“Beyond the Wall” Plot Summary:
Arya (Maisie Williams) confronts Sansa (Sophie Turner) after finding a letter. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) debate her methods. Jon (Kit Harington) leads an expedition beyond the Wall to capture a wight.
Wow. As I attempt to describe the events of “Beyond the Wall” and my thoughts on what transpired, know that everything that follows can be more succinctly (and perhaps more precisely) encapsulated in one word: wow.
While the episode’s most exciting and eventful moments fittingly occur beyond the Wall, both Winterfell and Dragonstone experience their fair share of intrigue. So before we get into the real meat of the episode, let’s delve into the other events occurring around Westeros, shall we?
After establishing how well Arya and Sansa have learned to see through deception and politics, the idea that the two of them could so easily fall for Littlefinger’s (Aidan Gillen) trap is surprising; I keep waiting (or hoping) for the show to reveal that the two Stark women are actually playing Littlefinger, but no evidence supports that theory at the moment. Though the conflict appropriately plays with each woman’s learned sense of mistrust and instinctive pursuit of survival, the plotline unfortunately undermines their intelligence.
Nonetheless, Sansa and Arya’s confrontation is bursting with dramatic potential. Seeing the two size each other up and consider the appropriate means of addressing the situation is incredibly tense and heartbreaking. Winterfell may not be the most exciting locale featured this week, but turning your attention away from these scenes is impossible. As much as viewers may cheer for these characters to throw away their misgivings and finally unite as allies, the thought that any moment could see these sisters do something to irreparably destroy their relationship (or lives) elevates this somewhat frustrating conflict to peak drama.
Likewise, after witnessing Daenerys learn how to be a just yet merciful leader determined to inspire fear in her enemies and love in her followers, her refusal to listen to Tyrion’s advice doesn’t quite feel true to character. In her (and the show’s) defense, though, the war has clearly taken a toll on Daenerys and her philosophy; while Tyrion appears to be gravitating towards the fear that Daenerys may not be able to commit to the ideals she previously voiced, this crisis of conscience could simply be a trial she must endure on her way to “breaking the wheel.” The other development in Daenerys’s story this week, on the other hand, is perhaps more concerning. If there was ever any doubt, the show is clearly hinting at a romance between Jon and Daenerys.
Asides from the dramatic irony that the two are maybe, probably, almost definitely blood relatives, this development is problematic because Daenerys has become uncharacteristically weak in the knees as of late. Placing so much attention on her attraction towards Jon is distracting from other important aspects of her storyline, especially considering that Jon (despite his clear attraction to Daenerys as well) isn’t suffering from the same shrinking of narrative focus. For example, during the episode’s brilliant climax, Daenerys appeared much more concerned with Jon than the fate of her dragons. If we know anything about the Mother of Dragons, we know that nothing is more important to her than her “children.” Presenting her in any other way is a misrepresentation of her character. Hopefully next week’s finale, which appears to be more politically focused, will give the show a chance course correct for her character.
Of course, all of that criticism can essentially be ignored because of the events that took place north of the Wall. This episode may have contained flaws and questionable decisions from the writers, but Jon’s journey to catch a wight is almost entirely exempt from them. Whether you want to think of Jon’s group as the Westerosi version of the Avengers, the Suicide Squad, or any other team of misfits that comes to mind, the expedition party has indisputable chemistry and finds themselves in one of the most epic battles you’ll ever see on television.
Having been disappointed last week that the show didn’t feature the team getting to know each other more, I was pleased that the characters had time in “Beyond the Wall” to get acquainted, settle lingering disputes, and make surprising connections. Jon’s conversation with Jorah (Iain Glen) is as emotional as expected for two men who lost a father figure, yet they end up sharing a more powerful gesture and bond than I would have guessed. Similarly, Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) bringing up the fact that he and Jon are the only ones to have been resurrected by the Lord of Light is predictable; however, Dondarrion manages to frame their shared peculiarity such that Jon learns to appreciate him as more than a religious fanatic. And then there’s Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and the Hound (Rory McCann). I would absolutely watch a buddy action-comedy featuring those two.
Yet as fun as those interactions were, they were completely eclipsed by the action and horror that followed as the Westerosi Avengers came face-to-face with the army of the dead. Yes, the plan is rather ill-conceived. Yes, the fact that Gendry (Joe Dempsie), a raven, and the dragons are able to travel so fast is doubtful. Yes, Daenerys could be more emotional about the attack on her dragons. But that battle was far too exciting for me to care about such silly details! The tension is high, the fighting is brutal, and every moment is beautifully shot.
This plan is a suicide mission from the start, and the result perfectly captures the stakes and danger the characters are in. The battle for the wight is the perfect blend of desperation, teamwork, and violence, an engrossing look at their dueling commitment towards survival, camaraderie, and purpose in the face of utter futility. And then the dragons arrive, leading to the jaw-dropping clash between mythical forces that viewers have waited years to see. Without going too heavily into spoilers, the final product does meet expectations; rather, the scene shatters all expectations and finds a way to completely change the game. The fallout from this battle will likely be monumental and reverberate throughout all of the events to come, making this already impressive scenario even more dramatic.
The episode’s final shot alone is enough to give fans everywhere a reason to squeal with excitement. If you weren’t counting down the days until the premiere of the next and final season of Game of Thrones, you will now.
Even with the episode’s noticeable issues, I cannot heap enough praise at “Beyond the Wall.” Next week’s finale was going to be must-see TV regardless of the quality of this episode, but Game of Thrones has somehow found a way to outdo itself once again and ramp up the hype higher than ever before. If the finale is even a fraction as eventful as the penultimate episode, fans are in for a mouthwatering treat.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10