So, Game of Thrones tonight…Well, that was rather a lot, wasn’t it?
Spoiler Note: This is our book reader’s recap, intended for those who have read the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The post and the comments section may contain spoilers from the novels, whether or not that material has appeared on the show yet. Because no, we are not all Unsullied now. If you have not read the books yet, we encourage you to check out our non-book-reader recap, by Oz of Thrones!
The tension between Sansa and Arya is reaching a boiling point. Tonight, it begins when Sansa comes upon a pensive Arya overlooking the courtyard, and the younger sister shares a poignant memory of Ned watching her shooting an arrow at a target over and over. As she reminisces, it seems as though there’s the old Arya in her face, expressive and human, speaking of her father applauding her aim. But the humanity slides away as Arya accuses Sansa of helping the Lannisters kill their father. She produces the letter Sansa was forced to write in season 1, as proof of her sister’s betrayal. A distressed Sansa protests she had no choice, being a child then. Arya bitterly recalls the day of Ned’s execution, revealing she was in the crowd watching. Angry now, Sansa points out that Winterfell would be gone without her actions taken to win the Battle of the Bastards. Arya observes that the Northern lords would disapprove of Sansa if they discovered the letter. The sisters part ways with a divide between them growing greater by the day.
Later, Sansa frets over the argument, talking it over with Littlefinger and worrying she’ll lose the Northern lords if they discover the letter. Littlefinger works his snaky magic, stoking her paranoia while feigning help, and implanting the idea that Brienne may be forced to intercede in this fight (which would probably wind up harming Brienne)…
Which is why Sansa takes the opportunity to send Brienne away when a raven arrives from King’s Landing. Cersei is demanding the Lady of Winterfell’s presence but she won’t be going- her lady knight will be sent in her stead. Brienne protests, and wants to at least leave Podrick behind to watch after Sansa, but she insists coolly. It’s only after Brienne has left that we see Sansa’s uncertainty.
Deciding to hunt for the letter in Arya’s room, Sansa makes an unpleasant discovery among her sister’s things- what looks like several human faces. Unfortunately, she’s found by her sister before she can leave. Arya remains calm, and talks to her sister about the Game of Faces she played in Braavos. She explains how they both wanted to be different people when they were young, and now she can become anyone- perhaps even Sansa, if she has her face. Toying with the knife Bran gifted her, the threat seems clear, and Sansa is terrified. Instead of acting, Arya withdraws and hands the knife to her sister.
All in all, I don’t find anything about this storyline particularly interesting. There are small pieces of it that have been fun, like the tightly edited montage of Arya and Littlefinger’s subterfuge last week, and the nicely acted scene between Sansa and Brienne this week, but as a whole, the storyline is an unsatisfying head-scratcher. We can guess that this story’s trajectory is headed toward an ultimate confrontation where either Littlefinger or Sansa will be removed from the game. (With Brienne removed from Winterfell, the last person who can physically come close to competing with Arya is off the table.) But being able to understand the technical point of a plotline isn’t the same as appreciating or enjoying it on an emotional or dramatic level.
And the behavior of the Stark sisters often just doesn’t make sense. While Arya’s lack of trust in Sansa is somewhat understandable, given her traumas, she has displayed humanity when discussing Ned- and toward strangers as recently as a few episodes ago. If we’re to put any degree of faith in the possibility that Arya would consider killing her sister, we’d have to write off the humanity she’s shown us. And without that faith on the viewer’s part, there’s no real tension, despite the horror-movie beats in “Beyond the Wall”‘s Winterfell scenes. At the end of the day, it feels like the show just needed something for the actresses to do at Winterfell and all they could come up with was, “…..fight with each other??” Alright, moving on!
Daenerys and Tyrion are having a chat after the boys have headed up north for their annoyingly heroic mission. Tyrion rightly points out to Daenerys that Jon Snow has moon eyes for her, after the queen is pouting a bit over Jon’s departure. It seems as though Dany doesn’t want to admit her feelings for the King in the North but her Hand is unfailingly honest.
In other business, they discuss meeting with Cersei, and the likelihood of his sister planning a trap for them. (Highly likely. Of course, it’s Cersei.) They return to the topic of how to rule, with Tyrion cautioning against ruling by fear. The burning of the Tarlys is weighing on his mind- but not on hers, Daenerys is certain it was the right thing to do. But he has another concern- her successor. Dany isn’t a fan of this topic either, since talking about who will follow her on the throne means discussing her death.
But luckily she won’t have to take part in these conversations for long. Because Daenerys receives a raven, dons her most gorgeous new white spined coat, and flies away from Dragonstone with all three of her children. Where to? You’ll see.
In the frozen north beyond the Wall…
The magnificent seven (plus assorted wildling redshirts, but let’s roll with seven) trek into snowy northern territory, with Tormund passing the time by ribbing southerner Gendry and talking frankly with Jon Snow about Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall whose pride got too many killed. It’s Feelings Time for the travelers, apparently- Gendry confronts Beric and Thoros about selling him off when he joined the Brotherhood without Banners in good faith, though the Hound shuts down his “whingeing” right quick.
