Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode brought winter to the battlefield in a fight between the living and the dead. But has the HBO series lost its edge?
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This Game of Thrones episode has gone by two different names, so that’s been fun to figure out and not at all confusing. We now know for sure that it is in fact called “Beyond the Wall,” but I kind of prefer “Death is the Enemy.” It was a pretty significant thing what Beric (Richard Dormer) said. It also fits better because it’s true.
Aside from the context of Beric’s speech about the fact that the enemy always wins, but you fight anyway. In a larger respect to Game of Thrones as a whole, this episode was missing something crucial in that regard. Death.
Perhaps, last week’s episode choosing not to waste time in confirming Jaime’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) survival was less of a time save and more of an indication of what’s happened to Game of Thrones since Jon (Kit Harington) was resurrected last season. You might be asking hasn’t this season been the absolute best? Look at all they’ve given us in reunions and revenge and so much dragon goodness! And all of those things are still appreciated. But so far this season is not the best. Season 6 still retains that title overall but we still have the finale to see if that changes. For one thing I debated pretty intensely about this week’s episode grade.
If any episode deserves a low grade this season, it’s sadly this one. And I’ve had enough time to think about this, which is not at all a confession that I watched anything that prior to the episode airing despite the moral debate. I plead the I know nothing. Though I will say despite HBO’s own error in leaking the episode almost a week early (I know they have had a tremendous headache this summer with the hacking and whatnot but I feel for them because I have had to revise so much content because I have to assume that everyone is weak and watched the episode…You’re not, though I totally respect whatever decision you made it’s not the lesson in delayed gratification we needed) I don’t really think it’s hurt the show all that much since it’s been breaking ratings records, so that’s a positive!
Anyway, I seriously considered going ahead and giving it a C/C+. And there’s plenty of reasoning behind a choice. The episode probably should have been two parts like that but there was just enough in my opinion to prop the episode up to land it in the B range. So what exactly has happened to the series that makes it fell like it’s lost it’s edge? I can’t tell you without some major spoilers so here’s that official warning.
This is the part where I tell you that “Spoilers are coming” (or should we start saying “Spoilers are here?”). So if that’s something you want to avoid you should probably stop reading now. To protect your potentially unsullied eyes I’ve included a fun video about the prosthetics used in the show! Please enjoy! For everyone else grab your furs (but not your hats) and prepare to meet winter!
And so our watch begins.
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) tried to have a very serious conversation with Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke). They talk of heroes and the men who have fallen in love with her. Dany makes that very funny flub about Jon’s size. And then the conversation moves to their plan for King’s Landing. Tyrion even went so far as to call Dany impulsive in the face of the negotiation, in the hopes of trying to help her deal with Cersei (Lena Headey) when they do head to King’s Landing. It only made her angry at him. That he was essentially suggesting she name an heir – and he seemed to have a particular name in mind. I did like he posited the idea of different forms of government but Varys (Conleth Hill) was right and if Tyrion can’t make Dany listen she’s going to be as much of a threat as her father.
Beyond the Wall
All of the action of this 70 minute episode takes place here, which is confusing because they should have at least spent a night on the little island they ended up trapped on because crows don’t fly that fast (remember my geography lesson). Granted, the intent was never really to catch up with the Night’s King (Vladimir Furdik) and his Army of the Dead. The whole point of this mission was to bring back a White Walker to show Cersei that the Seven Kingdoms has bigger problems than who sits on the Iron Throne.
The ragtag squad featuring one half of the Clegane Bowl, a Red Priest, two men who have been resurrected (unless does The Hound (Rory McCann) count?), a disgraced Knight, a bastard (because like Jon isn’t technically one anymore), and a Wildling. They head out from Eastwatch into the dangers of winter that await them.
There’s a lot of walking to start things off, which I’m only now realizing is incredibly fitting because the parallels between this episode of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are exactly what frustrated me the most. I’m getting way ahead of myself but my issue was that this was the stakes felt high. And they sort of were. But the show also shied away from what it has become so well-known for doing. They used to kill popular characters so fast you wouldn’t have time to react.
And while it was probably the worst kept secret that Jon was dead last season, since then the show has forgotten itself. This season in particular we haven’t seen anyone truly significant die. It’s possible they’re holding out for the finale, “The Winds of Winter” (S6E10) was pretty explosive. But the penultimate episodes have become synonymous with losing characters since the beginning of the series.
