The enemy always wins, and we still need to fight him.
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Despite a changing of the seasons and a shorter slate of episodes, season seven has had one particular group be MIA up to this point: the White Walkers. The Night King and his army terrified us in their slow march scene in "Dragonstone", but after that, they've been out of the picture almost entirely. Not to worry: the war between Daenerys and Cersei has been put on hold, and that means almost all the surviving characters now have one, unified focus: defeating the Army of the Dead. At long last, we have a Game of Thrones episode whose plot is (almost) entirely dedicated to the Army of the Dead, unlike before when the White Walkers would only make up a large chunk of an episode here and there.
What should, on paper, be one of Game of Thrones' most exciting episodes turns out to be its most scrutinized, and not in a good way. I said before that one episode in season seven would get carried away with the ultra-fast pacing. This is that episode. The journey to retrieve a wight brings about a whole host of problems, many of which revolve around the logic-defying sense of time that the episode never really takes the time to establish. Does this journey take one day, or is it supposed to be spread out over the course of a week? This is one of those times where you could really use a "one week later" time card, so that you can have at least a basic idea of how much time Jon and his group have been out and about.
I know I'm making it sound like this is a bad episode, but there's too much exciting action and enjoyable dialogue to say that this episode has nothing of value. Plus, "Beyond the Wall" gives us what I think is the most crushing death scene since "The Door". If I'm talking about death scenes, I think I'll start off my actual review of the episode by talking about the other death that happens in this episode: the botched one. You would be correct to assume that at least one character in this superstar raiding party would be killed, and the character who gets the axe is Thoros of Myr, sadly the most disposable member of the group. Jon and his party run into a wight polar bear, and the bear makes lunch out of Thoros before the other men kill it. If Thoros had died right then and there, I wouldn't be making any sort of lengthy discussion out of his death, but what comes next is a true head-scratcher. Beric seemingly heals Thoros' wounds, and we later see Thoros walking with the rest of the group as if nothing happened (just a flesh wound). Then when the hoard of wights attack the group and they get trapped on the small island, Thoros apparently succumbs to his wounds and dies. So basically, Thoros was dead, then he was alive, and then he was dead again. He doesn't make any sort of final speech. We don't even see him so much as acknowledge to the rest of the group that he's not going to make it. There are no shots that focus on Thoros once the wights attack, which leaves his official death very jarring. Thoros may never have been a hugely important character, but this was not the way to let his character go out.
So Thoros gets killed, but "Beyond the Wall" frustratingly provides more evidence of plot armor for the other members of the raiding party. Now, I don't have a problem with characters like Jon and Beric surviving. The story still has to make sense at the end of the day, and some characters still have arcs they need to complete. What's frustrating is that some characters are put in situations where they should be killed, only for them to get saved in a miraculous fashion. This is especially bad with Tormund. When the wights begin to attack the island, Tormund is clearly getting yanked around by a group of wights, but they just can't seem to bite down on his flesh and kill him. I suppose the intention was to scare us by having Tormund come this close to getting killed, but when you see other wildlings get attacked and killed in a similar fashion, it's more an implication of plot armor than it is of Tormund getting lucky.
Ah yai yai. Let me shift to something different before I get too carried away. Back in Winterfell, Sansa and Arya show us that they still don't know how to get along, as Arya calls out Sansa on a letter she wrote back in season one, asking for Robb to swear fealty to Joffrey. This scene has drawn criticisms for.....I really don't know what. The majority of angry responses I've seen have revolved around what exactly Arya is trying to do here, especially because Sansa perfectly defends her stance, explaining that she was forced to write the letter and would never think about betraying her family. I think what Arya is alluding to is how fragile that trust is among the people of the North, and even something like a letter from long ago could make them fear that Sansa is secretly conspiring against the Northern Lords. Arya fully supports Jon and House Stark, and I think she raises a valid point here, as she can see signs that Sansa is not fully on board with Jon, and she's willing to be up front with Sansa about it. Did people forget the beef that Jon and Sansa had between each other in the first two episodes of the season? Arya is mostly bringing Sansa's cynicism back to the fold and herabout her true motivations. Now that Arya's trained as a faceless assassin, she knows she can confront Sansa without fear of death. I also think this kind of clash was inevitable, considering how much the two have changed since they last saw each other back in season one. They've walked down different roads, and they've picked up opposing ideals along the way. Arya has remained loyal to her House despite all her struggles, while Sansa has grown extremely skeptical of nearly everyone around her. Neither are wrong. They're just coming from two very different places.
