Spoilers Ahead on Game Of Thrones Season 7, Episode 6
“Beyond the Wall” is an intense nail biter that culminated in a gut punch. Like Jon’s suicide squad on top of the mound being surrounded on all sides, “Beyond the Wall” is a tight, contained episode that focused on a few core story lines and no King’s Landing scenes.
Nooooo!!!! I felt dread as the white walker took the ice spear and hurled it at Viserion the dragon. That white walker has the arm of an Olympic javelin thrower! I was taken aback seeing Viserion’s blood spew out and crash into the frozen lake. Of course it hurts to see a magnificent dragon taken down, at the same time, I can see why it’s needed to push the story forward. The White Walkers are the greatest threat and we needed to see that three fire-breathing dragons aren’t going to be enough to stop them. The show would be over had Dany burned them all up in one fell swoop; there wouldn’t be a need for a final season.
There are funny memes going around how the The White Walkers are staying put until the other plot lines finish. It’s funny because there is some truth to that. However, because the Wall is imbued with magic specifically to keep them out, the White Walkers haven’t been able to cross it. Now that The White Walkers have a dragon in their control, it is a game changer. It’s a twist of fate that Dany trying to stop the White Walkers with dragons is the very thing that may help The White Walkers proceed down south.
The other major consequence to loosing a dragon is that Dany is now all in. It’s one thing to hear stories of an undead army it’s another to fight them firsthand. She’s emotionally invested in the fight against the Night King, for the sake of the realm and vengeance for her child. Conquering the Iron Throne requires a fair degree of ruthless cruelty, something which she has demonstrated. A tragedy that could tempt a person to embrace their dark side is loosing their child. However, in Dany’s case so far, it appears to have crystallized her resolve to do what’s right. And of course, her grief is counterbalanced with her growing admiration for Jon Snow.
“Heroes do stupid things and they die.” Dany has a good handle on the folly of heroism, certainly within the context of Game of Thrones where many honorable, do-gooders loose their head. When she’s not burning captured soldiers alive, Dany has a measured heroic side that can emerge. She answered the raven’s message to save Jon, Jorah and company beyond the wall, risking herself, the dragons and the realm. Dany also made the tough call to leave Jon behind in order to save the others. As Dany continues to fall for Jon, it will be interesting to see how it may impact her decisions moving forward. Dany’s blindspot that Tyrion has put a finger on is that it’s incredibly challenging to wear the crown of conqueror and ruler at the same time. A leader should have a well-formulated vision. For Dany, she has some notion of breaking the wheel. The question is does Dany have the inner power to let go the Iron Throne after she gets it?
In previous seasons, some of the best meaningful arcs simply focused on strong characters with strong personalities playing off of each other like Jamie & Brienne and The Hound & Arya. Jon’s suicide squad is an assortment of some of the best and baddest characters assembled. The dialogue exchange between Tormund and the Hound is terrific, crass humor. Jorah rightfully giving Longclaw back to Jon is classy and honorable. It’s also super cool seeing Lord Beric light up his sword every time. And you don’t realize how much you truly like a character until Tormund is about to get pulled under water and you’re talking to the screen saying “he better not die!” The interplay between these characters is fantastic and I would have loved to have seen more of it if the season was longer. Thoros of Myr went out with honor, though I’m glad it’s him rather than any of the other squad members. And it looks like the writers wanted to tie up loose ends with Uncle Benjen giving up his life after an awkwardly quick family reunion.
The preceding sequence of events is designed to take down a dragon and turn it into a wight. For example, fighting the blue-eyed undead bear set the stage for a dragon to be turned into a wight. The broad brush strokes of how things went down in “Beyond The Wall” is mostly satisfying and I’m eagerly anticipating what’s next. The action sequences are well done but I’m going to nitpick that the execution is a bit clumsy. One problem is that even though the extra squad members where established in the background, when it came time for the action it was confusing to know who got killed. On first watch, it felt like random people out of nowhere getting killed. At least establish the expendable red shirts more noticeably before offing them. It’s also best to go with the flow when it comes to the passage of time between Gendry running back to Eastwatch, sending the raven and then Dany flying from Dragonstone all in the nick of time to save the squad.
In Winterfell, Arya’s tension with Sansa feels a little over manufactured. When Arya grabbed Littlefinger’s dagger, walked over to Sansa as the music intensified and handed the dagger over it didn’t make much sense in that context. I mean, I wasn’t convinced Arya would cut off Sansa’s face. I get that this scene shows the sisters are at odds with another and Arya is sort of like saying “make your next move carefully” by giving Sansa the dagger. For Arya, vengeance consumes the soul. Even if Arya’s crosses off every name left on her list, including Cersei’s, her thirst for vengeance will not be satiated. This is because what’s driving Arya’s dark side is unresolved resentment. And she has good reasons to be resentful. The sister’s sibling rivalry worked better in Season 1 because it arose naturally and Ned was a reasonable mediator who could articulate where both sides were coming from. I only hope that Arya can learn to forgive Sansa and forgive herself for not being able to help Myca the butcher’s boy, her father and her family at the Red Wedding.
As much as Sansa has grown up, she is still driven by her childhood dream to become a Queen. Does Sansa want to complete her character arc from pawn to Queen at Jon’s expense? I don’t typically think of Sansa as having a dark side, yet she personally unleashed the hounds on Ramsay. She had a real hatred towards Ramsay but only a difference of opinions with Jon. Everybody has their character flaws. It won’t be malevolence or resentment that would drive Sansa to the dark side, it would be her growing arrogance. It’s a double edged sword to send Brienne away because she’s creating the opporutnity to dispose of Arya if needed but also sent away her most loyal protector. On the flip side, Sansa shouldn’t go to King’s Landing herself since it hardly goes well when a Stark goes south, Cersei is laying a trap and she can’t send Littlefinger in her place because she shouldn’t trust him.
Down: The Dragons We’ve seen the full grown dragons win battles. We’ve seen Drogon take a scorpion bolt to its shoulder and be none the worse for wear. The Dragons appeared to be virtually unstoppable. Now a single ice spear has them fleeing for their lives, showing how vulnerable they can be. If Dany has to fight an ice dragon, her undead child, it could be devastating.
Up: The White Walkers Adding a wight dragon to their undead army is a big plus. Their weakness is if they die it also means that anything they turned will instantly die too. And if Beric’s theory is correct, killing the Night King will end everything that’s has been turned.
The penultimate episodes are typically action packed and eventful. Some of the execution and details in “Beyond The Wall” could have used more finesse, but overall it does hit upon some great moments. In comparison, last year’s Battle of Winterfell was more epic; also it was very cathartic seeing a hated villain get his due and the Stark flag unfurled at Winterfell again. As the big bad, The White Walkers made things personal by killing a dragon, so that we as an audience are emotionally invested in their complete destruction. Resurrecting the dragon ups the ante and I expect that the bonus sized season finale will likely see the stakes raised even more.