Jorah and Jon open up as well, discussing their fathers. The Valyrian steel sword Longclaw was a gift from the later, elder Mormont; Jon takes this opportunity to offer it back to Jorah, the man who should have inherited the priceless blade. Jorah admits he broke his father’s heart and has no claim on the sword now. Interestingly he mentions the sword serving Jon’s children after him, but since Jon is a fire wight (per George R.R. Martin) the odds of him being able to conceive a child seem incredibly slim. Daenerys emphasized that she’ll never have children besides her dragons in this episode as well. A simple parallel, or are they going somewhere with it?
Later, the typically gruff Hound isn’t interested in Tormund’s friendly overtures, and is amazed to discover through the wildling’s chatter that the woman he’s head over heels for is Brienne of fucking Tarth. Tormund wants to make ‘great big monster’ babies with her. I don’t think B is down with this plan.
Nearby, Beric and Jon have a heart-to-heart about their mutual acquaintance the Lord of Light, and their resurrections. The men get philosophical about their survival, and the purpose of their fight. They’re fighting for life, Beric insists, though the enemy, death, always wins in the end. A contemplative Jon realizes he’s the shield that guards the realms of men- that’s right, Jon, you can flounce from the Night’s Watch but you’re never off the clock.
Moving deeper into the North, with snow falling now, the men spy something moving in the distance and oh christ, it’s a FREAKING BLUE-EYED WIGHT BEAR leaping out of the storm.
Thoros and Beric light up their flaming swords and go to town, but the Hound freezes at the sight of flames. The bear tears up a couple redshirts- but Thoros dives in there with his sword ablaze. The damn thing is on fire, but it still digs its teeth into Thoros, slapping him around until I can’t believe he’s still alive. But alive he is, surviving long enough for the others to kill the undead creature. This wight hunt…is starting to seem like a not great idea, fellas.
Storm and bear passed, the men continue their search, as Jorah and Thoros discuss their long-ago meeting during the Greyjoy Rebellion. Which it turns out, Thoros doesn’t actually remember. The Red priest was famously first through the breach, and Jorah second behind him…but Thoros always was a drinker, and still is.
Soon they come up mindless wights being led by a sole White Walker, and seize the opportunity they’ve been waiting for, by laying a trap in the form of a small campfire to draw the undead to one spot. Surrounding the creatures, the fight is quickly over. Jon engages the White Walker in one-on-one battle, and shatters him with Longclaw…..and every wight but one drops, suddenly lifeless. Their animation has completely disappeared, except for one screeching wight that the group quickly subdues and bags up.
And that’s when they hear it. The sounds that tell them this just went from not-so-good to holy-fucking-terrible. The sound of hundreds of wights pouring through a pass, rumbling over the snow and headed your way.
They need help, no doubt about it, so Jon makes a hail-mary pass and sends Gendry running back to Eastwatch to have the guy send a raven.
The group now has no choice but to run across a frozen lake, until they’re surrounded in the center and waiting to battle- and then the ice begins to break under the weight of the wights. The undead army pauses, unable to pass over the water.
Gendry runs like hell, and barely manages to make it all the way to Eastwatch, where Davos is waiting to drag his new foster son inside.
Hours pass, and the remnants of the original group huddle on the frozen rock in the center of the lake. As the men sleep, Thoros dies, succumbing to his wounds and the cold. Beric kneels for his friend, and the Hound surprises us by joining him with a word of comfort. “They say it’s one of the better ways to go.” But now it’s time to burn Thoros’ body, so the Red priest doesn’t rise.
Now that the men have had time to rest and think, Jorah approaches Jon with an observation: he realizes that all the wights (but one) died when the White Walker did, meaning perhaps there was a connection. They realize if that White Walker was the one who turned them, that would mean they have a way of killing a lot of them at once. But right now they want to bring a wight back to Daenerys, not kill the one they’ve captured.
That’s when Beric sees, it’s not just wights penning them in. Above the lake, watching them, is the Night King himself and his White Walkers.
After the Hound takes to chucking rocks at a wight, they discover that the lake has finally frozen over once more. Which means that the living are screwed. Yep, it’s time to fight, and for Beric to do the flamey thing with his sword that I never get tired of.
The men dive into fighting the masses of the undead, using dragonglass weapons to stop and kill them. As they’re fighting, Jon protects their prize- the wight they’ve already secured. It’s a bloody, brutal battle, with the redshirts quickly falling. Tormund fights like hell and is nearly dragged to his death into the lake by a horde of wights, but is saved by the Hound. (See, Hound, he grows on you!) As always, Jon is breathtaking with his sword, but there’s countless wights, and no way to win this battle. The swarms keep on coming and it’s only a matter of time before they lose. The masses are crowding them in, and the end is near, but then!
The dragon’s flames rise over them, as Dany’s children blast the lake with fire, melting the water and wights alike in a spectacular display. The dragon queen extends her hand to Jon, but he’s busy fighting the undead and can’t accept quite yet. He fights off the wights as his compatriots climb aboard Drogon (with the tied-up wight in tow).
