Game of Thrones, S07E06:
“Beyond the Wall”

Game of Thrones, S07E06:
“Beyond the Wall”

Game of Thrones Slips Back Into Mediocrity for its Second-Last Episode of the Year

 

Out of respect for the fact that there are too many fucking characters in this show, all of whom are to be found spread across every corner of Westeros, these reviews will be divvied up into sections. Each section will be titled after the main character(s) in each area, focussing solely on the developments therein.

 

Also, if you’re reading this and get upset at the spoilers within, I have an icy toothpick here that I’m an improbably good shot with.

 

This season’s penultimate (and easily its weakest) episode, “Beyond the Wall” is somehow both frantic and almost offensively dull. It burns through what would normally constitute a dozen episodes worth of plot in an hour, and the effect is beyond frustrating. God help next week’s finale.

Rating: 4.5/11

 

Jon and his Merry Band of Men – Beyond the Wall

(HBO)

When a show winds up the sort of cultural force that Game of Thrones has become, it’s difficult not the engage with your fanbase. To its credit, for quite a while GoT was unique for not doing anything that seemed directly aligned with or against its audience’s wishes. But then, that was mostly when it was still being adapted straight from George R.R. Martin’s books; now anything goes, as they say. Remember when the show saw it’s largest ratings dip ever after the episode where Sansa was raped by Ramsay. Notice how few of those we’ve seen since?

I’m not gonna make the argument that showing less rape on television is a bad thing, but it does indicate a trend that the show has been slowly been adapting to over the last few seasons. This is gonna sound wanky, but here it goes: Game of Thrones used to feel like it was essentially made to exist for itself, a self-contained story independent of whoever might be watching it. It didn’t want to please anyone, which is why it was so often shocking and free from most narrative conventions. Jesus, the fucking antagonist of the first season died, and that cunt Joffrey stuck around for three and half years! No other show in recent memory bucked trends like that, and it was thrilling to watch.

So, long story short: the entire segment of Jon’s cavalcade beyond the Wall this episode, to me, feels like the most pandering kind of fan service. Yes, the show is nearly over and characters must be brought together, but never has that process felt lazier and more rushed than virtually every interaction this time around. I gave the show credit for how it dealt with Jon and Dany meeting a few episodes back, because I was surprised at how prickly their interactions were. And, I’d argue, the first discussions between Tyrion and Dany were also quite well-done, even if their entire dynamic now has all the appeal of a two-headed horse gnawing at its genitals (but more on that later).

Here, on the other hand, we basically have, “Wouldn’t it be funny if Tormund and the Hound etc.?”, or “Jorah and Thoros probably know each other, right?“. Or, most pointless of all, “Here, this is your dad’s sword.” “LOL, wut, I don’t want that shit!” The show is relying on our affection for each of these characters separately to coagulate into a collective sense of camaraderie, without doing much of the work itself to actually make that the case. Rewatching the episode for the second time in 24 hours, I was struck by how many of the specific conversations I’d forgotten because they feel so vapid and without purpose.

And, you know what? Within the confines of a single episode, it’s hard to blame Game of Thrones for not fleshing out these dynamics more. But then we come to the central question: who the fuck’s decision was this shortened season bullshit?! Because never has it been more obvious than this episode that we are sprinting like an undead bear to the finish line, and crucial shit’s gonna get left out in the meantime. Ignoring the bland character mash-ups, how unsatisfying was everything else about this plot? Stupid as it sounds in conception, travelling North to capture a wight is undoubtedly a brilliant fantasy questline. But not if it plays out over the course of (when edited for other scenes) a little more than half-an-hour.

It’s a weird paradox, I’ll grant you, but the quicker you burn through a vital plot, the more momentum you lose. Hell, where are the stakes? If Jon and his men can take a brief stroll, find what they’re looking for, send Gendry back for help and have Daenerys show up and save them by tea time, how is any of this meant to feel legitimately dangerous? Because even though the show has so long avoided the deus ex machina approach of having a dragon appear at the last second to save everyone, it still feels cheap now that they’ve busted it out.

What’s worse, having Dany emerge to save the day retroactively kills any tension that the (very well-staged) battle scene between Jon’s clan and the undead has generated. Or at least it would, if it wasn’t unashamedly predictable that this is exactly what would happen. Rewatching “The Spoils of War“, even when I know what’s coming, I still get a hollow sensation in my stomach watching Jaime charge at Dany and Drogon. There, the last minute save feels earned because the episode has created an atmosphere of uncertainty, where dragons and Dothraki can appear at any moment and, yes, Jaime could die. Here? Well, Jon’s just not ever gonna die, is he? They literally brought him back to prove that point, so there’s not an ounce of suspense to watching him look out over a sea of undead and brood for the millionth time.

So, all that bitching aside, here are the plot points: Jon and his bros captured an undead wight, Dany swooped in to save them all but lost a dragon, which the White Walkers have reincarnated as an eeeeevil dragon, but it’s ok because after knowing each other for, oooh, like a week now, Jon and Dany are gonna fuck. Cool? Cool.

 

Arya and Sansa – Winterfell

(HBO)

Show of hands: when Arya and Sansa were finally reunited after years of separation and shared a heartfelt moment in the crypt of their ancestors, who was thinking, “Hmm, I’d prefer it if they were suddenly trying to kill each other for the fuckin’ pettiest of reasons.”? Anyone? Anyone? No?!

