Well damn… where do we even start with this one? The heartbreak is just too real, you guys. As Jorah tells himself at the beginning of yet another loveless day: it’s going to be a rough ride…
We open with a tracking shot of Dany’s tablemap of Westeros with a blazing furnace framed at the top beyond the Wall… reassuring.
Later, she has a cosy fireside chat with Tyrion about how stupid men can be (preach, sister) with Jon and his dream-team off ranging beyond the wall before Tyrion makes everything mega-awkward by quizzing her about succession. She reminds us that she can’t have children (with babies being a recurring theme in this episode) and again questions Tyrion’s loyalties and intentions. She makes a fair point – that she needs to win the throne before worrying about keeping it – though “what comes next?” is an interesting new dimension to be added to the game. It’s a great scene from a character perspective and Emilia Clarke (who’s generally on top form right throughout this episode, praise be) nails Dany’s burgeoning sense of frustration.
Beyond the Wall I
Jon marches on beyond the wall with his merry band of assorted misfits: Beric Dondarrion, a guy who’s died 6 times already; Thoros of Myr, a drunken, dissociated, life-giving priest; Gendry, a royal bastard and gold medal winning rower; Tormund Giantsbane, a barbarian mad-man; Jorah Mormont, an exiled former lord and the officially ordained karmic whipping boy of the entire universe; and Sandor “the Hound” Clegane, a guy who ran out of fucks to give centuries ago.
This is the meat of the matter in this episode and it is excellently well-played. It’s a steady build-up, slow and methodical, with a mounting sense of dread as the troupe of hapless heroes traipse ever further into the bleak, unforgiving icy wilderness. Benioff and Wise are at the peak of their writing game here, chopping the group up into twos and threes for enjoyable bouts of banter and lightning-quick exposition, the highlight of which being the Hound and Tormund’s particularly magical discussion about Brienne. Most significantly however is Jorah and Jon’s discussion about Longclaw – Jorah refuses to take it back, saying it belongs to Jon now and then his children after him. So there’s that baby klaxon again!
With all of this chatting we’re reminded why we like each and every one of these characters so when the cold winds start to rise, and the snow starts to fall, and they see a shadowy figure in the distance, we really feel that sick sense of fear and rising dread. We know that something bad is coming, but nobody ever expects – A MOTHERFUCKING ZOMBEAR.
This thing is terrifying as it tears through a couple of the wildling redshirts and lays siege to the Dream-team, eventually getting its teeth into Thoros after he saves the Hound and ragdolling him all over the damn place. Beric sets the thing on fire with his firesword (oh yeah, they have fireswords now) but Zombear don’t care, Zombear don’t give a fuck, and the tension is sickening as the Hound has a Theon/Reek moment, frozen in fear facing the flaming eldritchian horror, before Jorah finally kills it with a dragonglass dagger to the skull. You assume that’s the end of Thoros but he goes full Revenant and Leo DiCaprios that shit before staggering on with the rest of the survivors. Champion effort.
A little further on and they finally encounter what appears to be a splinter force of the undead army led by a White Walker. The Dream Team go for the surprise attack and Jon comfortably dispatches the White Walker with Longclaw. All of the other wights but one spontaneously die along with it (suspicious… read our theory here) and they capture it – hooray, mission complete! It looks like everything’s going smoothly enough…all the while the episode laughs malevolently in the corner, smiling its Littlefingerest smile.
Suddenly there’s rumbling, then undead screeching, and in the blink of an eye the real army of the dead is upon them. Jon commands Gendry to run back to Eastwatch and get a raven to Dany for support while the rest retreat and find themselves stranded on an island in the middle of a frozen lake, the zombie hoard surrounding them on all sides while the Night King and his beardy bitches watch on.
Gendry sprints the entire way back by nightfall (endlessly rowing for four series gives you killer stamina clearly) before he collapses dramatically at the gate and asks Davos to send the raven.
Arya and Sansa have an awkward chat overlooking the courtyard – Arya tells her sister about how she trained with a bow as a child and their father watched her before confronting Sansa about the letter she found in the last episode. Sansa argues that she was forced to write it but Arya isn’t having any of it, confident in her belief that Sansa has always put herself before her family. Sansa points out she’s pretty much responsible for winning the Battle of the Bastards while Arya was off gallivanting around the world and it becomes painfully clear that, with everything they’ve experienced, there’s now an ocean of difference between the sisters. It’s a strangely stilted and sterile confrontation, particularly from Maisie Williams who’s ordinarily a terrific actress, and if anything it just breaks the pace of the action kicking off elsewhere.
There’s no Bran in this episode because he’s too busy getting jiggy in his tree fort, so we’re next given a scene between Sansa and Littlefinger who keeps stirring the pot with Arya. He seems to suggest that Sansa could use Brienne to rid herself of her Arya problem…but Sansa goes in a different direction in a later scene when she sends Brienne south to King’s Landing (honestly, how many air-miles has she racked up now?) following a summons from Cersei. Quite why Sansa feels the need to listen to Cersei at all is perplexing but at least the show has set up a(nother) reunion for Brienne and Jaime. Furthemore, it’s clear that Cersei isn’t just sitting around waiting for Dany to turn up with her deado and has been busy plotting – will this relate back to the Dragonpit (basically an out-building for dragons that the Targaryens built way back when) that’s been referenced a few times this season?