That’s when the Night King calmly makes his move, spear in hand. As Viserion flies overhead, the Night King raises his arms and takes aim. The icy spear stabs into the dragon, sending it crashing to the lake, bleeding and dying as its mother looks on in horror.
Jon urges Dany to take off as the Night King grabs another spear. He continues to struggle with the wights, until he’s pulled into the water himself.
Daenerys and Drogon barely miss being speared by the Night King’s second throw, as they’re forced to leave Jon behind in the lake.
Jon survives the water, barely, and drags himself onto the surface, but the wights realize he’s there. Longclaw or not, he can’t hold off a legion of the things. And then through the crowd, a spot of fire knocks aside the creatures. It’s Benjen, with his flaming flail! He leaps off his horse, gives it to Jon and resumes his fight with the wights. As Jon rides away, he sees his uncle fall under the swarm of wights.
On the other side of the Wall, the Hound says farewell to Beric and Tormund, and prepares to depart with his ghoulish prize- the wight.
Daenerys is having a harder time leaving, still hoping and waiting atop the Wall; her patience is rewarded as the horse arrives with a just-alive Jon.
Inside her ship’s cabin, Jon is tended to, and Dany sees his deep scars, ones that should have killed him.
Waking up later, Jon apologizes to Daenerys, wishing they’d never gone on the hunt, but she isn’t sorry, because now she knows about the Night King. And she and Jon will destroy him and his army together.
He thanks her, calls her Dany…and his queen. He bends the knee, though not physically since he’s still bed-bound and all. An emotional Daenerys accepts his hand in hers. “I hope I deserve it.”
Beyond the Wall…
The undead minions of the Night King drag giant chains, hauling the great mass of a carcass. The body of a dragon is pulled from the lake- poor Viserion. (No word on how they managed to attach the chains to the dragon without going IN the water.) The Night King approaches, laying his hand on the beast for a moment. And then it happens- his eye snaps open, unnaturally bright blue.
The Night King has a new mount.
WIGHT POLAR BEARS ARE YOU KIDDING ME, JESUS CHRIST ALMIGHTY WTF ARE YOU GUYS FOR REAL???!!!?
Iceland is worth every penny of the locations budget, with the incredible chilly vistas in turn blending seamlessly with the scenes cleverly shot on set in Northern Ireland. “Beyond the Wall” looks absolutely gorgeous, from beginning to end.
Duo Deus Ex Machina: Boy, GoT loves their deus ex machina, don’t they? It’s getting to be a bit much though, and two in one episode (Dany showing up at the last second, and then Benjen) is definitely excessive.
The Little Moments: Tons of great little moments throughout the episode, mainly in the north as the men travel from one place to another and interact, sometimes with unusual character combinations. Tormund was a special superstar this week. His moment discussing Mance Rayder’s pride ties in neatly with Jon realizing his pride isn’t more important than survival, and Jon bends the knee at the end. Then there’s Jorah & Jon (nice to address the sword question), Beric & Jon, Tormund & the Hound, Thoros & Jorah, Gendry calling the Brotherhood out, and so much more.
I mean I still cried: For all my criticisms of the Arya-Sansa business, I really did tear up when Arya was talking about Ned watching her.
The Ties That Bind: It would’ve been a lot more effective for audiences when Viserion dies, if the show had made more of an effort to ever show Dany bonding with any of the dragons besides Drogon. That seems like a misstep to me, though it was still affecting because of the acting from Emilia Clarke, and because of the overall implications of the scene.
D + J: When it comes to Dany and Jon being a Thing, I do think that Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington have chemistry and I’ve liked the small moments they created this season as a pair of Very Busy But Still Pretty People liking the cut of each other’s jib. The power duo of Jon and Dany seems so obvious that people hated it before they ever met onscreen, but I’ve tried to resist that urge and give it a chance. The blood relation between them doesn’t bother me; it’s the Targaryen way. It’s not an extremely complex relationship as of yet, though. I would like to see the inevitable power struggles between them explored down the road, but I’m not sure Game of Thrones has the time for it. ASOIAF will have that time, and I have the feeling that this is in George R.R. Martin’s game plan. Hopefully he will confront the dynamics at play in this pairing if this is indeed where he’s headed. Either way, bringing them together is not a guarantee for happily-ever-after, with Jon essentially the walking dead as a fire wight and Daenerys not someone who trusts or shares her throne readily. This is not a happy ending show, but we can enjoy the journey and the sweet moments.
How Bout That Lake Though, Great Views: Give it up for the cast and the stunt team, because damn that was intense. Even knowing Tormund would make it (spoilers), I was still suddenly convinced he was going to die. That was harrowing. Incredible direction on Alan Taylor’s part.
RIP Thoros, Benjen and Viserion : Pour one out for ya. And then a few more for Thoros, because consistency. (The HBO Viewer’s Guide confirms that Benjen gave his life to save Jon so we can mark him off as gone.)
Alright, viewers, what did you think?