Book-Reader’s Recap—Game of Thrones, Episode 706—”Beyond the Wall” – Winter Is Coming

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Spoiler Note: This post is intended for those who have read the books in the Song of Ice and Fire series. As such, the post itself and the comments will contain spoilers. If you haven’t read the books yet, you can discuss this episode in our non-book reader (Unsullied) recap. Thanks!

Welcome to “Beyond the Wall,” an episode that’s already stirred up a ton of controversy since it leaked early last week. Let’s see what all the fuss is about.

We start with a bit of stylistic flair, something Game of Thrones doesn’t often do. The camera tracks over a shot of the Painted Table at Dragonstone, heading north until we’re beyond the Wall. (Are we supposed to read anything in to the fire burning beyond the area beyond the Wall?) We then cut to Team Jon, traversing the actual area beyond the Wall in search of a wight to wrangle. Whether or not you’re excited for Jon’s trip to the far North, the show clearly is — they don’t break out the artsy cuts for just anything.

Jon’s A-Team is tromping through a gorgeously photographed snowy wasteland. (Iceland, take a bow.) This episode has been criticized for an alleged mountain of implausibilities and questions that stretch suspension of disbelief past the breaking point. The first such question we encounter is: why didn’t the group bring horses? Maybe cause they figured they’d be going over mountainous terrain like this?

But that doesn’t stop Benjen from riding his horse all over the North, and rangers traditionally take horses out, so I dunno. Sure is pretty, though.

We get the first of several conversations between the members of Jon Snow’s Angels when Jon, Gendry, and Tormund Giantsbane discuss how people can live in the frigid lands north of the Wall. “You’ve got to keep moving,” says Tormund. “That’s the secret. Walking’s good. Fighting’s better. Fucking’s best.” There are no women around, Jon points out. “We have to make due with what we’ve got,” says Tormund as he looks Gendry dead in the eye. Off-color prison rape joke or pansexual demonstration of open-mindedness? You decide.

Once Gendry is scared away from the conversation, Tormund opines that the boy may not be that smart, but that’s okay, because “smart people don’t come up here looking for the dead.” And that’s Criticism #2: that this whole adventure feels a little…not smart. On anyone’s part. It’s not smart to assume that showing Cersei a wight will convince her of anything, and it’s not smart to send the King in the North beyond the Wall to get one. It feels a little like the writers are making this road trip happen because they want this road trip to happen, rather than because the story calls for it. That feelinghangs over the whole episode. But we’ll see how the individual pieces fit together apart from that.

Sure is pretty, though.

Continuing their conversation, Tormund and Jon discuss the possibility of bending the knee to Daenerys. Tormund points out that Jon has had trouble with that whole concept since spending time with the wildlings, but also insinuates that it may not be a bad thing in this situation. I can buy that — Tormund always seemed loyal to one leader or another, whether it was Mance Rayder or Jon. I don’t like how he says it, though. He basically repeats what Dany said to Jon a couple weeks back, which is weird to start with. “How many of [Mance Rayder’s] people died for his pride?” he asks. Um…none? Cause I don’t think Stannis killed any after he burned Mance? Unless Tormund knows something we don’t.

Further back in the line, Gendry needles Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr for that time they sold him to Melisandre and she nearly made a blood sacrifice out of him. The Hound, ever practical, basically tells him he’s fine and to shut up (and also introduces me to the word “wingeing,” which is apparently the Westerosi equivalent of whining). Gendry is 0 for 2 north of the Wall.

Bond-a-thon 2017 continues with Jon and Jorah bonding over Jon’s massacre at Kraster’s Keep, where he killed the Night’s Watch mutineers who murdered Jorah’s father Jeor, Jon’s old Lord Commander. Jon is strangely forgiving of the fact that his own uncle/father, Ned Stark, once prosecuted Jorah for slaving, presumably because of the respect Jon has for Jeor. The best moment of the episode so far lands when Jon offers Jorah Longclaw, the ancestral sword of House Mormont, and Jorah, showing the kind of selflessness than Starks are made of, insists that Jon keep it. If the two weren’t bonded before, that’ll do it.