Alrighty then, back to the stuff beyond the wall. There's a lot of laughs and enjoyment to be had from the various conversations between members of the raiding party early in the episode. Jon and Jorah have a neat little talk about Jeor Mormont, and why Jon should keep the Mormont family sword Longclaw. Jorah regrets having disgraced his House back in the day, so I think, to him, taking Longclaw would be an insult to both his father and his family's legacy. I hope for Jorah's sake that he never finds himself alone in a room with Lyanna Mormont. In other conversations, Gendry confronts Beric and the Brotherhood about them selling him off to Melisandre, with the Hound making light of Gendry's sexual encounter with her. The Hound is especially great here: questioning Tormund about his infatuation with Brienne, and throwing more insults around just because he can. An insult, however, is what triggers the wight hoard to attack the island: The Hound starts insulting the wights and throwing rocks at them, which ends up triggering them.
This is where the episode really picks up with the action. This is also, however, where the pacing is at its most problematic. First off, Gendry is able to run at lightning speed back to Eastwatch to tell Davos to send a raven to Dragonstone. Then when all hope seems lost for Jon and his group against the attacking wights, Daenerys and her dragons arrive. I can forgive the part about Daenerys flying all the way from Dragonstone to the where Jon and his group are. Dragons are fast flyers, so that's not worth nitpicking. What is worth nitpicking is how Gendry was able to get back to Eastwatch in record time, and then how was the raven able to get to Dragonstone, also in record time? If we had a better idea of how much time had passed while everyone was stuck on the island, then I think we'd all be a little more forgiving of how all these things happen so fast. Unfortunately, there's no dialogue to tell us how long the wight hoard has been staring at everyone on the island, and we never get an idea of exactly how far out from Eastwatch did they travel. All these problems are problems that could be easily fixed, but because it would be next to near impossible to spread everything over the course of, say, two episodes, it's almost like there was no choice but to rush through it all in a single run.
I am a bit forgiving, however, because my gosh does it hit you hard to watch what happens after Daenerys arrives with her dragons. A moment of pure exuberance (the dragons flying around and burning thousands of undead) is immediately followed by a death that none of us ever wanted: the death of one of the dragons. As soon as we see The Night King get handed an ice javelin, you just know one of the dragons is a goner. The Night King throws the javelin and kills poor Viserion, who screams in agony as blood comes pouring out of his neck area, until he falls to the ground and sinks into the water below. This is really tough to watch, and not just because of how graphic the scene is with Viserion bleeding and falling out of the sky. For so long, it seemed like there was nothing that could kill the dragons, and that's why it seemed inevitable that Daenerys would take the throne. But The Night King kills Viserion with one shot, and everyone stops and watches in horror, unwilling to believe that such a magnificent creature was killed. It's such a heartbreaking moment, that I think everyone completely forgets that The Night King tries (and fails) to kill Drogon just a few moments later.
On a slightly happier note, Jon and Daenerys finally come to be on full terms with one another. Daenerys vows to destroy the Night King and his army, and Jon bends the knee. I do hope it's readily obvious by now that these two are in love, especially after Daenerys sees Jon's wounds, finally understanding the slip of the tongue that Davos almost had back at their first meeting. So in the end, everyone leaves Eastwatch with heavy hearts, but oh no, the sadness quickly turns to fear when The White Walkers pull Viserion's body out of the lake (I'm not even going to think about getting into that stupid "where'd they get all the big chains?" debate), and The Night King resurrects him. The White Walkers did plenty before to scare us. Now they have a freaking dragon.
In my mind, "Beyond the Wall" is a love it or hate it kind of episode. Many will love it for its exhilarating action and its tragic loss of our beloved Viserion. Others will hate it and call it the worst Game of Thrones episode ever because of the break-neck pacing and logic-defying chain of events. For me personally, there are parts of the episode I love and other parts that I dislike. Anything potentially new I can add is this: this was a cursed episode before it was made, because either D&D and Alan Taylor had to go with an extremely rushed pace, or they would have to stretch out the journey beyond Eastwatch so paper thin, that we would get two episodes, both of which would have dull and lengthy sections of nothing happening. Either way, it was a can't win situation, unless D&D would have decided to scrap the screenplay altogether and try something new. Many angry Internet people will spend extensive amounts of time deriding this episode and saying all the writing has gone down the toilet. Always keep this in mind though: making movies and television series is hard work. We always have the easy job of just watching what was made. No matter how troubled the screenplay or the overall execution is "Beyond the Wall", there's still plenty of hard work that went into it, and that's something that can't be ignored.
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