“Beyond the Wall” reminds us who the real enemy is in Game of Thrones—a convoluted storyline. Writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss did give us some fun character-driven dialogue, but implausible storytelling undermined “Beyond the Wall.” After a season of stellar episodes, last week’s “Eastwatch” set us up for a fall. “Beyond the Wall” introduced some new reveals, but the condensed narrative and contrived plot devices strained the story’s credibility.
The writing, in terms of overall story concept and plot, for “Beyond the Wall” required even more suspension of disbelief than usual for Game of Thrones. We can overlook discrepancies in travel time, but it’s harder to ignore what feels like character lapses. Despite these setbacks, let’s not take for granted what consistently makes Game of Thrones so good (besides a huge budget)—stunning locations, incredible special effects, and outstanding performances.
That’s the North
“Beyond the Wall” was set primarily in the snowy landscape north of the Wall, with a few scenes at Dragonstone and Winterfell. Though we may question the logic of the mission, we’re always excited for scenes set in the North, particularly when they involve White Walkers. After the title sequence, the camera pans over the battle map at Dragonstone, followed by a shot of the actual landscape north of the Wall—and it’s beautiful.
Director Alan Taylor uses the wild setting of the North to the episode’s advantage. The harsh setting is an adversary in itself for the raiding party. The response of Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) is the exception, as he expresses his enjoyment at being back in the North: “I can breathe again. Down south the air smells like pig sh*t.” Though Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Tormund may have different ideas of what constitutes the South, they are both keenly aware of what winter has brought to the North. Director Taylor films a landscape that feels even more inhospitable and dangerous than what we saw in early seasons.
Is that a Bear?
Some might say whiteout conditions north of the Wall shielded the CGI zombie polar bear from too much scrutiny, but we suspect it made for additional challenges as the unnatural looking angles shaped by missing flesh and exposed bones can’t be easy to generate. The decomposing bear coming out of the blizzard to attack as it was lit afire was an impressive technological feat. It felt as though the dead beast was a real threat, and it foreshadowed the Night King making poor Viserion part of his army of the dead.
We continue to be impressed by the dragon imagery, both when they’re viewed up close or from afar. The CGI of the dragons was far more believable than the idea that Drogon would suddenly accept a bunch of non-Targaryens (including one of the undead) on his back. We mourned Viserion just as we would a character portrayed by an actor—perhaps moreso due to the dragons’ uniqueness and majesty. Though our grief was interrupted when Daenerys took an inordinately long time to fly Drogon and Rhaegal out of danger after the Night King killed Viserion. The pause, meant to allow the audience to feel the loss of Viserion, only served to distract. We couldn’t have been the only viewers yelling at the screen as Jon and Daenerys stayed in place looking stunned despite the continued danger all around them. Yet the death of Viserion allowed for one of our favorite CGI moments in “Beyond the Wall”—the undead dragon opening a blue eye in the very last scene.
Beautiful settings, impressive special effects, a beloved book series—none of it would matter without the skilled performances of this outstanding series cast. The acting helps us to suspend our disbelief and ignore inconsistencies, but sometimes even great performances aren’t enough to bridge the gap.
I’m not doing ‘nothing’ again
In “Beyond the Wall,” Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) plays the role of master strategist concerned about his Queen’s legacy. Dinklage and Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) effectively portray the formal yet familiar relationship between Hand and Queen. The problem is not with the acting but with the discrepancy between Tyrion being seen as a wise counselor and military expert when it’s not clear that he’s provided counsel that has aided Daenerys in her cause. He did help forge cooperation between Jon Snow and Daenerys, which seems to be turning into a love connection. Tyrion brings to her attention that she lists Jon Snow among the men she cares most for:
Tyrion: “Interesting. Those heroes you name—Drogo, Jorah, Daario, even ‘this Jon Snow’—they all fell in love with you.”
Daenerys: “Jon Snow’s not in love with me.”
Tyrion: “Oh, my mistake. I suppose he stares at you longingly because he’s hopeful for a successful military alliance.”
What’s most strange about this scene is Tyrion’s sudden interest in Daenerys’ succession. We agree with Daenerys—it feels premature. In “Beyond the Wall,” Weiss and Benioff have constructed a theme around children and lineage, but the topic is clumsily inserted into the dialogue between Daenerys and Tyrion. Despite the heavy-handed writing, the back and forth between these two characters is quite engaging—a testament to the actors’ skill.
You never would have survived what I survived
The intensity of the moments between Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) shows how talented these two actresses are. After the compelling scene in Arya’s bedroom, we had no idea what might happen. Is Arya going to kill her sister? Will Sansa have her sister arrested or killed? The two actresses were very convincing in their portrayal of an overblown family conflict.
“We both wanted to be other people when we were younger. You wanted to be a queen—to sit next to a handsome young king on the Iron Throne. I wanted to be a knight—to pick up a sword like father go off to battle. Neither of us got to be the other person, did we? The world doesn’t just let girls decide what they’re going to be. But I can now. With the faces, I can choose. I can become someone else, speak in their voice, live in their skin. I can even become you. I wonder what it will feel like to wear those pretty dresses, to be the Lady of Winterfell. All I’d need to find out is your face.”
What was difficult about watching the scenes was how untrue the story feels for the characters. The skill of Turner and Williams almost make the argument feel organic, but as soon as we think of these characters outside of these scenes, the idea their conflict would come to such a head that we’d worry that one might kill the other seems ridiculous. We’d certainly believe it of the Lannisters, but not the Starks. It makes sense to draw out the childhood conflict between these very different sisters, but it’s taken to an extreme that feels forced.