Jorah also says of Longclaw, “May it serve you well, and your children after you.” When coupled with the multiple mentions of Dany being unable to bear children later in the episode, that may be laying on the foreshadowing a bit thick, but this was still the best of the conversations among the members of Jon’s SEAL Team Six. By and large, the others are fun but disposable, particularly Gendry settling things with the Brotherhood — they plowed over that disagreement real quick. Still, as splashes of color go, they’ll do.

Next, we pay a visit to Winterfell, which is swiftly getting snowed in. Winter is here, and all that.

Arya is standing on one of the castle ramparts, having herself a think as she surveys the courtyard. Sansa joins her for one of the episode’s many controversial scenes, although it starts off innocently enough. Arya tells a sweet story about a time she practiced with a bow-and-arrow in this very courtyard when no one was around. It wasn’t until she finally hit the bull’s eye that she realized Ned was watching her from the ramparts, clapping. “I knew what I was doing was against the rules,” she says, “but he was smiling, so I knew what I was doing wasn’t wrong. The rules were wrong.”

I think that line is very important to understanding what comes next. Arya’s life has been defined by the moment when she saw her father executed. The seeds planted that day would eventually sprout into her unquenchable thirst for revenge. It led her to make her list. It led her to gouge the eyes out of a Kingsguard knight. It inspired her to slaughter an entire family at a feast. It’s her rosebud moment, and when it comes to Ned’s death, she doesn’t think clearly. She may have come home to Winterfell, but she’s still Arya the survivor, Arya the killer, Arya the girl who will stop at nothing to bring those she thinks are responsible for Ned Stark’s betrayal and death to justice, even if that person is her own sister. Accusing your sister of being complicit in patricide is against the rules, but as Arya points out, she’s never had much use for those, even before she went on her revenge kick. “The rules were wrong.”

Arya brings up the letter Littlefinger tricked her into finding last week, the one Sansa wrote back in season 1 declaring her father a traitor and begging Robb to come to King’s Landing and bend the knee to Joffrey. Alive with anger, she accuses Sansa of having betrayed the family, and while she’s not giving nearly enough credence to the extenuating circumstances, I can believe that her rage when it comes to this particular issue would blind her. One of her better points is that Sansa’s “I was just a child” argument withers a bit when you consider that Lyanna Mormont is younger than Sansa was at that age, and it’s impossible to picture her declaring her father a traitor if she didn’t believe it.

Helen Sloan – HBO

But as Sansa points out, that’s the point — she is different than Arya and Lyanna, and her softer approach to conflict is probably what kept her alive all those years whereas Arya, who has a more black-and-white idea of what’s good and what’s bad, surely would have died. (I think the reverse is also true: If Sansa had found herself in Arya’s situation, she’d be long dead.)

I think this scene more or less works, although it’s still hard for me to buy that Arya would be this suspicious of Sansa in the first place. I know they didn’t get along as kids, but she’s not giving Sansa even the sliver of the benefit of the doubt. But then again, on last week’s Take the Black podcast, Isis got me thinking when she pointed out that she still sees her own brother as he was when he was a kid, even though he’s done a lot of growing up. On a personal note, I have a brother I didn’t get along with as a child, and even all these years later, after we’ve both done a lot of growing, my instinct is often to assume the worst of him, even when he doesn’t deserve it. So I may not be giving Arya’s feelings the credence they deserve.

I’d be curious to hear what you guys think of this. Do Arya’s motivations ring true here?

Oh, and Arya intimates that she may share the letter with the Northern lords, which leaves Sansa nervous. More on that later.

Back in the wilds beyond the Wall, Jon and his merry band of red shirts march through more gorgeous scenery, dragging a little carrying case for the wight behind them. (Not to pick endlessly at this, but the more I think about the lack of horses, the less sense it makes. Just put it from your mind.) Continuing with BroQuest 2017, a cheerful Tormund approaches a salty Hound and tries to engage him in conversation. Predictably, Tormund is met with a volley of colorful rejoinders (read: “Fuck off”) before the Hound continues the homoerotic thread started earlier with Gendry and asks if Tormund wants to suck his dick.

