This week, Luka and I deviate a bit from our mostly happy-go-lucky attitude (right?) to don frowny faces and puzzle over Arya and Sansa’s conflict, mourn poor Viserion and freak out over zombie-Viserion (Oh, and Luka squees over cutesy romance stuff too).
Petra: Let me just start off by saying that I’m not trying to feed the Internet’s proclivity for negativity. But this is probably going to be my least favorite episode of the season. I’m not saying it was bad but when season 7 is over and I’m ranking the episodes from favorite to least favorite I’m pretty sure this one will make the bottom of the list.
Luka: For me, it had some of the highest highs, but also some of the lowest lows … or at least some of the huh?-est huh?s. I’m talking about Winterfell here. If “Beyond the Wall” had limited itself to its titular Magnificent Seven quest and the Dragonstone scenes, it would be one of my favorite episodes of the season. As it stands, it may not be my least favorite but it’s certainly the most confusing in terms of character choices.
Luka: We’ve been discussing Arya a lot this season. You once told me, “I just don’t know what’s going on with this girl.” But you said it sympathetically. You were worried about Arya as a person, not Arya as a fictional character, as a narrative construct.
Petra: I wasn’t worried about the quality of the writing.
Luka: We can still claim that “we don’t know what’s going on with this girl,” but our meaning has changed. Arya hasn’t gone quite so far that she can’t come back but she’s right at the edge. When she pulled the knife on Sansa and threatened to kill her, I didn’t recognize Arya anymore. Maybe that was the point. My feelings on Arya may change depending on what happens in the finale (or, more importantly, how it happens).
Petra: My initial reaction about this storyline wasn’t very positive but I couldn’t quite articulate why. Arya seemed erratic but it was Sansa’s decision-making that really bothered me. On the whole, I liked how she handled Arya. She remained levelheaded and reasonable … until she confided in Littlefinger. At this point, if a pair of socks go missing in Winterfell, she should blame Littlefinger. If somebody orders a decaf coffee and they get it caffeinated, she should blame Littlefinger. If anything goes wrong, particularly something that causes a rift between the siblings and threatens her power, the last thing she should do is confide in Littlefinger. Yet, that’s what she does.
Luka: That was my first impression as well. But I missed something crucial. I don’t think this is one of those convoluted theories: it was subtle, but Sansa was playing Littlefinger there, I believe. She may not trust him but she knows she must listen to him and take his “council” in order to stay one step ahead. Petyr told Sansa to keep Brienne near to protect her from Arya. So what did Sansa do in her very next scene? Send Brienne away.
Petra: I didn’t understand why she did that or why she was so snippy with Brienne, but that’s a really good point! I like it: Sansa’s following the adage that you should keep your friends close but your enemies closer. That’s a reading of her behavior I can get behind. So Arya’s the only disturbing wild card here … which, let’s be fair, makes perfect sense. If one of the sister’s going to be the wildcard it should be Arya. But still…
Luka: I just feel confused about Arya. In this episode felt I could see the writers’ strings pulling her along to serve the plot. She felt more like a narrative tool than a character in her own right. Sure, she’s a wildcard, she’s emotionally compromised after all the trauma she’s experienced but even so the explicit threat against Sansa was a step too far for me. Maybe she was sending Sansa a message when she gave her the knife, like a, “Take care of Littlefinger if you want to prove your loyalty.” But if that’s it, it wasn’t telegraphed well enough for me. If it really was the threat it appeared to be, the writers pushed her too far. Maybe we’ve lost Arya, tragically – but not tragically in an intended narrative way.
Petra: She seems to oscillate between being a compassionate, interesting character and existing in Terminator Mode. There was that beautiful scene with Hot Pie in which she started out in Terminator Mode, but then she found out that Jon is King in the North and we saw her humanity come back. So it’s odd that her interactions with her sister bring this coldness out in her again. I get that she and Sansa never got along but it’s really strange to see her use those sort of intimidation tactics on her own sister.
Luka: Her way of handling it is psychotic, but her motivation makes sense to me: Arya sees Sansa as a potential enemy for Jon. It’s not fair but, from her POV, I can see it.
Petra: Her primary motivation in all of this is clearly to protect Jon against what she perceives to be Sansa’s treachery. I can appreciate it if we look at it as a grown-up extension of their childhood dynamics, in which Arya and Jon were close, Sansa and Arya clashed and Sansa was rude to Jon for being a bastard. Those childhood experiences formed the foundations of their relationships, and for everything else that’s happened, they keep reverting to their old ways. To be fair, that’s very true to life.
Luka: That reminds me of something I really enjoyed. Arya said that women can’t choose what they become in their world: she wanted to be a knight, but she couldn’t, so she became the dark, twisted version of her childhood aspiration. Sansa wanted to be a queen with Joffrey, but she couldn’t so maybe Arya’s assuming that Sansa’s going to take the dark twisted path to achieve her girlhood dream of becoming queen.
Petra: Arya does seem to bring up Sansa’s girliness a lot. She belittled her preference for knitting and pretty dresses, which is what a lot of fans disliked about her at first.