Arya has a rigid moral outlook, whereas Sansa is driven by political, not philosophical, considerations. Perhaps if there were one or two more episodes to let the disagreements between them fester we might believe these two could turn so completely on each other, but even then it would play too against character. We keep hoping that one or both of them are smart enough to have seen through Littlefinger and are playing along to trap the master manipulator, but that idea is looking more and more like a pipe dream.
Death is the enemy
If only the Stark sisters could have taken a dangerous journey to the North, perhaps they could have put aside their differences. As the fellowship of Jon Snow, Tormund Giantsbane, Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), Gendry (Joe Dempsie), Beric Dondarian (Richard Dormer), Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye), Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), and half a dozen anonymous redshirts head north, they discuss the past and the future. Gendry complains about Beric and Thoros selling him to Melissandre, who wanted to kill him. He finally stops “whining” when the Hound points to Beric and says, “This one’s been killed six times and you don’t hear him bitchin’ about it.” The Hound provides great comic moments through “Beyond the Wall.”
Jon and Jorah talk about Lord Jeor Mormont and his death. If these two see themselves as romantic rivals, there’s no sign of it here. Jon offers Longclaw, the Mormont family sword, back to Jorah. Don’t think it didn’t escape us that Jon didn’t offer it to his staunchest supporter, Lady Mormont. Jorah declines, telling Jon, “I brought shame to my house. I broke my father’s heart. I forfeited the right to claim this sword. It’s yours. May it serve you well, and your children after you.” Jon looks pensive. Perhaps after being in the Night’s Watch Jon had put aside the possibility of having children. But as Jon told Davos in “The Spoils of War,” there’s no time for that right now.
Tormund is fantastic throughout this episode, which kept worrying us that he was going to die. During their journey Tormund shares some wisdom that Jon later heeds: “Mance Rayder was a great man, proud man. King Beyond the Wall, and never bent the knee. How many of his people died for his pride?”
But Tormund’s best moments come when he interacts with the ginger-hating Sandor Clegane. The Hound’s hostility, which keeps most people distant, doesn’t seem to bother Tormund at all. Sarcasm is lost on Tormund, who takes everything literally. Tormund doesn’t believe the Hound is truly mean because he has “sad eyes.” Tormund talks about his interest in Brienne:
Sandor: “Brienne of Tarth?”
Tormund: “You know her?”
Sandor: “You’re with Brienne of f*cking Tarth?”
Tormund: “Well I’m not with her yet. But I see the way she looks at me.”
Sandor “Like she wants to carve you up and eat your liver?”
Tormund: “You do know her!”
The subject of children comes up again in the episode when Tormund says he wants to make great big monster babies with Brienne that will conquer the world. Later in the episode, the Hound has a redemption moment when he saves Tormund from the dead who overwhelm him. Now that Tormund has survived the episode, let’s hope he and Brienne start working on those monster babies soon.
Jon discusses the Lord of Light with Beric. Beric tells Jon, “Death is the enemy—the first enemy and the last.” Ultimately it’s Beric’s statement about defending those who can’t defend themselves that rings true for Jon. It brings to mind the oath of the Night’s Watch: “I am the shield that guards the realms of men.”
Though it was no “Hardhome,” the battle at the lake was exciting to watch. There were too many plot contrivances (if the dead can’t go in the water, who chained up the underwater corpse of Viserion—and where did they get those chains, anyway?). Daenerys’ arrival was far too convenient (how long did they spend on that island before the dead figured out the ice was frozen again?). Despite these issues, we can’t resist a feel-good rescue moment. And though we’re so relieved that Tormund is still alive and that Uncle Benjen came along to save Jon, it was surprising there weren’t more deaths. Except for Thoros, all the named characters survived, while all the redshirts died. Very convenient. Having said that, please don’t start killing main characters just for the sake of killing characters, Game of Thrones. We’ve seen how that goes and it’s not good.
“Beyond the Wall” Review
“Beyond the Wall” included several reveals, some of which were bigger than others. Daenerys and Jon have fallen for each other. As she mourns the loss of Viserion, Daenerys explains to Jon that she can’t have children. What seemed like a lack of chemistry in the last few episodes was really just the restraint and formality expected when two powerful figures have yet to develop a trusting relationship.
We learned more about killing the dead. The new dragonglass weapons, along with Jon’s Valyrian steel sword, are pretty effective. It was Jorah’s dragonglass dagger that finally killed the bear, not the flaming swords. Oh, was anyone else surprised that both Beric and Thoros had flaming swords? Having two makes them seem a little less special. It was also revealed that when you kill a White Walker, you destroy the wights it has created. As Beric Dondarrion points out, they just need to kill the Night King. Oh, that’s all.
The bad news is that the White Walkers can kill dragons with their magical ice spears. The Night King now has his own undead dragon, which both breaks our heart and piques our curiosity. Despite much speculation, it turns out there is no third dragon rider among the Lannisters, or any of the living beings for that matter.
“Beyond the Wall” had some good moments, but struggled when compared to the other fantastic episodes we’ve seen in Season 7 of Game of Thrones. We did get the highly anticipated moment of dragons versus the dead, but at this condensed pace, it was hard to savor. Despite narrative shortcomings, “Beyond the Wall” gives us the beautiful settings, technical prowess, and outstanding performances we have come to expect from Game of Thrones.