We’ll find out in the finale, but let’s not forget that the last time Cersei was responsible for multiple characters in one place everything got a little explodey…
The final Winterfell scene is another sibling argument after Arya catches Sansa snooping around her room. She finds Arya’s bag of Scooby-Doo masks – sorry, faces – under her bed (well, where would you keep your bag of faces?) and justifiably asks “what the actual fuck is this??” But Arya’s in full creeper mode as she threatens to take Sansa’s face too. Dude… The scene ends with Arya giving Sansa the catspaw’s dagger (which Littlefinger gave to Bran who gave it to Arya, keep up now).
For every way in which the action beyond the wall is fantastic in this episode, the Winterfell scenes are a big hot mess. We’ve joked before how Game of Thrones is often more than a little soap opera with its character melodrama but these scenes are Hollyoaks level poor. When you have sisters bickering over LITERALLY NOTHING intercut with game-changing narrative beats it seems majestically petty and exceptionally strange from a narrative and pacing perspective. This has to be part of a bigger ploy by Arya to bring down Littlefinger otherwise it just doesn’t make sense. I.e. she threatens Sansa, plays perfectly into Littlefinger’s trap, gives him the show he needs to convince him he’s winning, and then gifts Sansa a weapon – it’s a message: “use this on the real enemy.” We hope anyway, otherwise… ugh.
Dany has received the call for help and mobilises her scaly children, dressed in one of the most impressive costumes the show has ever put together, a thick, fur-lined white winter dress with a strong dragon motif. Costume designer Michelle Clapton has really outdone herself with this and deserves all of the plaudits and rewards she’ll inevitably receive.
Tyrion begs her not to go, saying she’s too important, but she refuses to listen and takes off on Drogon’s back, with Viserion and Rhaegal following close behind.
Beyond the Wall II
The Dream Team have survived the night stuck on their island, though Thoros has passed away from his wounds. He died as he lived – drunk and on fire, surrounded by friends. So far as Game of Thrones deaths go it’s practically a party… ignoring the fact that they’re stranded on Death Island in the middle of Death Lake surrounded on all sides by literal death.
Thoros as the sole (named) Dream Team casualty in the episode seems a tad strange in its singledom. This is Game of Thrones and we were all expecting three of four to snuff it (redshirts notwithstanding) but it does have symbolic depth: there are no do-overs anymore. Thoros was the reset button with his Lord of Light wizardry and his death is a starting bell for the endgame; from here on out if you’re dead, you’re dead (or brought back as an ice zombie). A quick thing to note here that we enjoyed is that Thoros is kind of responsible for everyone else surviving the fight: he saved the Hound from the zombear, meaning the Hound was around to save Tormund from being dragged under the ice, which in turn meant Tormund could save Jorah when he fell off Drogon. In other words, the three guys who haven’t died and been resurrected (like Beric and Jon) are each saved from certain death to live again thanks to Thoros. It’s a subtle narrative touch and gives Thoros’s death a sense of poignancy it might otherwise have lacked.
The Hound, being the Hound, decides to taunt the undead hoard by throwing rocks at them – but one misses and skids across the now very much re-frozen lake. Well… shit. Now it’s a party and the wights waste no time by sprinting forwards and swarming the island. We aren’t ones to mince words here: this battle is fucking terrifying. There are zombies flying everywhere, it looks like anybody could die at any second, and is there any sequence in GoT history as harrowing as Tormund being swarmed and dragged to his icy doom? (Well yes actually, it came about 10 minutes later…). The Hound saves him, thankfully, and they regroup. Jon has one of his “slo-mo-dramatic-realisation” sequences as the undead close in and then STOP – it’s dragon time.
Dany swoops in and eradicates the wights like so many ants under a magnifying glass. But this isn’t the sort of triumphant dragon raid like we’ve seen in Spoils of War and The Battle of the Bastards – it’s dark, foreboding, melancholic, despairing, hopeless; they’re losing this battle and scrambling to survive and composer Ramin Djawadi shows off how much of a master of the craft he is with his epic score.
Jon being the hopeless martyrphiliac he is goes chopping away to buy the others enough time to climb up on Drogon’s back (and secure their captive wight) but then it’s time for the real heartbreak. With the sort of emotionless calm and poise that Robert Patrick would applaud, the Night King retrieves a vicious looking ice-spear, takes aim, and launches it a good 500 metres at Viserion (don’t fuck with the guy who’s had 8000+ years to practice his throwing arm). His aim is true. And brutal. Practically tearing Viserion apart mid-air. Dragons are fire-made-flesh we’re told, but that doesn’t stop torrents of blood dousing the battlefield below as Viserion crashes into the lake. He sinks to the bottom as Dany watches on, utterly devastated, Drogon and Rhaegal crying for their fallen brother. But there’s no time to mourn. The Night King grabs a second spear and takes aim. Jon tells Dany to get the fuck out of dodge as he’s dragged under the ice. And she takes off, narrowly dodging the Night King’s attack, as Tormund saves Jorah from falling off the dragon (goddamit Jorah, can you stop being so tragic?)
