Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have no knowledge of what is to transpire in this story. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.
BEYOND THE WALL
In typical Thrones fashion, this year’s penultimate episode did not disappoint. As we’ve come to see, the second-to-last episode of each season generally accounts for some of the shows biggest and most dramatic events (i.e. Ned’s beheading, The Battle of Blackwater Bay, The Red Wedding, etc…) But this season’s penultimate episode, entitled Beyond the Wall, took us to entirely new heights. This episode was not just beyond the wall, it was beyond. Period. This behemoth of an episode featured the most significant battle we’ve seen to date — one that brought the all-important entities of fire and ice face to face for the first time. But there was much more. This installment offered the most extended look we’ve ever had into the army of the dead; the biggest dragon scene to date; and this season’s most important moment between two of its most important characters (Jon and Dany). As if all of that was not enough, there were some significant deaths, as well as an awesome surprise entrance from a character we haven’t seen in a while. There was also a crucial reveal about how team humans can possibly defeat team White Walkers in this battle for survival. Oh, and as if all of that was not enough, the Night King now has a dragon to call his own!
FIRE AND ICE
If you don’t yet know that this entire story created by George R.R. Martin is entitled A Song of Ice and Fire, then shame on you. In adapting his multi-book series for TV, HBO decided that Game of Thrones (which was the title of the first book in this series) would be more marketable. And while the latter may roll off the tongue a bit better, there is one pitfall — the importance of fire and ice gets lost. The Game of Thrones titles makes it seem as though this story is ultimately about a game whose winner will ascend the Iron Throne. And while that was the game being played in the first few books/seasons (and to some extent still is), we know that the endgame here is something much greater, which is what the title of the series spoke to. Kings and thrones are insignificant in the face of fire vs ice, light vs darkness, good vs evil. And though the show has obviously made it quite clear, especially as the story has progressed, that fire and ice is where this whole thing is headed, it still seemed unclear how and when these opposing elements would face off.
Well, heading into tonight’s episode, there were just seven episodes remaining, so we knew it couldn’t be too much longer. Yet still, I’m not sure anybody was wagering that this episode would bring a full-on collision between fiery dragons and icy White Walkers. But that’s precisely what we got as Dany flies her dragons into the deep north to save Jon and the Dream Team from certain death at the hands of the army of the dead. And boy was it a powerful sight to see.
Hitting rewind for a moment, Jon and company venture into the deep north on their quest to find a wight. I get questions each week about what a wight is, so let’s quickly clear this one up. In the show, the wights are the undead zombies which account for most of the army of the dead. The wights are led by the more powerful and mythical White Walker creatures. If it seems confusing that the story would refer to the zombies as wights and their leaders as White Walkers, given that wights/Whites sound the same, well, it is. But, in the books, this confusion did not exist, as the White Walkers were called The Others. So, in the books, you had wights (zombies) being led by The Others. After the hit show Lost popularized the moniker The Others, referring to the other inhabitants of the island, HBO decided not to use the term The Others and came up with a new name for them — The White Walkers. So, today you have the wights and the White Walkers. But let’s get back to more important things.
Jon and squad don’t make it too far north before a run-in with an enormous undead bear. Because the bear has been turned by the White Walkers, it is uncharacteristically aggressive in its pursuit to kill the humans. But, the bear being turned does not explain its size — so it was pretty cool to see how big this bear was (more like a mini dinosaur). It was our first time seeing a creature like this in Thrones and builds on some of the other unusually large/mythical creatures we’ve seen (giants, direwolves, dragons, etc…) As the team bands together to fight off the bear, Thoros gets pinned down and The Hound is the closest one able to assist. Underscoring the juxtaposition of fire and ice, The Hound was literally frozen by the fire and we see that his fear of the flames still runs deep. As a result, Thoros gets badly mauled, though not killed, as Beric cauterizes his wound.
Fast forward, Jon and company find themselves deserted on an island of ice, surrounded by not only thousands of wights, but also the Night King and his highest-ranking White Walkers. After Jon instructed Gendry to run back to Eastwatch to send a raven to Daenerys, the table was set, and it all of a sudden became entirely feasible that fire would meeting ice very soon. As night turns into day, the men wake up to find themselves still surrounded, only now with one less man. Thoros has not survived the night and Beric sets his corpse aflame to prevent the White Walkers from being able to turn him into a wight. I found it somewhat strange that the story had Thoros surviving the bear attack, only to die the next morning. In any event, it was sad to see Thoros go and he was definitely one of the more enjoyable characters of the show — a man who fought for those who could not fight for themselves — and a man who ultimately gave his life to serve what he believed to be a greater purpose. Most significant, this means that whatever role Beric is to play, he must make this life count as he likely will not have another to live. Thoros is no longer around to bring him back to life as he has done many times in the past, underscoring once again, that this story is nearing its end.
