The penultimate episode of the penultimate season of Thrones just aired and it offered a smorgasbord of anger inducing, nonsensically contrived, and clunky scenes. Oh-so-creatively named “Beyond the Wall” offered nothing more than really beautiful scenery, nice creature sound design, and some cool special effects, but that is about the height of what the “spectacle over substance” monster has been for the past few years now.
There were quite a few moments this episode when I shouted a big “fuck you” to the show, something that only happens when they go beyond their nonsensical flimsy writing and delve into plain old offensively bad territory. The scenes at Winterfell between the two Stark sisters certainly were at the peak of that.
Arya and Sansa are looking down on the Winterfell courtyard in the same place Ned did in the pilot episode, and Arya starts “reminiscing” in a typical Thrones look-in-the-distance-monologue about the past, to when her family was all alive and well in Winterfell. She says Sansa wouldn’t remember because Sansa was probably doing something dumb inside like knitting…how many times are we going to have these “badass” girls criticize knitting as a justified point? THIS IS NOT FEMINISM.
Arya remembers a time when Bran left behind his bow and arrow and Arya took it up, despite knowing she wasn’t supposed to, and started practicing till she finally hit a bullseye. She looked up to where they are standing to see Ned slow clapping for her and says that that’s when she knew that it was the rules that were wrong, not her.
Besides the fact that his monologue ends up doing absolutely nothing to further the weird conflict festering between the Stark sisters, it’s supposed to define Arya’s character in this world but does the opposite. Arya in the books understands that the way she is is not the norm. To her Sansa is the perfect child; the perfect daughter. To book-Arya, the rules were frustrating but they were the rules. She understood that her society was based off of them, and from that the culture, and took it to mean that she was indeed “wrong”. She was “disappointing” and is incredibly insecure and frustrated about this.
When Ned tells her about the future she will have marrying a lord and having his children and she counters that that’s not her, but rather “That’s Sansa.” She knows that that is the life that is carved out for her by her society and those are the rules she’s supposed to play by, knows that Sansa does so exceptionally well and is sometimes jealous of that fact, but at the same time recognizes she’d never be able to fit into that structure. However, she’s not empowered by it, she’s frustrated by it.
This is all just another example of the patriarchal setting disappearing. While Ned might have encouraged her with her sword training, or at the very least supported it as he could, and was a good father, he still grew up and was raised in this society. He still expected Arya to lead the life she was supposed to lead as a “lady”. It’s because even the people around her continually support the patriarchal structure, the people she loves, and accept it as is because it’s the setting they grew up in, Arya internalizes a great deal of self-loathing, doubt, fear, and anger.
Had this maybe been a moment where she grew to a realization—that the rules were wrong not her—then this could have been nice. Had this moment not existed to tear down her sister but rather build herself up and recognize a worth in herself, it could have been nice. Instead we were transported into a horror film.
Arya brings up the letter that she found that Sansa wrote to Robb under the forced hand of Cersei to convince him to bend the knee. She notes Sansa’s pretty handwriting because everything coded as feminine is bad. However, I just still cannot wrap my head around why D&D are even using this letter like this or why they think it would have this weight. Everyone who gets it in the book reads it and immediately realizes that those are Cersei’s words, not Sansa’s. Even Bran who was quite young at the time didn’t blame his sister for them.
The fact that this letter would even be considered treasonous is laughable, especially considering Ned went along with the “traitor” routine to protect his family, same as Sansa. Cat and Robb pondered over the possibility of treating with the Lannister and offering peace terms to save the lives of their people. It was always about Northern independence/protection over pure vengeance. That’s what the King in the North title is supposed to represent, and yet the plot revolves around this note damning Sansa for trying to save her family and the kingdom the strife of war. Not to mention she was literally a child, but that argument is also a no-go.
Arya pins Ned’s death and Stark betrayal on her sister because of this note. The fact that Benioff and Weiss even thought about using the letter in this context and that there would be any basis behind Arya (or anyone) using this letter as a weapon against Sansa means they are also the kind of people who would consider the fact that Sansa would be to blame for the Stark downfall. It feels like I’m watching a bad fan fiction written by shitty redditers who write essays claiming Sansa essentially killed her family, and it makes me want to pull my hair out.