Tormund says thanks but no thanks, and says that he has a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, impossibly tall beauty waiting for him back at Winterfell. I can’t decide if the fact that the Hound immediately knows he’s talking about Brienne is hilarious or a plot hole. Tormund talks about the world-conquering babies the two will make together, and the fan-fiction writers are off to their keyboards.

Next on BroTalk: Jon Snow and Beric Dondarrion. Beric points out that Jon doesn’t look much like Ned, which goes against the books, where it’s pointed out that Jon and Arya are the only ones in the family who really look like Starks. Note to the writers: we haven’t forgotten that Ned isn’t Jon’s real father. No need to shoehorn it in everywhere.

Anyway, Beric tries to convince Jon to devote himself more fully to the Lord of Light, seeing as the guy did bring Jon back from the dead. Jon, showing a very Stark-like unwillingness to dive into the details, is put off by a religion that’s so scanty with the specifics, so Beric pivots into describing his mission: defeating the enemy. “Death is the enemy,” he says. “The first enemy, and the last.” I know some sites were reporting that “Death Is the Enemy” was going to be the title of this episode before “Beyond the Wall” came to light. I like it better; it’s more cosmic.

After Beric puts his mission in terms of defending people from what they can’t fight themselves, Jon comes on board. You’re close to a conversion, Beric. Easy does it.

Before long, Jon and the Super Friends come upon the mountain shaped like an arrowhead that the Hound saw in the fire back in the premiere. “We’re getting close,” he says. To what? No idea. That’s faith for you.

While Jon and the Jon-ettes freeze their asses off beyond the Wall, Tyrion and Daenerys are chilling by a fire on Dragonstone, where the Mother of Dragons is serving up backhanded compliments. “Do you what I like about you?” she asks Tyrion. “You’re not a hero.”

Her reasoning is that heroes “do stupid things and they die,” which is nice and ironic considering what she does later. “They all try to outdo each other. Who can do the stupidest, bravest thing?” And that’s nice and ironic considering that Jon considering what Jon does later. You’ve got a map of the episode right here.

Of course, Dany is complaining about heroes even though –and maybe because — she’s attracted to them, including “this Jon Snow.” He brings up the idea that Jon may be attracted to her as well. “He’s too little for me,” she says. Lot of ways you could take that one.

After that interlude, they get down to business and discuss the big summit meeting between Daenerys and Cersei scheduled to happen next week. To ensure that Cersei doesn’t pull a Sept of Baelor on them, they’re going with “two armies and three dragons” at their backs. If Cersei tries anything, they go nuclear. “Great,” says Daenerys. “Now what tricky stuff are we gonna pull?”

Tyrion delicately — oh, so delicately — suggests that it won’t be good for her reputation if she tricks her adversaries into making a deal and then kills them, something that Daenerys, to be fair, has been known to do.

Tyrion has gone so far as to promise Jaime to keep Dany from doing anything “impulsive” (I really wish we could have seen more of their reunion last week). Dany, whose indignation has apparently overcome her memory, asks for an example, and Tyrion brings up the burning of the Tarlys, a decision Daenerys stands by. Tyrion is concerned that Dany is overly concerned with short-term solutions — he’s thinking about the long-term. For example, what do they do in the event of her death? “After you break the wheel, how do we make sure it stays broken?”

Basically, he wants to talk about succession, which is an extremely reasonable thing to bring up, considering that the War of the Five Kings started over a question of succession. He even brings up the Kingsmoot on the Iron Islands and the Choosing in the Night’s Watch, suggesting that Tyrion is thinking of implementing some kind of democratic way to elect leaders in Westeros. Now that would be breaking the wheel.

