It is at this point in a Game of Thrones season that we will usually get the season-defining moment, usually in the form of a battle. Season 7’s penultimate episode ‘Beyond the Wall’ does not break from this, and nor does it let down our incredibly high expectations.
Focusing mostly on Jon’s terrible plan to capture a wight north of the Wall, it is a relief (at least from a storytelling perspective) that it didn’t unfold as smoothly as planned. However, we can also definitively say that it not a relief that the White Walkers have stolen one of the most powerful weapons in existence.
Arya’s reaction to Sansa’s old letter is not good, to say the least. From Arya’s perspective, Sansa gave in to the enemy and contributed to the series of events that resulted in their father’s death. From this narrow point of view, it is a natural conclusion to make that Sansa was a traitor to their family.
The two spit venom at each other. While Arya was running from her enemies, Sansa was keeping them close; all the while both were plotting to take them down. Sansa raises an excellent point:
“You never would have survived what I survived.”
This works both ways. Arya would have never been able to play the politics of King’s Landing as Sansa did, and Sansa would have not survived facing off against assassins and constantly living in disguise like Arya. They took their separate paths, the only ones available to them at the time, and survived. But a simple misunderstanding of each other’s motives has forced them back into the petty mistrust they held as children.
Sansa is desperately worried that this letter will get to the Northern Lords, who are growing agitated in their King’s absence. A timely letter inviting Sansa to King’s Landing to discuss an armistice is also thrown into the works, giving Littlefinger the chance to suggest sending Brienne of Tarth in her place.
Littlefinger has plotted this perfectly. With both Arya and Brienne out of the picture, he is by default her next most trusted advisor. Right now it really looks as if she is playing right into his trap.
On a more positive note, Arya’s handing over of the Catspaw dagger to Sansa may suggest that her suspicion of Littlefinger has not been forgotten. If the fan theories are accurate, then this small gesture may lead to the end of his meddling in the Stark family affairs.
Beyond the Wall
If you thought that last week’s strange assembly of random characters was a little thrown together and underdeveloped, then you’re in luck. We spend a significant portion of this episode seeing these new character dynamics in play, and it works a real treat.
The banter between each of these characters is genuinely hilarious, but out of the many character interactions we get a glimpse of, it is Tormund and the Hound’s that takes gold place. The latter’s amusement at Tormund’s obsession over Brienne is a highlight in an episode full of wonderful character moments.
In amongst these light-hearted musings, Tormund compares Jon directly to Mance Rayder – another very proud ruler who was reluctant to bend the knee to a potential ally out of fear of being seen as weak. For Rayder, this decision led to the deaths of many good men. It is hard to disagree that the pitfall of pride is an easy trap for Jon to fall into right now.
Fighting through a raging blizzard, the suicide squad happens upon a wight bear that casually mauls Thoros and rips apart an extra wildling companion. The real winner of this scene though is Rory McCann, a.k.a. the Hound. His pure terror when the flaming swords come out is a rare moment of weakness for him, and McCann plays his vulnerability beautifully.
An ambush on a White Walker and his gang of wights gives the group a small win, as they manage to capture the wight they came for. The skirmish also reveals a key piece of information – killing a White Walker also destroys all the wights they created. I can’t help but feel as if this is simply signposting the way to a convenient victory, with the Night King being the ultimate target to end the entire war. But knowing the writers, the path to achieving this will be riddled with obstacles.
As the captured wight is being tied up, a distant rumble can be heard. Distant rumbles have never been signs of anything good on this show. Realising they will need reinforcements, Gendry is sent running back to Eastwatch before the enemy can strike.
Finally, the army emerges. In an exhilarating sequence of truly epic proportions, the remaining members of the party cross a frozen lake and seek refuge on a rocky outcrop. Charging after our heroes, the wight army puts a little too much strain on the ice below them and collapses into the water, stranding Jon and his troops on their tiny island.
The White Walkers and their army remain surrounding them, patiently waiting the lake to freeze back over. It seems that our heroes are there for days, waiting for either death or rescue. We even get our first major casualty of the episode, with our favourite drunk priest, Thoros of Myr, sadly succumbing to the freezing cold conditions in his sleep.