Arya apparently thinks everyone should be able to endure all kinds of torture and still remain steadfast in their resolve. Arya who has witnessed torture and worse along her journey, including heavily during her stay at Harrenhal, dismisses the possibility of trauma or survival.
All of this has been so contrived and the polar opposite of what Arya and Sansa go through in the books in terms of their journeys and growth. Arya and Sansa don’t think badly of each other, at least never seriously and especially once they are separated. In fact, Arya’s perception specifically changes. Where as before she harbored some anger and blamed Sansa for Mycha’s death, once they are separated, Arya realizes that the real person to blame, the person with agency and who actually rode down a child was Sandor Clegane. From then on she only thinks of her sister with sad love and fondness, and clearly misses her. The same for Sansa except she often pushes down the thoughts of her family because they are too painful and will only weaken her position with the role she has to play.
“I would have let them kill me before I betrayed my family,” Arya insists, but Sansa didn’t betray her family by writing the letter. The letter is just about self-preservation. I could see twisting Sansa telling Cersei about their departure prematurely into betrayal, but this is literally just survival and Arya had been through that too. It’s where their parallels come from in the story, a parallel that was so heavy-handedly brought up in this conversation where Sansa says that Arya couldn’t have survived what she survived. First of all, don’t say your thematic parallels outloud, that’s such bad writing. But, the point of that notion that everyone is in agreement with in the fandom is that they were on different journeys, but they echoed each other.
Each of their journeys were suited to their strengths and it is true that neither would have survived the others battles, but they both use their strengths to survive, and specifically their identity. Sansa had to constantly put on a face—be someone else. From the Lannister loyal submissive child in King’s Landing to Alayne in the Vale, she had to tackle with putting on a face to shield her from her enemies while never letting go of who she was. Arya too goes through an intentional loss of identity as a shield, with Yoren, Harrenhall, the House of Black and White, or even when she was with the Hound. She had to contend with her anger towards him for his butchering of Mycha and his servitude under Joffrey while remaining with him to keep herself safe and get herself home. She didn’t sacrifice her life with an attack on him.
Arya then tells Sansa that she was there that day at the Sept of Baelor when they beheaded Ned. She blames Sansa for believing the Lannisters’ promises. But everyone did, because Ned wasn’t supposed to die. She has that moment in the book where Joffrey smiles and she thinks it would all be okay.
I think D&D just glanced over the rest of the chapter beyond initial impressions because they take Arya’s first impression of Sansa being there at face value in her nice dress and hair and must have skimmed over the part where she heard Sansa’s screams and hysterics, something she fails to ever forget.
And then one of the two moments that had me frothing was when Arya says that Sansa was willing to betray her whole family for her love for Joffrey. The fact that they had Arya taunt her with this—after what she actually went through in King’s Landing—is so abhorrent. Sansa suffered verbal, physical, and mental abuse in King’s Landing at the hands of her “beloved Joffrey”.
Sansa at least says what we all have been saying, that she was the one who won The Battle of the Bastards (can we stop calling it this in cannon, though, please) and that the Knights of the Vale rode North for her. (Again why is Littlefinger still here?) But again while building herself up she has to tear Arya down, saying she was simply “traveling the world” while Sansa was securing their home. Why do they have to dismiss each other’s trauma?
Sansa then goes to Littlefinger to confide in him about the letter and Arya’s behavior, which again is frustrating on every level because why does she even still trust him? She thinks the Northern lords will leave because the show has literally written them to change personality and conviction at the drop of a hat, and she also mentions that Jon hasn’t sent word in weeks. Wow, what a great King in the North.