For whatever reason, Dany doesn’t want to hear it, and insists that they’ll discuss her succession after she sits on the Iron Throne. She lashes out, accusing Tyrion of “thinking of her death quite a bit.” Oh, dear. It looks like their relationship is in even worse shape than we thought following Tyrion’s failed strategies earlier in the season. Either that, or Dany has an intense fear of death we haven’t been privy to yet. Probably the first thing.

Despite Dany getting more paranoid, this was a well-written scene, and I think democracy in Westeros would make a fun endgame.

Back in the far North, Jon and his D&D group are trudging through a snow storm. In the distance, there is a bear. Naturally, Tormund points it out. Is she pretty? he wonders.

She is not. She is undead, and huge, and coming right for them. One of the red shirts in the party is the first to go (for some reason, he wandered out in front of the rest of the group to…something). Jon Snow’s Avengers form up into a defensive circle, regretting everything.

Then, out of the darkness: it’s a bear! It rips into the group, taking several lickings and keeping on ticking, decimating red shirts left and right. Tormund and Beric, both of whom have flaming swords, eventually set it on fire, and there’s a nice moment where the Hound is shell-shocked by the approaching, flaming zombie bear. Thoros jumps in his way, and we see just how determined wights are when the bear chomps down on his burning sword, tosses it aside, and goes to town on Thoros’ sweet, succulent guts. It’s all pretty metal.

Jorah finally brings the bear down with a dagger to the brain (was that a dragonglass dagger?), and Beric cauterizes Thoros’ wound after pouring alcohol all over it. (Thoros keeps a flask handy at all times, naturally.) He’s able to walk, and off the group goes in search of more adventure. This quest is going great.

Book-readers will recognize this bit as inspired by the description of the Battle at the First of the First Men in A Storm of Swords. There was also a giant bear wight at that battle, and while the show didn’t have the budget to depict the full thing back in season 3, it made up for lost time, here.

Back at Winterfell, Littlefinger’s plan is working so far…which is kind of miraculous, considering it depended on Arya keeping mum about where she found the letter. Sansa, frightened that the Northern lords might see her as a traitor if the letter gets out and use it as an excuse to go home, has turned to him for support, and he is ready with a plate of deceit and falsehood. “Where did [Arya] get it?” Sansa asks. “I don’t know,” Littlefinger replies like a lying liar who lies all the time.

The question for the two of them is how to stop Arya from going public with this information. Littlefinger, doing his Littlefinger thing, words things so Sansa is the one who suggests that Arya has it in her to betray her sister “if she thought I was going to betray Jon.” Then he makes the innocent suggestion that Brienne of Tarth, someone sworn to protect both of Catelyn Stark’s daughters, could intercede on Sansa’s behalf, which gets the wheels spinning again in Sansa’s head.

See, I keep going back to the idea that Arya didn’t seem to have enough motivation to suspect Sansa of wanting to betray Jon in the first place. I feel like that could have used more buildup. But everything I said above about it being hard to form new impressions of your siblings after childhood still applies. Also — and this is a problem the show has had for years — it would be easier to accept that Littlefinger is effectively faking sincerity and concern if he didn’t have that gravely sleaze voice.

Back beyond the Wall, Jon Snow and his Tijuana Brass Band are still walking. The snowstorm is over, which tells me they’ve been at this for a least a few days, right? As many fans have pointed out, the timeline for this episode is shifty at best.

The guests for the latest episode of Bro Talk Radio are Jorah and Thoros, who served together during the siege of Pyke, an event that made Thoros famous and which he doesn’t remember because he was plastered the whole time. Thoros is actually a fun character — a shame we didn’t get more of him over the years.

As they ascend a hill, Jon’s Seven Samurai hear the clickety-clack of dead people walking on ice. Peering over a rock, Tormund and Jon see a bunch of dead men marching single-file behind a solitary White Walker. I guess they’re scouting ahead, which is interesting, and tells us that they’re more like normal armies than we’ve known up to this point.

Someone on Jon’s staff — not Gendry — got the bright idea to lure the White Walker into a trap by lighting a fire. While the White Walker is busy being befuddled, Jon Snow and the Crazy 88 burst from the sidelines and go ham on the undead. Or rather, they try, and are quickly overpowered. Jorah, in particular, barely gets in one swing before a wight death grips on to his throat. Poor Jorah.

