There were some great scenes this week. Not just the action sequences, but some great conversations between characters that acknowledged history and development that we’ve spent seven seasons working up to. And then there were scenes that seemed to be the placeholder dialogue for what needed to happen in the scene but lacked any nuance or research behind it. It’s what I’ve found most frustrating about this season; for everything they get really right, they get something else very wrong. It’s not all action versus non-action either, but it is, frequently, male characters versus female characters. There’s not been a single episode this season written or directed by a woman and I’m started to see how it shows in the interactions between the Stark sisters, but also other places. Women do not have two conversational modes that can be summed up as warm and sharing vs. prickly and demanding, but you’d never know it from watching Daenerys the past few weeks, or anything up in Winterfell. That said, we are moving things forward quickly, and I know that’s a relief to a lot of us. On we go.
We open on the band beyond the Wall as we get a good look at our core seven and also all the randos who were brought along to die dramatically. After a fun conversation with Gendry about surviving in the North, we learn that Tormund’s position on “we do not kneel” seems to have evolved interestingly as he’s seen how many of his countrymen died, and he advises Jon of the risks of pride. This is good. So is Gendry confronting the members of the Brotherhood about them giving him up. And Jorah and Jon talking about Jeor Mormont, and Jon offering Jorah Longclaw. Jorah lets Jon keep the sword. Listen, Jorah will not get Daenerys, and he probably has an inkling that she’s got an eye on Jon already. But I really hope he gets a nice, age-appropriate, Eowyn equivalent to comfort him after all this is said and done. But, good talks, guys.
Back at Winterfell, Arya is talking to Sansa about being a child at Winterfell. Unfortunately it takes a nasty turn at the end as Arya accuses Sansa of being complicit in the death of their father. Sansa admits that she wrote the note, but insists that she was told it was the only way to save Ned’s life, and that was what she was told. Arya still says she should never have done it. That’s easy to say from where they are now, but at the time, Ned’s execution was far from a foregone conclusion. The comparison to Lyanna Mormont is also unfair, Lyanna is not being held by hostile forces in foreign territory. Sansa’s also not wrong about Jon, if slightly uncharitable; Jon broke the plan he and Davos had in the Battle of the Bastards and was headed for certain death before the Knights of the Vale rode in. Maybe she could have told him she had them, but even if they’d been there from the start of the battle, it still would have been her contribution that gave the Northern forces that advantage, all because she chose to reveal herself to the Lords of the Vale against Littlefinger’s plan. I’ve always believed that Sansa and Arya would be dead in each other’s places. Sansa couldn’t have survived living rough on the road and fighting for herself in the wilds of Westeros and finding a new path in Braavos. Arya couldn’t have survived being captive in King’s Landing and remaining calm to keep herself alive as she was physically beaten by Joffrey’s King’s Guard and married to Tyrion Lannister, let alone Ramsay Bolton. These sisters have skills that complement each other. The tension wrought by having them at each other’s necks is one kind of interesting story, but it’s a deeply uncomfortable one that doesn’t do either of them justice. Having them work together, sit down and learn that while they may not like each other, they are still Starks and they need to be allied, would ALSO create tension and be an interesting story. But it’s a harder story to tell, and a more personal one too, so it’s not the story we’re getting. The other thing we’re not getting is either of them trying to ask Bran what’s going on. You know, Bran? The dude who can see all of time now? You’d think he’d be useful here.
Back up North, The Hound and Tormund are comparing fond memories of Brienne. I do enjoy how appreciative Tormund is of Brienne’s singular charms, but I don’t get the sense that Brienne is ever going to come around. Not that I’d mind if we saw a Wildling/Westerosi marriage to solidify their political alliances. Beric is talking to Jon about Ned, and about how they’ve both come back from the dead at the hands of Red Priests. Beric gets pretty metaphysical with him, and Jon’s not exactly sure what to do with that, but brings it back to that maybe it’s enough to know that they should fight. I don’t think you have to tell Jon that, Beric. For all his protests about not enjoying what he’s good at, our current King in the North loves throwing himself at dangerous and likely suicidal missions.