Sansa is worried about how the letter will look because she “married not one, but two enemies” of her house, both of which were forced upon her, and one of which was arranged by the person she’s currently confiding in, but forgive and forget right? She’s also seriously worried about her sister, which is completely reasonable after Arya’s behavior, and Littlefinger recommends using Brienne to help—I think. He says that she’s sworn to protect them both so if one were to try to harm the other, she would have to intercede. I thought this was supposed to seed Sansa’s growing fear and paranoia about her sister, going so far as to ask Brienne to shield her, but that never came to be, so it seems like maybe it was supposed to seed Sansa’s decision to send Brienne away because she’d fear she would side with Arya? I really have no idea because these were all just scenes pasted together.
Sansa gets a letter calling her to King’s Landing for a meeting that we have heard no official planning of until now with Cersei, and presumably Team Jon, Dany, and the captured wight. She decides to send Brienne in her stead because she fears being taken prisoner again in King’s Landing, which is completely reasonable, and she also cannot leave the North and her people. This is fine, but her the way she treats Brienne when delivering this order is completely unnecessarily mean because women can’t possibly have any sort of positive relationships versus the endless positive bro-trip moments we got beyond the Wall.
Then one of the other lines that had me up in arms was uttered when Sansa says “I am home, this is the safest place for me.” It felt like a callback to when Sansa told Myranda “ I’m Sansa Stark of Winterfell. This is my home. And you can’t frighten me,” only to have her raped and imprisoned right afterwards. Here, she says this only to have her position called into question and her sister literally threaten to skin the face off of her and betray her.
Speaking of which, Sansa goes to find the letter herself but instead finds Arya’s literal bag of faces. I’m not kidding. She actually has a messenger bag with some faces stuffed inside. I couldn’t stop laughing for a good five minutes from this. After Sansa’s find, Arya comes in and explains that now with her faces, she’s able to bypass the patriarchy and be whatever she wants. Nevermind the creep factor of killing people for a face and inhabiting their thoughts and feelings. It’s obviously just Arya being a feminist!
Arya then outright threatens to murder her sister as she’s talking about all of the feminist possibilities her faces offer, saying that she “could even become” Sansa. #WOMENONTOP
She taunts Sansa some more about her pretty dresses and nice things and then hands Sansa the dagger she’s been pointing at her while delivering this serial killer speech.
This whole thing is the bane of my existence. These two sisters are reunited only to have one emotionally abuse the other and literally threaten to murder her. Fuck that. And you can bet in an episode from now they’re going to come together in a completely unearned way and we’re supposed to believe that their relationship after this won’t solely consist of Sansa barricading her door every night in fear. The fact that this is what Benioff and Weiss have decided to do with these two girls is just the epitome of the #womeontop fallacy and their inability to imagine any positivity between women, let alone sisters.
Dragonstone was the other infuriating location this episode that legitimately got me angry—with the Tyron fellating and Dany infantilization—but it’s becoming so frequent at this point that I have to laugh in astonishment. This scene literally opens with Dany asking Tyrion “Do you know what I like about you?” and proceeding to assure Tyrion that he’s great every step of the way of their conversation, even when she is deliberately calling him out, because we can’t ever see this man as anything but a saint.
If we didn’t know already, Tyrion is her “head” not her “hand” to quote a moment from last week, as she asks him if they are laying any traps for Cersei, because apparently she knows nothing about their actual plans.
Tyrion then talks her down from deceit and the thought of mass murder and again we get some more conversation of “breaking the wheel”. They truly don’t understand what this mean, do they? Tyrion conflates it to being a good queen, as if a good ruler is an anomaly, but the wheel is the system and Dany has no intention of breaking that as she specifically wants the Iron Throne.
Tyrion then said he agreed to keep a grip on Dany if Jaime did the same for Cersei, because women right? #womenontop! Tyrion is putting into practice what Varys told him as Dany proves to be young and foolish in the ways of war, Tyrion questioning her every move. “After you break the wheel how do we ensure it stays broken?” he asks, which is a great question but I don’t think they’ll ever know the answer to it because that question directly relates to Meereen, where they completely failed to do this and then just peaced out.
This conversation goes everywhere at once as usual and Tyrion starts talking about Dany’s line of inheritance to keep the wheel broken because he’s worried arrows will hit her in battle and that will be the end of their queen. You know what a minor safety precaution against that would be? Amour!! Wear it. Dany dismisses talk of inheritance and walks off, perhaps taking Olenna’s oh so great advice and ignoring council of “clever” men. But only when the scene needs conflict, because otherwise it’s all ass kissing all the time.