Jon has better luck with the White Walker, whom he shatters with Longclaw. And then, a twist! All but one of the wights fall over dead…er, meaning that if you kill a White Walker, all the wights he or she raised are toast. Could be useful!

Now on to that one wight, who I will call Larry for identification purposes. It’s not technically a plot hole that he was the only left standing, but it is an awfully convenient coincidence in an episode with a few too many of them. I mean, they couldn’t of had two-thirds of the wights drop and then had the Suicide Squad kill all but one? We would have still gotten the message about how wights work, and it would have felt less contrived.

Anyway, Jon and the Magnificent Seven wrestle Larry to the ground, but not before he sends out a shriek that alerts the rest of the army of the dead to something afoot. Also, he bites the Hound on the hand. You’ll pay for that, army of the dead.

Presently, Jon and the Eastwatch Mafia hear a sound like the thundering of a thousand horses, a few of which would really be useful right about now. It’s the army of the dead, coming round the mountain when they come, which is now. The group straps Larry into their little wight-carrying apparatus, and Jon tells Gendry to run back to Eastwatch and get a raven to Daenerys. “You’re the fastest!” he yells (we must of missed that bro bonding moment). Gendry relinquishes his war hammer to Tormund, since he’ll be faster without , and off he goes.

The rest of the group, who are saddled with a wounded Thoros and a resistant Larry, head for an outcropping of rock, the same one we saw the Night King perched on when Bran sent ravens north of the Wall last week.

It ends up being an island in the middle of a frozen lake. The ice starts to crack the moment the team sets foot on it, but there’s a few thousand dead dudes chasing them, so they run for the high ground. The army follows them, putting more and more weight on the ice. Eventually, a wight tackles one too-slow red shirt to the ground, and the ice splits. Then we get a fun sequence where half the army tumbles into the depths of this frozen lake. “Dead things in the water” indeed.

Considering how many wights pour in there before the White Walkers catch on , I’m surprised they didn’t displace the water so it nips at Jon’s ankles. This lake must be the equivalent of the river Jaime fell in to at the end of “The Spoils of War”: way deeper than it looks.

Pot shots aside, this is a clever concept. I feel like that didn’t get enough credit in the post-leak discussions. An island in the middle of a frozen lake is an interesting way to buy some time for Gendry to get to Eastwatch, send a letter to Daenerys, and to have her come to the rescue, even if it’s still hard to believe that could all happen by the time the ice refreezes. Again, and I promise this is the last time I’ll say this, it would have made a little more sense if Gendry had ridden a horse back to Eastwatch rather than hoofed it. The way director Alan Taylor frames it, with Gendry running towards and away from the camera, he doesn’t even look like he’s moving quickly. The “Gendry’s Still Rowing” memes may be gone, but I’m sure the internet can do something with his Usain Bolt impression.

Forrest Gendry: Run Gendry, Run! #GameOfThrones#GoTAtlanticpic.twitter.com/bWQqRac0F4

— Night’s King (@WightsKing) August 21, 2017

Something like that.

Make it back to Eastwatch he does, though — based on the coloring and the interstitial scene of Jon Snow and the Heartbreaks glowering on their rock, it looks like it takes him the better part of the day, for those keeping track. He falls into the waiting arms of Davos Seaworth, who immediately calls for a maester to attend to his latest foster child. And at some point, we assume a raven gets sent to Daenerys.

Back on the Island of Misfit Toys, the Hound passes the time by kicking the crap out of Larry. That’s for my hand! he thinks, loudly. Meanwhile, Thoros has succumbed to his wounds and frozen to death, which means Beric Dondarrion is out a life insurance policy. “They say it’s one of the better ways to go,” the Hound says with uncharacteristic tenderness, and then takes a long swig from Thoros’ flask in remembrance. It’s what Thoros would have wanted.

