Game of Thrones finally lives up to its namesake novels with “Beyond the Wall” as the forces of ice and fire clash. Josh and I waste no time diving into the episode’s particulars. We generally skate past the timeline issues (1, 2, 3) discussed and debated elsewhere, instead focusing on inconsistencies with characters and narrative. I continue to worry about how this show is meant to conclude given what we’ve learned so far about the weaknesses and behaviors of White Walkers and wights.
This week’s frenetic episode comes on the heels of a quieter experience last week. Director Alan Taylor wastes no time in thrusting us directly into the North with Jon (Kit Harington) and his brothers-in-arms as they search for a dead man to capture and show Cersei (Lena Headey). Leaving aside the strained logic of this particular plan, we are treated to some truly beautiful and harrowing shots of the winter wasteland beyond the wall. Alas, what might have worked well as a one-off survival horror story loses tension as Taylor jumps back to Winterfell to focus on sibling rivalry.
In the Stark castle, it quickly becomes apparent that barring a last-minute reveal in the finale, Arya (Maisie Williams) has fallen entirely for Littlefinger’s (Aidan Gillen) ploy. She confronts Sansa (Sophie Turner) about the letter she wrote back in Season 1 and recalls a markedly different version of Sansa’s role in Ned Stark’s (Sean Bean) death. Josh and I quibble with Arya falling for such an attempt at centrifuge and with Sansa’s seeming trust of Littlefinger. I do note that perhaps Sansa’s words to Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Arya’s passing on of the knife might indicate there’s a subplot unfolding that will address our concerns, but the show has made nothing explicit just yet.
We then spend the bulk of the episode discussing the final battle between Jon Snow’s crew, the White Walkers and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). I won’t outline the issues we took with these scenes here, but suffice it to say that despite wholehearted efforts of the cast (with Harington and Tormund’s Kristofer Hivju particularly sticking out ), Alan Taylor’s direction fails what should have been a landmark moment in the show. For all of the often gendered suffering these characters have endured since the show’s premiere years ago, often extraneous to the source novels, I struggle to see how this makes up the difference.
And still, so many questions remain. Who is the Night King and what is his motivation? Some theories have compelling suggestions, but that’s all we have to go on for the time being. Is Viserion a threat if wights and White Walkers are so vulnerable to dragonglass and Valyrian steel? Will Jon ever return to Winterfell? Will Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) reveal any useful information about military plans, Littlefinger’s machinations, or anything else of import — or is his window into the past plot-limited?
The show is in sore need of better writing, and barring that, at least better direction. Where is Miguel Sapochnik? Where is our lost love to save us (1,2,3) from the Long Night, for it is dark and full of terrors?
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Check in with us next week as we wrap up with the finale of Game of Thrones Season 7, “The Dragon and the Wolf.”