It is a truth universally acknowledged that the penultimate episode of a typical Game of Thrones season is “shit goes down o’ clock.”
“Beyond the Wall,” the sixth episode of Season 7, continues this tradition with shocking deaths and game-changing revelations. Also, dragons battle White Walkers for the first time and, uh, it doesn’t go too well.
Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 7 episode 6, “Beyond the Wall”.
The North Remembers
In Winterfell, Arya confronts Sansa about the scroll she found in “Eastwatch”, in which Sansa (under duress) seemingly sided with the Lannisters in Season 1. Arya is livid that Sansa betrayed their family out of fear; Sansa is frustrated that Arya’s anger shields her from understanding the nuance in her tough choices.
As Arya recalls via a moving anecdote about Ned, “I knew what I was doing was against the rules but he was smiling so I knew it wasn’t wrong. The rules were wrong.” The sisters are ultimately on the same side, but Sansa has grown up in a structured society. She’s followed the rules and — after witnessing the corruption of those who make them — learned to bend them. Arya has had a frontier style adolescence, growing up on the road with lawless men. For years she’s lived removed from rules. Steeped in their specific and traumatic experiences, it’s no wonder Arya and Sansa struggle to see each other’s perspectives.
Littlefinger’s scheming with the scroll aside, this conversation has been necessary and inevitable since their reunion.
The Night is Dark and Full of Terrors
Jon Snow’s expedition with his band of Merry Men obviously doesn’t go smoothly. The first shakeup is Thoros’s death. After he’s attacked by a terrifying zombie polar bear, he’s weakened. Later, when the group gets stranded in the middle of a frozen lake, surrounded by the army of the dead, they huddle for warmth. (Note that Jon snuggles with the Hound). Unfortunately, the wounded Thoros still freezes to death in the night. Since Melisandre conveniently left Westeros earlier in the season, this means resurrection is off the table as a plot point. The Lord of Light is closed.
Luckily, the second shakeup is a helpful one. When Jon shatters a White Walker with Longclaw, the other wights fall too. As Jorah and Beric note, this is a big deal. Jon and his squad might not need to kill the entire army of the dead — they just need to take out the Night King. Targeting one guy is much easier than an entire army. It’s not like he has a dragon, or anything…
The Lannisters Send Their Regards
At Dragonstone, Tyrion takes Daenerys to task for executing the Tarlys last episode. He’s concerned Daenerys isn’t looking at the big picture. Since she can’t have kids, there’s no telling who might rule after her. Daenerys is offended that Tyrion is thinking about her death, and takes him to task for poor short term planning with their military setbacks. Just like Sansa and Arya, this confrontation is a long time coming. It doesn’t end with a resolution, but it airs sentiments that needed to be acknowledged.
Curiously, it’s also one of three references to Dany’s potential offspring. Later in “Beyond the Wall,” she tells Jon she can’t have kids, and when Jon offers to return Longclaw to Jorah, Jorah shoots him down by saying, “It will serve you well. And your children after you.” Jorah gives Jon the same significant look he wears when he talks about Daenerys — implying he thinks Jon’s future kids could have a silver-haired mother. Hmm. Three kid references in one episode is a lot for someone who is supposedly infertile.
I don’t know what that means
“I don’t know what that means” has become the default for poor Sansa dealing with her newly weird siblings. She first said it earlier in the season in response to Bran’s proclamation that he’s the Three-eyed Raven. Now she says it in response to Arya’s explanation of Faceless Men. Her discovery of Arya’s bag of faces is the episode’s clunkiest scene. But at least she now knows more about what she’s dealing with.
Going into the Season 7 finale, everything is tense at Winterfell: the sister’s relationship is uncertain, the Northern Lords loyalty is questionable, and Brienne is gone to King’s Landing to rep Sansa at the big Wight in A Bag conference.
All Men Must Die
No offense to Thoros (RIP), but his death pales in comparisons to Viseron’s. When Daenerys rides North with her dragons to rescue the stranded Jon and company (after receiving the fastest raven in the world thanks to Gendry channeling Usain Bolt), the Night King takes Viserion right out of the sky with a brutal throw of his lance.
It shocks everyone, even Tormund and the Hound (who spend a delightful portion of the episode shooting the shit about Brienne). After the humans skedaddle, the Night King turns Viseron into an undead ice dragon. So the good news is that all Jon needs to do to defeat the army of the dead is to take out the Night King. The bad news is, he has a fucking ice dragon now.
I Will Take What is Mine with Fire and Blood
Viserion and Thoros aren’t the only deaths in “Beyond the Wall.” After Viseron’s, Jon charges the Night King. It’s the same reckless, near suicidal impulsivity he used in Season 6’s “The Battle of the Bastards,” when he went against Sansa’s advice and galloped alone towards an enemy army, trying to save Rickon. It must be his Targaryen blood.
Since the rest of the gang is already aboard the dragon, Daenerys flies away at Jon’s request. Alone with the army of the dead, Jon seems screwed until he’s saved by a Benjen Ex Machina. His undead uncle Benjen Stark — last seen also appearing from nowhere to save Bran and Meera in Season 6 — appears from nowhere! He sacrifices himself to the army of the dead, helping Jon escape on his horse.
While Jon recovers and shares a tender moment with Daenerys, Game of Thrones makes it clear that their relationship is skewing towards romance, even though some of us think it’s ill advised.
But after all that trouble, at least the Magnificent Seven succeed in bringing back a wight in a bag — setting up a hell of a work conference in King’s Landing for the Season 7 finale.
That Game of Thrones Season 7 finale will air on Sunday, August 27 at 9 p.m. on HBO