The penultimate episode of every “Game of Thrones” season has historically been action-filled and exciting as it preps for the inevitable chaos of the finale. “Beyond the Wall” more than lives up to this reputation and proves that winter is indeed coming.
The episode opens back on our merry band of zombie-killers, ready to bring back a captive to sway Cersei (Lena Headey) into sending Southern troops. The team consists of characters we all know well, but they are mostly strangers to each other. This dynamic is interestingly represented in the format of the early scenes, which resemble a picaresque of conversations between the group’s individuals.
Jon (Kit Harington) and Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), still close from Jon’s dealings with the Wildlings, playfully reminisce. The fun-loving Tormund momentarily sobers up when Jon brings up Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) insistence upon him bending the knee (and his refusal). While the Tormund Jon knows is brash and headstrong, the Wildling reveals his hidden depths when he reminds Jon that the price of pride can be lives, alluding to all the casualties suffered during Mance Rayder’s (Ciaran Hinds) own refusal to bend the knee.
The mood lightens up when Gendry (Joe Dempsie) tries to confront Thoros (Paul Kaye) and Beric (Richard Dormer) for selling him to Melisandre (Carice van Houten), who wanted to use his Baratheon blood for magic. Poor Gendry probably visualized this confrontation for years, but it doesn’t go to plan as the class clowns of Red Priest school laugh off his outrage. Even Sandor (Rory McCann) joins in, silencing Gendry’s complaints by sardonically pointing out that Beric’s “been killed six times, but you don’t hear him bitching about it.”
Near the mountain of Sandor’s fiery vision, Beric explains to Jon that they’re about to face almost insurmountable odds. but that their role is to risk death to protect those unable to protect themselves, a philosophy that reminds Jon of his Night’s Watch vows.
Also, notably, Beric points out that Jon doesn’t much resemble Ned (Sean Bean). “You must favor your mother,” he remarks, not yet realizing just how true this is; as we saw in season six’s finale, Jon is basically a mini-Lyanna. As these comments and incidents regarding Jon’s blood start piling up, the big reveal has to be coming soon.
The Wight Fight
The fighting begins as a dark blotch in the distance approaches and reveals itself to be a vicious bear wight. Thoros (with his flaming sword, much to Sandor’s consternation) shares the title of MVP this fight with Jorah; however, before the disgraced-but-redeemed Mormont can dispatch the undead creature of his sigil, it gravely wounds Thoros.
Westeros’ suicide squad has little time to rest as it encounters and ambushes a troop of White Walkers. Interestingly, when one is killed, most of the rest fall to pieces, implying that their life force is linked to the wight that turns them; should they manage to kill the Night King, the group members reason, the army would be defeated.
Finally, they capture a hostage to take back south, ordering Gendry to return to Eastwatch and send Dany a raven telling her as much. Gendry must have been a regular participant in the Westeros Marathon, because he reaches Eastwatch in record time and with minimal damage; soon, he sends a raven to Dragonstone.
Back at the island, Dany praises Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) for his quieter approach to heroism, criticizing the recklessness of Drogo (Jason Momoa), Jorah, Daario (Michiel Huisman) and Jon. The Dragon Queen’s composure falters when Tyrion smirks about Jon being in a list among her lovers, but she deflects as quickly as a middle schooler being questioned about her crush on the popular kid.
Having taken Varys’ (Conleth Hill) advice to heart, Tyrion tries to find a more effective way of getting through to Dany; this isn’t his episode, though. After he criticizes the burning of the Tarlys as impulsive, Dany accuses him of taking his family’s side. When he changes the subject to that of her succession, she is suspicious about her Hand planning for her death. After receiving Gendry’s letter, she ignores his pleas to stay back and avoid an heirless demise, rather flying North with all her dragons and leaving behind a dejected Tyrion.
Dany and her dragons arrives just in time — Jon’s band find themselves surrounded by thin ice and White Walkers. Overnight, Thoros succumbed to his wounds, and Sandor incites a skirmish when he tosses stones at a White Walker.
In the midst of the battle, Jon and Dany share a painfully soft glance as she begins to haul him up onto Drogon (tough luck, everyone else). Their loving reunion is rudely cut short by a charging White Walker who’s probably as unconvinced by this romance’s pacing as we are. Of course, Dany doesn’t listen when Jon urges her to leave without him.
Unfortunately, this romantic gesture gives the Night King time to hurl an icy javelin at gentle Viserion; the poor dragon goes down with a screech, a sizzle and lots of blood before his corpse slides beneath the ice as Dany and her allies look on in horror. Seeing the Night King readying another javelin, Jon again tells Dany to leave; this time, she doesn’t have to be told twice. As he runs towards her, he slips and falls underwater, and she looks back with concern.