Luka: As Chrys Watches GoT pointed out in a way that made me laugh out loud, Bran also disturbed her with an unnecessary mention of her dress. Poor Sansa.
Petra: In a similar vein to how suddenly Arya turned on Sansa, I didn’t quite buy Dany’s suspicion of Tyrion. I still don’t buy into this fear she will become a Mad Queen.
Luka: Her reaction made sense insofar as her barrenness is a touchy subject for her.
Petra: True. It’s interesting that they brought that up again in the same episode in which one of her magical dragon-children died.
Luka: And later Jorah made a reference to Jon’s future children. That’s not a coincidence.
Petra: Oh yeah. They’re really promoting the baby-making with those two. I get that she’s angry that she’s losing the war but questioning Tyrion’s loyalty to her feels forced.
Luka: What did you think of their conversation about succession, politically speaking?
Petra: I think it’s interesting that they brought it up.
Luka: Tyrion said “the Night’s Watch has one method, the Ironborn have another.” He’s describing a proto-democratic presidential system instead of an inherited system.
Petra: Ooh, that’s a good point! Daenerys talked about breaking the wheel again this episode but she hasn’t said much about what she’ll replace the wheel with. Introducing Westeros to a proto-democratic system would be a concrete way to indicate that Westeros is going to change for the better rather than leave us with a Tolkien-like stirring speech about good monarchs empowering the smallfolk.
Luka: It was a nice touch that Tyrion was at a loss for words and had to dance around the concept of a democracy because Westeros has no vocabulary for such a thing yet. The only thing he can do is draw comparisons to the Night’s Watch and the Ironborn.
Petra: I also liked Dany’s point about heroes and how they’re stupid and how they get themselves killed. I thought back to that when Jon was unnecessarily fighting further and further away from the dragon instead of hopping on the dragon and flying away.
Luka: Jon is all about sacrifice.
Petra: Jon is an idiot.
Luka: Well, if self-preservation was his goal, he would be. He wanted to make sure that everyone else got safely on Drogon before he did because he didn’t give a fuck about his own safety. It calls back to the conversation with Beric about their purpose: “I am the shield that guards the realms of men. Maybe that’s enough.” They are there to fight for the living despite themselves. I see Jon being sacrificial as a key point here.
Petra: Look, I want to make clear that I don’t hate Jon. Maybe one day I’ll write a very long think piece about how I feel about him. I like certain aspects of him a lot but his honorable decision-making annoys the hell out of me. If it weren’t for deux ex machinas, his honor would have gotten Jon killed several times over by now. How many times has he lead his men into some sort of massacre? Just recently, he was saved by Sansa with the Knights of the Vale and then by Daenerys with her dragons, and Benjen.
Petra: I did love the imagery of Daenerys coming to the rescue with her dragons. That was beautiful. It felt reminiscent but also subversive of the eagles’ intervention in The Lord of the Rings. Birds are often used as a symbols of heaven but here we got fire-breathing dragons – about as hellish as you can get – saving our heroes instead.
Luka: Before we get too far into that dragon sequence and its consequences, what did you think about the interactions between the Magnificent Seven?
Petra: I expressed concern last week that we weren’t going to have enough time to build the comradery of the group in a single episode. I was happy to be wrong. They did a fantastic job at getting the characters to interact appropriately.
Luka: First we have Tormund and Jon discussing Mance Rayder. Hearing a Wildling concede that bending the knee might be preferable is a real epiphany for Jon.
Petra: It means a lot to Jon to hear a Wilding effectively give him permission to bend the knee to Daenerys. And Tormund was basically expressing my own opinion on the matter: you can go on about your right to rule all you want but you’re getting people killed for your pride, or for the pride of your people. I appreciated that point.
Luka: You know what I appreciated?
Petra: … Jorah?
Luka: That scene between him and Jon went exactly as I’d hoped it would.
Petra: I like that they afforded Jorah time to think back on the consequences of the decisions he made. His father died under really horrible circumstances thinking he’d never see his son again. That’s a kind of pain that stays with you.
Luka: And one of the things that I was hoping would be addressed was the ownership of Longclaw. So, I’m glad that they got around to discussing that. I’d hoped Jon, Gendry and Sandor would talk about Arya but … nope. That was my one disappointment here.
Petra: That was a lost opportunity. But Tormund and Sandor’s conversation about Brienne was the cutest thing. I don’t have anything terribly analytical to say about it but it warmed my heart. Oh, they introduced dialectic differences between Free Folk and Westerosi’s speech: Tormund calls him “the dog,” as if the Wildlings don’t have the word “hound”; and then he wasn’t familiar with the term “dick.” But he liked it. And the way he reacted when Sandor told him that Brienne just wants to cut him up and eat his liver –
Luka: “So you DO know her!” He’s so pure!
Petra: And he didn’t die, which shocked me. The moment he mentioned wanting to have babies with Brienne I started drafting my Curtain Call for Kristofer Hivju in my head.
