Spoiler alert! The following contains spoilers from Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 6, “Beyond the Wall.” Read our recap of Episode 5 here.
From the first scene of the series, Game of Throneshas been about the battle against the White Walkers. And in that department, "Beyond the Wall" delivered, much to the distress of our heroes. But, with the audience knowing, as Dany now does, that the only thing that matters is destroying the White Walkers, the series is struggling to make anything else feel vital in this late hour, though it's certainly trying its hardest.
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Sunday's episode was a hodgepodge of Thrones' favorite elements, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. The series loves to get two soldiers together to reminisce about battle and compare scars, and political drama,a big battle; but most of all, it loves a big twist.
The episode only hit on two out of five, so were the epic battle and big twist enough? Thrones has had issues taking care when it comes to details as it starts to wrap up big story elements this season. And as breathtaking as it was to see the dragons and the walkers do battle, the rest of the episode suffered from poor characterization, increasingly large plot holes and poor writing.
For many loyal fans, it may not matter at this point. Thrones is nothing more than the sum of its parts this season, and that is what many people signed up for. And there's something to be said for the absolute thrill-ride the series has become now that everyone can travel seemingly at the speed of light and the big moments feel like fan service. Fans have waited years for ice and fire to collide. And, much more importantly for the future of the Westerosi human race, we got to see a dragon re-animate, blue-eyed and terrifying. But there once was a time when the series could surprise us without an ice dragon involved.
With just one episode left this season and six in Season 8, we'll soon see how far the thrills can sustain us.
Dany's dragon's death (we think it might be Viserion) and reanimation was a huge shock that some book fans may have seen coming (or hoped was coming), and dramatically turned the tide of the war with the White Walkers.
Unfortunately, before the dragons appeared, the journey beyond the wall was a bit messy and visually confusing. Sure, the members of the Game of Thrones Expendables got some bonding time (more on that below), but the battle sequence and timeline were hard to follow. And, just for kicks, huge facts about White Walker mythology were just thrown in the middle of it all.
The group has two pre-battles to prep them for the dragon-fueled extravaganza. First, they come across a wight bear (helpfully showing that any animal can re-animate) and then a small group of wights and a Walker (helpfully showing that if you kill a White Walker you kill the wights he turned, which is new and totally would've changed the visuals and stakes at Hardhome but I digress).
The next sequence is annoyingly hard to follow. Jon hears the wight army approaching and sends "fastest runner" Gendry back to Eastwatch to send for Dany, even before they are completely stranded. The group then fights its way to an island in the center of a frozen lake and is stuck but safe, because the wights break the ice as they advance.
An undisclosed amount of time passes during which a) the wights never try to cross the lake, b) Jon and friends survive in the cold without water or food and c) Dany gets a raven and flies her three dragons north. That could all feasibly happen, we guess?
But once the Hound accidentally kickstarts the battle again and Dany flies to the rescue, the visuals are stunning (ice and fire were definitely singing) and the plot clicks back into place. It feels so right that only the White Walkers could take a dragon down (sorry, Qyburn) and that Benjen would reunite with Jon at last (if only briefly). Dany also finds her moral center once again, re-invigorating a character who had become almost boring in her power-hungry mindset.
The only thing scarier than what the Night King might do with his very own dragon wight is what the series will do if it decides to link Jon and Dany romantically. There were a few too many longing glances this episode. We don't care that incest is less taboo in this fictional world. Jon and Dany are related, the series took great pains to turn the fact of their relation into a huge reveal, and getting them together is a betrayal.
Before the ice hit the fan, so to speak, Game of Thrones was having a lot of fun with its Avengers joining up for the mission. Forcing these characters together allowed the pairings to be a little more interesting than before.
Jon and Jorah shared a father figure in Jeor Mormont (and we should all be thankful that Jorah refused Jon's gift of Longclaw). The Hound and Tormund have both encountered Brienne of Tarth and had very different reactions. Jorah and Thoros fought together.
But the most interesting pairing is Jon and Beric, the two men who have been brought back to life by the Lord of Light. Beric was brought back with a calling to protect innocents and a fervor for the Lord. Jon came back a little more sullen, with a fervor to destroy the Walkers. Beric thinks they are there for a reason. Jon just wants to help humanity survive. That they both are the "shield that guards the realms of men" makes a lot of sense. That's a line from the Night's Watch vows, and the order's original purpose was to keep out the White Walkers. Now these two men may be the best weapons against them.
I don't know what to do with Arya this season, and clearly Game of Thrones doesn't either.
Arya is vengeful, but not stupid enough to be so angry over a letter that, all in all, had no effect on anyone (you'll recall, Robb ignored Sansa's summons and called his banners to war). The series seems like it wants to turn Arya into a villain, but it's pulling its punches with a fan-favorite character. The result is a muddling of her characterization. The scenes with her sister felt forced and unnatural, and her not-so-veiled threats of violence felt like they had no motivation behind them. Is she just angry that Sansa survived? Or does she just want to be angry, dismissing the idea that her sister could have suffered while she suffered?
If it seems like Arya is stalled, that's because she is. She's always had a purpose and now she's just waiting for her brother to come home. Her pettiness will not allow her to feel at home, but the writers won't allow her to do anything but sit there. A girl is not in a good place.