The Hound had already lost some points in my book for not saving Thoros from the bear. He now loses additional points for deciding that it would be a wise idea to start throwing rocks at the wights. Sure enough, the wights realize that the water has frozen back over and they can now resume their attack on Jon and company. Somehow, this single-digit group of men are able to fight off what felt like several hundred wights. While I was ecstatic to not see any more of them die, there were points where they appeared so engulfed by a sea of wights that it seemed unrealistic for them to survive, yet they somehow continued to fight them off. No doubt, we got to see the fighting prowess of each of these men — some of the realms greatest warriors, assembled together, each fighting with their weapon of choice. And though The Hound made some poor decisions in this episode, he’s back in my good graces after saving Tormund from what looked like a certain death. I’m not sure I could have handled losing Thoros and Tormund all in one episode.
Though they were able to fight off hundreds of wights, no matter how many they killed, more kept coming. Eventually, they were completely surrounded, and we went into a slow motion sequence where everything quieted down. This sequence was mostly focused on Jon and offered a slower, more focused vantage point of what it might feel like to acknowledge the imminent death that you and your men are facing. We saw a very similar sequence in the Battle of the Bastards when everything slowed down for Jon and it seemed like their defeat was certain. But just as Jon and his men were saved in the Battle of the Bastards by a surprise entrance, the same would happen in this battle, as Daenerys arrives with all three of her dragons and sets everything ablaze.
Her powerful flames engulf the wights by the hundreds, if not thousands, and in that moment, fire finally meets ice. For the first time, we see with our own eyes what we’ve been imagining for so long — how the dragons will ultimately help to defeat the army of the dead. Things are looking great for the good guys (well, I will pause on calling them the good guys, because that implies that the Night King and White Walkers are bad guys, and I believe it’s too early to determine that given that we don’t truly understand the Night King and what he is trying to achieve yet. But we’ll save that for another time). Everything changes as the Night King picks up his ice spear and takes down one of Daenerys’ dragons, Viserion, from what seemed like hundreds of yards away. The Night King must have been spending some serious bro-time with Tom Brady, because that dragon was hundreds of yards away and flying at a pretty high elevation.
Just like that, the tables are dramatically turned, and Daenerys is helpless as she watches her beautiful dragon fall from the sky like a plane that has been shot down out of the air. Her other two dragons let out a painful cry as they watch their sibling fall to its death. Seeing this, Jon Snow advances for the Night King, who attempts to take down Drogon, the dragon that Daenerys and the others are aback. Jon is attacked by more wights and pulled underwater, and Daenerys is forced to abandon Jon, though reluctantly, in order to save her two remaining dragons.
When Jon does reemerge from the water, he is frozen stiff and appears to have no chance at fighting off the new pack of wights that are headed his way. Not to fear, Uncle Benjen is here. We hadn’t seen Benjen since last season when he had to part ways with Bran because he could not pass through The Wall. At the time, he explained that the dead cannot pass through The Wall, due to powerful magic The Children of the Forest used in helping to build The Wall, thus confirming he was in fact technically dead. When Bran asked him what he would do, he confirmed that he would continue to fight off the dead for as long as he could, and in this episode, he made good on his word. Fighting with his flaming ball-and-chain, Benjen takes out a bunch of the wights and buys Jon just enough time to escape back to Eastwatch. Benjen is consumed by the wights and the assumption is now that he is fully dead…Or maybe he will be turned into a wight… But safe to assume he’s gone as the Uncle Benjen we know. What was most significant, and also most sad about this, is that Uncle Benjen (Ned’s brother) and Jon Snow were very close. Uncle Benjen was a big reason that Jon joined the Night’s Watch in the first place, and when Benjen went missing north of The Wall in the first season, Jon tried to go after him. Ironically, Benjen’s disappearance north of The Wall so many seasons ago is what would turn him into what he is today, and set him on the track to save his nephew when it really counted. Sadly, after all these years, their reunion was just a couple of seconds.
