The stakes get higher and the fighting fiercer in the penultimate instalment of what we must surely all now acknowledge as the most enjoyable TV show of all time, ever; Game of Thrones.
The battle sequences in Beyond the Wall were awesome, but arguably just as entertaining were the snippets of dialogue between various members of Jon’s party. Beric, Thoros & The Hound lightly haze Gendry, as a sort-of apology, for selling him off to Lady Melisandre. Jon attempts to return Longclaw to Jorah – which is a nice gesture Jon, but that’s also your only Valeryian sword?! Luckily Jorah politely declines. Tormund’s conversation with the Hound about Brienne of Tarth and the giant monster babies he plans on having with her is one of the funniest exchanges in all of Game of Thrones. We’re also given a bit of backstory on Thoros, as he and Jorah reminisce over a huge battle as though it were just a pub-car-park dustup.
The first piece of action is a brilliantly shot sequence, featuring an undead ice-bear which takes out a couple of the nameless sherpas, before being killed by Jorah. This scene is the first time we really notice that there are other, unimportant characters on the mission too, so when the first is killed suddenly by the bear, we initially panic, assuming it is one of our heroes. Whether this was intentional or not is unclear, though it certainly added to the breathlessness of the scene.
Throughout the episode we’re brought back to Winterfell to see the latest developments between the feuding Starks, which might not have seemed such a chore if it didn’t mean leaving the action north of the wall. Though the tension is being built here particularly effectively, with both Sophie Turner (Sansa) and Maisie Williams (Arya) turning in strong performances, it’s difficult to see where this storyline can go, meaning at times it feels like the only purpose of this part of the story is to pad out the bits between dragon fights and Jon/Dany kissy-eyes. What’s Baelish’s endgame here? The northern lords would never follow him, Sansa won’t go near him (surely) and if Arya works out his game then he’s finished. Baelish is a meddler and schemer, but the lack of an obvious goal makes it seem like his plotting is almost random, which doesn’t seem like Littlefinger’s style.
The escalating conflict sees Arya confront her sister with the letter she found in last week’s episode, a certain invitation to King’s Landing from season 1, and Sansa finding Arya’s faces. During the final encounter, we almost (do we?) think Arya is going to go all faceless-man on her older sister, but instead she hands Sansa the dagger she’s just been brandishing, turns, and coolly leaves the room without saying a word.
Danaerys’ relationship with Tyrion continues to strain in Beyond the Wall. The pair start off well enough, exchanging niceties over wine in Dany’s chambers, but Tyrion’s odd fascination with naming a successor in case of his Queen’s demise understandably irritates Dany. Tyrion also presses Dany on her burgeoning relationship with Jon Snow, who she includes in a list of brave men who do stupid things which, as Tyrion points out, seems to basically be her type. Later, upon receiving word via the world’s fastest raven of Jon’s peril, Dany will decide to do something both brave and stupid by taking all her dragons instantly to their aid.
Back beyond the wall, the group chance upon a small number of Wights, led by a walker. They ambush the dead and when Jon kills their leader, all the others crumble to the ground – well, apart from one, conveniently. This really does seem an unnecessary stretch, it would have been totally reasonable for the group to defeat all the walkers apart from one, then capture it – but instead they have a rather unlikely stroke of luck. They tie up the remaining Wight, but not before it releases a piercing scream, which brings the rest of the army scrambling right toward Jon & the boys.
Gendry, being the quickest (apparently?) is sent back to Eastwatch by Jon and told to send a raven to Dragonstone; he reluctantly hands off his beloved hammer to Tormund before legging it back to the wall. The rest of the group seem absolutely royally screwed at this point, being horribly outnumbered and totally surrounded by the armies of the dead, who form a huge ring around them and are about to close in when the ice breaks, creating a (convenient) ring of water around Jon and his merry band of adventurers. They spend at least one night surrounded by the dead, in which Thoros of Myr sadly succumbs to the cold, or possibly the injuries inflicted earlier. The Hound muses that freezing to death is one of the best ways to go, though it certainly doesn’t seem fitting for a fierce and brave warrior like Thoros.
