Game of Thrones Recap: “Beyond the Wall”
Tyrion Lannister has had his share of bad ideas throughout the run of Game of Thrones, and kidnapping a White Walker from beyond the wall to prove to Cersei who her true enemies are might be the absolute worst. The idea was so spectacularly ludicrous that it was dumber than his idea to send his niece Myrcella to Dorne for safekeeping (she was used as bait and eventually murdered), or trusting Littlefinger as a confidant while he was the Hand of the King to Joffrey (Littlefinger eventually framed Tyrion for murder), or joining the battlefield during Stannis’ assault on King’s Landing (he was knocked unconscious and nearly killed by one of Joffrey’s assassins), or making a deal with slavers in Meereen while Dany was away (the slavers predictably turned on him and launched a armada assault)—no, this plan to go beyond the wall to fetch a member of the living dead was Tyrion’s masterpiece of stupidity.
Let’s quickly unpack the plan’s strategic lunacy. Since when do wights go for solo strolls? If you’re not expecting to catch one alone (and you shouldn’t), how do you plan on separating one from the many? Even if you do manage to snag an ice zombie, why do you think this will be the thing to make Cersei, for the first time in her life, think of the greater good over the immediate interests of her ever-dwindling family? And finally, once Jon foolishly signs on, how do you countenance the fact that you’re risking the King of the North’s life, and the favor all those who follow him, for a plan this threadbare? Predictably this all ends in disaster.
First, a note about the speed with which things are happening; holy hell am I really wishing Game of Thrones would just slow down for a little bit? All those seasons of stately placed, sadistic plot machinations, where the promise of confrontation between two major players would be teased in a premiere, deepened in the next half dozen episodes, and perhaps, perhaps satiated in the penultimate episode or the finale, are a thing of the past. All that godforsaken time we spent with Dany, traversing so far south and so very far from the Westeros power center that every fresh political disaster in Meereen was met with an agonized groan seems like a golden era of plotting in comparison to our current breakneck drag race to the finish. Suddenly everything seems to be happening at once and at terrific speed. Not only are the major conflicts we’ve been waiting for since Bran was first pushed out of a window by a horny Jaime Lannister happening minute after minute, folks are zipping around the realm as if they’ve got access to their own Westerosi Air Force One. One minute Jon’s brooding in Winterfell, the next he’s brooding in Dragonstone, you blink, there’s Jon brooding in Eastwatch, you sneeze and Jon’s in peak brood, face-to-face with the Night King, you scratch your elbow and now Dany’s face-to-face with the Night King! Has no one in Westeros ever listened to Simon and Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge”? Slow down, folks, you move too fast!
So anyway, the merry band of murderers, drunks, lunatics, bastards and Friend Zones (sorry, Jorah) that went beyond the wall to carry out Tyrion’s plan were, of course, almost immediately besieged by disaster. First, it was a zombie polar bear attack (!!!) which was sort of a thing of beauty, set-up wise. The gang sees something rather large, but alone, in the snowy, blustery distance. Might this be the very thing they need, a wight somehow separated from the pack? No, no it is not. It’s a zombie polar bear, and it sinks its teeth into poor Thoros’s chest. This is bad news for everyone, beacuse Thoros had all the booze, but especially Beric—Thoros is the one who keeps bringing him to back to life, after all. Beric cauterizes Thoros’s wounds with his flaming sword (ouch), but Thoros isn’t long for this world anymore.
Thanks, Tyrion! Courtesy HBO.
The gang manages to kill the polar bear, only to eventually find themselves surrounded by thousands of Wights (how did they not assume that this is precisely what was going to happen?), saved only by some precious (and plot-necessary) thin ice that keeps the undead from advancing on the small rock island they’re marooned on.
Jon’s aware their predicament is grave and sends Gendry running back to the Wall (!!!) because he’s the fastest (???) to send a raven back to Dany, alerting her to their precarious position. Once again we’re forced to reconcile the constantly shifting notions of distance in Westeros, where things that once seemed very far from each other (the north and the south, Winterfell and King’s Landing, the Wall and everything else) are now only a nearly murderous sprint away. Gendry runs all night and makes it back to the wall. A raven is sent from the Wall to Dragonstone and gets there, apparently, in an hour. We need Stephen Hawking to explain this show’s stupefying relation to time and space.
Back in Winterfell, things are also quite dumb. Why is Arya so insistent upon menacing Sansa? Why would she be this furious about her sister’s years-old plea, via raven, that Winterfell bend the knee to Joffrey when she was essentially a child at the time, one who was being forcibly controlled by a murderous family and a sociopathic freak she was forced to marry? After everything she’s been through, why is Arya focusing on making her sister’s life miserable, even intimating violence, and not focusing on the very top of her kill list, Cersei? Is this all some ploy in order to dupe Littlefinger? Are both of the Stark girls in on it? Honestly if not, if Arya’s this easily manipulated by Littlefinger, and if she’s really intent on destroying her own sister, she’s evolving in the wrong way. She’s become the heartless killer we all feared she might, even as we cheered her on her quest for vengeance. And all this sibling nastiness in Winterfell is made all the more frustrating because it’s being featured in an episode in which a bunch of dudes with way more reason to loathe each other have come together in a display of manly bonhomie and brotherhood. The Stark sisters have been through as much, if not more, than any other characters in this show, and they’ve both grown immeasurably, yet here they are bickering and fighting and completely missing the bigger picture, or the quite obvious fact that Littlefinger is, once again, meddling in their affairs. Arya’s mocking Sansa’s penmanship, her cruel intimidation with her Valryian steel dagger (suggesting that all she needs to become Sansa is Sansa’s face), and then Sansa’s confusing decision to send Brienne, her protector, to King’s Land to answer a summons from Cersei—does any of this make sense? Let’s hope its all a big bait and switch on Littlefinger, and not the first moves of an all out war between the Stark sisters.