His allies safely airborne, Jon surfaces after a few suspenseful seconds and climbs out. However, he’s now surrounded by enemies and so frozen that he can barely stand straight. Luck’s on his side today, though, and his slightly-dead uncle Benjen (Joseph Mawle) shows up for another short cameo. Wielding a flaming ball-and-chain contraption, Benjen carves a path through the White Walkers, pulls Jon onto his horse, sends the horse off and continues fighting them to ensure his nephew’s safe escape. Of course, this begs the question of whether both of them could have fit on the horse and survived; maybe Benjen’s horse is the new “Titanic” door. Regardless, Benjen dies tragically, this time for good; the older Stark generation is now all gone.
Soon, Benjen’s horse arrives back at Eastwatch. Dany is relieved but horrified when she sees the deep wounds Jon has suffered; to her credit, she hadn’t seen him rise from the dead.
Once Jon comes to, Dany pledges to send her troops, having seen dangerous White Walkers firsthand. Jon thanks her, awkwardly calling her “Dany” before she informs him that Viserys (Harry Lloyd) was the only one who used that nickname (in universe, that is. Sorry, Dany). He quickly backtracks to call her “… my Queen.” To summarize, after she finally offered her unconditional support, Jon got too familiar with his crush and made himself her vassal out of social embarrassment. All’s fair in love and war, but we’ll have to see how this goes down with the stubborn and distrustful Northerners.
While things at Winterfell are quieter, they certainly aren’t much steadier than beyond The Wall. Arya (Maisie Williams) reminisces about Ned with Sansa (Sophie Turner), telling a tale from their youth about her illicitly practicing archery with Bran’s (Isaac Hempstead Wright) bow until her skill surpassed that of her formally trained brother. When she hit the bullseye, Ned applauded her instead of scolding her. With a sad, loving look in her eyes, Arya explains that “the rules were wrong. I was doing what I was meant to be doing, and he knew it.
The heartwarming memory gave us a brief spot of hope that the sisters would put aside their differences in favor of their blood bond. No such luck, though: The whole story was just a front for Arya to accuse Sansa of killing Ned, and she produces the letter from last episode. Arya mistakes Sansa’s unease at remembering being held hostage by the Lannisters as Joffrey’s (Jack Gleeson) betrothed for guilt and doesn’t believe that Sansa was forced to write the letter as a frightened young girl.
Even when Sansa points out that she, not Jon, won back Winterfell in the Battle of the Bastards through her alliance with the Knights of the Vale, Arya threatens to show the letter to the Northern lords. Their fickleness would definitely result in Sansa’s grasp on the North slipping.
Later on, we see Sansa consulting Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) for advice. Of course, Littlefinger’s last plan for Sansa was marrying her to a sadist; does her desperation move her to trust him again? Or does the acting Lady of Winterfell perhaps have something up her sleeve, sensing Littlefinger’s influence in Arya’s possession of the letter?
In any case, she goes against the little advice he gave her — to consult Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), the sisters’ sworn protector, to repair their bond — when she receives a summons to King’s Landing and sends Brienne in her stead. Brienne is reluctant to leave Sansa, even begging the girl to keep Podrick (Daniel Portman) behind for protection against Littlefinger and untrustworthy guards. Sansa smarts at the implication that she can’t protect herself and sends both Brienne and her squire to King’s Landing. Once Brienne leaves, Sansa relaxes her tense posture, looking pensive as she leans back. Could this also have been part of a potential plan?
All alone now, Sansa sneaks into Arya’s room to find the letter; a quick rummage through her younger sister’s things reveals a plethora of stolen faces. Arya finds and slowly corners Sansa while describing her Faceless Man education. Then things start to get hairy.
As we know from the story she told earlier, Arya has a history of trying Bran’s hobbies and ending up being way better at them; creeping out Sansa is no exception, it seems. Arya picks up the Valyrian steel dagger from her table and continues advancing towards her sister. Lamenting that she and Sansa lost their dream futures, Arya explains that being a Faceless Man allows her once more to freely be whoever she wants. Tension mounts as Arya starts musing about stealing the defenseless Lady of Winterfell’s face. Then, wordlessly, she hands Sansa the dagger and exits the room.
An easy reunion was never in the stars, but with their relationship taking a homicidal turn, Sansa and Arya are at risk of perishing as lone wolves during this long winter.
The dangerously chilly winter is about to take a deadly hot twist, too. With all the humans concerned safely in the embrace of civilization, the White Walkers effect a new plan. Displaying a shocking degree of teamwork, they throw chains beneath the ice and pull until they dredge out Viserion’s body. Then, in the moment we all kind of saw coming (but really hoped wouldn’t actually happen), the Night King steps forward and touches the dragon. Viserion’s lifeless amber eyes open once more — only now, they’re ice blue.
Sahana Rangarajan covers “Game of Thrones.” Contact her at [email protected].