“You have to see it to know. And now I know,” Daenerys tells Jon at the end of the episode. And she does, indeed, know. But it came at a price.
Tyrion was right about the risks Daenerys was willing to take — she has put everything on the line for questionable gains in the past — and he couldn’t keep repeating those warnings without something happening to justify them. Something had to give, and we’re running out of episodes. Game of Thrones doesn’t work if it looks like one side has too much of an advantage, and Daenerys had three big advantages. Which means things had to change. It was easy to predict how this would play out once we saw our Suicide Squad from last week marooned on a piece of rock, surrounded on all sides by the White Walkers, with Gendry busting ass to get back to the Wall. Once that situation was set up, the rest basically wrote itself. A raven would be sent to Dragonstone. Westeros’ fast-travel system would kick in. Daenerys would rescue our heroes at the expense of some redshirts I couldn’t name to save my life. But it would cost her. The problem with riding mythical creatures into combat to see other mythical creatures is that you can never be sure about the power you’re about to witness. The White Walkers have a weapon that can do more than hurt the dragons for a bit; it can kill them. And one was killed. But not for good.
MEANWHILE, BACK AT WINTERFELL
It’s easy to be hard on Arya for her reaction to Littlefinger’s setup from last week, but Arya hasn’t been able to see Sansa’s transformation in the same way we have. Nor has Sansa seen Arya’s training and revenge on their enemies. “You have to see it to know,” remember. No one has seen it but Bran, and he’s barely human anymore.
Arya and Sansa have both been forced to grow up very quickly, under brutal circumstances, but the same patterns re-establish themselves now that they’re together. Arya doesn’t quite trust Sansa’s motives, and the younger sister knows how powerful — and dangerous — that letter would be if shown to the “right” people. This schism helps Cersei, just as Sansa claimed, but it’s not like Sansa was comfortable being quiet when she saw issues with Jon’s leadership. The skepticism goes all the way down.
But then, no one is showing a unified front. Tyrion and Dany spar over whether her actions last episode were more brutal than necessary, and Tyrion argues convincingly that it’s important to see things from your enemy’s point of view — because that’s how you beat them. And we saw Cersei threaten Jaime at the end of last week’s episode. These bonds are all relatively new, or newly reforged. And they’re showing their weaknesses.
From the point of view of each side’s enemies, however, these cracks are invisible. It’s not about who cracks first; it’s about who cracks first in front of others. Jon has finally bent the knee, even if the act was more symbolic than physical. Arya may not trust Sansa completely, but she did give up the dagger, and that’s something.
Sansa has also been given more evidence that her siblings have changed in ways she has not, even if she tries to tell Arya that she has endured unspeakable things. The problem is that she’s not wrong, but the writers of the show don’t seem to have a good way to show her progression outside of being an able ruler in Jon’s absence. The direction and writing also seem to show the argument more from Arya’s point of view than Sansa’s, and the result is a murky landscape in Winterfell that’s vulnerable to Littlefinger’s meddling.
This was an episode that sometimes resembled Lord of the Rings more than Game of Thrones, and the direction wasn’t quite as skillful as we saw in “The Spoils of War.” But the shot from above, showing a field of ice scarred by the battle, was a nice touch. It’s hard to choreograph a scene where a few heroes square off against an army, because once that kind of battle begins there’s a believability clock that begins counting down; at some point the audience stops believing in anyone’s ability to defend themselves against that many attackers.
“Beyond the Wall” pushed against that limit a bit more than was probably wise, but the quieter, more tense moments — such as the thrown rocks and the single wight walking across the ice while dragging its sword — more than made up for it. Being able to see what was coming didn’t lessen its impact, and it’s hard to complain about an episode where a battle against an undead bear was the least impressive moment of the hour.
ODDS AND ENDS:
- “Walking’s good. Fighting is better. Fucking is best.”
- The Hound kind of has a point. If you’re alive, and talking and complaining in this world? You’re whinging. Many people had it a lot worse than Gendry.
- “Gingers are beautiful. We were kissed by fire. Just like you.”
- “But we all die.” Jon. Dude. Jon. You’re the last person to talk, and that’s the last person to say that to.
- “Heroes do stupid things, and then they die.”
- Sometimes Game of Thrones feels like a soap opera, but sometimes people are attacked by a dead bear.
- Activating the flaming swords will always be badass. They’re this world’s version of lightsabers, and I dig it.
- “Sometimes nothing is the hardest thing to do.”
- Watching the White Walkers pull the dragon’s body from the water hurt my soul. Watching him be resurrected got me excited about the battles we’re bound to see.
- I can’t count the times I tried to sneak in to steal my sister’s notes only to find a collection of human faces. I think it’s a universal thing that happens to everyone while growing up.
- Hey look, Benjen’s back! Who needs to pull a deus ex machina when you always have characters in your back pocket who can appear from nowhere to save our heroes?
- Dany and Jon shippers unite! We are getting closer.