Title: Game of Thrones: “Beyond the Wall”
Air Date: August 20, 2017
Before we begin – Yes, there are Game of Thrones spoilers ahead. I will not celebrate every twist and turn, but if we are going to talk about what we like, we have to discuss the great scenes. Stop reading if you do not like spoilers. You have been warned!
Read our reviews for earlier episodes this season:
- Season 7 Premiere: “Dragonstone“
- Episode 2: “Stormborn“
- Episode 3: “The Queen’s Justice“
- Episode 4: “The Spoils of War“
- Episode 5: “Eastwatch“
This week’s episode of Game of Thrones seemed to be an extremely polarizing one, and we aren’t just talking about undead bears. The second to last episode in almost every season is usually regarded as a “game changer,” with impactful episodes like “Battle of the Bastards,” “Baelor,” “The Rains of Castamere,” and “Blackwater” all being part of the club. In some ways, “Beyond the Wall” kept that tradition alive. In others, it showcased (in the worst way) some of the serious pacing issues Game of Thrones is facing as it rockets towards its finale.
Nearly the entire episode focused on two central locations: Winterfell and north of the Wall. There were a few scenes on Dragonstone as well, but they were generally set up for the scenes north of the Wall. Game of Thrones has always found some of its best scenes involving odd pairings, and this episode was no exception. In the ill-fated trek north, we got to see the following gems, and this is only a partial list:
- Tormund teaching Gendry how best to fight against the cold: “We make do with what we have.”
- Jon trying to give Longclaw back to Jorah, only to have Jorah refuse.
- Tormund and the Hound discussing the former’s “woman in Winterfell.” The Hound discovers he is talking about Brienne.
- Jon and Beric contemplating resurrection, with Beric declaring “Death is the enemy.”
- Jorah and Thoros swapping war stories, including whether or not Jorah is either brave or just a dumb, lucky drunk (spoiler: it’s the second one).
In a show where we deal with characters who have essentially become superheroes, these humanizing moments are still some of the best things Game of Thrones has to offer. They also greatly exacerbate things when the show decides to throw its own logic out the window.
The first of my big complaints is this, and I know I said we would leave the time travel/teleportation aside. But I just couldn’t do it this week. After the army of the dead finds our merry gang, they send Gendry running back home. Never mind how he even finds where he is going, sprinting all the while. But how does he get back to the Wall, send a raven to Daenerys, she receives it, debates with Tyrion, and flies her dragons up North, all before the lake refreezes (or our heroes freeze to death?) Isn’t it always winter north of the Wall? Wouldn’t that lake essentially be frozen solid? It’s been winter for centuries. Don’t the White Walkers literally bring winter with them? Can’t they just touch the water and freeze it?
It seems nitpicky, but it’s annoying when a show sets up its own logic then breaks the hell out of it.
Meanwhile, there were some other great scenes involving this ill-fated excursion. The zombie polar bear was a terrifying beast, and watching the Hound freeze when confronted with flame was a pretty good callback. The revelation that killing a White Walker destroys their “raised” wights is a game changing one; the seemingly insurmountable numbers the Night King commands have a serious weak point now. The main battle between the army of the dead and Jon’s group was also impressive, although the random cannon fodder red shirts that kept appearing out of nowhere to die was a bit distracting. And don’t tell me you didn’t think Tormund was a goner.
Meanwhile, at Winterfell, the Arya-Sansa-Littlefinger spy games continue. I have a hard time believing that Arya and Sansa have taken Littlefinger’s bait so badly, and I kept waiting for Bran to show up and sort them out. I really hope there is some sort of plan going on between our sisters Stark, because I do not like the “little psycho” Arya at all, especially now that she thinks she is much more clever than she actually is. It did leave a tense scene where Arya threatens to steal Sansa’s face (and how absolutely bonkers would that be?), but it seems completely rushed, which brings me to my second main complaint of the episode.
As Game of Thrones comes to a close, the audience seems to barely have time to register moments. Thoros of Myr died. I know he wasn’t a huge character, but the ramifications of his death are massive (Beric and Jon are on their last lives now, provided another red priest doesn’t show up). Jon finally found Uncle Benjen, which was his original reason for going north of the Wall in the first place. Benjen was then swarmed and killed almost immediately after handing off his horse. We even got the death of a dragon, which was a completely badass scene, and Daenerys seemed to move, rather quickly, from “one of my children died yesterday” to “I want to hold this pretty man’s hand.”
Remember when she spent multiple episodes stomping around, screaming about her missing dragons? Now, one of them is dead. On top of that (unbeknownst to our characters), it has been reborn as an ice zombie dragon! That is cool as all hell, but this whirlwind of an episode has made it difficult to even take that morsel in.
I don’t yearn for the days of a single journey from Winterfell to King’s Landing taking five episodes, but the breakneck speed is disorienting and leads little time for emotional impact. Daenerys never even mentioned the name of which dragon went down – Viserion would be the most logical, due to the antagonistic relationship she had with her brother that will surely be replicated with our new zombified beastie. Some of the most powerful moments in Game of Thrones history have come from the show taking its time. And, with only seven total episodes left, there may not be time enough remaining for those moments to have an impact.
Verdict: I went a little tough on “Beyond the Wall,” but an episode of Game of Thrones is nearly always better than an episode of pretty much anything else. This episode still had some bombastic set pieces (the dragons’ assault on the army of the dead was amazing to watch) and some great intrigue, but the worst parts of the season are only amplifying as the stakes get higher.
- Great character interactions
- Phenomenal battle scenes
- Stakes have been raised even higher
- Incredibly rushed, decreasing emotional impact
- Logic is completely out the window