The next scene between the two has another few meta lines that sum of what their relationship and characters have become as Tyrion tries to dissuade her from riding her dragon’s up to save the bro-trip by saying she “can’t.” Then she asks him what he would have her do and his response is “nothing.” If you needed to sum up their relationship in a nutshell, this is it. Dany doesn’t listen however because her one-true-love-nephew Jon Snow is in trouble and she rides off with her dragons to save him.
BEYOND THE WALL
Ah, onto the part of the episode it’s so subtly named after, which is basically a lot of nonsensical “fighting”—if you could even call it that—and clunky conversations…starting with one between Gendry and the group as he’s not settling in well beyond the Wall because he’s never been to the North, or even seen snow in his lifetime…now remember this folks for later when they ask him to run back to Eastwatch on his own.
You can really tell D&D wrote this episode as he asks “How do you keep your balls from freezing off?” (Emmy Award winning dialogue!) and Tormund replies “Walking’s good, fighting’s better, fucking’s best.” Jon is so heteronormative and says there are no women anywhere near them and Tormund stares at Gendry as he says they make do with what they have…was that a rape joke?
Tormund then confirms the absurdity of this plan because “smart people don’t come up here looking for the dead.” Agreed, Tormund. It’s a dumb plan. You really should abort this mission now while you still can.
It’s worth noting here that in the “Inside the Episode” Benioff and Weiss literally say that they wanted them to grab a wight to show Cersei, so despite the pure illogical nature of it, they had to just make up any sort of contrivance to make it possible for the bro-trip to survive the fatal nature of the situation they are in, no matter how much twisting needed to happen to get them there. Thus, the rock island plot was born. They painted themselves into a corner and then just painted on the lines to get themselves out.
The conversations continue and Thoros and Beric tease Gendry for being angry at them for selling him, no big deal. Well, at least the notion of selling people and slavery is consistently not a big deal in this episode… Gendry recounts what happened to him after he was captured but instead of apologizing or coming to terms with what they have done to this boy in the name of their “god,” Sandor leads the charge in dismissing and joking about his clear sexual assault by Melisandre. Sandor literally utters the line “could of been worse.” But it wouldn’t be a bro-trip without some assault apology right?
Moving onto the next conversation, because that’s all this sequence is, Jorah and Jon have a weird conversation that they probably should have had when they met. Jorah, the saintly Nice Guy™ that he is, tells Jon that his father, Jeor, was a “good man” and “deserved a better son.” Jorah apparently cares a great deal for his father which segues them to start talking about Ned. Jorah willingly admits that Ned was right for wanting to execute him and Jon says he’s happy he didn’t catch him. Then he offers him Longclaw. I know show!Jorah is a Nice Guy™ but his crime was still dabbling in slavery, which isn’t exactly a light crime. And this after hearing what he heard from Jeor Mormont about Jorah and how dishonorable he was and that Ned, who he respected, ordered for his head because he broke the law seems like a weird jump for the two to become besties. Also Jon…you’re mid-journey and you are the only person with a Valyrian Steel sword and who has fought the White Walkers; maybe worry about exchanging swords later.
Tormund talks to Sandor in a conversation that concurrently uses the words “dick,” “cock,” and “pussy” only for Tormund to pull a no-homo, talk about his love for Brienne that we’re supposed to ship, and utter another award winning line before walking out of frame: “I’m good at killing people.”
Conversation number fifty…or what feels like it…and Beric tells Jon he doesn’t resemble Ned, which is some bad and lazy R+L=J seeding because Jon definitely looks like Ned. He’s got the Stark look like Arya and so he resembled both Ned and, I’m sure, Lyanna. Jon’s resemblance to Ned over Robb and her other children’s was also a massive point of contention and frustration for Cat because it was another checkbox in her paranoia that he would rob her children of their birthright. (If only she lived long enough to see this day!)
