Game of Thoughts: S7 E6

“Uncle Benjen…come with me.”

“There’s no time.”

There’s isn’t a better way to put it. No better way to sum up an episode which has split opinion like few others. Game of Thrones fans argue endlessly about plot theories and which characters are best, but in general their opinions on the show form a coherent consensus. Season 1 was solid, but hampered by budget restrictions. Seasons 2 through 4 saw a gradual improvement, with deeper characterisation and excellent casting. The Red Wedding and Tyrion’s Trial consolidated the love and hate fans feel for the show. Season 5 saw the books venture beyond the books, and suffered from poor writing and at least three too many Sand Snakes. Seasons 6 and 7 have been better, but a lot has been sacrificed as the show ploughs relentlessly towards its endgame.

As Benjen said, there’s been no time. No time to include the aforementioned characterisation, any worldbuilding, and Game of Thrones’ trademark unexpected character deaths. But in return, we’ve had the thrills of Hardhome, The Battle of the Bastards, and Cersei blowing up the Sept. It’s a fair trade.

Until now, that is — because I didn’t like this episode. This time, the scales have tipped too far towards spectacle and away from compelling story.

When I first watched it, I was ready to swallow the geographical inconsistencies and spontaneous character developments. I ate them up resignedly, enjoying the brief flashes of flavour, but generally apathetic about what was in front of me. But now I’ve put down the dirty plate in the corner, and as the past week has gone by, it’s begun to stink out the room. To stretch this metaphor yet further, the remnants of what appeared an appetising dish have gone mouldy.

We’ll start off with the premise, because from a storytelling perspective, Beyond The Wall was fucked before it ever began. The Arya/Sansa subplot is hopelessly contrived, and it’s painfully obvious that it is leading to Littlefinger’s downfall. And the main plotline makes even less sense: sending 12 men to face the Army of the Dead? Jon has seen them in action — in Hardhome he failed to fight them off with a village full of wildlings by his side, so how in the name of fuck was this ever going to work?

Talking of Hardhome, here’s all the distance Jon Snow has travelled since that episode, compared to the distance travelled by the Night King and his rotting chums:

I get that I’m being pedantic here. But at one point, a premise which made this little sense would never have occurred in this show. Game of Thrones built up a reputation simply because it was an exquisitely constructed story, full of realism and relatable characters making understandable choices. Four years and 20 good men later, here we are.

Since I’m being so negative, I should point out that the cinematography was excellent, fully utilising the alien landscapes of Iceland to create a fully realised Beyond-the-Wall backdrop. And I won’t pretend that seeing the Westerosi AllStars together wasn’t thrilling. Watching them all interact after following them individually for so long was the most enjoyable part of this week for me, and of course, Tormund stole the show. After one conversation with the Ginger Giant, Gendry is beginning to regret returning to the show.

Tormund also discusses Mance Rayder. Most unexpectedly, he criticizes his former King’s Anti-Kneeling policy, recognizing that Mance’s stubborn pride is in part responsible for the decimation of their people. This shows a welcome development in Tormund’s character: he’s been the de facto King of the remaining wildlings, and it seems the responsibility has given him doubts about the practicalities of wildling culture. It also does a good job of foreshadowing Jon’s own knee bending at the end of the episode. Tormund has now paved the way for Jon’s relationship with Dany, as he did with Jon and Ygritte all those seasons ago. What a wingman this guy is.

Also worth mentioning is Gendry’s protestations at Beric and Thoros, for selling him to Melisandre. Melisandre then raped him. Rape. And no one — be it the fictional characters or the factual fans — seems to give a shit. Clearly, rape is only harmful when it happens to female characters — I don’t need to remind anyone of the furore over Sansa’s rape in Season 5. Our culture has a long way to go.

After this, we have a brief interlude as tensions rise between Arya and Sansa. Arya is mad because, y’know, she found like, a letter that Sansa wrote, or was forced to write, in like Season 2, and accuses Sansa of fucken treason or something, uhhh, fuck this, none of this matters or makes any sense. Let’s move on.

Up in the North, the AllStars rock some leathers and have some time for bromance. Then an undead bear ruins the moment, but fortunately only kills a few extras, and injures the quantitatively least important character: Thoros.

(Side note: the Hound turning away as Beric uses his flaming sword to cauterize Thoros’ wounds. Nice touch.)

Then we cut back to Winterfell, where Littlefinger continues to artfully manipulate Sansa into distrusting her sister, and recommends Brienne to like, get between them or something, and yeah, who cares, back to the North.

Jon makes a significant discovery as he (too easily) dispatches a White Walker, and most of its troupe of Undead fall along with it. This has major implications for the Final War — if the Walkers are defeated, the Army is too. In the first of many strokes of fortune, only one of the Undead survives, so the team can capture him. The Hound tears a leaf of skin from his face, which is harsh, considering the Hound knows what it feels like to only have half a face.