It’s not over yet as we watch with bated breath to see if Jon reemerges from the lake. He does! And then – HOLY SHIT WHAT WAS THAT! Did…did the wolf-head pommel on Longclaw just open its eyes?? It’s most likely a trick of the lighting or from the splash Jon makes pulling himself up – but that’s less fun than madly theorising! It could be that Bran, or at least something, was watching out for Jon (the pommel is made of weirwood after all) which culminates with – Deus Ex Uncle! Just as it looks like Jon is actually doomed this time, good old Uncle Benjen comes racing to the rescue with his flaming chainball flail thing. He gives Jon his horse and sacrifices himself to make sure Jon gets away safely; Jon’s plot armour is a chunky old thing at the moment.
And breathe. Goddamit Game of Thrones. You’ve officially broken us this time.
Everything about this sequence was outstanding – the pacing, the narrative (shut up inner pedant, it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t really make any sense and it’s totally unrealistic that Dany got there so quickly), the CGI, the stunts and the action, the performances, particularly Emilia Clarke when Viserion is downed. Just, bravo, bravo to everyone. We hope you all enjoy your Emmys.
Everyone is pretty fucking miserable – especially Dany as she watches from atop the Wall as Jon returns. Davos gets him out of his frozen clothes and into furs to warm him up, but not before Dany sees the brutal scars Jon earned “For the watch.”
Down on the beach, or “blistering frosty sealine,” the Hound and Tormund acknowledge each other as equals as the Hound packs the wight into a rowboat to bring back to King’s Landing (we’re assuming he isn’t rowing the entire way in his little boat, but by the way the show is going he could make the journey by lunchtime). More significantly however, if the Hound is returning to King’s Landing then CLEGANEBOWL IS ON Y’ALL! Get hyped!
On the boat back to Dragonstone, Jon and Dany have a strong (slightly incestuous) bonding moment. Dany is ravaged by the loss of her child and Jon apologises sincerely. She rebuffs it – now she’s seen the real danger, now she knows the real fight, and she’s willing to join him in it. Jon repays her by saying he’ll bend the knee. This is a powerful moment, excellently portrayed by Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington, and for the first time their blossoming relationship feels less like teenage fan-fiction and more like a narratively and emotionally significant development.
We’re also brought back to the issue of babies and succession as Dany mourns Viserion. We assume Dany can’t have any children because that’s what we’ve been told, but pulling us allll the way back to series 1 when Dany was pregnant with Drogo’s child but inadvertently sacrifices him to save Drogo and becomes barren in the process, the actual words from Mirri Maz Duur are “only death can pay for life.” Well she’s had a death: one of her dragon children is dead, so has she “paid” for a new child?
Beyond the Wall III
Bah, did you think we were going to end on that semi-cheerful note? WHERE HAVE YOU EVEN BEEN?
The Night King has equipped his wights with chains and, slowly but surely, they drag Viserion’s corpse out of the lake where the Night King confirms our worst fears and brings the dragon back as a blue-eyed demon. It’s been hinted at before and it’s made eerily clear here – the wights are no run-of-the-mill Walking Dead zombies. They’re SLAVES. Their ability to sprint when needed, to stand to attention at the lake edge, to overwhelm and swarm, and even form a functioning labour force using the chains, has to be some form of mind control from the Night King. Which makes the White Walkers, and the Night King in particular, a whole new level of malevolent evil.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Night King re-raised Viserion as a White Walker (White Dragon? Someone get Yu-Gi-Oh over here!) with a touch to the face as we saw him doing to Craster’s baby in Oathkeeper in season four, not as a wight as we saw him doing in Hardome with his “Come at me bro” stance. White Walkers are far more resilient to fire than their shambling henchmen, so for those of you who think that Zombie Viserion will either kill itself with it’s own firebreath or alternatively have icebreath, think again.
Significantly, Viserion is now destined to follow the path of his namesake, Dany’s brother Viserys; where he was once Dany’s protector, he’s now her greatest threat. We’d applaud the poetic storytelling of it all if we weren’t still curled up on the floor recovering from emotional annihilation. Finally, while the “three heads has the dragon” theory has gone out of the window somewhat, things are set up nicely now for Jon Targaryen to ride upon the back of Rhaegal, his father Rhaegar’s namesake.
Well, if you managed to read through all of that then power to you, it was a bit a marathon. We’re desperate to hear your thoughts on this and we can’t wait/live in all-encompassing fear of next week’s series finale.
If you fancy a bit more reading material, check out our theory on how everything leading up to and including this episode was all part of the Night King’s evil master plan…