Jon cuts the Hound off mid-Miller Time and pours the alcohol onto the body. Beric lights up his sword, and that explains how the group ate while they waited for Daenerys. (Not really, but also…maybe?)

Helen Sloan – HBO

While they try to keep from freezing to death, Jon, Jorah, and Beric go over the latest addition to the White Walker mythology compendium, and theorize that if they kill the Night King, all the wights he animated would be useless. Which is to say, most of them — we remember how many he raised at Hardhome. Beric, still trying to sell his religion to Jon, suggests that killing the Night King may even be the reason they were allowed to come back from the dead. Jon and the Night King lock eyes and lose themselves, just like that time on the docks…

Back at Winterfell, Sansa has received a raven from…Tyrion, I guess, inviting her to attend the big meetup in King’s Landing. She’s refusing to go on account of 1) Cersei being in the building, and 2) Having a lot of work to do at Winterfell. I buy Sansa not wanting to go to this meeting, but I wish they’d state her most compelling reason: that the Northern lords are already upset that their king has traveled down south for this long and will be doubly upset if the person he left to mind the store bounds off as well.

Sansa is sending Brienne to represent her interests. Brienne suggests that it may be smarter for her to stay at Winterfell and protect Sansa from certain Littlefingers, but Sansa — showing strange petulance — insists that she doesn’t need minding, and bids Brienne a cold farewell.

Helen Sloan – HBO

I think the implication here is that Sansa, knowing Brienne is pledged to protect both her and Arya, is sending Brienne away in part to keep her from helping Arya do whatever it is she’s planning, or maybe to keep herself from siccing Brienne on Arya. It’s ambiguous, though…too much so. I wish the writers or directors would give us a better idea of the motivations at play here.

At Dragonstone, Dany has received Gendry’s raven and steps out in some striking new winter duds. Really, she looks fantastic. She clearly intends to save Jon from the wights, an idea Tyrion is less than enthused about. He advises her to “do nothing,” arguing that if she dies, all will be lost. But Daenerys, always willing to help those in need, is deaf to reason. She mounts Drogon and takes off, bidding Rhaegal and Viserion to follow her. And all three dragons are in play again…for a minute.

We cut right back to Jon Snow and his Dixieland Jam Band, still stuck on the island. The Hound, still not over Larry biting his hand, decides to have some fun and chuck some rocks at these undead assholes across the way. He throws one. Direct hit! He throws another. It hits the surface of the lake, now frozen over. Oops.

The wights advance, starting with the one the Hound hit with the rock, which is funny when you think about it. Is that wight personally offended because the Hound hit him with a rock, or did that just jostle it out of its reverie? And how does that play into the fact that they’re all puppets of the White Walkers?

Thoughts for another time. For now, Jon’s Fox Force Five draw their weapons (it does look like Jorah has dragonglass daggers here) and prepare for the worst. There is much smashing and stabbing and guys on fire — the Hound, who’s wielding Gendry’s hammer, gets in a good move where he smashes the ice at a wight’s feet, and it falls through into the frozen water.

That goes on for a while. I wish I could say something more inspiring. The action is fun, but you don’t get the sense of cause and effect in space that you got from the action scenes in episode like “Hardhome” and “Battle of the Bastards.” There’s one point where Jon yells “Fall back!” and I was like…to where? Aren’t you surrounded? We see some red shirts die. There’s a moment where Tormund looks like he’s going to die and then he doesn’t because the Hound saves him. I dunno. They’ve done better.

After s’more hacking and slashing, we get a slo-mo sequence where it looks like our characters might die…but of course they don’t, cause Dany and her dragons have arrived. Things get more interesting from this point on. It’s fun to see the dragons wreck the army of the dead, a scenario we’ve been looking forward to for a while, and Daenerys looks commanding in her snow whites. She lands Drogon on the island and bids Jon’s Fabulous Baker Boys to climb aboard, but Jon refuses, opting instead to fight off the wights while the rest of his crew hop up there.