Jon and Beric talk about what their resurrection means and come to the conclusion that their duty is life. Not their own, but protecting the life of others. Richard Dormer’s voice is beautiful and totally helps all of this nonsensical dialogue float over my head but then Jon blurts out “I am the shield that guards the realms of men,” and the frustration is back on. Jon…you left the Night’s Watch. I don’t think you get to evoke their words after you peace out of a lifelong contract.
As they walk and talk and walk and talk, I’m left wondering why they didn’t bring horses and then suddenly a wight polar bear attacks. A nameless red shirt dies but Berric and Thoros take out their matching flaming swords and light the creature on fire. It oddly takes a really long time to burn and while it’s still kicking, Thoros gets absolutely savaged. Jorah kills it with dragon glass because new rules (that kills wights now), while the Hound looks on, fearing the flames.
Beric burns Thoros’s wounds, and while we got a closeup of the Hound shrinking away from the flames and Thoros concurrently being torn apart by the bear, we didn’t even get a moment for him to feel guilty over this, or any conflict for that matter, and we can see later he definitely doesn’t give a crap. So much for the changed Sandor at the beginning of this season having any worth.
Thoros and Jorah then reminisce about the Siege on Pyke during the Greyjoy Rebellion because these conversations never end, and Jorah asks “How drunk were you when you charged through the breach on Pyke?” Hey Jorah, you followed not long after him and were knighted for it. Were you drunk? Jorah then says he really admires Thoros though because bro-trips are all about this quick male bonding to counteract the cattiness we’ve got going on at Winterfell.
They finally make their way across some wights that are weirdly walking in formation, and they presumably trap them by lighting a decoy fire? That’s what I’m surmising although we’re never out right told, and seeing them plan this and go about doing it would have been interesting and more tense then any of the actual battles we got this week.
There’s one White Walker leading the group but Jon kills it with Longclaw (hence why he should have thought twice about ditching said sword earlier) and it kills the rest of the wights…well except for one. How convenient it is that this one wight traveling with them happens to be the one wight not connected to that White Walker. It’s almost as if the plot needed to have its cake and eat it too.
The wight screams which attracts the other wights, because apparently they function like actual zombies, and for the first time I think they all realize how dumb of a plan this whole thing was. They tell Gendry to run back to Eastwatch to send a raven to Dany for help because he’s the fastest and they take his hammer so it doesn’t weigh him down. Is he without a weapon now? Also, are they really sending the person who has never even seen the North, let alone beyond the Wall, off to trudge though hard terrain and find his way back to a place he’s never been before in an area that looks incredibly similar at every turn? It would have made way more sense to send Tormund…or one of the redshirt dudes from Eastwatch, to be honest, but we don’t know who the hell any of them are.
The rest of the group runs onto ice that’s cracking as the wight army approaches and decide to run for it to a rock island in the middle of the ice. They get there and as the wights plunge after them, the ice breaks in a perfect circle, making a heavily convenient moat between them and the bro-trip party, because apparently wights can’t swim or jump (until the plot needs them to be able to).
Gendry runs and while he doesn’t know where the fuck he’s going, he makes record time and gets to Eastwatch by sundown. A raven goes off to Dany (so yeah this timeline is fucked…and could have been less so had Dany just went after them during her first conversation with Tyrion out of frustration that she was losing her new favorite nephew. But that would have required her to be active and have agency within her own plot line though, and that’s a no-no) for inevitable dragon ex machina.
After a nice nap, because they are trapped there all night and apparently the ice doesn’t freeze after all these hours, they find that Thoros died in the night. The Hound barely reacts, stealing his flask for a drink instead of giving a shit. What happened to character growth—or just character complexity? The Hound could have had a real arc here—regret and internalized guilt that his trauma stopped him from saving Thoros, but instead we skim over all of that and the group burn his body. Jon says that Dany is their only hope, and thus both they and the plot conveniently wait for her arrival.
