HBO’s Game of Thrones played some long-held cards in Season 7’s penultimate episode, giving us a true clash of fire and ice. It was a face-off that had both sides coming away with something they needed. For Dany & Co., they left with a wight to show Cersei. For the Night King, he now has an ice dragon.
Fellowship of the Wight-Catchers
If you weren’t reminded of Lord of the Rings at least once during the course of this episode, then you weren’t paying attention. From the machismo-driven camaraderie of the group to the sweeping helicopter shots of the gang making their way over snowy mountaintops, this was TV’s worthy answer to that other book-to-screen fantasy adaptation. I half-expected the group to start pledging their weapons to the cause. (“You have my hammer!” — Gendry)
However you may feel about the importance of capturing a wight to bring to Cersei, this was an epic journey to watch play out. On any other TV show — or even earlier seasons of this very show — the zombie polar bear attack would have been the climax of an episode and/or season. On Game of Thrones Season 7, it’s just the warm-up to the main event: a battle between Dany’s dragons and the Night King’s army of the undead.
It says a lot about how much Jon has already ingratiated himself to Dany that the Mother of Dragons would even risk going to save him and the others. After seeing the Children of the Forest’s drawings on the dragonglass wall, she seems more invested in this war against the dead, but she is still far from convinced that the undead army is as bad as it sounds. That changes in “Beyond the Wall.” While some major things happened in this episode, Dany seeing the White Walkers with her own two eyes may have been the most important moment of all.
Seeing is believing
When Dany sets her mind to something, it tends to happen. Before, Dany’s ultimate goal was to sit on the Iron Throne. Now that she has seen the army of the undead — and lost one of her children to it — the Iron Throne has seemingly been knocked out of the #1 spot on her priorities list.
That being said, Dany’s initial decision to go save the Fellowship of the Wight-Catchers seems as much driven by her personal feelings towards Jon/Jorah and her frustration over having sat out so many major battles as it does any deeply-held belief in the threat of the Night King.
“If we hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have seen. You have to see it to know,” Dany tells Jon at the end of the episode. Now, she believes, with the implication being that, if Cersei sees the wight they have captured, she too will believe it.
The follow-up question is: Will belief change anything for Cersei? I don’t think so. These days, Cersei is a true revenge junkie. She doesn’t have any personal beef with the White Walkers. Tyrion and Dany, on the other hand? Punishing them will give her the revenge fix she values above all else.
The death of a dragon
Game of Thrones went above and beyond with the visual effects in this episode, especially when it came to the manifestation of the dragons and the fall of Viserion. The dragon went down in a wail of fire and blood, slipping beneath the ice to his not-so-final resting place. No one living could tear their eyes from the mournful sight.
The death of Viserion is important on many levels. For Dany, it is not only the death of a child, but the loss of one of her three major weapons. For the Night King, it is the gain of a major weapon, one that could possibly be the key to his crossing and/or destruction of the Wall. For viewers, it is a leveling of the playing field in the battle between the dead and the living. When Dany had three fire-breathing dragons on her side, the outcome seemed inevitable. Now, it’s more murky.
On another note, Viserion’s death is the thing that brings Jon and Dany together. Though the show has been flirting with a romance between these two since their first meeting a few episodes ago, the heart-eyes really came out in “Beyond the Wall.” First, when Dany was forced to leave Jon behind to save Drogon, herself, and the others, and then again upon Jon’s awakening following his presumed death. (This guy has more lives than Beric Dondarrion!)
Emotionally and physically exhausted from what they have just experienced, there is no time or energy for performance or wit. Jon apologizes for his part in the death of Viserion, and bends a figurative knee to his new queen. Dany basks in the not-deadness of Jon, clutching his hand to remind both of them that they are together and, at least for this moment, safe. No doubt Jon’s bannermen will have something to say about Jon pledging allegiance to a Targaryen, but, in this moment, there are only heart eyes.
Arya seemingly contemplates sororicide
All of the joys of the Fellowship plotline were nearly overshadowed by the WTF-ness of the Winterfell storyline. While Gendry managed to set aside his differences with Beric and Thoros, two men who straight-up sold him to Melisandre in Season 3, Arya and Sansa, two sisters in a family lacking in members, couldn’t manage to do the same.
Perhaps there is a corner of the multiverse in which Game of Thrones could have sold the Arya Threatens to Kill Sansa storyline, but this is not it. While I get that Arya has suffered heaps of trauma that have made it difficult for her to form emotional bonds, she comes off like a psychopath in “Beyond the Wall” with relatively little direct lead-up to the about-face.
With better writing or direction, this plotline may have worked. After all, Sansa and Arya share a complicated past and are both being manipulated by Littlefinger, but, instead, the interpersonal drama here is rushed and sloppy. The episode does little to try to explain Arya’s specific emotional state or motivations, so she comes off like the unhinged villain-of-the-week in an episode of Merlin.
This feels more like an excuse to make Littlefinger relevant again than it does organic character development for Sansa or Arya. Or maybe Game of Thrones has trouble writing relationships between women? Perhaps both. I don’t know.
It doesn’t help that Arya’s threats are centered around her face-stealing superpowers. The ability to use rubber faces nicked from the props department to convincingly pretend to be someone else has never been my favorite plot device in Game of Thrones. The show has never made any real attempt to give this magic trick a logic (probably because it’s impossible within this TV show’s world building).
But if we must indulge in it, some questions: Was that Arya pretending to be Sansa when Sansa sent Brienne away? Who else has Arya been pretending to be with her many faces? Are the Stark girls actually faking their feud to throw Littlefinger off? Literally anything could happen in this storyline at this point and it would be just as logical as its set-up. Frankly, the logic of any storyline based on the Starks letting Littlefinger walk around Winterfell freely is suspect.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good