"Game of Thrones" recap: A bad idea goes even worse in "Beyond the Wall"
For years now, Jon Snow has stood as the biggest true hero on "Game of Thrones" – and on Sunday night's penultimate episode of season seven, he also staked his claim as its biggest true moron.
He'd already made a decent run at that title in last year's Battle of the Bastards, the war that Jon was definitely losing before Sansa showed up. It was a win almost wholly credited to good timing by Sansa rather than any good strategy from Jon – which included getting oneself stranded in the middle of the battlefield, facing down a charging army all alone. But that was a mere appetizer to the main course of idiocy "Game of Thrones" served with this plot to kidnap a White Walker past the wall to bring back to Cersei, a plan that sounded like foolishness well before anybody stepped past the gate. Jon's incredibly lucky that stupid was greyscale-level contagious this week – and that he has dragons, the Lord of Light (who had to have spent that entire episode face-palming, thinking, "I brought you back alive for THIS?!") and the show's screenwriters all on his side, bending over backwards to keep him alive.
At some point, it's one too many easy passes for a character – and, for that matter, a television show – we're supposed to find smarter than this. The seventh season's breakneck speed has forced its audience to make some tremendous leaps of logic – not to mention time – and "Beyond the Wall" stretched me to the brink of not being able to make them. For a show that fancies itself as the medium's smart prestige blockbuster, only the latter word applied last night.
To the show's credit, it REALLY applied. With most of Sunday night spent with Jon and company's suicide mission past the wall, viewers at least got some epic "Lord of the Rings" adventure shots of the men questing through the engulfing winter wasteland, courtesy of "Thrones" regular and "Thor: The Dark World" director Alan Taylor. It was a big episode that indeed felt big – and hit some key awesome moments for beyond this very dumb, very stupid mission.
Before things went awry, our motley crew at least had some fun chats. Tormund's back in his native habitat, while Gendry's seeing snow for the first time. Movement's important, the former notes, elaborating that, "Walking's good, fighting's better, f*cking's best." That last one would seem to be out of the question for their expedition, but he gleefully retorts that sometimes you've gotta make do with what you've got. Before he can recommend maybe just playing 21 Questions instead, Gendry goes off complaining – or, as The Hound corrects, "whinging" – to the Brotherhood about selling him off to Melisandre for sacrificing. They and The Hound, however, seem unsympathetic to his plight of being stripped down by a sexy witch lady. Gendry probably regrets volunteering for this right about now – and the wights haven't even shown up yet.
In more mature conversation, Jorah and Jon talk about their fathers and the unfortunate ways they died. As a sign of respect, Jon offers Longclaw, his former Mormont blade, to Jorah, but he rejects the gift, saying he forfeited his right to it. The two may be idiots for going on this journey, but at least they're noble idiots. Jon then has a theological and existential debate with Beric about The Lord of Light, about how "death is the enemy, the first and the last," and about why they fight despite knowing death always wins. It's a nice, thoughtful conversation.
Meanwhile, The Hound teaches Tormund the word "dick." They can't all be poets.
The revelry can't last, however, as the guys come across an undead polar bear – and unfortunately for them, it really wants to show off its impression of "The Revenant." It kills off most of the irrelevant characters along for the trip before the good guys put him out of his undead misery.
Fresh off the ferocious bear, the survivors then come across a small group of wights, which the crew manages to take out by killing the lead wight, knocking out all but one of the rest. Convenient – both now and for the future battle. After some wrestling – and the Hound accidentally sliding off its face – the wight is captured.
Of course, it couldn't be that easy, as the rest of the White Walkers are now incoming. Jon sends Gendry back to the Wall to raven for Dany's help, while the rest of them run for safety – only to find themselves clomping on literal thin ice. Luckily, they find a small rock island in the middle of it all to stay safe and dry. Even MORE luckily, fate and mother nature breaks the ice and puts a nice moat between them and the wight army. The luckiest? Apparently The Night King hasn't heard of projectile weapons, so the White Walkers just politely wait outside the ice ring. Where's Qyburn and his crossbow when you need him!?
While those two standoff, Gendry – all alone and without his very exciting hammer – makes it to The Wall in what seems like about 20 minutes. If you've been a stickler about the passage of time this season, "Beyond the Wall" will only give you more to complain – I mean, whinge – about.
