't want, between Arya (who is starting to spiral way more than I ever imagined) and Sansa (who is certainly making some rookie mistakes at this late stage in the game). Chess pieces continued to move, and the odds are even further stacked against our heroes in the upcoming battle for the survival of man. It was a necessary episode, moving the plot along with some solid dialogue at the beginning, but not a particularly great one.
Let's start with the main thrust of the episode: the Battle Beyond the Wall. It was great to have a few moments before the fighting began to watch these seven characters interact. At this stage in the game, there are very few "older" characters left on the game board. To have Ser Berric, Ser Jorah, Thoros, and the Hound all together really covers the major players left with previous experience in past wars. The only other real holdover from Robert's Rebellion with serious fighting experience is Jaime (Ser Davos, as he often reminds us, is not a fighter). Each of those men could be invaluable to both Jon and Dany moving forward, with their experience and knowledge of how to fight a war and survive. With only Jorah and the Hound continuing on to the inevitable meeting in King's Landing, well, hopefully both young rulers will take their counsel. Especially since their current advisors leave something to be desired.
This entire escapade was Tyrion's brilliant plan. And what a shitshow of a plan it turned out to be. I cannot imagine Dany will be thrilled with her Hand when she returns, in possession of Jon Snow, but sans Viserion (more on him later). Tyrion has not had a single good idea since the season began. If he thinks, for one moment, that Cersei is about to help them in their fight against the White Walkers, even when presented with a wight, he is kidding himself. Tyrion is great at scheming. He's great at drinking and knowing things. He is not great at managing monarchs and planning wars. He's in over his head, and I'm starting to worry that he might lose it before all is said and done.
The actual battle itself was a great display of the show's technical ability, but the use of dragon ex machina is a card the show can only play so many times before it loses its effectiveness. At least, this time, there was a price to pay for the dragons coming in to save the day. While Dany's plan to fly into battle and save the day was, as Tyrion said, foolish, it was also the right decision. Sure, the White Walkers now have possession of a dead dragon to manipulate. But saving those men was necessary. Even if Dany wasn't responsible for saving Jon (shout out to Uncle Benjen, savior of Stark boys beyond The Wall), it answered an important question: dragon fire can absolutely kill White Walkers. Unfortunately, it also raised another question: how do you kill an ice dragon?
Speaking of icy, that chat between Arya and Sansa wasn't the warmest of sisterly moments. Both women played right into Littlefinger's hands (just as Brienne was afraid would happen). Sansa now has every reason to fear Arya, while Arya has refused to listen to Sansa, opting to be governed by her own anger and thirst for vengeance against her enemies. This is exactly why Arya could never be a Faceless Man: she remained too ruled by her emotions to be effective when it counted. This is the perfect storm for her to do something rash and destroy everything she sought to achieve. Although, perhaps she can kill Littlefinger, take his face, and try to manipulate Sansa? That seems like the only real play she has left at Winterfell. Otherwise, she should just head South and deal with the rest of her list.
I had hoped "Beyond the Wall" would serve up one of the great Game of Thrones
battles we have come to expect. Instead, the battle was rather lackluster. But the repercussions of it will be wide ranging. And deadly. Even though I suspect we'll have to wait until season eight for the real fighting to begin.
-- So incredibly glad that Tormund made it through alive and well. And I'm even more thrilled that both the he and the Hound are alive and might get a chance to run into Brienne a some point in the future (perhaps next week?).
-- I'm intrigued as to what role Ser Beric will play in the battles to come. He is clearly correct: both he and Jon were brought back for a reason. I think we all have a pretty good idea as to why Jon is still with us. But Beric is a mystery. Especially since he died a long time ago in the books.
-- Let's chat a bit about Viserion, the ice dragon. He was named after Dany's sadistic brother Viserys (who was mentioned by Dany later in the episode as "not the company you want to keep"). Drogon, Dany's dragon, was named for Khal Drogo, her first love, and is understandably dear to Dany. Rhaegal is named for Jon's real father (Dany's eldest brother), Rhaegar, and will presumably become Jon's mount in the war to come. So, losing Viserion make sense from that stand point. But it also makes sense from his name as well. Viserys never cared for Dany and only saw her as a bargaining chip. He was willing to sell her off to secure his own claim to the throne. All-in-all, he was not a great guy. So, his dragon namesake is now a bad guy, turned and ready to fight against his brothers. It's all rather poetic.
-- This note to see Cersei in King's Landing is one of the most obvious ploys to get a character to a particular place without a good reason the show has ever done. Brienne needs to be in the presence of Jaime and Tormund. There is no explanation for Cersei's letter. Not that I would ever turn down the chance to see Brienne and Jaime interact one more time, mind you. But they could have come up with a better way to make it happen than a random letter from Cersei.
-- I love that ravens have basically turned into text messages and that people can suddenly travel hundreds of miles instantly thanks to the rushed pace of these final episodes. But I don't love how rushed this "Jon and Dany are in love" plot has gone. Emilia Clarke sure tried to sell Dany's emotional investment in Jon this week, but Kit Harrington's continued inability to form more than two facial expressions (those would be utter confusion and a blank stare) has torpedoed this love story before it even begins.
-- It was lovely to see Benjen return for one last appearance. He has now saved two of the most important people left in the show (even if Bran is annoying now, he's still apparently really important). So, thanks Benjen.