Jon and the crew realise that after his reveal, Gendry’s character isn’t all that useful for the show, so they give his weapon to a better character and send him trotting back to Eastwatch. Meanwhile they retreat to a sensible strategic position — a rock in the middle of a lake. Then the ice behind them uniformly cracks, separating them from the full force of the Walkers. Fortuitous coincidence #2.

The group are marooned, and face a particularly bad Morning-After. Who hasn’t awoken after a crazy night on an island of rock, surrounded by an Undead Army, with a frozen Red Priest for company?

But yeah, Thoros was a solid character, and will be missed. By none more than Beric — now he’s lost his get out of jail free card.

In Winterfell, instead of use Brienne’s help, she actually sends Brienne away, because … oh, who cares.

Back to the Northern standoff, and the Hound nearly fucks it all up. I love that Sandor throwing rocks at the Undead army is a legitimate plot point, that nearly gets them all murdered. But of course they’re not all murdered, because of course it’s Daenerys to the rescue. A woman who, just thirty minutes earlier, said “heroes do stupid things then they die”, rides recklessly across Westeros, over the wall and straight into the land of the Undead. Fortuitous coincidence #3, and counting.

The final segement is a cool spectacle. Obviously, seeing Dragons fight White Walkers is epic, and I never expected to see it this season. But it wasn’t tense: not like Hardhome, not like Jaime charging down Daenerys, not like the Battle of the Blackwater. I knew a few of the extras might die, but no one significant.

If there’s one thing that separated Game of Thrones from other TV shows, it was unpredictable. This episode was thoroughly predictable. Jon was never going to die. The spare men always were. Even Dany-Ex-Machina was thoroughly expected by the time she got there. And Benjen turning up to save Jon was merely fortuitous coincidence #4, the last in a long line of thoroughly undeserved strokes of luck. And I mean, come on, Jon searched for Benjen for like two seasons! And he barely gives him a second glance!

Why did I fucking bother

But I suppose all this is forgivable, in light of an epic spectacle and a necessary chunk of the story. It needs to be rectified, however, by a few twists and turns next week. And, if it’s not too much to ask, twists which make sense, and have genuine implications for the plot.

The Night King lost thousands of minions and a few white walkers: Team Westerosi AllStars lost one Dragon and Thoros of Myr. As far as I can see, it’s a triumphant victory for the living. But when you’re fighting the walkers, there’s always a catch: every enemy they fell becomes part of their army, and in this week’s only major twist, now they have a dragon.

Looking forward, the big question now is: does the Wall’s magic apply to Dragons? At a guess, I’d say yes. It’s been established that the Wall is more than a physical barrier: its ancient magic stops any form of undead from passing. So the wall has to go. I’ve read several theories about how the White Walkers could circumvent it: they could fly over it, they could use frozen seas to walk around it, or Bran’s mark of the Night King could allow them to just pass through the gate.

But come on. How shit would it be if the White Walkers just stroll past the wall? As a symbol, and as a spectacle, the Wall needs to collapse. Only that would fittingly set the board for the Final War between the living and the dead.

I’ve always assumed that the wall would collapse at the end of the penultimate season, but now we’re here, it just seems too soon. There’s too much plotline to be sorted in Westeros for the Final War to be fought just yet. And at the current speed of travel, if the White Walkers broke down the wall, it would take them about half an hour to conquer all of Westeros.

So, I expect this might be the last we see of the Demon Ice Lollies for this season. Instead, the final episode will probably focus on the dispute for the Iron Throne, as Cersei and Daenerys try not to fall into the other’s trap. Usually I’d try and make a few predictions here, but I’m pretty much clueless as to what’s going to happen. For the last few seasons, I’ve expected Cersei to die by the end, but her sheer endurance has prevailed. I’m a passionate supporter of the theory that Jaime will kill her, and there hasn’t been enough groundwork laid for that to be happening next week. Besides, if Cersei and Jaime are disposed of, then everyone is pretty much on the same side in fighting the White Walkers, and that would make for an uneventful Season 8. No, if I had to make a tenuous prediction, I’m expecting to see Daenerys (or perhaps Jorah) present the undead captive at King’s Landing, in the hope that Cersei will see sense and join the fight against them. But to use the phrase “hoping Cersei will see sense” is to stick your foot in your mouth. The minute any perceived enemy of hers sets foot inside the Red Keep, be assured they’re not leaving again.

How fantastic would it be, how awful, how quintessentially Game of Thrones, if this season was to end with Cersei killing Daenerys?

Episode Rating: 5/10

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