A SILVER LINING
Coming into this episode, the dragon count was 3-0 in favor of the humans. After this episode, the count is now much more even at 2-1. Whereas the humans once had 3 more dragons, they now only have 1 more. That’s because not only did the Night King take out Viserion, but he wisely turned him into a wight that he will now be able to use in his army. This of course begs a ton of questions about how Viserion will be used and what he will be able to do. Will he now breathe ice instead of fire? Will he be able to freeze over entirely masses of land and kill all life? Will his newfound dragon allow The Night King to quickly and easily fly over The Wall and pose a greater threats to the humans? And how do you kill Viserion? The other wights can be killed by fire, but dragons are immune to fire, so is Valyrian steel/dragonglass the only way kill Viserion? Time will tell, but it raises all kinds of interesting questions. Also, as a sidenote, to turn Viserion into a wight, The Night King placed his hand upon the dead dragon’s snout, much the same as Jon Snow had touched Drogon a couple episodes back.
No matter which way you slice it, The Night King getting his hands on a dragon is a huge blow to Daenerys and all of humanity. Though the Night King always posed a great threat, Daenerys was always approaching the level of invincibility with three full-grown dragons. But now, the playing field is a lot more level and The Night King may have what he needs to launch a full-blown offensive. All that said, there were some very significant silver linings to be found in this episode, some of which will have huge implications on how this all unfolds.
Silver lining number one: mission accomplished. The men did not go home empty-handed and they achieved what they had set out for — capturing a wight that they could present to Cersei, and presumably anybody else who is a nonbeliever. Arguably, the biggest problem the humans have faced in the great war to come is that they simply do not know it is coming. Jon Snow and a few others have been trying to spread the word, but most of the realm still regards the entire thing as mythology. But now, they have hard proof and it will be interesting to see how people react.
Silver lining number two: a very significant reveal about how the humans can possibly win this war. We knew a few things coming into this episode: 1) White Walkers can be killed with Valyrian steel or dragonglass; 2) wights can be killed with either of those, but are best defeated with fire. What we did not know, and learned tonight, is that there is some sort of link between White Walkers and wights, and killing a White Walker can actually take out many more wights in one fell swoop. As Jon battled and eventually defeated a White Walker, we saw several wights around him collapse and crumble. The assumption is that if you take out a White Walker, so too are you killing the wights that White Walker had turned. This is critical as it implies that killing a few hundred or even a few dozen White Walkers could wipe out a huge volume of the army of the dead. But what was even more significant, was Beric’s assertion that perhaps taking out The Night King would wipe out all the White Walkers and wights at once. We don’t know if this is true, but perhaps we just learned how this entire war can be won.
Silver lining number three: Jon and Dany are in a great place. It was no secret that something was brewing between these two, yet Dany was still quite focused on fighting Cersei for the Iron Throne and wasn’t totally sure how credible Jon’s claims were regarding the army of the dead. But now, Dany has seen the threat with her own two eyes. What’s more, she’s lost one of her children at the hands of the Night King, so she is now more invested in this war than anybody. Alignment between Jon and Dany as it pertains to them coming together to defeat the Night King is absolutely huge.
But that’s not where the alignment stops. The emotions and potential romance continued to elevate in this episode and the two even ended up in a bed together, holding hands. Jon has declared Dany his queen, after an interesting dialogue with Tormund earlier in the episode where Tormund reminded Jon of Mance Rayder, the king of the Wildlings, who refused to bend the knee to any southern ruler. Tormund reminds Jon that Mance’s pride ultimately got him killed. Jon takes this advice to heart and decides that others must see the greatness that he sees in Dany. No doubt, he will face real backlash, especially amongst the Northerners, who view House Targaryen as definitive enemies. This should set up for a very interesting dynamic in the North, and the potential that the Northerns choose to no longer follow Jon, opening the door for a new Northern leader, which plays right into the Arya-Sansa drama we are seeing unfold — but more on that in just a bit.
