Game of Thrones: “Beyond the Wall” Season 7 Episode 6 Review

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Has an episode of Game of Thrones before been so simultaneously exciting and frustrating? “Beyond the Wall” was an edge of your seat thrill ride that didn’t make a lick of sense. The episode starts well enough, with strong pacing in the front half littered with some very well thought out conversations. Letting Jon’s rag tag troop of characters who’ve never met interact with each other? Great! Tyrion doing his best to implore reason in Daenerys (and kind of making things worse)? Wonderful! The growing tension between the Stark sisters? Genuinely haunting! But then comes a skirmish that, while mindblowingly exciting, feels insanely implausible.

Now I know, we’re dealing with a fight between dragons and zombies, but let’s slow down to dissect a few things for a minute. How long do we think it takes for Gendry to run back to Eastwatch, a raven to travel to Dragonstone, and Daenerys to then fly over the wall? In that time, how do Jon and the rest not freeze to death? How come the White Walkers don’t notice that the lake has refrozen and go to attack them? And why the fuck is the Hound throwing rocks at them with the chance of them realizing that the lake has refrozen? Look, Dany (sorry) using the might of her three dragons to light up the army of the dead is very exciting. It’s a scene I’ll probably be rewatching all week. But it also marks the full transition of Game of Thrones giving less and less of a shit about the details, a fact that could bring this dramatic titan down from greatness if it keeps up. It feels like David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are in a rush to go make Confederate rather than finishing this beast that they started.

The whole paragraph above shouldn’t discount the huge achievements of director Alan Taylor here, who’s first episode on the show was “Baelor,” the game changing hour in which Ned Stark falls. Now he’s dealing with full-grown dragons and White Walkers, and clearly loving every minute of it. This episode’s intensity and artfulness are up there with the show’s absolute best, which means Taylor deserves credit for pretty much everything that works in the back half of “Beyond the Wall.”

Faring better than that insane plot thread, however, is the boiling hot rivalry that’s reformed between Arya and Sansa. It’s odd after all this time to suddenly be rooting against Arya, but she is definitely in the wrong in threatening Sansa so blatantly. And yet, everything we’ve seen up to this point makes the scene make sense. I believe Arya’s motives in keeping Sansa scared of her, and I believe Sansa’s motives in arming herself to potentially deal with Arya. We’re in a fascinating moment of time with these two, and one that has to have some sort of resolution in next week’s finale. What that resolution looks like, however, might not be something audiences want to see, but that will hopefully be narratively satisfying.

So let’s get to the impact of all the deaths beyond the wall. Thoros is the only major member of Jon’s band who bites it, which didn’t create too much of an impact. Great, however, was the significant loss of one of Daenerys’ dragons. Having Daenerys see the White Walkers at all is a monumental moment for the show, but the death of one of her children makes for a truly painful loss. Now this is unquestionably a war she has to fight, which will now mean she has to come face-to-face with one of deceased children turned against her. Then there’s Benjen Stark, who shows up in time to save Jon and then quickly dies, which is a blatant and frustrating deus ex machina that doesn’t feel earned. Could Benjen really have not fit on top of that horse with Jon?

So here we are, with one episode to go in a season that has ultimately proven to be wildly uneven. “Beyond the Wall” carried much of the season’s problems (blowing through the details, feeling rushed), and even adding some new ones (characters doing blatantly stupid things, i.e. the Hound). But in terms of spectacle, the show is still the best in the game. But episodes as recent as “The Spoils of War” brought the spectacle with a narrative that was believable. Thrones is better than this, which only makes a disappointment coming from such a huge episode all the more difficult to swallow. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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