Note: This review contains spoilers for Game of Thrones.
I doubt you need me to say this, but “Beyond the Wall” was definitely one of the more insane Game of Thrones episodes in recent memory. There were a ton of huge things that happened, so let’s start with the main focus of the episode — Jon and his ragtag Avengers’ little vacation up north.
I’ve mentioned in the past how Jon’s plan to prove the existence of the White Walkers by capturing a wight and bringing it in front of Westerosi leaders was kind of dumb. But, we’re in this now, so let’s go with it.
Instead, can we just talk about how the writers just absolutely don’t give a shit about timelines anymore? Remember last season when everyone freaked out that Varys was able to travel from Meereen to Dorne and back in the course of like two episodes? Yeah, well, “Beyond the Wall” absolutely shatters that speed record.
The guys walk north, get surrounded, send Gendry back to Eastwatch, get a raven to Dragonstone, have Dany fly back north of the wall, and then get all the way back to Eastwatch in the course of 60 mins in the episode. It’s completely bonkers. It wouldn’t have been so bad had a character not said something to the effect of “we won’t last more than a few days here.” There’s no way all that shit happened in less than a week, in the world of the show. This whole business is pretty frustrating when considering the pace of the show up to this point.
This season, on the whole, has been moving crazy fast, and that comes at the cost of good storytelling. I don’t want to dredge up old complaints about previous episodes, so let’s just stick with this one. With all the crazy shit happening, plenty of it lost impact because there just wasn’t time to let it sink in.
Hell, Benjen came back, saved Jon, and fucking died for it, and that lasted all of 30 seconds. One of Dany’s dragons — HER FUCKING CHILD — got killed by the Night King and we didn’t even know which damn dragon it was (it was Viserion, in case you missed the myriad clickbait articles about it). There’s just very little resting time on the show — especially in action-packed episodes like this one — and I think the show is less effective for it.
The final scene between Dany and Jon was touching, to be sure, but we just never really got to see the full effect of everything hit Dany. One of her children dying, her growing feelings for Jon, her partial realization that she’s been taking the wrong approach in the war, her acknowledgment that the White Walkers are indeed the real enemy they need to find, etc. It was all there, just glossed over. Part of that blame can be cast on the writers/producers for hammering us over the head with their romantic undertones rather than having it come naturally, but still. More of a denouement would have helped.
I get that the show producers wanted to go all out in these final two seasons, and therefore had to reduce the number of total episodes to save some cash, but there’s just too much going on too fast. Most of the details we’re missing aren’t vital to the show, but they can definitely be confusing and immersion breaking. Not only that, but the writers are changing the rules of the show to fit their needs, which in my opinion is lazy and only contributes to this sense that things don’t matter as much as I think they should.
For example, where the hell did the White Walkers get the chains necessary to drag Viserion out of the lake? Why, all of a sudden, do wights die when you kill the White Walker that turned them? Are wights semi-conscious? Otherwise, why did that one decide to attack The Hound after getting hit with the stone? Why would Jon randomly decide to keep attacking the wights after coming out of the lake, other than to give Benjen an excuse to die saving him? Why did Jon storm the wights in the first place, when everyone else was ready to fly off? Hell, why would the Night King throw his javelin at a dragon when Jon and Dany were so easily within reach?
Remember a few episodes ago when Theon landed back at Dragonstone, begging Dany’s help in rescuing Yara from Euron? If you don’t remember, I don’t blame you — Theon sucks. But you see my point. That plotline dropped faster than Viserion after the Night King’s gold medal throw.
I hate to keep harping on it, but the storytelling on Game of Thrones is just bad this season. I’m sure there’s plenty of crazy shit to come, but I feel like that’s the focus: Giving us crazy shit, not telling a compelling, character-driven story. That’s never been what Game of Thrones was about, and it’s disappointing to see the show go in that direction post-books.
Despite all of this, “Beyond the Wall” is easily the most well-written episode of this season, from a dialogue perspective. Those little opening vignettes between our dudes up north were all so interesting. Some were funny, some were insightful, and we even got some resolution to things like Gendry’s hatred of The Brotherhood and who the rightful owner of Longclaw should be. I knew it was going to be great to see these characters interact in new ways now that they were on the same team, and the show did now disappoint.
And, as I mentioned above, the scene between Jon and Dany was quite good. The romantic angle has felt very forced at times — not to mention creepy, since we know these two are cousins — but it was nice to see Dany fucking finally acknowledge that maybe she’s taking things too far. It also seems like she now knows that the whole “Jon took a knife in the heart” thing wasn’t a metaphor. And Jon calling her Dany? Adorable.
Moving to Winterfell, the two scenes between Arya and Sansa were also very well written and acted. The two sisters were never close growing up, so their reunion wasn’t quite the same as other Stark reunions. There’s still tension there, and it only seems to be building. I’m hoping against hope that Arya turning the knife over to Sansa means that she’s onto Littlefinger’s game, because I still just find it hard to believe that both of these girls would be hoodwinked like this. Sansa, because she’s been around Littlefinger enough to know when he’s being manipulative (which is always), and Arya because she’s just so damn street smart. She can see into someone’s soul almost as well as Bran at this point.
Speaking of Bran, there’s another plotline that’s been completely dropped. I figured once we learned Jon’s parentage through Bran’s vision, that all would be revealed this season. Maybe that’ll still happen, but considering some of the things still up in the air (read: Rhaegar’s marriage annulment), I’m afraid the writers will continue stringing us along.
Just as a writing note, I think it’s poor form to continually have characters in the dark on something the viewers know. It’s called dramatic irony, and can be used to great effect, but if you keep it going on too long, it just becomes frustrating. If the writers decide not to alert Jon and co. to his parentage until next season, when shit is hitting the fan even more, I fear the impact will be lost for viewers.
The scene with Sansa and Brienne, however, was terrible. Presumably, she thinks Brienne would take Arya’s side if something happened between the two of them, but that also doesn’t make sense. Brienne has been nothing if not loyal from day one. Again, this seems like the writers concocting something for a story purpose at the expense of it making sense for the character.
If it weren’t for Dany and her deliberate idiocy, Sansa would easily be the most stubborn, stupid, terrible leader on Game of Thrones. Seriously, how anyone roots for either of those characters is beyond me. But at least Dany seems to be learning from her mistakes — albeit slowly.
Back up north, we lost Thoros of Myr, who was the most obvious choice to bite it. I predicted Beric would also die, but it makes sense for him to stick around a while longer so that he can die at the hands of the Night King. And those poor Wildling red shirts, they literally only existed so that the show could kill characters while keeping our named ones safe. There’s another thing the old Game of Thrones wouldn’t have done. There was just no tension when Tormund was being dragged under by those wights; he still had a story purpose to serve, so there was no way he was going to die. Same with Jon going under water, though I think most people knew he’d survive.
Also, to address my comment in the review from last week, apparently someone was smart enough to bring along some dragonglass.
There was actually less overt “action” in this episode than I expected — a lot of close-ups of our heroes swinging weapons. I’m sure that goes back to the bloated filming budget, but this battle against the White Walkers was definitely less cool than something like “Hardhome.”
All in all, “Beyond the Wall” doesn’t fix the storytelling problems established early on this season, and doesn’t do anything to allay my fears for the direction of the show, but at least it was an exciting episode filled with surprisingly good dialogue. Let’s hope that trend continues into the season finale.