One other thing to point out is that it was not just Jon that is buying into Dany and declaring her his queen, but also she that is buying more into him, especially after she sees the wounds that he sustained when he was murdered. Recall that in the fist scene they met, Ser Davos mentioned that Jon Snow was brought back from the dead, and Dany took particular interest to this. When she asked about it, Jon made it seem like he was not really brought back from the dead and that Ser Davos was embellishing. Just last episode, Dany asked Jon about this again, but before he could respond, Ser Jorah returned and stole the spotlight. Now, she is seeing first-hand the brutal wounds he sustained and she realizes that he did in fact die and come back to life. Ultimately, though Viserion’s death was tragic, you could make the argument that it was a cost well worth paying if it resulted in Jon and Dany coming together the way they did, Jon declaring Dany his queen, and that queen now being fully invested in the war against darkness.
Also, one smaller but additional silver lining is that we got some more color on the “who will be the 3 riders of Dany’s 3 dragons?” As we know, Aegon, alongside his two sisters, rode their three dragons during his Conquest. Many have theorized that there would have to be two additional riders to ride alongside Dany, but that theory now seems to be out the window.
DRAMA IN WINTERFELL
Though it seems much less significant than what we saw unfold north of The Wall, the tensions building at Winterfell will have important implications. After all, don’t forget, Winterfell and The North are one of the first lines of defense south of The Wall. So, if the White Walkers do pass through The Wall, Winterfell is one of the first places they will reach. Having a definitive leader at Winterfell who can unite The North will be critical. And that’s the opposite of what we are seeing today.
Picking up on last week’s episode, Sansa and Arya are falling right into Baelish’s trap. Unbeknownst to her, Baelish planted a note for Arya to find which presents Sansa as a Joffrey-loving traitor who was willing to denounce her own father in support of the Lannisters. What we know as viewers (as does Baelish because he was there at the time), is that Sansa was forced to write this latter as she was more or less Cersei’s prisoner. Sansa attempted to plead this case to Arya, though Arya’s mind seems to be made up about who her sister is and where her loyalties lie. Interestingly, the show has seemed to present this conflict much more from Arya’s vantage point than from Sansa’s. Both girls have been through trying times and actually appear to both want to do what’s best for Winterfell, yet the show has made Arya feel like the protagonist who is onto her antagonist sister.
Just as Baelish had hoped, he is able to find himself in private quarters with Sansa, offering her advice of how to proceed. He notes that Brienne has sworn an oath to protect both sisters, and as such, is a valuable asset to rely upon. Sansa takes this advice and sends Brienne to King’s Landing after her attendance was requested. Brienne objects to going and tells Sansa that she cannot trust the people around her, especially Baelish, even if she is home at Winterfell. Naively, Sansa believes that because she is at home that she is safe. With Brienne gone and Arya and Sansa at odds, Baelish is setting the table for him to make his next move — whatever move that might be.
Another sidenote on Winterfell — where has Bran been as all of this drama is unfolding between his sisters? After all of this time, he has finally returned to Winterfell, so where is he hiding? As an all-knowing being, you would think he’d be able to step in and drop some knowledge on his sisters to help them navigate their issues. Also, speaking of things missing at Winterfell, where the hell is Jon’s wolf, Ghost? We have not seen him this entire season, so keep an eye out for that.
HISTORY THROUGH DIALOGUE
In the first few minutes of their journey north of The Wall, there was some incredibly rich dialogue amongst the men, most of which recounted some important Thrones history. Here’s a recap:
Jon and Jorah talk further about their past as Jon reveals that Jorah’s father had given him Longclaw, a Valyrian steel sword that was meant for Jorah. Jon offers the sword to Jorah, but Jorah admits that he is unworthy. But it is not just Jon that knows Jorah’s father; Jorah also knew Jon’s father (well, he knew the man Jon currently believes to be his father, Ned. Jorah recalls that Ned wanted Jorah executed (which is why he had to flee Westeros and eventually ended up meeting Khaleesi in Essos). You can read more about why Ned wanted him executed here.
Jorah and Thoros recount their time in battle together during Robert’s Rebellion. They fought together for the rebels in a battle where they stormed Pyke (seat of the Iron Islands). History tells that Thoros rode into battle with his flaming sword and helped to win this decisive victory.
Tormund and The Hound end up discussing Brienne, though their interactions with her could not be further apart. Tormund tells The Hound of his affections for Brienne and how he hopes to marry her and have giant children together. Though The Hound does not reveal it, we know that it was Brienne that nearly killed The Hound a few seasons back.
Gendry and Thoros also recall some history as Gendry calls them out for selling him to Lady Melisandre. He tells them what she did to him though they appear to move past it pretty quickly.