Dany is bitching to Tyrion about how all her men-folk insist on being heroes and getting themselves killed or almost killed, like Jon and his dumb mission. Tyrion points out the inconvenient fact that all of these men seem to have fallen in love with her, leading to Dany, a bit too defensively, saying that Jon is too small for her. Sure he is, honey. ANYWAY, they start planning their next move to King’s Landing to meet with Cersei. Tryion admits that they’ll need ruthlessness and fear and he’s right that fear is a brittle basis for ruling. Tyrion, though, then shoots himself in the foot as he tells Dany that she “loses her temper” like when she burned the Tarlys. Sorry, buddy, she was totally calm when she did that. She gave them an out, YOU gave them another out, and they refused to take either. That wasn’t a rash impulse, it was how you deal with a hostile military foe. THEN Tyrion takes this insult as a chance to try and talk about how they pick who rules after her, which is really important but… let’s read the room a bit. If he was hoping she’d sit right down to sign a document stating that Tyrion Lannister would rule in her stead should she die or be incapacitated, he REALLY did not play that conversation the right way. Missandei probably could’ve handled this a bit more tactfully but she’s off
making Fate of the Furious mooning over Grey Worm, I guess. Tyrion’s been really off his game lately, which is interesting but confusing. I don’t know if we’re meant to read him as deliberately misreading things because of unresolved feelings about his family, or if we’re to understand that he’s better at politics than war and doesn’t seem to grasp that himself. He’s got a lot of great ideas that could be important if she were already ruling the Seven Kingdoms. But she’s not. She’s fighting for them. It’s an important distinction he doesn’t seem to be fully grasping.
North of the Wall our merry band of red-shirts and heroes stumble across their first real foe, a massive undead bear. They fight valiantly, but the bear is tougher than anything human-sized, and even after being set ablaze it’s still attacking. It tries to go for the Hound, but Thoros throws himself in the way first and takes the brunt of the attack while the Hound stares on petrified. Jorah manages to stab the bear in the head with a dragonglass dagger (would’ve been cool to see a conversation about that!) and Beric cauterizes his wounds so he can keep going.
Sansa is demanding to know where Arya got that message and Littlefinger doesn’t own up. I’m finding it weirder that ARYA didn’t throw it in her face since she thinks Sansa asked Littlefinger to get it, but whatever. This is what the writers want, not what the characters would do. Sansa scores a point on how “The North Remembers” makes a better slogan than reality as she recounts how often they’ve been double-crossed by the Lords in the North and why she’s rightfully concerned about keeping them calm. As unforgiving as Arya is, it’s likely that most of the Northern Lords would be far more unforgiving. Of course, this makes Arya’s game even LESS understandable, because if they turn on Sansa, whom Jon left in charge, who does she think they’ll follow? Her? Bran? They’d probably just ride away taking their food and forces with them, which is the last thing anyone needs right now. Littlefinger brings Brienne into the discussion as someone sworn to both of them, and Sansa seems to absorb the information thoughtfully.
Thoros and Jorah talk about fighting on Pyke in another one of those conversations that acknowledge history and shared experiences to shine light on character motivations. Kind of like what I wish Arya and Sansa would get to talking about! Mostly what we learn is that Thoros is just super drunk all the time. But then they spot a small group of wights and a White Walker, so they head to battle. In this fight, we see that killing a White Walker instantly takes out most of the wights, suggesting that all wights are destroyed when the White Walker that turned them dies. Weird how that didn’t seem to happen at “Hardhome,” but I guess I’m being too picky. One’s still squirming, so the Hound tackles it and they get to work trying to tie it up. It gets off some screeches first, though, and we see that the rest of the army wasn’t far behind. Gendry is sent off, allegedly because he’s the fastest although how Jon would know this I have no idea. Did they have a little bootcamp on the ship with wind-sprints? The rest of our crew run to a rock in the middle of a frozen lake and the ice gives out under the weight of the wights as they try to follow them, so they’re all safe (save for another anonymous dude in furs or two) but trapped. Gendry makes it back to the Wall so he can tell Davos to get a raven off to Daenerys letting her know the mission is trapped and almost certainly doomed.
After a night exposed to the elements the priest of fire, Thoros, succumbs to the cold. All the drinking probably didn’t help, contrary to popular belief drinking actually lowers core body temperature. Beric burns the body before it can turn, and everyone contemplates how sad it is that a character with a
SAG card backstory has died on this mission. I’m just kind of surprised he’s the only one. I had some pretty solid odds on Tormund not making it out. There’s a suggestion that Jon and Beric could go on a kamikaze mission to take down the Night’s King, but they’ll hold off for now.
Maester Wolkan gives Sansa an invitation from Cersei Lannister to King’s Landing, but she wants to send Brienne. Sansa has no intention of going to King’s Landing while Cersei is queen, which is the correct instinct. Brienne wants to stay to guard her from Littlefinger, or keep her oath to protect her and Arya, but Sansa sends her away anyway. The exact reason for this remains unclear. Either Sansa’s trying to protect herself, protect Arya, or some combination of the two. What is clear is that Littlefinger told her that she should use Brienne, and now she’s making sure that Brienne isn’t in Winterfell. It seems like she’s engaging Littlefinger’s counsel in order to cut the legs off his plans, though to what ends is unclear.