But let’s get back to this in a second. Tyrion and Dany deserve some attention right now.
Daenerys and Tyrion’s storyline at Dragonstone this week opens with some light teasing of Jon’s subtle romantic interest. She is playing coy and isn’t giving too much off at this point, but there’s no doubt there is at least some level of reciprocation there.
Tyrion begins to probe deeper into her plans to claim the Iron Throne, putting Varys’ advice into action. The wheel that Dany has so often declared she intends to break is a metaphor for the cycle of fear perpetuated by corruption, and yet it would appear that in recent events she is starting to succumb to the temptation of this sort of rule.
Tyrion is the voice of the audience in this show. He tries to stay out of conflict whenever he can, and he often suggests the most sensible, least dangerous option as a way out. However, while this line of thinking makes sense in our world, it does not always necessarily work in this one. This has proven to be Tyrion’s downfall; he is a little too idealistic, and tends to analyse how the world should work rather than how it does work.
A misstep in his stirring monologue leads to the topic of Dany’s infertility and her uncertain successor – obviously a touchy issue for her. She refuses to entertain the idea any further until the throne is secured, leaving a dejected Tyrion to his own thoughts.
Suddenly, a raven arrives. And just like that, Daenerys moves from deep conversations with Tyrion to recklessly flying off with her dragons and throwing herself into danger.
Beyond the Wall
Well, it’s fair to say that the Hound screwed everyone over. Had he not thrown that rock at the Wight, revealing that the lake had frozen back over, then perhaps they would have been rescued in time before anymore great losses.
But it’s hard to stay mad at the Hound. We still love him deep down.
I’m guessing it wasn’t just me who held my breath throughout the entire ensuing battle scene. The slow dragging of a single wight’s feet across the ice, building to a crescendo of the army’s guttural groans as they close in on Jon’s crew makes the situation seem all the more hopeless. The combination of the battle’s unique claustrophobic setting, the long takes moving from character to character, and the pacing of the entire scene pits it against the Massacre of Hardhome for the title of the greatest wight battle in Game of Thrones history.
Our heroes are being worn down, and there are some close calls. But at the most opportune moment, a blast of fire roasts the wights – and in comes Daenerys with all three dragons. Everyone is keen to skedaddle ASAP.
But the Night King isn’t giving up without traumatising the viewers first, and with his Olympic-level javelin skills he takes down beloved dragon, Viserion. Realising there is no time to mourn right now, Daenerys flies off with her cargo, leaving behind Jon who has fallen into the lake.
Left on his own in the middle of an army of wights, a kind-of-dead-but-not-dead Uncle Benjen saves the day in true deus ex machina style. It is a great feeling to see him return, but it is a little bittersweet that he wasn’t better utilised beyond being a character that can be brought back on a whim to save the day.
With Benjen holding off the wights, Jon takes his horse and rides back to Eastwatch, reuniting with his comrades… and by the looks of it, a new potential lover. There are no attempts to hide the blossoming romance between him and Dany anymore. He finally bends the knee – not because she demands it, but because he truly recognises her as his Queen. Aww.
Recovering from the battle that barely put a dent in their forces, the White Walkers recover the corpse of Viserion from the lake. He opens his glowing, blue eyes. And the episode ends with us all collectively screaming silently at the prospect of an ice dragon.
Cersei is having a great old time down in King’s Landing. She hasn’t even had to lift a finger and she now has one less dragon to face off against.
In all seriousness though, this episode had everything we could wish for in season 7’s penultimate episode. While the chaotic battle scenes were brilliantly choreographed and filmed, credit must also be given to the much slower, lengthy scenes of dialogue. There were some excellent character moments that allowed for some intriguing development of secondary characters like the Hound and Jorah, giving season 7 some time to breathe between battles.
It was by no means a perfect episode, but it was pretty damn close. The bar for next week’s finale has truly been set incredibly high.
What did you think of the episode? Tell us in the comments below!