Beyond the Wall TV Review
Well… that happened then.
If last week went by at a break neck pace, this week really takes the cake. Dragons, White Walkers, dead bears and Olympic medal running – hell, this episode seems to go by faster than it took to leak online.
So, we pick up pretty much where we left off last week – Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) is leading a suicide mission North of the Wall to convince sociopath Cersei (Lena Headey) that zombies are more important than her claim to the throne that came out of nowhere. All he wants to do is capture one of the extras off The Walking Dead, traipse it down to King’s Landing and solve all the show’s problems in one go. Jon and co spend quite a bit of time drinking in the Northern sights – and then literally all hell breaks loose.
But before we get to that, let’s have a little chat about the Stark sisters. And how they’re really not getting on.
You can almost feel sorry for Sansa (Sophie Turner). She’s actually doing a bang up job looking after things up in Winterfell. The Vale Lords love her, the Northern Lords respect her – and her focus seems to be on making sure they all get through the winter. But Arya (Maisie Williams) is accusing her of all sorts – thanks to that handy little letter that Littlefinger (Aiden Gillan) left “lying around” last week.
Does Sansa want Jon’s throne? Probably not to the point where she’s planning on taking it – but enough to make Arya doubt her. Thus, things really begin to hot up, with Arya pretty much threatening Sansa’s life to her face. She’s giving her brother a run for his money in the creepy factor is Arya – and to think she was always a sweet girl before. You’d think that Sansa would be really rattled and start to seriously get scared – but that is not the Sansa Stark who rules Winterfell. She’s far from the scared little girl who wrote that letter way back in Season 1.
As Littlefinger so helpfully points out, Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) is honour bound to serve both sisters. If one intends to harm the other, she may intervene. And Sansa cannot afford her intervening on Arya’s side – just in case she has to take drastic actions against her sister. In short, Sansa sends Brienne down to the Season Final showdown in her place – just in case she ends up having to order Arya’s death. Ouch.
Things are getting very serious indeed here. And the only person who continues to win is Littlefinger. Now Brienne is out of the way, and Sansa is once again turning to him for guidance, he is fully back in control.
Why the hell haven’t they killed him yet?
Meanwhile on Dragonstone, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) are having a little chat about, well, things. Tyrion is still trying to educate Dany on the best way to proceed, and she’s not having any of it. To be fair to Tyrion, he’s raising some valid points – Dany’s position would be very much strengthened if she was able to name an heir. Dany did act rashly when she ordered the Tarleys to be burned alive. And pretty much everyone will be screwed if she turns up dead.
He also puts a very interesting idea in her head – that Jon Snow is starting to get very attracted to her. Whether this is true or not kind of doesn’t really matter, with the revelation that he may well just be her nephew. In any case, Dany doesn’t really want to hear this either. Maybe she’ll start listening to him after this week anyway. Because he was also bang on when he encouraged her not to go off shooting fire at the Night King (Vladimir Furdik).
So, back up in the North, we get a nice little couple of scenes were characters who have never met interact. You can tell that the writers are clearly loving Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and the Hound (Rory McCann) getting to talk for the first time – or, in this case, Tormund wind the Hound up. It’s also nice to see Jon get to meet Jorah (Iain Glen), especially considering how close he was to his late father Jeor (James Cosmo). In a way, old Lord Commander Mormont saw Jon as the son he would have preferred. It is mighty big of Jon to offer Jorah his sword, which was, after all, a family heirloom that should have gone to him. It is also mighty big of Jorah to turn it down. At the end of the day, Jon earned that sword, and Jorah knows that his father wanted Jon to have it.
Meanwhile, Gendy (Joe Dempsie) gets to catch up with the Brotherhood, understandably still a bit miffed that they sold him to Melisandre (Carice van-Houten) way back in Season 3. It’s all very well and good the Hound accusing him of whinging, and that him being strapped down to a bed with a naked woman on top of him doesn’t sound that awful, but she was planning on burning him alive. Something that Thoros (Paul Kaye) really should know. And on the subject of moaning – the Hound got his head shoved in a fire when he was little, and he still bangs on about it. Well, he always looks constipated at the sight of fire, anyway!
But let’s talk about the event of the hour – which is Jon and co managing to kidnap a zombie – and getting completely surrounded by the Night King’s army. Stuck on the rock in the middle of a frozen lake, things really do look bleak for our heroes, especially when the Hound stupidly chucks a rock at Mr Half Rotten Skeleton and they all rush forward. Surely not all of them can survive this? Surely at least two of the established characters will die?
Like the Battle of the Bastards last year, what really lets this scene down is the fact that nobody dies, well apart from Thoros, and that was through severe hypothermia. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want anyone to die – but this is Game of Thrones. One of its most memorable aspects is the fact that no character is safe. But a developing trait, especially since the show overtook the books, is the fact that characters are put into ridiculously dangerous situations and walk away without a scratch, purely for shock value. Thus, you get Arya being stabbed twice and thrown into a river, which barley took her off her feet. You get Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) fall to a watery grave in full plate armour and come out looking like he’s taken a relaxing bath. And now you get Jon falling into ice cold water, dragged down by zombies – and still somehow make it out alive. Even good old Leo DiCaprio couldn’t cope with swimming in a nippy pool!
Something else that is a little annoying is the fact that Daenerys and her dragons turn up in just the nick of time. Of course, to see dragons finally face off against the White Walkers is absolutely fantastic, and something the show has been building up to since day one. It’s just a little too convenient. Convenient that they all get away, convenient that Benjen Stark (Joseph Mawle) turns up just in time to save Jon – it makes you wonder if George RR Martin even has this planned for the books. In any case, it does slightly let down what truly is phenomenal television. Because, if you discount all of that, at the end of the day you’re still seeing dragons vs White Walkers.
And this is the best moment of all.
Up until this point, it’s been pretty much assumed that White Walkers wouldn’t stand a chance against dragons. That as soon as Daenerys turns up with Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal, the Army of the Dead would be no more. In a way, it’s actually made the ongoing threat of the White Walkers not seem as serious. Until now.
It took Bronn (Jerome Flynn) a massive crossbow and four shots to even wound Drogon a few weeks back, a wound that he has since fully recovered from in a very short amount of time. The Night King watches the dragons decimate his army, calmly gets down from his horse, gets an Ice Spear, and brings Viserion down with one throw. The poor beast dies instantly, and all it took was a five second tiny bit of effort from the Night King. If we weren’t worried about him before, we absolutely are now.
And thus the episode ends with another thing that we’ve been expecting, and dreading, since day one. The Night King walks up to Viserion’s corpse, puts his hand on his head, and gains a zombie dragon for his army. In one move, Daenerys and Jon have just given the Night King his most terrifying weapon. A dragon that cannot be killed.
In short, this episode is terrific. Yes, it does get a little silly at times, and is going against established Game of Thrones tropes, but, I mean, you get to see White Walkers meet dragons for the first time. And realise just how monumentally screwed Westeros is. Maybe Dany should have stayed in Meereen after all. At least she’s finally managed to convince Jon to bend the knee. Until she finds out he’s got a stronger claim to the Throne than she does, of course.