Daenerys is mounting up all three dragons to head North of the Wall. She’s got a fancy new fur coat and is heading out despite Tyrion’s protests that she needs to stay and let the mission succeed or fail on its own. But Dany’s had enough of other people fighting her battles for her, and off she and the dragons go. And not a moment too soon, as the ice has now frozen back over hard enough for a rock thrown by the Hound to skitter across it rather than break through, which is all the invitation the army of the dead needs to start making their way across the ice. It’s a desperate. mostly hopeless battle, our heroes are surrounded and the dead are packed in hundreds deep on all sides. But all of them look ready to fight until they can’t, unfortunately “until they can’t” looks like it’s sneaking up on all of them awfully quick, but then a burst of dragonfire comes in to turn the tide. Here’s where I’m gonna get a bit nit-picky (again); if dragonglass and dragonsteel can kill the White Walkers specifically, why can’t dragonfire? We watch the Night’s King walk straight through a line of fire laid down by a dragon. Ponder that as we watch Jon valiantly fight off zombies so his friends can board Drogon and the Night’s King grabs a spear and moves into position. They’re all waiting on Jon as the Night’s King takes aim and hits Viserion right in the neck. He comes down, bleeding heavily, and dies just before sinking into the depths of the frozen lake. Everyone looks stunned, Dany looks sick, Drogon starts screaming at Jon to just GET THE FUCK OVER HERE but Jon has his big damn hero pants on and tells them to go and leave him behind. After he’s tackled into the water, Dany does just that to save her dragons. An ice spear narrowly misses Drogon, and Tormund only just hangs onto Jorah as Daenerys looks back in grief and fear.
Jon manages to haul himself out of the ice, half frozen, facing certain death until we get the mystical return of Benjen/Coldhands. I still don’t like Benjen as Coldhands, Coldhands is meant to be incredibly ancient, but whatever not the point now. He saves Jon and takes his place in front of a wall of hundreds of wights with just a flaming flail to defend himself. Whoever he is, whatever he was, this looks like the last we’ll see of him. Jon makes it back to the Wall, despite his congenital need to put himself in front of massed, hostile forces by himself with just a sword for defense. I had hoped that maybe Rhaegal would swoop back in for Jon, but I guess this works too.
Daenerys is now the first Queen to visit the Wall since Queen Alysanne. She stands at the top of it gazing out as Jorah gently tries to pry her away to get to King’s Landing with their captive wight. But as she finally turns back, a single horn blow is heard and the tiny dot of a horse comes across the clearing in front of the Wall. Jon is rescued, stripped of his frozen garments, and tucked in on the ship back to King’s Landing. He STILL has not told anyone to get a raven off to Winterfell so Sansa knows what the fuck is going on.
Sansa is in Arya’s room and found her sack of faces. Arya starts talking about her training and learning how to see lies, and how she learned to become other people and threatens that she could become Sansa. She approaches Sansa holding the unsheathed cat’s paw dagger. Sansa doesn’t move, and at the last minute Arya turns the dagger around and hands it to her, walking out. I’m still hating this direction for these two. Like I said before, they have complementary skills. They can accomplish more together, and would have plenty of dramatic tension trying to learn to work together, than this stupid plot where we think they’re both out to kill each other. Also, remember that time that Arya was a cup-bearer for Tywin Lannister for a whole season and DIDN’T kill him? And Littlefinger saw her there? And then a master assassin gave her three free kills and she still didn’t have him killed? If I thought this show was still invested in writing this character in an interesting way, I’d assume that might come up! Not that I blame her for not killing Tywin herself at the time, discretion is the better part of valor as Sansa AND ARYA both know based on their experiences. The problem is that only one of them seems to have remembered it. Overall, though, I think Arya is coming off worse in this story. She’s reliving petty childhood squabbles while Sansa is actually trying to hold the fucking North which, Lyanna Mormont aside, appear to be a collection of men with the loyalty of hungry cats. She might wear pretty dresses while doing it, but we’ve seen that there’s a lot more work that goes into it that she’s ALSO doing. Maybe she could be more vocally supportive of Jon, but maybe Jon could have not unilaterally decided to head down to Dragonstone against all good sense and after he said he wouldn’t, and not write for weeks. I’d be kinda pissed too.
Jon is waking up on Dany’s ship. The first thing he says is “I’m sorry.” Dany’s face starts to crumple as he takes her hand. But she composes herself and admits that she wouldn’t have understood what was happening in the North if she hadn’t seen for herself. She tells Jon the dragons are her only children, and that she’ll fight with him to destroy the Night King. He calls her Dany and she mentions that the last person to call her that was her brother, who was terrible. So he asks if he can call her “My Queen.” The relationship between these two is growing surprisingly smoothly, and naturally. The best scenes with Daenerys the last couple episodes have been the ones where she and Jon bond over the difficulties of being a ruler. I am almost curious to see how they’ll screw it up for plot-delaying purposes. Tactfully, Dany doesn’t ask about the massive stabbing scar right over Jon’s heart, but I trust that she noticed.
And now the moment we’ve all been waiting for/dreading. The army of the dead hauls Viserion’s body from under the ice, and the Night King walks forward to touch him. The dragon’s eye opens blue. We no longer need three riders. Sorry, Tyrion.