An undisclosed amount of time passes, during which we are asked to believe that Gendry arrived back at Eastwatch and a raven subsequently left there and arrived at Dragonstone. We must take one of two truths from this; either both Gendry and the ravens are unbelievably fast OR Jon and the gang wait around in the hope of Dany and her dragons for far longer than is shown. Neither seems particularly plausible, so just pick whichever you prefer. We see Dany leave Dragonstone, before being taken back to the events North of the Wall, where a seemingly restless Sandor Clegane decides to start lobbing rocks at the undead horde. The first dislodges a jawbone, but the second falls embarrassingly short and skitters across the ice, alerting the white walker army that the water has re-frozen. Oh ‘fuck’ indeed, Hound.
Our heroes put up a hell of a fight for way longer than could reasonably be expected of any other group of characters on the show, but with so many skilled warriors in one place, fighting at each other’s backs, they manage to hold off the undead army until Dany’s arrival. Tormund almost dies in the process, which serves to give the entire viewing audience heart palpitations but also gifts the Hound a perfect opportunity for redemption. After a while though, all seems lost; they are entirely surrounded with almost no room left to fight, the panpipe/flute music kicks in, the action goes slow-motion and the camera pans across each warrior’s face – all tell-tale signs of impending doom. Or of course, an impending saviour. Thankfully we get the latter. Dany, Drogon, Viserion and the other one that I can’t be bothered to Google the name of and, let’s be honest, you don’t really care about, swoop in to save the day. It’s an impressive, awe-inspiring spectacle; the dragons reduce swathes of the undead to ash with a few breaths and just like that, we start to believe that everything is going to be fine.
Jon, oh Jon. You mean well, we know, with your incessant killing of Wights, but sometimes you’re better off just getting the hell out of there mate. In a blind rage, or maybe in a bid to impress Dany, Jon goes awol, killing any Wight unwise enough to come near him. This gives the Night King – who has one hell of an arm, by the way – plenty of time to pick up a big ice-spear and take aim at one of Dany’s fire-breathing babies. It’s a direct hit. A torrent of blood gushes from Viserion’s scaly side as he lets out one final bestial squall and plummets to the ice below. In the chaos following this, Jon is dragged underwater by a gang of Wights, though not before he spots the Night King picking up another spear and shouts for Dany to leave immediately. Danaerys sees the danger too and retreats, waiting only a few moments to see if Jon resurfaces, before flying away, barely avoiding another ice-spear. Against all odds (and rational logic) Jon survives, though it seems like he has merely avoided death by drowning, in favour of a death by white walker army, until Benjen (you remember? His uncle, Benjen?…Don’t worry about it) arrives on horseback just in time to save Jon but, for some reason, sacrifices himself in the process.
After waiting – seemingly in vain – for Jon’s return, Dany almost goes to leave when someone spots a rider coming toward the wall. It’s Jon. He is brought inside and Dany gets a sneak-peak at his scars during the process. When he wakes up she is there, standing over him. The sexual tension is palpable, with Dany swearing to help Jon defeat the Night King and Jon addressing her first as Dany and then as “my queen”. They hold hands but nothing more; Danaerys gets all nervous and says she must go. The breaker of chains tells Jon Snow he should get some rest, so in the spirit of his newly-accepted servitude, Jon obeys her command, instantly falling asleep. The end.
Or, maybe not. North of the wall, hundreds of Wights pull Viserions chilled remains from the water with enormous chains – which for the sake of brevity we won’t question the origins of – before the Night King turns it. The final shot of the episode sees Viserion open one eyelid to reveal an icy-blue eye. Oh shit.
This episode focused solely on goings-on in the North, mostly following Jon Snow’s ragtag army on their frankly daft mission to capture a Wight. Though this meant we were treated to plenty of action, it does prompt concern that with one episode remaining of the series, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to satisfactorily tie up many of the loose ends. The fate of the Unsullied? Yara? What about Euron, how will he react to news of Cersei’s pregnancy? This is all before the main storylines are even considered. Complaints about the quality of the show’s production or the scale of its action sequences are, rightly, non-existent, but have the writers decided to forego logic and plausibility in favour of pure entertainment? It’s difficult not to think so as more inconsistencies and implausibility creep into the plot. Having said that, who really cares about logic when we get to see regular dragon-action and stunning battle sequences like these? Bring on the next – and last (!!!) – instalment of the series.
Words By Ethan Stone.