Literally though, the wights and White Walkers don’t even notice the water has frozen back over until Sandor starts throwing a rock at them and it lands on the recently refrozen ice. And I’m sorry, but these Pirates of the Caribbean-ass skeletor wights always make me laugh, especially when they are wearing big boots and clothes. The wights are now over their waiting and charge, the group getting ready for the impact.
Keeping track of the weapons, Tormund has a a dragon glass spear and Jorah has a dagger. But the wights keep going down with any old weapon including Jon with his sword and Sandor with Gendry’s hammer. It’s also worth nothing that wights are popping out of the water to grab Tormund, but I guess they can only not swim when the plot needs them to.
The Hound saves Tormund from the wights piling onto of him, and this really could have been his arc. He stopped in his tracks with Thoros, fearing the fire and then later regretting it, only to give him a redemptive moment of growth where he saves Tormund. And Jon looks around sadly in what is presumably supposed to be sentimental meaningful slo-mo. But I got nothing.
As all hope seems lost, the dragons ex machina arrives and while Tormund, Sandor, and Beric should be pretty amazed to see a dragon, the only one who gives a fuck is the person who has already seen them: Jon Snow. Dany gets everyone on the dragon minus Jon—who instead of standing close to fend off wights that are approaching, goes far out, putting too much space between him and the group.
The Night King’s Olympic training has officially paid off however, as he takes out a spear and shoots down Viserion. Wow, they came so prepared for this, between the chains we’ll see later and the dragon spears. The Night King also decides to go for the dragon flying in the air, like a show-off, rather than spearing the dragon on the ground closer to him with the people fighting him on its back. Viserion drowns and Dany says not one word in reaction. In fact, she says not one word this entire scene. In fact, Drogon and Rhaegal gave more of a reaction to Viserion dying than Dany, which is quite sad. And in case we didn’t know this plan was dumb before—it lost them a fucking dragon.
Jon casually strolls towards them and sees that the Night King is poised to throw another spear. Jon warns Dany but as he does he falls into the ice water—pushed by wights—and Dany is forced to leave him beyond to save her dragons. The Night King throws the second spear as the group flies away, and it narrowly misses them.
Jon, of course, comes out of the water, fine and not dead with pneumonia or drowned. However, he’s still trapped in a group of wights—and Benjen comes to the rescue, repeating a scene I feel like we’ve seen about five times now as he saves a Stark kid, ditches him before they could have a proper conversation, and throws himself into a crowd of ice zombies to give them a headstart. When you’ve this scene more than once, it loses any and all effect it ever had. It would have been better had Rhaegal come to save him to pre-establish what is sure to be the dragon that he (Jon Snow) will eventually ride.
Dany has been waiting eagerly at Eastwatch for Jon’s return and is so heartbroken over Jon, more so than her dragon. She sees Davos undress him, staring at his unhealed stabs and abs and is all flustered. She’s there waiting when he wakes up, and I don’t even know what to say about the acting here. Neither one of them gives any emotion. Jon says sorry. She says she’s not because she needed to see, and once again we don’t even get to solely focus on Dany grieving. It’s always about other people.
Dany tells Jon that her dragons are and will be her only children and as they bond with some hand holding. Jon then calls her “Dany”, which she wrinkles her nose at because the last person to call her that was her horrifically abusive brother and so really cheezily he calls her “my queen.” Dany is overwhelmed and she’s more emotional about him bending the fucking knee than the dragon child she lost. They believe so much in each other. Wow, this is moving so freaking fast, but also so slow.
Over back beyond the Wall the Night King commands his wights to pull Viserion’s corpse out of the water. I don’t know where they get these big ass chains from (maybe Tyrion’s full Blackwater plan?) and they lift the dragon out. Also how did they get the chain around the dragon? I thought they couldn’t swim? Anyway the Night King places his hand and, of course, its eye turns blue. Thus ICE DRAGON! DUN DUN DUN. So shocking! Are you dramatically satisfied?
Overall this episode would be ranked just on top of last week’s, but that’s not saying much because that’s all kinds of bad. The conversations along the bro-trip were horribly written and so abhorrently clunky. The Sansa and Arya catty drama just might be the death of me, though.
One more episode to go! We can do this!