So why then when faced with a massive hoard of death on all sides did six of the seven characters survive?
My bets for the episode were Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), Jorah (Iain Glen), and Thoros (Paul Kaye). But The Hound and Beric were just as likely. Three should have made it back and it would have been just Jon and Beric out there and that at least would have made Jon’s very coincidental rescue after failing to board Drogon at least somewhat better.
Am I being too harsh? I really don’t think so. Maybe GRRM has rubbed off on me a bit but all this episode made me feel was frustrated. Tormund was very funny and we’ll get to that shortly but what story is left there (OMG if you so much as think Torienne I will know and I will come for you I just finished watching The Defenders and it has made me very punchy)?
Let’s just cut right to the chase. Thoros is the only one of those men who dies. He gets attacked by a Ice bear (a random Red Shirt™ from the ranging group gets ripped to shreds). Thorns even manages to survive a bit after the attack. He’s actually up and walking but when they end up surrounded for however long (but not long enough) he freezes to death and Beric uses Lightbringer to burn his body. Like I said, there were too many shades of The Walking Dead and while I don’t want to see characters die, I expect to. Thoros’ death didn’t hold any kind of emotional weight (as opposed to Hodor).
And yes, I know we had a very emotional dragon loss. And it’s worth acknowledging the somberness of this event and the ramifications of it. That dragon is one of Dany’s children (as terrible a mother as she is and yes she is because she cannot control her fire-breathing babies so her solution was to lock them up!). It also means that Tyrion will not be revealed as a Targaryen and get to ride a dragon and the The Wall is almost assuredly coming down.
But even with a dragon dying (which was totally Jon’s fault by the way and just because I don’t like Dany doesn’t mean I’m a King in the North groupie, he’s got a serious savior/sacrifice complex that’s problematic but then again at least he’s not off making crazy rants about stuff n thangs in a murder coat but what I would give to hear him shout CORALLLL) it still wasn’t enough. Don’t look at me like that. I love Game of Thrones and am far from casual about each episode (my recaps are rarely short because of that) but even I can’t tell the difference between the three dragons. I knew Dany was on Drogon but I had to ask one of my fellow writers, Erin Qualey (you might be familiar with our discussions) which one the Night’s King took down. She confirmed it was Viserion because she loves those dragons and is like an authority on them.
This makes sense because Jon will no doubt ride Rhaegal, which is the other thing. The episode went through a lot of trouble to keep Jon off a dragon. And it makes sense why. That’s supposed to be a really big moment sometime in the near future but still. Uncle Benjen (Joseph Mawle) showing up just in time was too dues ex machina for me. In fact In discussing that particular scene with Erin she reminded me of one of Pixar’s Rules of Storytelling: “Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.” Which is exactly what this episode felt like.
Now for all of my whinging that there wasn’t enough consequences for such risky business there was still al to love. The different interactions between each members of the group was fascinating and I was relieved that Gendry (Joe Dempsie) was sent back to Eastwatch because it kept out of all the danger because I need him and Jon to remain friends and also I need a reunion with Arya (Maisie Williams). And while I did not care for the way Tormund spoke of Brienne (Gwendoline Chrisite) but I did enjoy the mutual respect The Hound and him share for her – though The Hound seemed to believe that Tormund wrong to believe that Brienne would ever be interested and I liked him more for it (Tormund might have survived but can we please let Torienne die?). Thoros and Jorah talking about their siege of Pyke was also a high point as well as Jorah’s approval of Jon using Longclaw. And of course Beric’s whole monologue on death.
Dany also earned some kudos points with me. She did get her confirmation that Jon was literally stabbed in the heart. And her discussion with Jon at the end was one of mutual respect, she agreed to fight now that she’s seen what’s out there. I’m even tempted to stop calling her Dany after Jon used the nickname and she mentioned that her brother used to call her that. While I definitely don’t want to keep company with Viserys I also just don’t feel like typing her full name all the time but see we’re building some respect here. I mean I have a whole other rant about Jon/Dany. For one thing they are way more related, which means it’s way more incest-y that you think. And if things are going where I wish they wouldn’t (I just had sex on a boat is obviously the Lonely Island remix we’ve been waiting for) then Dany is about to be fertile again.