Luka: They gave us a real fake-out too. That looked like a death scene on the frozen lake. Because I’m deeply immersed in spoilers, I thought I knew that he would survive but when the dead started piling up on him I thought that perhaps I’d received the wrong information and that he really was going to die. Do you agree with the criticism that nobody dies on Game of Thrones anymore? I don’t value the quality of a show by the number of people who die. I realize that that’s part of what made Game of Thrones famous in the mainstream but that’s not why it’s good. It’s rather superficial, as criticism.
Petra: I value quality over quantity.
Luka: As for Thoros, I really felt his death, in large part because of Beric. Beric and Thoros are like an old married couple, so Beric’s reaction was really powerful. I also enjoyed that we got some good characterization for him in his conversation with Jorah. “I thought you were the bravest man I ever saw.” “No, just the drunkest.”
Petra: Which ties in with Daenerys’ comment about heroes.
Luka: There was another death this episode. I don’t know if you want to move onto that.
Petra: Ah, yes. Poor Viserion.
Petra: I’ve had some strong feelings about the treatment of those dragons for a while now. I probably wouldn’t have never noticed had I not listened to the audio commentary for How To Train Your Dragon, of all things. At the end of the movie, the main character, Hiccup, wakes up and finds out that he’s lost a leg and in the final version, Toothless, the dragon, is there with him to comfort him and help him walk. In an earlier version, Hiccup was alone when he woke up and he had to cope by himself. According to one of the directors on the commentary, it was Steven Spielberg’s suggestion to include Toothless in that scene because he felt that by the end of the movie the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless had devolved into that of a cowboy and his horse, that Toothless wasn’t a character anymore so much as a means of transportation and a tool. I feel like that’s what’s happened to the dragons on Game of Thrones. I realize that there are budgetary limitations but we had those lovely bonding moments between Daenerys and her children in the early seasons and we’ve completely lost those.
Luka: Really? This reaction surprises me. Mind you, I agree that Viserion and Rhaegal have always been backgrounded, but are you including Drogon in that?
Petra: He’s clearly her favorite and I have issues with mothers who favor a child …
Luka: I just mean that Daenerys and Drogon have had plenty of scenes together.
Petra: True. With Viserion and Rhaegal, though, they haven’t been treated like characters since Tyrion unchained them in season 6. Daenerys locked them up and then, in “Battle of the Bastards” they broke out helped their mother destroy the slavers’ ships and … that was kind of it. It was odd that Daenerys locking up her children for months had no consequences. It made it harder for me to feel sorry for Viserion – no, wait, that’s not true! I felt sorry for Viserion but in a way I don’t think I was meant to. I pitied him for being the sad middle child that no one wants. Even though they’re triplets.
Petra: I have to say Emilia’s performance in that scene was not … it-it’s wasn’t her best. There was a Behind the Scenes video in which she and the directors discussed how challenging it was for her to emote when there was nothing to look at but green screen. That said, Daenerys’ reaction should have been on par with Catelyn at the Red Wedding, with Cersei watching Myrcella’s body return from Dorne. And it was not.
Luka: I’m so tired of the hate on Emilia, and she did some of her most wonderful work this episode, but in this case I agree. There’s that pan across all of the riders reacting to what’s happened. We see Tormund’s shock and Jorah’s wonderful pained reaction and then you expect Emilia’s expression to be the most heartbreaking and … it wasn’t.
Petra: She seemed more upset by Jon’s loss than by her child’s.
Luka: Her initial reaction was underwhelming but once she’d had time to internalize it, I found her grief when talking with Jon completely believable, and heartbreaking.
Petra: Emilia started crying as if she’d been holding back for a long time. That was good. And Kit’s performance when he looked at her and said, “I’m so sorry” was very powerful. But still, I felt the focus of that scene was their sexual tension, not the loss of Viserion.
Luka: I thought the scene had two phases. At the beginning it was 100% about Viserion but then it moved on to focus on the BEST relationship we’ve ever had on this show!
Luka: I don’t even believe that, necessarily. I just wanted to rile you up a bit.
Petra: I mean, look, I thought the performances were good, and I liked the handholding. I’m not going to criticize every aspect of every scene between Jon and Daenerys just because I don’t ship them. That wouldn’t be fair.
Luka: You don’t love them, you don’t hate them. You just couldn’t give any less of a shit.
Petra: That’s it exactly! But I did like the moment where he was holding her hand and she started to pull away and he held onto her. We got a nice sense of their intimacy.
Luka: It was beautiful! Honestly, I just want to squee like an excited child now! [Squees]
Luka: Okay, so we’ve grieved for Viserion. But now he’s back.
Petra: Yes. This is gonna be fun.
Luka: Do you want to discuss where they got those chains for 30 minutes or do you think there’s something more interesting to focus on?
Petra: I think they bought those chains from the same store where Euron got his thousand ships. And I am fine with that. I am thrilled we have a zombie ice dragon now.
Luka: Well, you call him a zombie but I thought his eye looked more like White Walker eyes than Wight eyes. I don’t know if, with a dragon, that’ll make any difference practically speaking, but maybe Viserion will maintain his intelligence.
Petra: Oh, yeah! Because the Night King approached to actually touch him, and that’s how he converts babies! So Viserion is a White Walker, now. Well, a White Flyer!