Crazy, right? This deep into GoT‘s run, at a point when the show has managed to find amicable common ground between Tormund the ginger wildling and Sandor Clegane the disfigured Hound, apparently it’s too much to ask for the Stark sisters to get along for more than an episode. After finding a scroll that Sansa was forced to write to Robb back in Season 2, Arya has decided her sister is a traitor. Meanwhile, Sansa has taken advice from Littlefinger (LITTLEFINGER!) to send Brienne away so that, presumably, she can have Arya killed with impunity.

Here’s the thing: nope. Nope nope nope nope nooooope. I cannot, in good conscience, say a single good thing about this plot. It asks of us, as long-time viewers, to set aside most of what we know (or at least would hope to be true) about the Stark sisters. It wants to pivot back to when they were young girls – one a haughty teenager looking to be queen and the other a tomboy with a passion for swords, bows and arrows – and have that define their current level of engagement. It wants the context of their feud to be through that lens, one of squabbling, immature sisters, in order for it to make any sort of sense. It wants us, essentially, to play dumb.

Here’s what it doesn’t want us to do: ask basic questions like,

1. “Where the fuck is any of this coming from?”

2. “How could Arya be so close-minded as to see Sansa’s survival as a betrayal?”

3. “At a time like this, how is it neither of these women has something more sensible to focus on?”

4. “Why has Arya’s proficiency as a killer basically turned her into a B-movie serial killer?”

5. “WHY IS SANSA SUDDENLY TRUSTING LITTLEFINGER AGAIN?!?!?!”

Honestly, I am beyond dumbfounded by the writers’ decision to push this plot forward. Not just because it feels so abrupt and flies in the face of so much of what we know about these characters’ love for their family, but because what is it achieving? Who is enjoying watching the Stark sisters scheme against one another? Is this some inane attempt to cultivate a “Team Sansa vs. Team Arya” fan base? ‘Cause, at this point, I hope Brienne kills them both!

And please, don’t come to me with that, “The girls are secretly working together to deceive Littlefinger” bullshit. That’s just about the only thing that could make this entire storyline more stupid, if every interaction this episode (mostly behind closed doors) was just some sort of elaborate ruse to fool the once-great Petyr Baelish. Not that anything will help this plot make any sense, but that would be unforgivably batshit.

 

Daenerys and Tyrion – Dragonstone

(HBO)

To finish off, a few words on Tyrion and Dany’s once-interesting relationship, now turned very one note. When these two first met, it was one of the most significant occurrences on the show that had no precedent in the source novels. No one watching, even those who had read every Song of Fire and Ice book, could have known how it would go down. As it happens, there was a surprisingly rich dynamic to their earliest conversations, informed on one side by Tyrion’s still-drunken witticisms and Dany’s no-nonsense stubbornness.

However, things started to feel a little, shall we say, undercooked when Dany flew back to Meereen and Tyrion delivered his, “I believe in you” speech. It was, as ever, very well-acted by Peter Dinklage and rousingly written… but it did feel a tad premature. By this stage, over the course of a season-and-a-half, these two had roughly a handful of scenes together, so Tyrion’s sudden, very heartfelt commitment to Dany’s cause was a bit of a stretch.

We’re starting to get a look at more of the seams from that lack of development now. Every interaction between these two, essentially, boils down to Tyrion offering sound if unvarnished advice, and Dany rebuking it. Yes, I’ll concede, there’s some nice stuff initially with Dany saying that she respects Tyrion’s bravery, even if the reason she chose him as a Hand was because he’s not a hero (read: idiot). But when matters turn to Tyrion wanting to establish an heir, should the Mother of Dragons die, she shuts off.

The writing here is infuriatingly basic. A man of world-renowned diplomacy, Tyrion can’t seem to find the right words to impart on Dany how important a successor is. He comes across, as she says, as if he’s been thinking about her death more than he should be, and he somehow is incapable of rebutting that point with a refined argument. Meanwhile, this obstinate version of Dany that the show has been pushing over the season is more interesting on the battlefield than in discourse. Burning soldiers alive, even those she has captured as prisoners, is unsettling but lends a menace to her desire to rule. But when she can’t she the benefit in setting up a line of succession, she just comes across as an idiot.

 

At any rate, here’s hoping Game of Thrones can find some redemption in its final episode of the year next week. Stranger things have happened… though as Bronn might say, “Like what?!”

 

Quotes, Random Thoughts & Housemate Contributions

 

  • Oh, you want to know what I liked about this episode? Aaaaah… well, as mentioned, the direction of that skirmish before Dany showed up was great, and some of the early talk with Dany and Tyrion was ok. Also, there’s a hint of something exciting about the White Walkers now having an Ice Dragon at their disposal, and I’m glad Tormund didn’t die. That’s… that’s about it, which is also why there’s bugger-all quotes this time around.

 

  • That said, Tormund’s near-death experience, followed by Jorah almost falling off the dragon, is some pretty lazy teasing by the show at this point. Yes, Thoros died and he was a nice enough sort, but when was the last truly shocking death in Game of Thrones? It’s hard not to go back to Jon Snow, isn’t it?

 

  • Housemate Contribution #1 – [When Dany snaps at Tyrion, “When have I ever lost my temper?”] “Bitch, can you hear yourself?!”

 

  • So, apparently Uncle Benjen is now just on standby as a Stark saviour rental service of some kind. Whatever, shit was already pretty stupid, he might as well randomly show up and save Jon. God, I used to love Benjen.

 

  • “Dany? Who was the last person to call me that, I wonder?” Uuum, probably me. Like, all the time.

 

  • Housemate Contribution #2 – [When Dany tells Jon to get some rest and he immediately closes his eyes] “Activate sleep mode.”

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“Beyond the Wall”

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