This is something I’m a bit on the fence about because we didn’t actually get proof that Dany is fertile again like we did in the books (which probably relates to one of the prophecies Dany receives that never made it into the show). And while I’m sure if she and Jon have all the boatsex Targaryen magic (is incest a form of magic?) will play a role. But with all the talk of heirs and her infertility and the loss of her dragon baby it’s clearly foreshadowing…something. Which is like semi-problematic to Dany’s whole arc. I mean sure we can argue how feminist she is (she’s not, you just think she is but there’s lots of evidence to the contrary). And we can certainly talk about how valuable motherhood is to the show but I am not okay with Dany earning the Throne through her and Jon’s child. She saved the day for sure but that doesn’t mean she’s still not crazy. But if I’m going to jump on this bandwagon (I’m not it’s Queen Sansa for me) then Dany should rule and break the wheel and be impulsive on her own merits.
Furthermore, Jon really doesn’t have much of a right to give up the North like that without talking to anyone – this from the same guy who: 1) Acted like Sansa (Sophie Turner) was undermining him except that he doesn’t consult with her she even said she hasn’t heard from in weeks! Does she even know his plan to go beyond The Wall? The little bit we saw she really didn’t seem aware of the armistice otherwise she would have gone to King’s Landing. And 2) In “Eastwatch” (S7E5) Jon gave that rousing speech about how he’s also a King and he doesn’t need Dany’s permission to leave, on top of the (almost) revelation that he’s not a bastard. Plus the North isn’t exactly super fond of the Targaryens (as showcased in episode 2).
We learned a bit more about Faceless magic. I’m really concerned about Arya. I can’t decide if she’s not Arya anymore (she’s acting way too much like her not to be) or if she’s playing the long game. I really want to believe that she’s not falling into Littlefinger’s (Aiden Gillen) trap but I had such a huge problem with her this episode. Like I’m not sure how I feel about her anymore. Especially in contrast to Sansa who handled herself amazingly (can we stop weaponizing the things that have happened to her and then using them against her? SHE WAS A CHILD!!!). Yes, she did go to Littlefinger but who wouldn’t? We did learn a bit more about Faceless Men magic, but I’m still confused by it. I honestly can’t see why she would leave her faces so easily found. Still Arya was scary and I want to hope that Gendry will make her feel things when he returns to Winterfell – if she can feel anything anymore.
Should we assume that Littlefinger is hiding messages from Sansa and that’s why she doesn’t know about the armistice? We did see him have the Maester wrapped around his finger. If so Littlefinger is definitely about to get very sloppy, which might be what Arya wants. Can’t say I’m opposed to Brienne heading to King’s Landing where Jaime is waiting to fall into her arms after he finds out about Cersei’s lie and she dies (he won’t kill her I think Tyrion will do it, Jaime has more to do and I am in denial, leave me alone!).
Three-Eyed Raven Observations:
- Gendry has never seen snow before!
- Also speaking of: Joe Dempsie’s tweets about returning to the series, A summary.
- Why haven’t Jon’s stab wounds healed at all? If his resurrected self can’t heal then how is he supposed to father a child too like that doesn’t make sense if his body is stuck in some kind of living/undead limbo.
- Dany’s coat was beautiful! When did she even have that made? It’s not even cold in the south yet. Did Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) make it for her?
- I love that Tormund considers the North the south and I loved Jon’s delivery that he’s only ever been in the North. His point on pride was pretty valuable. Still would have liked if Mance was alive but such is the nature of Game of Thrones to make me miss the things they changed.
- Why am I concerned that the finale won’t focus on anything I want it to and instead will be full of Euron (Pilou Asbæk), Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), Theon (Alfie Allen) and Yara (Gemma Whelan) – like that still doesn’t help that lack of edginess.
- In addition to my suggestion of Sansa/Podrick (which Brienne totally supports) I’d also like to posit Sansa/Gendry in the event that Arya is not interested in him anymore.
- Death Scorecard: Red shirts, Thoros of Manbuns (the ability for Beric to be resurrected again) and Viserion.
- Clegane Bowl: The Hound is going to King’s Landing with the Walker they captured so…..Get hyped?!
- Ice Dragon: CONFIRMED
- Here’s that great video Emilia Clarke took of Kit Harington doing his impression of a dragon
- Seeing Lightbringer in action was really something! Will Jon or Dany wield it when he dies?
I’m not sure what to expect heading into the finale. I can’t believe the season is over already! We really could have had at least one more episode, “Beyond the Wall” felt a lot like the way GRRM’s A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons operated. We only stayed in a few places throughout the episode, which makes this episode and finale feel a bit like two parts that converge into the present.
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