At least that’s what Benioff and Weiss say in the Inside the Episode feature. But the way it’s directed, Jon gets really far away from the Drogon…like, far further away than he has any business being. It looks less like he’s defending his comrades from wights and more like he just…forgot what he was doing in his enthusiasm to kill zombies.

While the Hound loads Larry onto Drogon’s back, the Night King hefts a long, crystalline spear made of ice and takes aim…at Viserion, who’s flying in the background behind Drogon, who is a much larger target. Again, the directing is weird here — the way it’s framed, Drogon looks like the obvious target, so we wonder why the Night King is making this hard on himself. I guess he’s going for Viserion because Viserion is burning all the wights?

Then, in a goofily epic moment, the Night King chucks the spear into the air and hits Viserion square in the side. On the one hand, that looked kind of silly. And are we to believe that the Night King has a superhuman throwing arm now? Okay. On the other hand, seeing Viserion go down in flames (he bursts into flame from the inside) and crash into the lake is heartbreaking, even if he was one of the “other” two dragons. It’s a big moment — I just wish it featured in a better-directed episode.

But that shouldn’t undersell the enormity of the moment, and Emilia Clarke’s ability to sell the emotion. Rmain Djawadi’s mournful score lifts its fair share of the weight, as well.

At this point, Jon runs back to the dragon, but a couple of wights tackle him into the water. Seeing him go down, Dany opts to fly Drogon out of there before the Night King can land another spear — he throws it, misses. And our heroes are off.

Back at the scene of the action, Jon emerges from the icy water, marking two times this season a character who really should have drowned doesn’t drown. He pulls himself onto dry land ice and prepares to face the inevitable: he is zombie food. But then, as the wights are about to tear him apart, Benjen Stark appears from out of nowhere on his horse, swinging his fire thurible hither and thither and taking down wights by the truckload. He reveals his face to Jon, and they spend two seconds reconnecting before Benjen hefts Jon onto the horse and orders him to ride for Eastwatch. “Come with me,” Jon says. “There’s no time,” Benjen replies. Then the horse gallops away and Jon watches wights swarm Benjen from a safe distance, and I can’t help but wonder how there was no time. The episode is doing a poor job of convincing me of the logic behind its key moments.

Some time later, on the other side of the Wall, the Hound loads Larry into a waiting boat. At least that part of the mission was successful. It sounds like the Brotherhood is parting ways with the Hound here. I don’t know why. Why don’t I know why anymore?

Up on top of Eastwatch, all the way up the switchback stair, Daenerys looks out beyond the Wall, waiting for Jon Snow to come riding back. Jorah, who wishes Daenerys would look at him with a quarter of the interest she’s showing for the tundra, advises her that it’s time to go, but she’s not ready. Then, in the distance, a lone rider: Jon has made it back. Jorah looks…conflicted.

Jon gets loaded into a bed on a Targaryen ship heading south, and Daenerys gets a look at his abs…and his stab wounds. It’s hard to say which has more of an impression on her.

Back at Winterfell, Sansa is Nancy Drew-ing around Arya’s room, looking for the letter…there has to have been a smarter way for her to go about this, particularly after she sent Brienne away. (But then again, going back to the thing about seeing your sibling as they were when they were younger, even though Sansa knows her sister is different, she couldn’t dream of how dangerous Arya has really become.) She doesn’t find the letter, but she does find a bag full of freaking faces, including what looks like Walder Frey’s. That must be very, very disturbing.

As is Arya showing up behind her without making a sound. Sansa is in full panic mode now, trapped in a room with a little girl who keeps human faces under her bed. And Arya is laying on the creepiness very thick, asking Sansa to play the game of faces, which she played with the Waif back in Braavos. To her credit, Sansa isn’t interested in playing on account of WHY DO YOU HAVE A BAG FULL OF FACES ARYA OH MY GOD.

Arya does explain, albeit in the creepiest way possible. “I can become someone else,” she says. “Speak in their voice. Live in their skin. I could even become you. I wonder what it would feel like. To wear those pretty dresses. To be the lady of Winterfell. All I’d need to find out is your face.” Good christ, Arya.