Zipping back beyond the Wall, Jon and the boys bed down for the night on their frozen rock island surrounded by an icy moat, and wake up to a brand new day of fresh stupidity. Having not been there when this wildly idiotic plan was hatched, the Hound decides he wants in on the moronic action. The Hound! Typically the most sensible man in Westeros (his pragmatism is often bad news for the people he’s around, mind you) starts tossing rocks at the Wights, for sport, I guess, because he’s bored and grumpy, and also because he has not thought this through. Naturally the ice has hardened over night, not that the Wights would have known that, because they’re more or less mindless, unless someone threw a few rocks and they slid across the now hardened ice, showing the Wights that the moat has frozen and passage is possible.
Cue certain death for the King of the North and everyone else. Literally everyone else, as in the whole of Westeros.
Cue Dany and all three of her dragons!
Yes, Gendry’s dash for the Wall, the raven’s flight to Dragonstone, Dany’s flight from to Dragonstone to beyond the wall—this all happened in the time it takes to heat up a Hot Pocket. Let’s forget the time and space stuff for a minute and just behold two things at once; the first is finally seeing dragons torch the dead (fun!), and second, the final deathblow to Tyrion’s claim as some kind of three dimensional chess player. Look, everyone loves Tyrion, and with good reason, but his trying to talk Dany out of flying in to rescue Jon was infuriating precisely because he was so right and precisely because she was of course going to fly to Jon’s rescue because Tyrion had made that reality possible. And if you were really a 3D chess player, you would have gamed out this inevitability; the dragons being turned on their master.
It always stood to reason that once the inevitable clash between ice and fire took place, the worst possible outcome imaginable would happen; Dany’s dragons would be killed and turned into mindless slaves at the dead’s behest by the Night King. It is only by luck (and narrative necessity) that Dany wasn’t killed herself, and that two of her three dragons escaped. Viseron, however, was not so lucky. The beast was felled by a well thrown ice spear by the Night King himself. Dany was shocked. Cue Jon in selfless, heroic, foolish mode; he sends Dany, Drogon and his boys packing before the Night King can land another spear, this time possibly in Drogon’s heart. The gang, sans Jon, fly off. Jon goes for a dip in the icy water, becoming the second major character in the last two episodes to go sinking into the great beyond with no chance of survival.
Like Jaime Lannister, Jon of course survives. And what’s more, he’s saved from inevitable death (after the inevitable death of sinking into an icy lake beneath ten thousand wights) by uncle Benjen, who is never not there for a Stark north of the Wall. Benjen gives Jon his horse and sacrifices himself because…I’m not actually sure. He’s a selfless dude with some sort of northern greyscale situation on his face who was maybe tired of living in a world without dermatology. Why he didn’t just ride with Jon on the horse to the Wall will be one of those mysteries we’ll forget about in three, two…
The episode ends with two major moments we probably should have seen coming. One is Dany at Jon’s bedside, below deck, as they sail back to Dragonstone. There is some hand holding and smoldering looks, and there is Jon bending the knee (metaphorically, he’s bed-ridden) and Dany in tears about the loss of Viseron, and, Jon’s belief in her. Jon calls her his queen after Dany promised to join in his fight against the Night King, now that she’s got skin in the game. Jon calls her his queen after Dany sees the scars on his chest and knows for certain what she only previously felt; like her, he is special. Dany is grieving over the loss of one of her children, and this moment between them (he even calls her Dany) is so loaded with feeling and import that it seems this was the entire point of this whole haphazard plan to begin with; uniting Dany and Jon for good, in a way that won’t be broken by whatever’s to come. For Westeros to have any chance to survive, Dany and Jon were always going to have to come together, and not just in the politically expedient way. They needed to believe in one another, trust one another, and perhaps, love one another.
So yes, Tyrion’s plan was outrageously stupid, but the result may just save the realm.
Oh, right, there’s just one more thing; the episode ends with Night King’s dead goons dragging Viseron out of the water so that he can turn Dany’s beloved, beastly child into his most prized soldier yet. Will Viseron still breathe fire? Or some kind of annihilating stream of ice? Thanks to Tyrion, we’ll find out!
But most likey we won’t find out in next Sunday’s finale, which will probably have a lot more Lannister action (this episode had none).
Until next time, remember, it’s not just people in glass houses who shouldn’t throw stones, it’s all of us! Especially those of us beyond the wall! Seriously, the Hound did that? The Hound!
Featured image: Episode 66 (season 7, episode 6), debut 8/20/17: Iain Glen, Kit Harington, Kristofer Hivju. Photo: Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO