Season Seven, Episode Six — “Beyond the Wall”
By Jarrod Jones. Of all the places to hang your cloak during the Long Night, Winterfell might be the worst.
Don’t worry; we’ll be touching on the Round One title match between the Night King and the combined might of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen soon enough. First we direct our gaze to Winterfell, where there’s little to do but ruminate on how often people disappoint you, there’s a freaky kid staring pensively at an old tree, and, for the Sisters Stark, tensions run high.
Petyr Baelish’s little ruse worked like a charm this week, as the letter Sansa drafted on behalf of the Lannisters during the Battle of the Five Kings made its way into Arya’s lethal hands. Now I see why you’ve been shady towards Jon, Arya said, which was exactly how everyone figured she’d react once it became clear what that scroll said. (You remember, it went something like this: “Brother Robb, my precious Joffrey doth require you bend the knee.”) What wasn’t clear on Sunday night — and what still isn’t now — is what Arya plans on doing with the knowledge that… what? That her older sister wasn’t as bright as she should have been?
Arya, who’s baring her fangs more than the direwolves on her family’s sigil these days, approached Sansa threatening to spill the beans to her loyal bannermen as the Valyrian dagger — still pregnant with narrative potential, mind you — sat on a table to her left. “What about Lyanna Mormont? She’s younger now than you were when you wrote that letter. What are you going to tell her? That you were a child?”
*Ahem* Excuse me, Arya, but you’re dropping names like you know how to use them.
Of course, Arya’s points were rather shoddy. She wasn’t in the room when Cersei, Grand Maester Pycelle, and yes, Littlefinger himself stood staring down on the impressionable Sansa girl all those years ago, goading her into making a life-altering mistake in the name of love. Sansa’s only crime was being a child of the Summer, filled with the sort of optimism that can only come from privilege. It was a life, our morbid Faceless Man would do well to remember, that Lord Eddard wanted for his daughters. It seems Arya either can’t, or won’t, look past her own trauma to empathize with her sister.
The Stark vs. Stark subplot is one of the lousiest developments in this penultimate season of Thrones. If there’s any positives to glean from this, it’s that Sansa is at least aware that Petyr continues to make life difficult for her. So she made sure to remove Brienne of Tarth from his playbook before Baelish sicced Brienne on Sansa’s little sister.
Brienne heads south to King’s Landing, where she’ll probably share some quasi-interesting stories with Jaime Lannister when his twin sister isn’t looking. (Hopefully she skips past the “I looked out a window for an entire season” bit and gets to the good stuff with Stannis Baratheon.)
Meanwhile, beyond the Wall, Jon Snow and his intrepid warriors followed through on what is commonly referred to as The Worst Idea In The History of Worst Ideas — namely, to seek out the armies of the dead and procure a wight for the benefit of Cersei Lannister.
This week’s episode was a colossal production stuffed to the brim with tension, foreboding, and teases. Curb-stomping our expectations has long been Game of Thrones‘ chief attraction, but here, where characters who commonly stare into the face of death threw themselves into the ultimate suicide mission and mostly walked away from the experience unscathed, we finally began to understand the extreme strain eking out surprises is putting on the show’s narrative. (Who died? Thoros of Myr, which now means that reanimation has become impossible, unless you tap on the shoulder of either Melisandre or literally any other Red Priest in Westeros.)
For instance, take Beric Dondarrion’s chat with Jon just before the fur began to fly (literally, from a giant dead bear). Both men have encountered death, and while one has done so with a bit more frequency than the other, Beric and Jon both share interesting perspectives on the wars they fight.
I fight death, a foe that always wins, Dondarrion said to Jon. Oh yeah? Jon retorted. Well, I’m the sword in the darkness, he said to the guy walking around with an actual flaming sword in his hands. While Jon continues to believe his fights are always just ahead of him, Beric knows that all battles belong in the abstract. And what do we say to the God of Death?
In any case, had he given Jon that pep talk on any other episode of Game of Thrones, Beric Dondarrion would have been dead as shit in the following sequence. (Remember Ser Barristan going out in similar fashion in Season Five.) Instead, “Beyond the Wall” — a raucous and maddening episode with not one, but two eye-rollingly obvious examples of deus ex machina — decided to put Beric and the rest of Jon’s Dirty Half-Dozen on the shelf for Round Two with The Night King and his legion of wights.
And now his very own dragon.
While it was amusing to see the likes of Sandor Clegane and Tormund Giantsbane gossip about Brienne, or Jorah and Jon talk about Jeor Mormont, everyone’s talking stock gibberish these days.
BEST MOMENT: I’m giving it to the fall of Viserion, even if it was incredibly predictable. People have been espousing the “ice dragon” theory for longer than this show’s been a thing, but to see it play out in real time lent the intangible war between the Night King and the Rest of the World some actual stakes by leveling the playing field. Now what, exactly, does an ice dragon breathe?
EPISODE’S MVP: Not Tyrion, who has tragically transmogrified into the least effectual character on this show.
– What purpose does Bran have this season? It appears to be none. Shouldn’t Arya or Sansa go to their all-seeing, all-knowing brother for some guidance, or at least to rap about Littlefinger’s affinity for chaos?
– Watching Jon hand Longclaw over to Jorah reminded me that Jon was the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Dolorous Edd is presently the 999th (hope you’re doing great, Edd!), and there would be some incredible narrative balance in having Jorah Mormont become the 1,000th. Just putting that out into the universe.
– Arya’s memory seems to have waned in the years of training to become a mercurial killer: (to Sansa) “I remember you, standing on that platform with Joffrey and Cersei as they dragged father to the block. I remember the pretty dress you were wearing, I remember the fancy way you did your hair.” Do you remember watching Sansa scream her heart out, or remember her begging Joffrey for mercy? This fucking show.
– “You don’t look much like [Ned Stark],” Beric told Jon. Hint. Hint.
– I think there’s a bit of poetry in having Viserion take on the odious role of “the evil dragon”, considering its namesake was Viserys, Dany’s demonstrably hostile older brother.
– Speaking of dragons, MJ wisely pointed out that the show never made it clear where Rhaegal ended up after the fracas with the White Walkers. Drogon made sure everyone got to safety, but where did Rhaegal peace out to?
– So did Benjen Stark bite it or what? Can he even die? Didn’t the children of the forest put an obsidian dagger in his heart, which basically makes him a refined version of the White Walkers?
– HBO still hasn’t released the title of next week’s season finale, but considering the staggeringly trite motifs these titles have had this year, it’s probably gonna be “The Mad Queen” or somesuch.
6.5 out of 10
Next: “???????,” in one week.
Before: “Eastwatch,” here.