Speaking of The Hound, as somebody who HAS heard of projectile weapons, he throws a rock at one of the snow zombies and knocks its jaw off for giggles. His second chuck lands a little short – and safely skids across the formerly broken ice right at the zombie's feet. NOBODY NOTICED THAT UNTIL NOW!?
Anyways, so the battle's back on – and frankly, as the show's gigantic big ultimate bad, the White Walkers aren't really all that much of a threat, as they go down pretty easily in close combat. Sure, they almost take out Tormund, but even with a gaggle of snow zombies on him, he manages to drag himself away with just a few bloody scratches. The action's fine – tense and exciting – but for the great supernatural evil we've been teased since literally the first scene, they seem fairly beatable.
That's especially the case when Dany shows up just in the knick of time to save the boys, blazing down the Night King's militia with not one, not two but all three dragons. Now, how is it possible that Gendry got back to the wall and sent the raven to Dany, who received the note, traveled from Dragonstone to the Wall AND found the guys – all before some ice managed to re-freeze? A fine question – now here's some cool shots of a dragon barbecuing some snow zombies to distract you from it!
The gang hops on board Drogon and is ready to bail – except for Jon, who must have some arbitrary White Walker murder quota to hit, because he ALL ALONE marches toward the wights. And before you can say, "Jon, get on the god damn dragon," The Night King whips out an ice spear and nails one of Dany's dragons, sending it bleeding and crashing to the ice before sinking dead below the surface. So he DID know about projectile weapons! Dany is devastated and Jon ... well, he would be too, but he's too busy also below the icy water's surface, dragged under by a couple of wights. Reminder: This all happened AFTER he could've hopped on Drogon and rode off to safety.
Luckily, Jon pulls himself out of the icy depths, but Dany and company are gone – and the White Walkers are not. But cue perfectly timed contrived rescue number two in the past ten minutes alone, because FREAKING BENJEN shows up out of nowhere with a flaming rock on a chain, throws Jon onto a horse and sends him back home to safety before instantly getting zombie murdered for his troubles. So basically Benjen only still existed on the show for ten seconds of miracle timing. Nice having you back?
Anyways, Jon eventually does get back to The Wall, where Dany's waiting (awww) to take him on a boat back to Dragonstone. Bedridden, he apologizes for her loss, holds her hand (AWW!) and calls her Dany (AWW!!!!!!!!!!). She's not the hugest fan of the name, but she does like his next statement: He'll bend the knee for her. Oh wait, hold on; I just remembered these two are related. I revoke all of my previous aww-ings.
So was all of this worth it? From the characters' perspective, was it worth losing a dragon and almost losing The King in the North for a wight that might not even work on Cersei? And from a viewer's perspective, was this whole side quest – which oddly, for a major event, was wrapped up in a single episode – worth the massive logic gaps and contrived, idiotic behavior? I can't really say yes. At its worst, this season of "Game of Thrones" has sprinted through big moments – exciting and thrilling moments, to its credit – at the expense of everything else. The power of those moments kept it upright so far, but this time, it finally tripped and face planted.
Worse yet, that contrived and idiotic behavior wasn't just limited to beyond the Wall. The only other drama of note this episode was at Winterfell, where Arya confronted Sansa about the note she found last week pleading for Ned Stark to come to King's Landing – where he was eventually betrayed and beheaded. Arya now blames all of this on Sansa, who (rightfully) argues she was a dumb kid who has suffered ever since. Arya's having none of it though and hints that she'll take this info to the already shaky Northern lords and Lyanna Mormont.
One, Arya, HOW DARE YOU BRING LYANNA MORMONT INTO THIS! And two, is nobody really wondering if Littlefinger's behind this? Arya and Sansa should both know that Littlefinger is never not scheming. Still, the two bicker, assuming the worst of each other, leading Sansa to snoop into her sister's room, find a bag of faces and also find her sister being all creepy and threatening. Forget that brief moment of humanity with Ed Sheeran from the premiere. Arya is a problem child now – and it's ending poorly for somebody.
That's not even the worst of it, because the show wraps up with the White Walkers pulling Dany's poor, dead dragon out of the water and – OH SNAP – The Night King's got a zombie snow dragon now. So other than several men dying, Jon almost freezing to death, straining relationships in the north (which Jon NEVER VISITED before hopping over The Wall) and losing a dragon that's now a member of the undead army, I think we can call this mission a 100% success.
Here's to a solid recovery – for Team Jonerys and for the show – in the finale next week.
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