I think I’ve actually talked myself in to enjoying the Arya-Sansa scenes. I still think the setup could have been better, but the explanations I gave above still stand, and Maisie Williams is being so deliciously creepy I’m just gonna go with it.

Anyway, at the end of her serial killer speech, Arya hands Sansa the Valyrian steel dagger Bran gave her a couple episodes back. Then she just walks out the door. Intriguing. Is she testing Sansa’s loyalty? Or is this a power move to rattle her further? I feel like it could still go either way.

But as for Dany and Jon, their story is only heading in one direction: bonesville. Not right now, but soon. At the moment, Dany is sitting at Jon’s bedside, waiting for hm to wake up. They’re just friends, y’all.

This is actually one of the better-written scenes in the episode, with one exception. Jon, even though he’s wounded and on bed rest, comforts Dany about the loss of Viserion, who was her child. She accepts it, and pledges herself whole-heartedly to the cause of defeating the Night King. “You had to see it to know,” she says. “Now I now.”

Emilia Clarke kills it in this scene, by the way. She’s been a hardass for most of the season and it’s nice to see her show some vulnerability. Responding to that openness, and to her dedication to his cause, Jon thanks her, calling her “Dany.” (That’s the poorly-written moment, by the way — too cheesy for me.) He then offers to bend the knee (figuratively — he can’t while in bed). She’s moved. They hold hands, he assures her that the Northern lords will accept her, and the stage is set for a romance for the ages…or season 8, whatever comes first.

For our finale, we head back north of the Wall, where the Night King has his army of wights pulling on giant chains. No, I have no idea where he got the chains or how they connected them to Viserion. The White Walkers have been biding their time beyond the Wall for thousands of years — who knows what feats of metallurgy they’ve accomplished in that time?

Anyway, the point of the scene is that they’ve dragged Viserion out from the bottom of the lake. The Night King walks over and lays hands on the beast. And even though we all see it coming, the moment where Viserion opens his dead blue eye is still eerie and effective.

Odds and Ends

  • I liked that they gave justification for Tormund to be so gregarious this episode. I mean, he’s always gregarious, but being back on his home turf clearly put a new spring in his step. But I have no idea what to make of the moment when Tormund has to ask for clarification on what the Hound means by “dick.” That euphemism didn’t travel north of the Wall but “cock” and “pussy” did?
  • The timeline issue. I know fans had a lot to say about the time-jumping in this episode. Gendry gets to Eastwatch, sends off a raven, Daenerys gets it and flies to the rescue all in time it takes ice to melt. While I think the show could have been clearer about exactly how long Jon Snow and the Bunnymen were on that island, it does take a while for water to freeze to the point where it can support the weight of a whole army, so that part didn’t bother me. I think it’s more that we’re used to seeing events like that play out over longer periods of out-of-episode time on Game of Thrones, so seeing it all happen in quick succession was strange, but not necessarily illogical…although there was plenty else about the episode that was.
  • It felt kind of cheap that the characters went on such a dangerous mission but the only person of note to die was Thoros of Myr. I don’t care how many red shirts Alan Taylor filmed dying horribly — this is Game of Thrones, and if you want to impress us, you’ve got to kill someone important.

Jon’s trip beyond the Wall was plagued with inconsistencies and conveniences. Why didn’t Jon get on the dragon when he had the chance? Why did the Night King shoot down down Viserion when Drogon was right there, and why does he look so silly throwing his ice javelins? Why couldn’t Benjen have gotten on the horse with Jon, and is the show expecting us to just accept at face value that another main character survived a deadly drowning two weeks in a row? Wasn’t it awfully convenient that Larry was the only wight not to fall when Jon killed that White Walker? And where were the damn horses?

If you loved the episode, love it. I love that you loved it. For me, there were too many annoyances to ignore. An otherwise well-plotted show can get away with a couple of these per week, but they practically overwhelmed the main thrust of the narrative this time around. Now that the show has gotten past this section, I’m hoping it can shake it off for the finale.

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